As the sun set on downtown Indianapolis Aug. 25, the large crowd gathered at the Indiana War Memorial was reminded how bright America's future is – and of The American Legion's role in keeping it so.
A candlelight celebration on the north steps of the memorial honored recipients of The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund. Many of The American Legion Riders – who spent Aug. 21-23 raising more than $211,000 for the Legacy Fund during the 2012 Legacy Run Home's National Commander's Ride – were in attendance at the ceremony. They, along with the Legion, were thanked for their efforts in growing the fund; their efforts in seven Legacy Runs have netted nearly $3 million to help provide college scholarships for the children of U.S. servicemembers killed on or after Sept. 11, 2001.
"I'm here to thank The American Legion for financially contributing to my education," said Taylor Curry, the son of former 23-year Air Force veteran David Curry and a Legacy Scholarship recipient. "I stand here now not because of my intelligence ... but because of my father's service to America. My father would have wanted my education to continue, and he would be so grateful for the contribution received from The American Legion."
Jennifer Clapp's father, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Douglas V. Clapp, 48, was among seven Army soldiers killed in 2004 when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed while flying from Fort Hood, Texas, to check on progress in repairing vehicles damaged in Iraq. Also a Legacy Scholarship recipient, she now works in the banking industry.
Clapp told the audience that her father's service, "gives you a better comprehension of duty, honor and courage." She said she felt like a part of the Legion family and thanked the Riders for their efforts.
"It means so much to me that the Riders raise this money for me to go the college," she said. "All I can say is thank you."
Past National Commander Robert W. Spanogle, the program's master of ceremonies, was the Legion's national adjutant when the Legacy Fund was established. "The American Legion Riders accepted that challenge, and we started the Legacy Run," he said. "It's been a success ever since."
National Commander Fang A. Wong, Auxiliary National President Kris Nelson and Sons of The American Legion National Commander James Roberts also spoke during the ceremony. Also in attendance were members of the 5th Special Forces Group out of Fort Campbell, Ky. The soldiers joined The American Legion the previous day during The American Legion Riders Expo.
Country music singer Autumn Letendre sang two songs during the program, including the national anthem, and later told the story behind her song "Raise Your Flag." In 2006, Autumn's husband, Marine Capt. Brian Letendre, was killed in Iraq. Autumn gradually put her thoughts down about the experience and about the respect and love she had for her husband; the results became the lyrics for the song.
Traveling across the country as an advocate for military families, Letendre promised to bring the Legion's message with her. "Thank you for your hard work and your patriotism," she said. "Be sure as I speak across the country that I will speak of this moment."
Following the ceremony, dozens of Legion Riders took to the streets of Indianapolis for a night ride. Calling it a possible first, Spanogle said that wasn't surprising. "As we know, The American Legion is always first," he said.