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Gen. Robin Olds Post TH01 participates in Children's Day

On Jan. 10, 2020, a number of post members participated in the Royal Thai Air Force Wing 21 Children's Day open-house event. The post gave out 3,000 popsicles to the children. In addition, the post had a display set up with military flags and the Legion flag. We also had storyboards in English and Thai displaying the rich military history at Ubon Air Base. A monitor was set up with a slideshow showing the post participating in various activities. It was a great opportunity for us to showcase our commitment to our veterans and local community.

See more photos here.

USAA Tips: How to create more relaxation time on the weekend

Content provided courtesy of USAA | By Chad Storlie

Having a relaxing weekend is something that seems easy ... it is the weekend after all. Throw in the kid’s soccer practice, laundry, and the boss’ emails and suddenly it does not seem so easy to relax.

Weekend relaxation can be achieved with a little planning and following a few rules. Follow these 10 tips to help create and to have a relaxing weekend.

Create a Plan for the Weekend on Friday.

A great weekend starts on a Friday. First, at work, create a list of immediate things to do when you start back up on Monday. This list will help you relax because you already know what needs to be done on Monday versus worrying about Monday on Sunday. Second, create a list of a few things, 2-3 each day, that you want to accomplish. Limit yourself to 2-3 each day because any more and not everything will get done and that will begin to create some stress. Finally, communicate the plan to your kids and significant others. Plans are meant to be shared.

Check Your Phone Twice a Day and Put It Away.

Plan to check your phone and email once in the morning, noon, and/or night and respond to emails and messages at those times for no more than 15 minutes. Weekend relaxation can be destroyed by worrying and responding to emergencies that may not be emergencies. Keep work at bay on the weekend.

Create a Meal Plan.

Weekends are also more relaxing with a simple plan and then following the plan. Hot dogs for dinner on Sunday is a great idea when you already have buns, cole slaw, and hot dogs in the fridge. Worrying about what is for dinner for the family at dinnertime can cause too much stress. Create a simple meal plan and follow it.

Schedule One Family Activity, Even For 30 Minutes.

Family activities are a hallmark of the weekend, but sometimes even a major activity can be hard to do. Instead, think of short, fun, and engaging activities for the entire family. A bike ride, sledding in the winter, a trip to the swimming pool, or a pickup game of Ultimate Frisbee are quick, easy, and fun. Pick an activity that all ages can do and then go have fun.

Create Alone Time for Everyone.

Family time is great. But everyone in the family needs some alone time, even the kids. Plan 60-90 minutes each day for everyone to be in their rooms reading, napping or watching a movie. Some alone time for everyone is a great way to recharge the batteries after a busy week.

Sleep In, But Not Too Late.

Sleeping in is great, but only a little bit. Sleeping in to 10 a.m. sounds great, but then those 2-3 things that you wanted to do may not get done, and there goes your stress level!

Don’t Stay Up Too Late.

Again, staying up late sounds great ... until the next morning. Think of weekends as fun days with a curfew, even for adults and especially for kids. Starting the week tired is hard on children, tempers get short, and the next weekend is days away. Have fun, stay up a little later, but get solid rest. Sure, it is boring, but being tired and groggy is never relaxing.

Schedule an Errand Per Day During the Week.

Weekend days are often consumed with busy days at the mall, running errands, grocery shopping and the like. Instead, plan to do one errand each day of the week. Grocery store one-day, dry cleaning the next, and so on. Doing just one errand a day will keep your weekend days free for relaxation.

Get Some Exercise in the Morning.

Weekends are great days to do the exercise that you can’t do easily during the week. Bike, swim, hike, canoe, paddleboard, or kayak. Getting a little exercise, even 30 minutes, does great things for your attitude, fitness, and sets a great example for the kids.

Lay Out Your Clothes and Lunch for Monday.

A Monday morning comes early and worrying about where things are on a Sunday night can ruin a weekend night’s sleep. Instead of worrying, have everything prepared the night before, especially your Monday lunch. Kids can get their next day outfit, shoes, and school backpack ready and make the next day much easier. This way you can wake up and go.

