American Legion News
Ninety years ago, The American Legion's National Security Commission encouraged posts to form amateur radio groups in support of civil defense. Posts across the nation became involved with ham radio at that time and the American Legion Amateur Radio Network was soon on the air. That "network," unfortunately, became all but obsolete by the 1960s.
Today, however, many posts are enjoying a resurgence of prominence in amateur radio that began in 2011 with the nationwide start-up of the American Legion Amateur Radio Club (TALARC). This nationally sanctioned program, which is open and free to all American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary and Sons of The American Legion members who are licensed amateur radio operators, was refocused and now promotes amateur radio among posts as an avenue for community service with an eye toward growing Legion membership numbers.
The goal of serving the community figures largely in the life of The American Legion. As an organization, community service should be a mainstay for every post. There's reference to that at the close of a post's regular meeting when the commander reminds us: "Let service to the community, state and nation be ever a main objective of The American Legion and its members." That was a precept of the organization when founded, and it's still the basis for our existence almost 103 years later.
There are a number of examples as to how a Legion post can serve their community through amateur radio. One is found at Danville (Ky.) American Legion Post 46 in the partnership they formed with the Wilderness Road Amateur Radio Club. As a ham for over 40 years, TALARC member and then-post commander Tony Cromwell chose to offer aid to this local club that lost its home in a neighboring building. As commander, Cromwell recognized the ability of his post to host the organization, gain membership and advance everyone's mission. That realization led to the Wilderness Road club becoming a post-approved activity. "A valuable community asset was rescued and will now go forth as an American Legion post resource in providing emergency communications support during natural disasters," he noted.
As recognized by Cromwell and Post 46's membership, establishing a club is vital to expanding and extending Legion volunteer services throughout a community. First, however, is the need for eligible individuals to come together as an American Legion Amateur Radio Club with sanction from their post's leadership.
In the first year of TALARC's existence, membership was modest with several hundred individual members and 13 post-supported clubs. Today, nearly 5,000 members and 57 post-supported clubs make the American Legion Amateur Radio Club among the largest in the nation.
Ham radio is an interesting and enjoyable hobby as well as an invaluable resource "when all else fails." When severe weather, natural disasters or other catastrophes strike and power lines and cellphone towers are knocked out, ham radio has always stood up to serve communities across the nation. There is also a more relaxed, more visible and more regular use for amateur radio, and it's done through augmenting communications and safety efforts during parades, marathons, outings and other public or Legion-sponsored events in your area. These occasions are just a few of many things for a post and its members to dwell on when considering support for an American Legion Amateur Radio Club within a post. The possibility of bolstering the post membership roster is also something to take into consideration.
For more information about TALARC, amateur radio, how to acquire an FCC license or to join the American Legion Amateur Radio Club, browse the TALARC website at www.legion.org/hamradio.
The Department of Labor's Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS) is offering grants for organizations to provide training and employment services to homeless veterans through the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program.
The grants — up to $500,000 annually for a total of up to $1.5 million over a three-year period — are awarded on a competitive basis to state and local workforce investment boards, local public agencies and nonprofit organizations, tribal governments, and faith-based and community organizations.
Grant applicants must have a familiarity with the area and population to be served and the ability to administer an effective and timely program.
Applications for the grant program will be accepted until Feb. 23.
For more information, go to dol.gov/agencies/vets/programs/hvrp.
The Department of Labor's Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS) is expanding its Transition Assistance Program (TAP) to at least 50 locations in 20 states through a pilot program beginning this month.
The Off-Base Transition Training pilot program extends TAP to assist veterans, including National Guard and reserve members, and their spouses, in preparation for the job search. The program consists of 10 two-hour workshops offered both in-person and online.
Workshop topics include understanding resume essentials, interview skills, how to create LinkedIn profiles and more.
In-person pilot sites will be in Los Angeles, San Diego, Boston, Fayetteville, N.C., Pittsburgh, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.
For more information and to register, go to dol.gov/agencies/vets/programs/tap/off-base-transition-training.
Michael "Rod" Rodriguez is the CEO and president of the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation. Rodriguez, a former Green Beret, retired after 10 deployments and 21 years of service. He joins this week's American Legion Tango Alpha Lima podcast to discuss the foundation, his role and plans for the memorial.
Co-hosts Jeff Daly and Ashley Gorbulja-Maldonado, both post 9/11 veterans, open the podcast by discussing the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. The hosts explore the delicate issue which involves taking care of the citizens in need without letting the Taliban gain control of the intended aid.
