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The American Legion has something to offer everyone connected to the veteran community. The American Legion Burn Pit Blogmaster shares some of the stories we’ve followed this year.
When I came back from my first war (Bosnia-Herzegovina), The American Legion offered me a job. Two years after I returned from my second war (Afghanistan), the Legion gave me my dream job. I'm the "New Media Manager of The American Legion." To everyone else, I'm the company blogger. And in the past two years I've done things both grand and mundane on behalf of our nation’s veterans, their families and all who are served by the nation’s largest veterans service organization. And I have loved every minute of it.
Here is why:
I've played golf against a Special Forces soldier who was wounded in Afghanistan. He beat me by about 20 strokes, never mind he played on two legs made of titanium. He learned early on that he would have to embrace the "new normal" that proscribed his reality of living without the legs he was born with, and never once did he seem to even be bothered by it. What's done is done, after all.
I helped return a Purple Heart Citation to the family of the man who earned it with his death on D-Day. He was Sgt. Richard Owen, once of rural Indiana, and then of Winchester, Va. At one point, he served in the exact same unit I later did during my time in the service: the 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division. But the unit he served with on the day of his death would eclipse even the legacy of my own hallowed unit, for Sgt. Owen died as a member of Echo Company of the 101st Airborne, the "Band of Brothers" made so famous by the HBO series of the same name.
I fought back tears as I watched a Marine with neither legs nor eyes that could see compete in swimming at the Warrior Games at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. All the other competitors were finished before this Marine completed one third of the route. And none of those competitors exited the pool, but rather awaited their brother in arms, cheering as he navigated the 100-meter pool. That Marine waved off all help, and continued to the end, and was the victor, simply by finishing.
I watched as country music star Clay Walker made a dying Marine’s wish come true by recognizing him by name and singing his favorite song while he sat in the front row. Hours later, the Marine succumbed to cancer. And when The American Legion put out the call for more contributions to ensure that this brave hero could be buried next to his grandfather and that his 7-year-old son would be cared for, I received a check for $15,000 from an organization run by San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito. This, even as Zito was preparing for the home stretch of a season that would see the Giants win the National League Championship.
I highlighted on my blog the man who I believe should have been the 2009 Athlete of the Year, a fellow military blogger named J.R. Salzman. J.R. was a six-time World Log Rolling Champion from Menomonie, Wis., when he deployed to Iraq as a sergeant with the 34th Infantry Division. While there he would earn the coveted Combat Infantryman's Badge. He would also lose his right arm, and have his left hand pulverized. Despite a brain injury that causes him short-term memory loss, J.R. came home to go back to college. And despite having to get used to a prosthetic limb, J.R. would go on to win the 2009 World Log Rolling Championship. And earlier this year he and his wife Josie, who stood by his side during his long recovery, had their first child.
There aren't too many jobs that allow you to take an active part in so many things in such a short period of time. But working for The American Legion, these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities come around roughly once a month. Everyone knows abstractly what The American Legion does. They know of our post homes, parades and flag retirement services. Children and young adults know of our American Legion baseball program, and our Boys and State and Boys Nation Programs, our Oratorical Contest and Junior Shooting Sports competitions. Some even know about our efforts on behalf of wounded veterans who are trying to get the services owed to them by virtue of their sacrifices. Others know of our extensive lobbying efforts to ensure that Congress also is reminded of the debt we owe these men and women.
The American Legion is all those things, and much, much more. If you are a veteran, a family member of a veteran, or just someone concerned about what is happening with our veterans and servicemembers, drop on by our website at www.legion.org and take a look around. I guarantee that whether you have never heard of the Legion, or have been a member for 20 years, we'll show you something we are doing that you didn't know about.
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Note: This post is part of a weeklong celebration of U.S. military veterans. You can find more stories and resources at the Microsoft Citizenship website.