Story and Photos by Tim Sproles
LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Another membership year is in the books. The American Legion, Department of Indiana held the annual Close of Books on the 2017 – 2018 membership year at the historic Indiana Veterans Home in Lafayette, Ind., Sunday, June 10.
The Close of Books event gives posts around the state one final opportunity to turn in membership cards for the year. Department leadership also use this event as an opportunity to establish best-practices for the upcoming membership year.
Even with heavy rains and storms in the area, members of the Hoosier Legion Family came out in full force.
The Department had a very robust recruitment program that even saw a winter statewide membership drive-around called “The Snowball Express”, but the Dept. still came up short on membership.
Department Membership Chairman, Ron Byrley, said, “We turned in 823 cards today. We gave a tremendous effort this year. We signed up 73,606 Legionnaires this year. That’s seems like quite a lot, but unfortunately, we didn’t meet our 100% goal.”
“Membership has and always will be the life-blood of this organization,” said Department Commander Marty Dzieglowicz. “Membership dollars support our Dept. Service Office and a range of other programs that help our Hoosier Veterans. We came up short on membership this year, but we will never come up short on helping fellow veterans. Dept. Commanders and blue-cap volunteers across Indiana are already working on getting our membership numbers higher.”
The Sons of the American Legion Indiana Detachment met their goals and then some.
“We actually beat our record for last year by 115 cards and that puts us over 100% in membership,” said Dewey Long, Detachment Commander. “It seems like our Detachment just keeps growing. We have reached record number for the last three years in a row. I think that says a lot about the SAL and the on-going mission of The American Legion.”
Legion family members said that the best part of the day was meeting the staff and residents of the Indiana Veterans Home.
“We all enjoy coming here for the Close of Books,” said Department Cmdr. Dzieglowicz. “The mission of the staff here at IVH falls right in line with the mission statement of The American Legion. We help our Veterans. Spending time with these wonderful people is something we look forward to each year.”
Korean War veteran hopes pact between U.S. and North Korea will finally bring remains of comrades home
By Rich Nye - WTHR Channel 13
INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) – One part of the agreement signed by President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un includes a commitment to recover and return the remains of U.S. Soldiers killed in the Korean War.
Korean War veteran Gene Esselborn, 86, heard the news Tuesday while telling war stories with fellow veterans over beers at VFW Post 98 on the westside.
“Oh God! I saw enough bodies to fill several graveyards,” said Esselborn. “They just killed, killed, the North Koreans did."
Esselborn joined the Army in 1948. He was only 16. He was stationed in Japan when the Korean War began in 1950.
“When that broke out we didn't even know where Korea was. Actually, we were like some 300 miles away."
Esselborn served on the ground in North Korea for a year.
"I lost all my buddies over there and what I didn't lose end up captured and they weren't quite right when they got home."
Esselborn’s comrade Johnnie Stout is one of 7,702 Korean War soldiers still unaccounted for.
"He died there in his sleep, frozen,” said Esselborn. “It was bad. It was better than 50 (degrees) below (zero). I know. I was there."
Esselborn is encouraged that the United States and North Korea have agreed to commit to recovering the remains of fallen soldiers.
"I want to see them bring back the bodies. Well, it won't be the bodies. It will be the skeletons. Give them a decent burial. I would go down to Hickory, Tennessee, to see that Johnnie got one."
Esselborn never thought he'd see the promise of peace where he fought almost 70 years ago.
"I didn't think I'd look for it, no. But I'm glad I lived long enough. Maybe that's why I've lived long enough just to see it."
Esselborn was just 18 years old when he was serving in North Korea.
176 Indiana soldiers are still unaccounted for who were captured or killed in the Korean War.
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Nick Hedrick - Journal Review
WAVELAND — This is the welcome Ron Keedy should have received coming home from Vietnam.
The Waveland native—who served in the Army—stood on the northwest corner of Cross and Green streets, where a new granite sign marks the site of the town’s veterans memorial.
A row of flags representing each military branch flapped in the breeze alongside flags for the United States, Indiana and soldiers held prisoner of war or missing in action.
“We were shunned,” Keedy said, recalling the widespread hostility faced by returning Vietnam veterans in the 1960s and ‘70s, “but this makes up for it.”
After years of stops and starts, work is once again underway to finish developing the lot into a formal tribute to military personnel from Waveland and beyond.
The effort dates back to 2007. Three years later, a fellowship group from Freedom Baptist, Christians in Action and Browns Valley churches began rounding up volunteers.
“There’s been numerous hands in the project over the years,” said Troy Phillips, a member of local revitalization group Waveland Strong.
When the organization formed in 2016, the memorial became one of its priorities. The project was included in grant proposals.