They interviewed Rodriguez at the Student Veterans of America national conference earlier this month.
He joined the foundation board in 2016, the year after its creation. Rodriguez, a member of The American Legion, explained the group's fight to have the memorial constructed in Washington, D.C., a measure supported by American Legion Resolution 16 approved in 2017. A law says that a war must be over for 10 years before a national memorial can be built.
"There was no way they could have seen that we would be in this multi-generational conflict with no clearly forecasted end in sight," he said, noting that the foundation requested and was approved the exemption in 2017.
Rodriguez talked about the inspiration that drives the foundation's staff, volunteers and supporters on their mission.
"There are always those reminders of those people who have not had the opportunity to welcome mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters home," he said. "It's definitely humbling and terrifying at the same time."
As the memorial moves forward, a next big step is the design. "The only way we can capture our love — after all, this is a tangible love note to our nation's warfighters and their families — the only way to capture that is with art. It's going to be an expression of art."
This episode is one more than 100 Tango Alpha Lima podcasts available at this web page. You can also download them on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or other major podcast-hosting sites. You can also view all of the episodes on the Legion's YouTube channel.
Lia Mort was one of 12 contestants in "Tough as Nails" season 3, a reality television show aired on CBS. From the beginning of the show, the Richfield, Pa., Legionnaire had the mindset of wanting to just have fun. "I was like, ‘Let's just hold on to this for as long as we can and do the best we can and let's see what happens,'" said Mort, a Legion Rider and member of American Legion Post 25 in Selinsgrove, Pa. "I already made it on the show, so anything else was just icing on the cake."
Mort's mindset prevailed.
The 54-year-old U.S. Marine veteran and now a chief warrant officer in the Army Reserve was crowned the "Tough as Nails" season 3 champion on Dec. 8, 2021. She won $200,000 and a new Ford truck.
"I was just there to have fun," Mort said of her time on the show. "I didn't even consider that I was going to win. I just wanted to stay in as long as I could so I could do more fun things. It still doesn't feel real. It's still unbelievable."
"Tough as Nails" is hosted by Emmy Award-winning producer Phil Keoghan from the reality television series "The Amazing Race," who serves as executive producer alongside his wife Louise. The show tests the competitor's physical strength, endurance, life skills and mental toughness in a series of team, individual and elimination challenges that take place at real-world job sites.
Mort applied to be on the show after watching the first season, which premiered July 8, 2020.
"I was like, ‘Oh I could do that. I've done that. I'd like to try to do that.' Then I said I'm going to put in an application," she said. As part of the application process, Mort had to make a video of herself doing physical strength work as well as answer a lot of questions. She received a call from one of the show's producers and made it far into the interview process "until I got that email that said, ‘Sorry, if you're getting this email you haven't been selected.' I got pretty far so I was happy with that."
But it wouldn't be the last time she heard from "Tough as Nails."
While on the couch with her husband watching season 2, Mort received a call from "Tough as Nails" Casting Director Jenny Hope asking if she wanted to be considered for season 3. "I was like, ‘Oh my gosh yes!"
Mort flew to Los Angeles and went through more extensive interviews to be selected. She was named "Jill-of-all-trades" for season 3, where the first of 10 episodes aired Oct. 6, 2021.
Mort said she was physically prepared for the show's competitive challenges because of her military background, time as a professional firefighter, and experience in construction and farming. "I don't have anything in my head that says I can't do it. I just love life. I get excited to try new things, challenges," said Mort, who served in the Marines from 1986-1990 and then joined the Army Reserve in response to 9/11 where she deployed twice to Iraq (2003 and 2009) and then to Afghanistan in 2011 as a civilian for the Army.
The final challenge of "Tough as Nails" season 3 had four contestants, including Mort, racing through obstacles with shipping containers while doing physical labor challenges. The first contestant to grab the keys to a Ford truck sitting on top of a shipping container won.
With keys in hand, "I cried for a second. I knelt and I was like thank you Lord. Because no way could I have done that without His angels, someone carried me along there," said Mort, who has lost both her parents. "My mom was an invalid when I was a child, so we cared for her. I've been told (prior to her illness) that she was high energy, always positive and a go-getter. I feel like I'm living life for both of us since she didn't get to."
It's that positive, energetic personality that has Mort excited for what has followed since her win.
She asked her fellow 11 competitors to pick a charity that's meaningful to them, and Mort is donating $5,000 of her grand prize earnings to each of those charities. "When you're blessed, my husband and I have a roof over our head and food on the table, so I wanted to take some of the money be a blessing to others," she shared.
