Department Commander James B. May
98th Convention Selection for Commander of The American Legion, Department of Indiana
James B. May was elected The American Legion, Department of Indiana state commander by delegates from the 11 districts throughout the state during the 98th Indiana American Legion Convention July 9, 2015 in Indianapolis.
May is a 46 year member of The American Legion, Department of Indiana. His Legion career began in 1970 at the Burton Woolery Post 18 in his hometown of Bloomington, Ind. He’s served every position available there, some several times over.
May has held many major offices on the District level, including Adjutant, Sgt. at Arms, Membership and Finance. Every post in the 7th district had 100% membership during his year as District Commander 2001 – 2002. He also served on many committees, among his most rewarding were Children and Youth, Employment and Legislative Committees.
He served as Department Southern Vice Commander 2009 – 2010. May has served as chairman of all four Department of Indiana commissions; Americanism, Children and Youth, Internal Affairs and Rehabilitation.
He served on the National Media and Communications Council and the National Convention Contest Committee
In 1983, May married his wife of 33 years, Marsha. Together, they raised his stepson Andrew Michael Stephenson, who is captain at the Indiana University Police Department in Bloomington, Ind. They have two grandsons, Z and Ty. Both are avid football players in high school and college.
May earned his Legion membership eligibility through his service in the U.S. Army 1968 – 1971. He deployed to Vietnam with the 23rd Infantry Division, known popularly as the Americal Division, 1969 – 1970. He served as a personnel sergeant traveling Vietnam to administrative support to troops in fire bases and forward operating bases across the country.
After his tour of duty, he continued to serve his nation in the Army Reserves here in Indiana for 18 more years. He retired with 21 years-of-service in 1990.
After his military service, May went to work for the Indiana Department of Transportation as a crew leader for signs and signals department in the Seymour, Ind., district for 20 years. He retired in 1989 and went on to work security and eventually as a purchaser at Crane Naval Base from 1989 until he retired again in 2010.
May takes American Legion membership very seriously. This year marked his 20th Consecutive Gold Brigade award at the 98th Annual Convention in Indianapolis. The Gold Brigade award is given to Legion recruiters who enroll 50 members or more annually. In 2001-2002, he recruited his all-time high, 182 members in his District.
His motto this year is, “Remember the Past, Look to the Future.”
“We need to remember where we came from, how we were started," said May. "We need to get back to our roots in order to look and plan for the future. We need to get back to our core values and secure younger membership to be our future leaders."
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State of the Legion
It’s been one hell of a ride, of that we can all be sure.
I first need to thank my lovely wife of 42 years, Claudia, for her commitment as First Lady of The American Legion, Department of Indiana. Regardless of the severity of her condition, she always put our Legion Family first. Her heartfelt love of Veterans, Legionnaires and their families is and always was unwavering.
Words cannot express the gratitude I feel to you Claudia, and for your dedication, commitment and sacrifice to me, and to The American Legion.
I cannot thank you all enough for the opportunity you’ve given me to serve you as your Department Commander. It’s been a wonderful ride. Like anything truly worth doing, it’s been difficult at times ... but it was worth it at every turn.
The year you gave to Claudia is one that we will never forget. The friends we made … the opportunities we were given … and the many hundreds of miles we traveled will be with us for the rest of our lives, and that is a gift that few men ever receive. Thank you.
Now, it is my duty to report to you on the state of the Legion. Are we strong? Are we relevant? Are we secure in our future?
I can confidently answer ‘yes’ to all of these questions. When I came into office on this stage one year ago, I said we had our work cut out for us. I think all of my officers can agree, this year has had its “ups and downs”
I’d be dishonest if I didn’t tell you that I hoped for a stronger finish in membership. I know all of my officers agree. We fought to stop the bleeding and stop this downward slide we’ve undergone since 1994.
Membership is the lifeblood of this organization. But let me expand on that. It’s not just your membership that keeps us moving forward.
Are we strong?
It is the service our membership gives to our Hoosier veterans, their families and their communities, that keeps us strong.
It’s the selfless service of our Legion volunteers that work at every level to improve the lives of those that wore the cloth of our nation during wartime that makes us strong.
To state it simply, our membership changes lives. Ladies and gentlemen ... together ... “We Change Lives.” And if you believe anything less than that, you are selling yourself and our great organization short.
I see it here on stage with more than $150,000 donated to our programs like Operation Comfort Warriors, The Riley Children’s Foundation, and the Child Education and Welfare Foundation over the past year.