Legion Luge a 'family affair'

Temperatures that dipped below zero didn’t temper the enthusiasm for an inaugural fundraiser Feb. 15 in the American Legion Department of Maine. Around 60 Maine American Legion Family members braved the weather to take part in the first Legion Luge at the Camden Snow Bowl.

The Legion Family members from all over the state competed for the best times on toboggan chutes, breaking up into teams of up to four riders, as well as a “Sweetheart” competition for two-person teams.

The venue, which the previous week had hosted the 2020 U.S. National Toboggan Championship, was an ideal backdrop for what the event’s creators – Legion Family members Ron and Debra Ann Marr – intend to become an annual fundraiser.

“I came up with the idea that it would be the perfect way to do a big fundraiser for the American Legion Department of Maine Foundation,” said Ron, the Sons of The American Legion Detachment of Maine commander. “This was a way to bring The American Legion together as a family, to have fun and enjoy it, as well as raise money. That’s what it was all about.”

Teams had three chances to go down the chute in order to get their best time; many of the teams wore costumes. The night before the event, Winslow-Holbrook-MerrittPost 1 in Rockland hosted a dinner for the participants.

Debra Ann, Ron’s wife and the 2015-2016 American Legion Auxiliary department president, said the Camden Snow Bowl already has been booked for 2021 to host the event again. “We’re hoping for twice the participation,” said Debra Ann, noting that Ron plans to invite Legion Family members from other nearby states to take part in the Legion Luge next year.

Using a non-traditional way to raise funds is a way “to encourage some of the younger people to come and have fun,” Debra Ann said. “If you can encourage the younger crowd they’re going to stay. That’s our future.”

The event served as a fundraiser for the American Legion Department of Maine Foundation, which was created to provide resources to the department’s programs and services that will enhance the lives of veterans, their families, children and communities in Maine. Raising money for the fund is Department of Maine American Legion Commander Matthew Jabaut’s project for his year, and the Marrs were able to present him with a check for nearly $1,600 a week later.

“It was a blast,” Ron said. “If you can put something like this together, now it’s a family affair.”

'Life owes me nothing'

The old soldier beamed as about 20 people waved American flags at Gare du Nord station, where he arrived in Paris to be honored as one of the few living veterans who fought with the super-secret forerunner of the CIA during the World War II liberation of France.

For Stephen Weiss, 94, the support he received Thursday and on other occasions late in his life has served as a reminder of his struggle to overcome what’s now known as post-traumatic stress disorder, which went unrecognized by his unit during the war.

After his arrival, Weiss, a member of France’s distinguished Legion of Honor, laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during a twilight ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe honoring members of the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS.

It was yet another remarkable chapter in the life of a teenager from Brooklyn who followed the call to defend his country, survived some of the fiercest combat of the war and then learned that battles don’t end when the shooting stops.

His story underscores not only the horrors of combat but the nation’s continuing challenges in both honoring and caring for the men and women whose sacrifice is incalculable.

'I volunteered to stay'

Weiss served as a lead scout in the 36th Infantry Division during fighting in Italy before taking part in the invasion of southern France on Aug. 15, 1944.

Ten days after coming ashore on France’s Mediterranean coast, Weiss was reported missing in action after he and seven other soldiers were separated from their unit and surrounded by the Germans during a nighttime operation.

After hiding in an irrigation ditch, they dashed through a peach orchard and hid in a family’s hay loft, until the French Resistance organized their escape by disguising them as French police officers, then slipped them through Nazi lines and across the Rhone River in wooden boats.

“The Germans were this close,” Weiss said, motioning to about a foot away in the lobby of his Paris hotel. “We should have been caught.”

While behind German lines, the soldiers joined the underground briefly before teaming up with a small OSS operational group harassing Nazi forces in southern France, using guerrilla and special operations tactics.

“Once we did that and I discovered how they fought against the Germans ... I volunteered to stay,” he said of the OSS.

He spent several weeks with the outfit, whose leader was the father figure he’d longed for in the infantry. He cut telephone lines, guarded the OSS radio operator as Nazi tracking vans hunted illicit signals, helped destroy bridges and recovered nighttime supply drops.