She also is launching a podcast with fellow competitor and fire captain Kalimba Edwards called More Than Tough. They will interview past contestants and production crew from the show.
"Everyone was so positive, the crew, the cast, the host, his wife. Everybody was so supporting and encouraging," Mort said of "Tough as Nails." "It was such an experience that I just want to share that excitement and energy."
Mort also plans to build an obstacle course on the 13-acre farm that she shares with her husband, like the one on set for people to try, including veterans. The show "woke me up that I don't feel like I'm doing enough in my community. Not everybody is going to go on the show, so I want to share that energy and the challenge was fun. I want to keep it going."
And despite her busy schedule ahead, Mort will continue supporting her fellow veterans through her service as an honor guard member of American Legion Post 25.
"It's a privilege to be able to honor those who served at their final goodbye," said Mort, who feels it's important for veterans to serve on the honor guard and pay final respect to their fellow brothers and sisters. "It is an absolute privilege. I'm just trying to get involved (at Post 25) and be supportive of veterans, help out where I can."
Tony Kanaan has one last battle within him, one more battle to fight, one last mission to accomplish. That is why he is reenlisting for one more tour of duty with The American Legion and Chip Ganassi Racing for the 106th Indianapolis 500.
TK is back at the Indy 500 for one last time and he will once again be driving a Honda sponsored by The American Legion. The announcement was made by the team Monday morning at INDYCAR's "Content Days" at the JW Marriott Hotel in Indianapolis.
Kanaan drove for The American Legion in the 105th Indianapolis 500 last year in the No. 48 Honda and the popular driver made many new friends in The American Legion. This year, he hopes to make one last ride into Indianapolis 500 glory and is prepared to take The American Legion all the way to victory lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Kanaan will get his third chance for his "final" Indianapolis 500, as the 2013 Indy 500 winner returns to Chip Ganassi Racing in 2022.
Two-years ago when he was driving for AJ Foyt Racing, Kanaan announced the 104th Indianapolis 500 would be his final race on the big stage, and it was a chance to say farewell to all of his fans. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of the world in 2020 and that year's Indy 500 was held without spectators.
Kanaan got a reprieve when team owner Chip Ganassi needed a driver to share the No. 48 Honda when seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson originally agreed to a street and road course schedule in the NTT IndyCar Series.
Kanaan drove the No. 48 Honda in the four oval races in 2021 including the 105th Indianapolis 500. Kanaan was impressive at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as he was among the fastest drivers every day in practice and made the "Fast Nine Shootout" that determined the first three rows of the 33-car starting lineup.
Kanaan's qualifying speed was the fifth fastest, and he started last year's race in the middle of Row 2. He went on to finish 10th in the race in a car sponsored by The American Legion.
Kanaan finished 11th in the first race of a doubleheader at Texas Motor Speedway and 15th in Race No. 2 on the 1.5-mile high-banked oval. He closed out the oval season with a 13th place finish at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
After showing steady improvement in a completely new form of racing, Johnson has decided to run the full NTT IndyCar Series season in 2022, including the 106th Indianapolis 500. Ganassi had promised Kanaan that he would still compete in the Indy 500 and on Monday morning, that became official.
Kanaan will drive a Honda sponsored by The American Legion. Car livery and other details will be announced later.
That gives team owner Chip Ganassi five entries in this year's Indy 500.
It will be Kanaan's 21st Indianapolis 500, where he is one of the most popular drivers in recent Indy 500 history because of his fierce and tenacious racing style.
In 20 previous starts, Kanaan has led a combined 346 laps in the race. After so many great races and close calls to winning the 500, Kanaan finally won it in his 12th attempt in 2013 for KV Racing Technology in a Chevrolet. He led 34 laps and had "the best restart of my life" on the final restart to jump from fourth place to the lead entering Turn 1 to go on to score his only Indy 500 win.
Thanks to Ganassi and The American Legion, Kanaan will have once last charge left in his career in the 106th Indianapolis 500.
Current supply chain issues and ongoing production setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic are causing order shipment delays of U.S. flag orders from American Legion Emblem Sales.
As worn, tattered American flags need replaced, or as American Legion posts need flags to place on veterans' graves for Memorial Day, Emblem Sales advises to order early and please be patient with time of delivery due to the setbacks. Emblem Sales is shipping flag orders as soon, and quickly, as production is received.
The purchase of gravesite flags, as well as other outdoor American, military, POW/MIA and state flags, flagpoles and accessories can be made through American Legion Emblem Sales at americanlegionflags.com.
