They were veterans first

When members of The American Legion Family see a need, they answer. That’s why, when I announced during the 94th National Convention in Indianapolis that Operation Comfort Warriors would serve as my primary fundraiser, I never once doubted the Legion Family’s inability to reach my initial $500,000 goal. And I was right.

By May 1, OCW donations surpassed $500,000 so I raised the bar higher to $750,000. And as we head toward the 95th National Convention in Houston, OCW donations total more than $660,000.

I have had the honor to personally deliver OCW requested items to warrior transition units at Fort Jackson, S.C., and to Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga. I too had a picnic with more than 240 wounded troops at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. When I left there I wanted to cry because 80 percent of them were missing legs or arms or had severe head injuries — that’s the kind of war we are fighting today. And that’s why OCW is so important; we need to take care of the men and women that are protecting us every day.

I also have visited many posts to personally accept OCW donations. And in late July, I received a unique request. Post 555 at the Miami Correctional Facility in Indiana wanted to donate $1,000 to OCW and asked if I would accept the donation in person. I was asked by many fellow Legionnaires, ‘Why would you want to have a Legion post in a prison?’ My answer, ‘They were veterans first.’

Nearly 20 Legionnaires from the Department of Indiana visited the 65 members of Post 555 and ate dinner with them. They ran their Legion meeting by the book, and their color guard was one of the best I’ve seen. I handed out OCW pins to all post members, and I signed autographs.

The inmates work for state pay — 12 to 20 cents an hour — and members of Post 555 have donated more than $19,000 over the past three years to their community. Yes, these men are incarcerated, but they are veterans who were proud to serve their country and are now proud to serve their community.

As my days as your national commander are coming to an end, I want to say thank you. Your donations to OCW have helped our wounded warriors as they recover from various physical injuries, illnesses and mental trauma that they suffered while defending our freedom. With the ongoing generosity of the Legion Family, we will be able to continue providing these comfort items that truly make a difference to our men and women who need our help.

Always remember my slogan, ‘Every Day is Veterans Day.’