“Here there was an altogether different method of fighting that appealed to me,” he said. “Hit-and-run, smash-and-grab.”

He stayed on even after the others from his unit returned, but despite the OSS group’s efforts to keep him, he was eventually ordered back to the division when commanders said they needed every possible infantryman.

He made his way hitching rides from Lyon to the Vosges mountain range near the German border, and reported for duty. That, he feels, was a mistake.

“I should have gone to the hospital,” he said.

Most of the infantrymen he knew had been killed, wounded or missing, he said, and none of the leaders seemed to care about signs of potential psychological trauma.

He trembled and couldn’t keep food down, but no one offered him a break or any kind of counseling.

“It ruined me,” he said. “I was finished.”

Healing from trauma

He went AWOL twice and returned both times after a few days of rest, turning himself in to the military police.

After he was court-martialed for desertion, he helped build stockades for a few months of a life sentence in confinement until a therapist came, interviewed him and told the Army it had made a mistake.

He soon returned to service, but as a veteran of two theaters he was spared from being sent to the Pacific after Germany surrendered. Instead he lived in a Paris apartment near the Arc de Triomphe while working as an Army photographer and traveling throughout liberated France until he was sent home and discharged.

But Weiss’ war wasn’t over.

He spent over a decade in therapy for what would later be called PTSD, a condition his father also suffered without treatment after being gassed in World War I.

Through psychoanalysis, Weiss learned to “cut the bullsh—” and live in the present, he said.

'Life owes me nothing'

In a lesson learned in wars that were to come, Weiss found that the hardest part of treating PTSD was getting people to realize they need help and commit to getting it, he told Bryan Schell, commander of the local American Legion post, who’d served in the Navy in the 1990s and was among the Americans who greeted him in Paris.

Weiss later operated a psychotherapy practice in Beverly Hills for over two decades and still sometimes goes to counseling himself, because he’s “not interested in letting the past contribute” to his current mindset, he told Schell, offering to visit a post event to discuss the issue further with its members.

Still, Weiss is proud of the recognition he has received for his sacrifices and remains focused on continued service to fellow veterans.

As the two Americans and a few others sat in a café near the Arc de Triomphe, Weiss wore decorations he’d earned for his wartime exploits, including the French Resistance Medal, two Croix de Guerre and the U.S. Bronze Star. Around his neck he wore the Legion of Honor, France’s highest decoration for military and civilian merits, established by Napoleon Bonaparte.

In 1999, French President Jacques Chirac made him a knight, the first of the order’s five ranks. He’s been promoted twice since, earning the third-highest rank of commander in 2013, in part for his continued work on issues related to war and PTSD.

After getting his life back on track, Weiss went to work in Hollywood and raised three children with his wife of 23 years, accomplished ballet dancer and teacher Rosemary Valaire.

He earned two master’s degrees and, at age 69, was awarded a doctorate in war studies by King’s College London, where he’s been a lecturer for decades, often drawing on his combat experiences. He is a senior research fellow at the English university.

“I should never be where I am,” he said at the cafe, while sipping a chocolate shake like the ones from his boyhood in Brooklyn. “Life owes me nothing.”

Members of The American Legion can receive 50 percent discounts on annual subscriptions to the Stars and Stripes digital platform of exclusive military news, topics of interest to veterans, special features, photos and other content, including the daily e-newspaper, job listings and history. American Legion members can subscribe for $19.99 a year by visiting and using the coupon code LEGIONSTRONG when filling out the online form.

60th Washington Conference gets underway March 5

American Legion National Commander James “Bill” Oxford will present the organization’s legislative priorities before members of Congress as part of the 60th Annual Washington Conference in the nation’s capital. Oxford will testify beginning at 10 a.m. ET on March 11. The testimony will be streamed live via the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

The Washington Conference kicks off March 6 with a career planning and hiring event hosted by The American Legion and Hiring Our Heroes. The conference also will include meetings of The American Legion’s Legislative, National Security, Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation, and Veterans Employment and Education commissions.