Money from the Montgomery County Community Foundation paid for the sign, unveiled last weekend during a Memorial Day ceremony. It will eventually become a permanent part of the memorial.
The land, once home to an antique shop and a variety store, was donated by resident Ralph Jones.
“I remember getting ice cream here,” said Keedy, another Waveland Strong member.
The group is now working to raise funds for the next phases of the project.
“We’re at the point right now where we’re really ready to start rocking and rolling on this and making things happen,” Phillips said.
Plans call for a brick walkway leading to and around the flagpoles. Some bricks were already engraved with the names of donors. Parking bumpers will also be installed along Green Street.
The bill for that portion rings in at $750, with the group planning to finish installation by August.
In the next phase, five slabs engraved with insignia for the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy will be placed in the memorial. Those cost a total $1,250 and are slated to be installed by Veterans Day.
Later, the group plans to install lights and make other improvements.
Vietnam veteran Ray France said the memorial is an opportunity for retired military personnel to show pride in their service and honor comrades.
France, who served in the Navy, is one of several veterans who help mow the lot and pick up trash.
“The veterans themselves are the ones that maintain the memorial,” France said.
Donations for the project are being accepted through a fund at North Salem State Bank.
Send checks to Veterans Memorial Fund, Waveland Strong, P.O. Box 137, Waveland, IN 47989.
The group has also renovated the town park’s shelter and organizes a monthly farmers market and movie night.
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By Jeff Stoffer
Robert Devinney of Lansing, Mich., was 20 years old when he entered the fighting late in the European campaign of World War II. Serving with the 82nd Airborne Division, he marched to the snowy front of northern Germany where his unit was quickly pinned down, far ahead of the rest of the division, and they were stuck. There, both of his feet froze to the ground and swelled. He could no longer strap on his combat boots.
He was evacuated to field hospitals and then to England where he recovered a couple of months later and was offered administrative duty. He rejected that. He had trained to parachute into the action and did not at that time have a combat jump in World War II. No more jumps were scheduled as the war in Europe drew closer to conclusion. But he wanted to get back to his unit and fight on the ground to be a part of Nazi Germany’s defeat. He eventually won his case and was returned to the front.
Devinney, a member of American Legion Post 12 in Lansing, was one of many veterans of World War II who gathered in Normandy, France, this week to recall the Allied invasion that liberated Europe from German occupation nearly three-quarters of a century ago. There, he and his fellow veterans of the so-described “greatest generation” were treated like celebrities. Men and women of all ages, including dozens of active-duty troops from multiple nations, and many French civilians lined up to hug them, shake their hands and kiss their cheeks.
“It’s indescribable,” Devinney said of the gratitude shown by the French people. “I was a Pfc. That was my highest grade. Now I get to talk to the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne (Maj. Gen. Erik Kurilla, who attended remembrance activities with dozens of his paratroopers). It was a one-on-one thing, and he was looking me up! You just can’t imagine. How in the world do you describe that?”
American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan was among thousands who made their way to La Fiere Bridge Sunday, where in 1944 some of the bloodiest fighting in the history of U.S. warfare occurred after D-Day by paratroopers and glider-entered soldiers. The annual parachute jump there re-enacted the low-altitude assault of June 6, 1944, just ahead of the famous beach landings that breeched Germany’s Atlantic Wall and began the march to victory.
Rohan and current Supreme Allied Commander-Europe Gen. Michael Scapparrotti were among those who spoke at the Iron Mike statue that overlooks the La Fiere Bridge battle field along the Merderet River. “We stand united and free because Allied soldiers were able to and willing to strap on 80-pound packs and jump in the night from C-47s, through storm clouds, into enemy fire,” Rohan told the crowd. “We stand united because when they landed here, these soldiers were able and willing to fight to the death for a cause greater than themselves.”
Rohan and American Legion Auxiliary National President Diane Duscheck laid wreaths alongside dignitaries at La Fiere on Sunday. On Monday, the American Legion Family group, including Sons of The American Legion National Commander Danny Smith, placed wreaths at the Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach. The group ventured along the coastline to visit Pointe du Hoc and Utah Beach.
As events unfolded to recognize the 74th anniversary of D-Day, the American Legion Family group encountered hundreds of veterans, active-duty military personnel and European citizens, who the national commander specifically recognized. “As a former U.S. Army soldier and leader of America’s largest organization of wartime veterans, I thank the people of Normandy for remembering our fallen in the way that you do,” Rohan said. “I thank all our active-duty men and women assembled here today – from all nations – because you ensure that the hard-won freedoms that bring us together now are protected.”
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By Tim Sproles
North of Indianapolis, in the quiet town of Cicero Ind., things got pretty loud over the weekend.
