Story by Michael Clark, Miller Brooks
The city of Indianapolis continues its rich tradition of honoring our nation's military veterans with the official dedication of The Living Monuments in downtown Indianapolis on Dec. 13, 2019. Carved from Indiana limestone, The Living Monuments project celebrates the commitment and generosity of the men and women who dedicate their lives to serving America, while saluting the diversity and strength of these heroes.
The Living Monuments is located on the grounds of the world-renowned Soldiers and Sailors Monument, and at just 2-ft tall and 5-ft wide, it was created to serve as both an independent marker as well as a podium in which individuals can stand and interact with the memorial.
"The Living Monuments truly complements our existing memorials and monuments, and we could not be more thrilled to have this new addition as a way to celebrate the courage of the 400,000 veterans in Indiana," said Brig. Gen. Stewart Goodwin, executive director of the Indiana War Memorials Commission. "Considering the meaning behind the monument, the engagement potential with visitors to downtown Indianapolis and the heritage of the natural stone, it is really a perfect fit for our landscape."
Photos taken with The Living Monuments and shared on social media using the hashtag #LivingMonumentsIndy will help generate a donation to the Indiana War Memorial Foundation.
Polycor Inc., the world's largest natural stone quarrier, who recently merged with Bloomington, Indiana-based, Indiana Limestone Company, was the catalyst behind The Living Monuments.
"The Living Monuments began as an avenue to recognize and celebrate our veteran employees and to thank them for their sacrifice and commitment to our nation," said Matt Howard, President, Polycor West. "It's incredible to think that The Living Monuments will now reside in a city with such a rich military tradition and strong culture of honoring veterans. We couldn't be happier."
With 25 acres filled with a museum, three parks and various monuments and memorials, Indianapolis ranks first in the nation in the number of acres dedicated to honoring veterans, and second only to Washington D.C. in the number of monuments.
Data from the Department of Veterans Affairs shows that the homeless veterans population in the state of Indiana has increased by 6 percent in the last year. As a result, anywhere from 300 to 400 homeless or at-risk veterans visit the food pantry at the Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation (HVAF) in downtown Indianapolis every month.
Together, the American Legion Department of Indiana and state lawmakers are helping those veterans in need by creating 500 care packages filled with non-perishable food and toiletries.
“Who better to take care of homeless veterans than veterans who understand the struggle when you transition out of the military, essentially leaving behind your second family, and you have to recreate yourself and assimilate back into civilian society,” said Department of Indiana Adjutant John Crosby.
The Helping Our Hoosier Heroes Donation Drive brought Legion leadership and Legion Family members from across the state to the fourth floor of the Indiana Statehouse the morning of Feb. 10 to fill grocery bags with the 3,000 care items stacked on tables. HVAF will be one of four shelter destinations to receive the care packages for homeless veterans statewide.
“This is coming at a really great time for us because our donations are down for the pantry and demand is high,” said Ashlee Walls, vice president of Advancement at HVAF.
The opportunity for the Department of Indiana and state lawmakers to work together arrived when homeless veterans issues became the charitable cause for the House legislative year.
“We are just overwhelmed by the service of Hoosiers to our nation. So policymakers want to do everything that we can to help support those who served our nation and served our state as well,” said Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives Brian Bosma. “We all understand the importance of encouraging that (military) service and supporting our veterans. So we were thrilled that The American Legion of Indiana stepped forward and said, ‘We’ll help you with this.’”
Donations for the care packages poured in from the Legion Family, lawmakers and community. “There’s been a lot of community effort come together for this,” Crosby said.
As House Democrats and Republicans came out of legislative session, Legionnaires walked around the tables with them to fill grocery bags, discuss homeless veterans issues and get their picture taken.
“They appreciate what we stand for, what we do, what we’ve done and they want to help us help others,” said Tommy Goul, a Desert Storm Air Force veteran and member of Post 437 in Selma, Ind. “Anytime we can give back to veterans is great. And anytime I get a chance to be a part of this, I’m all in for it.”
The homeless veterans initiative at the Statehouse also served as an opportunity for members to discuss American Legion initiatives, legislative priorities and membership. Indiana American Legion 10th District Commander Ron Patterson spoke with Rep. Steve Davisson’s about the need for more county service officers to help veterans with their benefits claims. Crosby said currently the Department of Indiana represents about 63,000 of the 85,000 service-connected disabled veterans with claims.
“These care packages will help (the homeless veterans) for a few days, but the bigger idea here is that we get them in touch with a service officer and show them that there is help out there to get off the street and get rehabilitated,” Crosby said.
During their conversation, Patterson learned that Davisson’s son, Jay, is a disabled veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan war who currently is a full-time caregiver for his wife who has a terminal brain tumor. Patterson extended the invitation to invite Jay and his wife into the Legion Family by paying for his dues. “We will help take care of him,” Patterson said.
Davisson handed Patterson a business card to make the Legion Family connection happen.
“A lot of good things are going on here,” said Department of Indiana Commander Allen Connelly. “(The Helping Our Hoosier Heroes Donation Drive) really helps to shine a light on the veteran community and problems with homelessness.”
Recalling the popular “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets, American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford paraphrased those words during remarks at the 86th Annual President Abraham Lincoln Pilgrimage in Springfield, Ill., on Feb. 12.
“Now the Constitution prohibits having religious tests to hold office, but might I suggest that our elected leaders occasionally ask, ‘W.W.L.D. - What would Lincoln do?” Oxford said at a luncheon hosted by American Legion Post 32 in honor of the 16th president’s birthday. “As we look at the Global War on Terrorism, the threats represented by North Korea, China and Russia…as we look at domestic problems such as racism, drug abuse and polarization, we should all ask, ‘W.W.L.D. What would Lincoln do? In most cases, the answer would lead to a bold, morally correct and sensible solution.”
Earlier that morning, Oxford and American Legion Family leaders from several Midwestern departments paid their respects by laying wreaths at Lincoln’s tomb. Oxford pointed out the challenges Lincoln faced not only in preserving the Union, but in lobbying for the 13th Amendment and authoring the Emancipation Proclamation.
“Until slavery was eliminated, there could never be civil rights and clearly not ALL men and, or, women, could be considered equal,” he said.
American Legion Auxiliary National President Nicole Clapp referenced Lincoln’s first inaugural address during her remarks at his tomb. “President Lincoln knew who his enemies were and what their objective was. Today the rules of engagement are constantly changing,” she said. “We are well aware that not everyone in the world wants to be friends of the United States. So it is our responsibility to maintain collective strength for our troops at home, abroad and always.”
The current mayor of Lincoln’s hometown compared the president to fallen servicemembers. “Like our veterans and military, who risk their lives for the belief in our country’s freedoms, Abraham Lincoln paid the ultimate sacrifice so we may live as one nation, under God and share in this freedom today,” Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder said.
It was Lincoln’s promise made to veterans and their families that has become the motto of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The words, from Lincoln’s second inaugural address, were recalled by many speakers including Sons of the American Legion National Commander Clint Bolt. “Let us always live up to ideals and principles of President Lincoln so that we can continue to carry out his mission and that of The American Legion’s, ‘to care for him who shall have borne the battle,” Bolt said.
Oxford continued the theme. “Among other things, ‘we care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan’” Oxford added. “We do this not just because it’s right, but because it’s also necessary that our ‘government of the people, by people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’ Through the service of our brave men and women in uniform, it never will.”
Together, we change lives for Veterans, their families and their communities.
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