The March 10 Commander’s Call will be live-streamed via The American Legion National Headquarters Facebook page and will include addresses from Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, Rep. Mac Thornberry, Sen. Jerry Moran and Rep. Mark Takano. Following the Commander’s Call, Legionnaires will head to Capitol Hill to meet with their respective members of Congress.

Other events and workshops taking place during the Washington Conference at the Washington Hilton, 1919 Connecticut Ave. NW., include a March 9 Friends & Partners: The Diamond Jubilee of the U.S.-Japan Alliance roundtable featuring former U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. and Japanese Ambassador Kazutoshi Aikawa among its participants, a dinner for the 2019 Samsung American Legion Scholarship recipients, an Access to Capital Roundtable March 6 and a Veterans Small Business Roundtable March 11.

Also during the conference, The American Legion Media & Communications team will be on site at the concourse level to give members of The American Legion Family an opportunity to share their American Legion story. Those who participate will be able to tell why they joined the Legion Family, and share what inspires them and what they are striving to build for the next generation of veterans.

A videographer from the Media & Communications team will be on site at the booth for on-camera interviews from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. March 8, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. March 9 and 8 a.m.-noon March 10.

Follow coverage of the Washington Conference online here and via social media using the hashtag #WashConf2020.

Only two USS Arizona survivors remain

Pearl Harbor survivor Don Stratton, 97, passed away recently, leaving just two USS Arizona crewmembers.

Stratton, who died Feb. 16, and five other sailors were in the Arizona’s burning forward mast when a sailor from Vestal threw them a line. “He crawled hand over hand, high above the water to safety, being burned over 70 percent of his body,” according to a National Park Service Facebook post.

Stratton re-enlisted and served out the war until his discharge in 1946.

His death makes American Legion members Lou Conter and Ken Potts the last living members of the Arizona crew.

Potts, a member of American Legion Post 13 in Provo, Utah, spent the night of Dec. 6 in Honolulu. He was returning to the Arizona with fresh produce when the first Japanese bombers attacked the harbor. When he arrived, the Arizona was already on fire. He climbed aboard and began rescuing some of his shipmates.

“I don’t remember ever being afraid. I don’t think I had time to think about being afraid,” Potts told the Provo Daily Herald in 2018.

Stratton, Conter and Potts were among four Pearl Harbor survivors who attended the 75th anniversary commemorations in 2016.

“People call us heroes,” Conter, a member of American Legion Post 130 in the Department of California, said at a 75th anniversary event. “We’re not the heroes. The 1,177 who went down with the ship are the heroes. You have to remember we got to go home, get married, have children and grandchildren, and we’ve lived a good life. Those who didn’t get to do that should be called the heroes.”

Texas Post 159 hosts resource fair for veterans and their families

More than 50 veterans and their families received help with employment, VA services and legal questions at a resource fair on Feb. 22 at Earl Graham Post 159 in Bryan, Texas.

Turnout for the annual event has grown each year since the post began the resource fair four years ago, Post Commander Tom Marty said.

“We’re pretty jazzed that the numbers keep growing,” Marty said. “The community is now more aware of it. We have ads in the local paper, and the local TV and radio stations pick up on it.”

Post officials were prompted to start the resource fair after seeing a similar event at the Department of Texas convention.

“We started talking to other resources in the community,” Marty said. “We just decided we would combine it all (into one event).”

Post 159 has worked with the Texas Veterans Commission, Workforce Solutions and other groups to provide employment opportunities, health care resources and legal aid to veterans in the Bryan and College Station communities.

Marty said that several employers scheduled interviews and made job offers to veterans who attended the event. And Post 159 Service Officer Pamela Robertson and representatives from the VA were on hand to answer questions on VA health benefits.

Marty said the Brazos County Bar Association was available to answer questions and put veterans in touch with legal experts willing to assist in everything from criminal issues to updating wills and trusts on a pro bono basis.

Marty added that the event reflects the pillars of The American Legion.

“Veterans serving veterans is the whole idea,” he said. “We’re very fortunate we’re able to do those things.”

Plans are already underway for next year’s event, Marty said.