A group of more than 120 motorcycles with close to 170 riders, traveled to Cicero Saturday to take part in the 3rd annual “Battle Ride”, hosted by The American Legion Riders Cicero Chapter out of Post 341.
This annual fundraiser benefits The American Legion program Operation Comfort Warriors, which aims to provide additional comfort items to veterans not normally received while receiving medical treatment. This includes recreational and therapeutic options for our wounded, or injured veterans.
The program focuses primarily on injured or ill troops with severe injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, the signature wounds of current conflicts.
“About 20% of all the veterans that come back from Afghanistan and Iraq are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)", said Jody Brown, Commander of Cicero Post 341.
“Only about half of them seek any kind of treatment at all. It’s just a real problem and we just feel that something needs to be done and we want to do our part to see what we can do to help."
The Battle Ride started at the Cicero Post and made scheduled stops at both the Whitestown American Legion Post 410 and the Fairmount American Legion Post 313.
When everything was said and done, the Battle Ride raised over $4,300 for OCW.
“We traveled about 125 miles today and we finished up here at Harley-Davidson of Indianapolis," said Dave Baughman, Director of the Legion Riders Cicero Chapter.
"They were kind enough to not only host the closing event to our Battle Ride, but they also pledged 5% of their sales to OCW while we are on ground today."
Past National Commander of The American Legion, Jim Koutz, was on-hand to accept the check.
“I just really appreciate the hard work our Cicero Legion Riders each year to put on this Battle Ride. It is a lot of work for these Legionnaires, but they never lose focus that we are here to help veterans, " said Koutz.
If you would like more information on the Battle Ride, Click Here.
For more information on the OCW program, Click Here.
By Jeff Stoffer
Nearly 17 years ago, 39 days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, they were inserted by helicopter onto a godforsaken middle eastern landscape to fight the Taliban on horseback alongside warlords of the Northern Alliance. On Saturday, three of them were inserted onto a parade float alongside American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan in Indianapolis.
U.S. Army 5th Special Forces Group veterans Mark Nutsch, Chris Spence and Will Summers – along with West Point Cadet and American Legion Boys State alum Levi Baldridge – rolled along the crowded streets of Indianapolis and heard cheers from the crowd. The entry’s title expressed a long-held philosophy of the nation’s largest veterans organization: peace through strength.
The Legion’s 500 Festival Parade float won the prestigious President’s Award for most original design concept earlier in the week. It featured a replica of the “America’s Response Monument” that now stands near Ground Zero in New York City. The statue, featuring a 21st century Special Forces soldier on an ancient-bred Afghanistan saddle horse, has come to illustrate the ongoing war on terror, America’s earliest ground response to the attacks.
“It was the initial symbol, the icon right after 9/11,” said Nutsch, whose real-life role in the early fighting inspired the 2018 hit movie “12 Strong.”
“That mission brought hope to American people, and to the Afghan people as well, who were involved in that tough fight with the Taliban and al Qaida … liberating their country,” Nutsch said. “I hope (the parade float) sheds light on more stories, more of the incredible missions and experiences that have happened in the years since.”
Summers is credited with making the oft-referenced statement describing the clash of warfighting cultures that came when the Americans deployed to Afghanistan. “We had met with (former Defense Secretary) Donald Rumsfeld,” Summers explained Saturday before climbing aboard the float in front of American Legion National Headquarters. “We just had a few minutes, and he was asking us to describe our impression of the mission, and I said, ‘It was like The Jetsons meeting the Flintstones.’ We brought all this technology, and we had all this raw, indigenous talent. We brought that together. It was such a neat, interactive combination.”
That combination helped send the Taliban into rapid retreat in the earliest stages of the war, a battle that has been compared to the famous “charge of the light brigade” in the Crimean War and other bold assaults in military history.
“Not too many people know what we did,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. (ret.) John Spanogle, an Indianapolis Legionnaire who led one of the Special Forces teams in the late 2001 mission code-named Task Force Dagger. “One-hundred Green Berets on the ground who took over a country … that’s unprecedented in history.”
The statue was brought to life by internationally renowned sculptor Douwe Blumberg of Kentucky, whose grandfather disappeared into the Holocaust of World War II. (See story at www.legion.org/magazine/230686/war-sculptor.) Blumberg allowed The American Legion to use the original foam form of the 16-foot bronze monument, housed in the attic of his studio, to build the centerpiece of the 500 Festival Parade float.
The 500 Festival event, regarded as the nation’s largest Memorial Day parade, also featured actors from “12 Strong” – including Geoff Stults and U.S. Navy veteran Kenny Sheard.
Actor Chris Hemsworth,who played U.S. Army 5th Special Forces Group Capt. Mark Nutsch, was selected to wave the green flag to start Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 auto race. Nutsch led Operational Detachment Alpha 595 team into battle in support of Northern Alliance Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostrum.