More American Legion flag resources
- Visit legion.org/flag for information on flag FAQs, myths, flag-folding procedures and videos.
- Sign up for the Flag Alert e-newsletter at legion.org/newsletters for notification when the U.S. flag is to be displayed at half-staff.
- Subscribe to the Flag Alert text notifications. First, text Flag to 534466. You will receive a text asking for a valid email address for the two-step authorization. Once that is complete, you will receive the text alerts.
The SAL 50th Convention Committee is seeking memorabilia from past conventions in advance of this year's milestone event. All SAL members are welcome to donate or lend items to SAL Historian Bill Towns. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The committee is looking for:
· Pictures of PNCs both in office and after office.
· Convention activities.
· Convention badges, VIP badges, pins and coins.
· Convention newsletters, programs and documents.
· Any other memorabilia related to any of the past SAL national conventions.
The committee also has a special request for photos from The American Legion's 60th national convention of members posing to form the number 60.
In addition, all SAL PNCs are asked to complete a questionnaire about their term. The fillable questionnaire is available for download at this link. Please return the completed questionnaire to Towns at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As part of celebrating The American Legion's 100th birthday in 2019, members of Whitehurst-Ware American Legion Post 539 in New Bern, N.C., spent time cleaning the World War I monument located in front of the Craven County Courthouse. In doing so, they came to realize that the names of many soldiers – mainly Black soldiers – who died during the war were not featured on the monument.
Research by the post led to identifying the names of close to a dozen veterans, which were then added to the monument and led to a rededication ceremony by Post 539. But the effort led to the post's next mission: the find out where those 12 Black veterans were buried. That took Post 539 members to New Bern's Greenwood Cemetery, a predominantly Black cemetery established in 1882. There, the Legion Family members found dozens of veterans' headstones covered in moss and mold, some vandalized, sunken, fallen over or lost amidst overgrown vegetation. A previous effort by the Daughters of the Revolution had discovered 41 veterans' gravesites as well.
Post 539 again decided to right a wrong, spending a day last October marking each grave with a surveyor flag, photographing the gravesites and then cleaning each headstone. But that effort led Post 539 Finance Officer Mark Sandvigen – a member of the New Bern Historical Society and the vice president of the Craven County Veterans Council – and others to wonder something: who the people buried in those gravesites were. Not just names, but the lives they've lived.
So members of Post 539 and the Historical Society, along with other community members and organizations, have set out to learn what they can about those veterans, whose service to the nation spans from the Civil War to the Persian Gulf War.
"The Civil War veterans, these were all volunteer (U.S.) Colored Troops," Sandvigen said. "We have a couple of guys who were escaped slaves, enlisted and then enlisted in the Army and came back to serve with the Union. That's important, and people don't know that."
Other veterans buried in the cemetery fought in highly decorated units throughout other wars, often in segregated units. "And they did a hell of a job," Sandvigen said. "They stood up and went."
Sandvigen said the Black community has become involved in the project in helping learn more info about the veterans – specifically, Carol Becton, whose father was a Navy veteran and is buried at the cemetery. A member of the Historical Society, Carol told the New Bern Sun Journal she hopes others will step forward with information.
"I'm hoping that the older people that I know will recognize some of these names as well," she said. "I hope this will stir something up in the African American community, that they will become more interested in this history and want to participate."
Sandvigen said getting that perspective is critical to tell the complete story of those veterans. "I think that when you have white people telling a Black story in the history books, it's got quite a bias to it," he said. "Here's living proof that bias is incorrect. There's a different story here. This is a story of when the country called, they served. They didn't shirk. They didn't pretend it wasn't their country. They all went."
Sandvigen, Becton and others will be speakers at a Bern County Historical Society Lunch and Learn during Black History Month on Feb. 16. The program, "I, Too, Served America: The Stories of Greenwood Cemetery's Veterans", will provide biographical stories and photos of five Black veterans buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
"These veterans didn't bury themselves," Sandvigen said. "When their families buried them, they made sure they had a veteran headstone. That's why I think this is important."
Decades after adoption, Camp Humphreys commander's wife returns to Korea and a past nearly forgotten
Tara Graves celebrates her birthday Saturday in South Korea, her first since she was born here more than 45 years ago.
Graves, 46, a personal fitness trainer and the wife of Camp Humphreys commander Col. Seth Graves, is among tens of thousands of South Koreans adopted to families around the world in the decades following the 1950-53 Korean War.