Alaska Legion post played role in development of state flag

The Seward Gateway newspaper announced a competition to design the Alaska state flag on Dec. 31, 1926. The story begins earlier in 1926 when George Parks, governor of the territory of Alaska, called on the Postmaster General in Washington, D.C. Parks noted that the rotunda of the Federal Post Office Building featured a spectacular display of flags of all the states and territories, except Alaska.

On his return to Alaska, Parks met with The American Legion and suggested they sponsor a contest, through the schools, for the creation of an official Alaskan flag.

By January 1927 the rules had been sent out. In each town, a local board of judges was set up. This group was to choose the 10 best designs and forward them to the department adjutant in Juneau by March 1, 1927, for submission to the Final Awards Committee. The contest was open to all schools, public and private, for students enrolled in the seventh through the 12th grades.

Designs came in from all over the territory. The Territorial Legislature was invited to appoint two members from each house to sit with three members of The American Legion, comprising the committee.

When the decision was made, the Gateway headline read: “LOCAL POST AWARD FOR DESIGN OF TERRITORIAL FLAG.” The article went on to say, "On Tuesday evening at the Seward Grill, the Seward post of The American Legion held one of the largest and most interesting meetings of the post for some time. The principal business of the evening was the installation of the officers for the ensuing year and the initiation of two members. The new members were Jasper Holman and Bob Evans …. The post voted to award prizes of $5, $3 and $2 for the best design for a territorial flag submitted by the schools in the jurisdiction of the post.”

The winner of the competition was Benny Benson, a 13-year-old in the Jesse Lee Orphanage in Seward. Benson’s design was supported by Post 5. In all, 142 designs were submitted across the state. The flag was adopted by the Territorial Legislature in May 1927 and remains Alaska's official flag.

On his design submission, Benson had also written some words of explanation: “The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaska flower. The North Star is for the future of the state of Alaska, the most northerly in the Union. The dipper is for the Great Bear – symbolizing strenth (sic).” His original entry is housed in the Alaska State Museum collection.

The flag is dark blue, with eight five-pointed gold stars in the shape of the Big Dipper and a slightly larger gold star representing the pole star, Polaris.

Through the Flag Act found in Alaska House Bill 91, $1,000 was appropriated to fly Benson to Washington, D.C., to present a flag to President Calvin Coolidge, and another $1,000 to fly him to the Paris American Legion national convention later that year; however, since satisfactory arrangements could not be made to meet with the president, the act was modified so Benson could use the money for his education.

On July 9, 1927, the first unfurling of the flag occurred at the dedication of the Jesse Lee Home at Seward. At 4 p.m., the official flag of Alaska was flung to the breezes for the first time on the Jesse Lee flagpole.

The Alaska flag was escorted to the Paris convention. The Gateway reported that "HJ Thompson (Alaska Department of France convention officer) of Juneau left on his way to France as head of the French Convention Department from Alaska, taking with him the recently adopted flag of Alaska. He will meet his wife in New York, where she has been visiting for the last month, and she will accompany him to Paris." The Alaskan contingent to Paris comprised 31 Legionnaires.

Benson lived in Alaska more or less his entire life, and became a goodwill ambassador for the state.

For more information on Post 5, visit their Centennial Celebration page.

USAA Tips: What to do with your tax refund

Content provided courtesy of USAA

Ah, the much-anticipated tax refund. Have you already started imagining what you might spend it on, like a shiny new tech toy or much-needed weekend getaway? It can be a nice infusion of cash, but really, what should you do you with your tax refund? How can you use it responsibly?

Yes, the dreaded “R” word — responsibility. Did you just picture your dollar bills swirling down a drain into something you may find boring, like a savings account? Don’t groan just yet. We have an order of operations on how you can handle your windfall in a way that’s both beneficial and fun.

Think of it as the 80/20 rule: It’s OK to “blow” 20% of the windfall, but consider using 80% of it to put that tax refund to work. You can strengthen your financial situation and use the following to:

  • Build an emergency fund

  • Pay down high-interest or long-term debt

  • Apply to longer-term goals (retirement or children’s college education)

  • Use toward a big-ticket item, like a new car or house

Not sure where to start? These questions can help you determine where that 80% of your refund should go.

