Eight recent high school graduates received a special trip to Washington, D.C., June 1-2 on behalf of The American Legion and Samsung Electronics. For the first time in their 18-year relationship, the two organizations hosted a luncheon at The National Press Club to honor the 2013 Samsung American Legion Scholarship  recipients.
"We wanted to kick off a tradition this year of building this new community of American Legion scholars," said Adam Yates, Samsung Electronics North America headquarters vice president, corporate communications and citizenship, to attendees at the luncheon "Congratulations to all of the scholarship winners; you have a lot to be proud of."
As recipients of the $20,000 college scholarship, the students share a common thread – they attended American Legion Boys State or Auxiliary Girls State, and they are direct descendants of a Korean War veteran.
When Gabrielle Lessen of Alexandria, La., told her grandfather that she was a Samsung American Legion Scholarship recipient, "he was incredibly proud of me and said that his war certificate must be lucky" because Lessen's sister, Samantha, was a 2010 Samsung Scholarship recipient. The scholarship will help cover Lessen's out-of-state tuition to Texas A&M University, where she will attend this fall.
"I am so excited to be recognized here in D.C., and I am grateful to The American Legion and Samsung for the scholarship," Lessen said. "My sister sends her thanks as well."
For Austin Owen of Vestavia Hills, Va., his grandfather shared stories about his experience as a tank commander during the Korean War when Owen told him the news about being a Samsung Scholarship recipient. "He was really proud of me when I received the scholarship, and it opened the door for him to share his war experience with me," said Owen, who will be attending the University of Virginia this fall to study foreign policy. "It's fantastic being here in D.C. with the other scholarship recipients. We are all appreciative."
During the luncheon, the scholarship recipients also heard remarks from American Legion National Headquarters Americanism Division staff members, keynote speaker and 1996 Samsung Scholarship recipient Dr. Rachel Forbes, and Past National Commander William Detweiler.
During his time as national commander, Detweiler accepted the $5 million endowment from Samsung in 1995 at the Legion's 77th National Convention in Indianapolis on behalf of The American Legion. The endowment was a gesture of appreciation by Samsung to U.S. military veterans for coming to the aid of South Korea in its struggle against invading communist forces from China and North Korea. Through interest earned on the fund's principal, the Samsung American Legion Scholarship has awarded more than $4.9 million in grants to nearly 1,700 eligible applicants.
"It's one thing for Samsung to write a check, but for The American Legion to responsibly shepherd and manage that investment, to be able to bring value to 1,700 kids, we are very grateful," Yates said. "It's a true honor for me to be here – having nothing to do with the past of this (scholarship) program, but to be very, very personally interested in its future."
As a first-year recipient of the scholarship, Dr. Forbes – a kidney transplant surgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. – remembers "filling out the Samsung American Legion Scholarship application and mostly thinking about the gratitude I had for my family members who made me eligible to receive the scholarship," she said to the eight scholarship recipients. "They are the reason we are all here today together – you all have veterans of the Korean War. And although you are amazing in your own right, they are amazing too and that's why you are recipients of the scholarship."
Forbes is giving back to veterans by also working as a kidney transplant surgeon at the Nashville VA Medical Center, where she is "very grateful to have the opportunity to take care of veterans and help them almost on a daily basis," she said.
At the conclusion of the luncheon, Samsung and The American Legion awarded the scholarship recipients with gifts to further support their college studies and knowledge of the Korean War. Samsung gave each student a Galaxy Tab 4, and the Legion provided a tablet cover as well as a copy of the book, "Korea Reborn: A Grateful Nation Honors War Veterans for 60 Years of Growth."
"A huge thanks to The American Legion and Samsung for this trip, the scholarship and now these gifts; they are really generous," said Cameron Akker of Sammamish, Wash., who will be attending Harvard this fall. "With my grandfather being a Korean War veteran, I didn't know there was an organization like the Legion supporting his service. Thank you."
Prior to the luncheon, the scholarship recipients enjoyed a tour of the National Mall and breakfast at the Legion's D.C. office. "This trip has been a blast," said Dallas DeBruin of Greenfield, Ohio. "I've met seven fantastic people, and we are completely grateful to both Samsung and The American Legion."