Spanogle, son of American Legion Past National Commander and Past National Adjutant Robert W. Spanogle of Indianapolis, contacted his former 5th Special Forces Group comrades last spring to see if they would join the Legion on the 500 Festival float.
“Brotherhood for life,” he said. “There is no stronger bond than the bond you forge with the men you go into combat with.”
Spence, who took the photographs of horseback Green Berets that Rumsfeld shared in November 2001, said he and his fellow elite soldiers “were just doing our job” when they became the first Americans to ride horseback into battle since 1943.
“We didn’t know the magnitude of what it was going to turn into,” Spence said before the parade began. “We just retaliated on behalf of the United States. We just brought with us America’s scorn. We brought Gideon’s sword forward, in retaliation for what they had done.
“We were basically at the right place at the right time,” he added. “That’s what it all boils down to. The recognition, the thanks we get … it’s just overwhelming because we were just doing our jobs. It’s like the firefighter or the policeman who stands his post each day just doing his job. We just happened to find ourselves in that historic moment, at that time.”
Rohan said she hopes the float will inspire young people to study the stories of military courage and sacrifice. “It’s amazing,” she said. “We never take enough time to hear these stories. It’s all part of our history, and there are so many of our youth who don’t understand.”
Spanogle said the Special Forces veterans at the parade Saturday were also “memorializing our brothers on Memorial Day – the ones we lost. Holding that memory of our brothers on this day brings us together even stronger.”
“The one prevailing thought, emotion, desire in my heart, is that I just wish (people) would realize that everyone out there who is serving deserves the same credit,” Summers said. “There are so many people earning this same privilege that we have right now. I am just humbled. I don’t take responsibility for it. But I accept it for everybody out there, who is winning this. This is their float, not mine.”
For Baldridge, an Indiana American Legion Hoosier Boys State alum, “it’s a very big honor” to be a part of the festival alongside the Task Force Dagger veterans. “It seems like every generation has that group of very elite warriors that sets themselves apart. This seems to be our generation’s guys, since 9/11. I am very honored to meet these true heroes, who have set an example for what I hope to accomplish in my career.”
Legion Riders and Department of Indiana color guard were also at the 500 Festival Parade and marched. American Legion Department of Indiana Assistant Adjutant John Crosby said, “I think it’s great that we have volunteers here from all over the state. We are represented well. The whole American Legion Family is here."
Sons of The American Legion National Commander Danny Smith put it this way before joining American Legion Auxiliary National President Diane Duscheck in the parade: “I feel like I am in the company of heroes every day that I am a part of this organization.”
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By Cameran Richardson
When U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Montgomery arrived in Mogadishu, Somalia, in early 1993, he said the smell of death was in the air because of the starvation of babies, children and people – warlords were using food and other resources for their own causes. His mission as commander of U.S. Forces and deputy commander of the United Nations Forces in Somalia was to make sure humanitarian relief got to the people who needed it through the setup of feeding stations. And to disarm the Somalis.
After 13 months in Somalia, Montgomery witnessed the success of the humanitarian efforts, but also witnessed the lives of American soldiers claimed during the Battle of Mogadishu, and ultimately led efforts to rescue the Army Rangers and Delta Force with help from the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division, the Pakistanis and Malaysians.
Montgomery, an Indiana native who retired from the Army after 34 years of honorable service that earned him both the Silver and Bronze Star, shared his story to an audience at the Indiana War Memorial in Indianapolis on May 18.
“It very quickly became apparent that nobody is going to disarm Somalia. Nobody is going to disarm Somalia today either,” Montgomery said. “But what people forget is that it was a hugely successful humanitarian effort. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis survived because (the U.S.) and other United Nations did what we did.”
He showed the audience images of a feeding station with children and shared that while visiting one a young child ran over to him and put her arms around his leg and held on. He picked her up and held her. “That baby knew what that (U.S.) uniform meant. And she knew what it meant for them to survive over there.”
Throughout the humanitarian efforts, resistance from the warlords intensified and Montgomery became involved in a third mission that occurred on Oct. 3, 1993, in Mogadishu. That Battle of Mogadishu became known as the Battle of Black Hawk Down, and inspired the award-winning 2001 film. The Task Force Ranger and Delta Force had a mission to capture Somali warlord Mohamed Aidid and his allies, but they were met with strong resistance. “Every Somalian grabbed his gun, RPG, grenade … they came to fight,” Montgomery said.
During the operation, two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down by RPGs. Some wounded survivors were able to evacuate, but others remained at the crash site and were isolated. The battle continued throughout the night until the following morning when a rescue mission was underway.
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