In 2020, the Army sent the Graves family from Brussels to South Korea, where Seth took command of the largest U.S. military base overseas.
The new assignment hit home for Tara Graves: She had not been in South Korea since she was adopted at 6 months old, she told Stars and Stripes in December.
Although she saw the move as an opportunity to reconnect with her birth family and Korean culture, it required her, like many adoptees, to reopen emotional scars.
"It's almost like opening a box full of trauma," Graves said. "You don't know exactly what you're going to get."
In 1975, Graves' adoptive parents selected her from a catalog of children's pictures and flew her from South Korea to New Jersey before her adoptive father's job with manufacturing company 3M took them to Minnesota.
"It was a very difficult childhood growing up in Minnesota," she said. "In the small town that we lived in, everyone was sort of predominantly Caucasian."
As children, Tara and her younger brother, also an adopted Korean, were bullied and teased, she said. Her Minnesota upbringing fostered what she described as a "a very scary situation" due to her ethnic background in a predominantly white neighborhood.
"Being 5 years old and having older kids chase me down at the bus stop, throwing rocks at me, for what I looked like was very difficult," she said.
At age 16, Graves, with her adoptive mother's help, started a search for her birth family, she said, "because I wanted to know what happened."
Through South Korea's social services, she discovered a note left at an orphanage by a family member, hoping Graves would receive it and contact her birth family. She eventually reached her birth mother and exchanged photos and translated letters.
Graves said her birth mother refused to explain to her what transpired "until she saw me in person and that I learned how to speak the native language."
Two years later, Graves "let it go" and stopped sending letters.
"I think I realized that the older that I became, I didn't have this void of needing to go back to the motherland; to be whole; to know my whole story or meet my biological family," she said. "I didn't let that identify me. It wasn't my identity, being a lost Korean American adoptee."
Tara Graves poses between her husband, Army Col. Seth Graves, right, and her birth brother, Kim Hyung-bae, during a recent reunion in South Korea. (Kim Hyung Bae)Healing
Graves ultimately decided that reconnecting with her family may "heal that part of me that hasn't healed."
After moving to South Korea, she contacted one of her six Korean siblings and made plans to meet at a café in Pyeongtaek, where Humphreys is located roughly 40 miles from Seoul.
It was an "extremely emotional" reunion, she said. Seth Graves and Jena, the couple's 17-year-old daughter, also met their extended family members.
"She just looks like her sister," Tara recalled one of her siblings saying.
Seth Graves said Tara and her birth family were "all very excited to finally meet each other" and described it as "very emotional."
"I think it's a very special moment for her," Seth told Stars and Stripes on Thursday. "Had she and I not met, she may have never made it back to Korea and had the opportunity to meet her family."
Seth added that Tara's birth family "took her in with open arms" and also accepted him and Jena "as part of the family."
While discussing her birth family's history with her siblings, Graves discovered the true story behind her birth and adoption, a story that conflicted with what was passed down to her.
"All of that was not true," she said.
Her siblings told Graves that her birth mother divorced her father and left all of their children in his care. When her father died several years later, the eldest brother, who had recently graduated from high school, took care of his five siblings.
"He remembers me being born and then feeding me, and everyone being happy," Graves said of her brother. "And then, all of a sudden one day, I disappeared."
‘Nothing to forgive'
While life in South Korea drastically improved in the decades that followed the Korean War, much of the population was still experiencing economic difficulties throughout the 1970s, Kongdan Oh, a former senior Asia specialist at the Institute for Defense Analyses, wrote in an analysis published by the Brookings Institution.
Kim Hyung-bae, the eldest son and a manager of an elementary school in Gangwon province, explained that their parents wanted another son and because "we are folks who experienced poverty" they put Tara up for adoption.
"Men are blind in their own cause," Kim told Stars and Stripes. "I asked our parents where she went but heard nothing from them. They were answerless."
Kim said his siblings were too young to understand the concept of adoption, he said, but he felt guilt later on.
"I once thought that adoption is better for her," Kim said. "I also felt bad for her and thought [she] should be in the U.S. … even just that she should eat well and live well there."
When the siblings first met, Kim asked Tara Graves for forgiveness, she said.
"There's nothing to forgive," Graves said. "But for him, it was very important that he had my forgiveness."
About 22 years ago, Kim and his siblings exhumed the remains of their immediate family and reinterred them in one grave. Tara Graves' siblings engraved their names on the tombstone.
Among those names was Kim Eun-sook, Graves' Korean name.
"I thought we may see her again some time," Kim said. "And I wanted to prove that Tara has a family in South Korea."