I see it when I visit my department staff and officers and they relay to me the successes they experience in their own towns, posts and districts.
I see it in the volunteer spirit in all of you during my past year traveling countless miles, visiting posts across the state. Together, the Auxiliary, the Sons of The American Legion, and The American Legion Riders, I truly believe that we are strong.
Are we relevant?
Yes. Now as much as ever. We have reached out to young servicemen and women both in meeting their personal needs and in advising them of the threats to their future benefits.
Last year, John Hickey and our Department Service Office brought more than $85 million back in veterans benefits to the Indiana economy alone.
And, once again, we’ve picked up the torch in the legislative arena. Here in Indiana, we partnered with the next three largest veterans service organizations; the VFW, DAV and AMVETS, respectively.
We aligned our legislative priorities together and pooled our resources to strategically advocate for our top veterans issues at the State Capitol ... And we were successful.
This year, Governor Mike Pence signed 13 veterans related bills into law. He stated he’d never signed so many bills into law in a single sitting. We met 6 of the priorities we set out to accomplish.
A few of these include Senate Enrollment Act 295 – The Military Family Relief Fund. This law opens the Fund to allow access to all veterans from all eras with or without children beginning July 1, 2016 and allows tax payers to check a box on next year’s state tax forms to donate. Look for that next tax season.
Senate Enrollment Act 145 – Missing in American Project. Late last year the Legion showed support in honoring a Korean War era Marine Corps Veteran whose remains were left unclaimed by next-of-kin for several weeks. The community came together and thousands showed up for his funeral in Indianapolis. The story made national news, but hundreds more veterans remain unclaimed.
Senate Enrollment Act 145 allows veterans service organizations to work directly with Indiana funeral homes to identify and lay to rest those veterans with no claiming next-of-kin whose mortal remains go unclaimed in facilities throughout Indiana.
And, House Enrollment Act 189 – County Veteran Service Officer Training. This law supports annual training, accreditation, and work reporting for country VSOs as it is outlined in the Indiana Code.
And finally, we continue to support our Hoosier youth though Hoosier Boys State, the Oratorical competition and the flag education and etiquette.
I had the pleasure of presenting a $20,000 scholarship to Hoosier Boys State and Boys Nation graduate Calvin Ish at Post 111 in Bluffton while celebrating our Legion Birthday.
Are we secure in our future?
During my time as commander, my officers and I recognized that in order to firmly secure our place in the future as the premier service organization in the world, we need to tell our individual stories, and how we effect the lives of our veterans, their families and our communities for good.
We’re not just the smoky tavern up the road where old veterans share war stories and host fish fries. We’re much more than that and we’re looking to the future.
Does this mean tearing down what is already in place and has been since our WWI and WWII founding fathers and grandfathers? Absolutely not.
We’re not looking to change what’s been in place for almost a century now. We’re simply adding on to our foundation, to make us relevant for the next 100 years.
With your support, and with the support of the strategic planning committee and the Department Executive Committee, we’ve laid the groundwork to communicate through a variety of mediums.
We developed our new Department campaign initiative, “We Change Lives,” and we’re implementing new methods of broadcasting this message.
We recently launched our new Department website. It’s modern, it’s simplistic and gives us capabilities untapped before like online fill-forms and purchasing membership online.
And, most notably, we’re continuing to develop the Department Webcast, a live interactive informative online meeting, broadcast from the Department Headquarters for all to attend regardless of location and membership.
This newly added capability will give us the vehicle to bring our Legion message to younger generations of veterans. Veterans who have young families and busy careers. Veterans that can’t necessarily make it to the Legion Post but still want to find ways to volunteer their time. It gives us a complete, interactive digital storefront where veterans can come learn more about who we are, and where they fit in.
And now, it is finally that time. I give up this white hat with a sigh of relief, but at the same time, I do so reluctantly and fondly.
I want to send a big thank you to the second district, my second district past commanders and my officers which I like to call "Team Indiana". Without you-all I could not have had the honor of serving the Department of Indiana. It's been a dream come true.
Being a veterans service officer for more than a decade has shown me how rewarding it is to really help our nations veterans gain access to the benefits and care that they deserve. The opportunity you’ve given me to serve as your Department Commander and assist our nation’s heroes across the great state of Indiana has meant the world to me and Claudia. It’s an experience I will never forget.
Remember, together, “We Change Lives.” Thank you all…and God Bless you and God Bless The American Legion Family.