Do you have any bills that are currently past due?

Late fees can compound the amount of money you owe, and debt can quickly spiral out of control.

Do you have an emergency fund to cover life’s unexpected expenses?

Experts recommend three to six months in savings to cover living expenses should you lose your job or experience an emergency that requires a hefty amount of cash.

Have you maxed out your retirement contributions?

You can always take out a loan for a car or a home, but no one will give you a loan for retirement — so if you haven’t started saving intently for retirement, start now.

Do you have any of the following debt?

  • Student loan

  • Credit card

  • Medical debt

  • Home mortgage

  • Car loan

If so, an extra payment can make a dent and help you climb out of a hole much quicker. Lowering the outstanding balance from month to month means less interest to accrue, which will help you pay balances down faster.

Are you currently saving for a big-ticket item, like a house or a new car?

If so, then some or all of your tax refund may go toward that.

If you have an emergency fund, are saving for retirement and properly managing your debts, excellent. You can afford to spend money on something that improves your quality of life, such as a vacation, a gym membership, a coding class or a home improvement project. Just don’t let your spending get out of control.

Legionnaires to walk the walk to honor their state's heroes

On Jan. 31, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts signed paperwork renaming the 432-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 20 running through his state the “Nebraska Medal of Honor Highway.” The renaming is the continuation of an effort that began in Oregon in 2018 and has since moved into Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Similar efforts have begun in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts, with the hope the designation eventually extends all the way to the end of Highway 20 in Boston.

Now that the highway has been renamed, two members of American Legion Post 159 in Beemer, Neb., are planning to walk the entire stretch of highway to further honor the 73 Nebraska residents who have earned the Medal of Honor.

Ken Hanel and Daryl Harrison will start along U.S. 20 at Nebraska’s western border and traverse the 432 miles by alternating six-mile stretches. During the first stretch they will honor two Medal of Honor recipients from the state, while one recipient will be honored on each of the six-mile legs after that.

“Ken and I believe it’s up to us to show the rest of the state the proper way of paying homage to these Medal of Honor recipients from Nebraska,” said Harrison, Nebraska’s Area A Vice Commander. “That’s why we’re walking the walk.”

The journey will begin May 11 and end May 22 at Siouxland Freedom Park in South Sioux City, Neb. The goal is for the end of the journey to coincide with both the dedication of a Korean War memorial and American Legion National Commander Bill Oxford’s official visit to Nebraska. A flag that has been passed from state to state will be presented to Oxford following the last leg.

Along each six-mile segment, Hanel and Harrison will have hanging from around their necks a laminated biography of the Medal of Honor recipient they are honoring along that stretch.

“We have had some people ask to walk for a specific recipient,” Harrison said. “They can join us and walk alongside us so they can feel that they have done their due homage for that particular recipient.”

Hanel said the effort in Nebraska began with Past Department Commander Gene Twiford, who got letters of support from every community and county along the route. Hanel and Harrison came on board to assist Twiford, picking up political support needed to take the project before the Nebraska Department of Roads Commissioners.

Splitting up 36 miles a day over the course of 12 days is a big commitment. But Harrison didn’t have to look far for motivation. “All of you have to do is read the stories (of the Medal of Honor recipients),” he said. “You read those stories and you begin to become familiar with what these men sacrificed and what they went through. This is the least Ken and I can do.”

For Hanel, the project is “a personal thing,” he said. “My granddad served in the Army in World War I in France. My dad served in the Army in World War II in the Big Red One. I served in the Army.

“This is a not a drive through town, honk the horn, make a U-turn, go on to the next (town) and be done in three days. This is something personally that I want to do.”

The Nebraska Medal of Honor Foundation, of which Harrison is the president, is hoping to place six signs along the stretch of highway: one entering the state from both the east and west, two at the crossroads of the American Legion Memorial Highway in O’Neil and two at the crossroads of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Highway. For more information about the walk and the signs, click here.

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