Tombstone, Ariz., is “the town too tough to die.”
So says Ben Headen, a member of American Legion Post 24, which sits across a dirt road from where the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral occurred. “It's a very close-knit town,” says Headen, as actors in costume entertain tourists just down the road. “The post is a close-knit family. It's a town and community that come together.”
Headen is perhaps the best example of the deeply committed family of American Legion Post 24. “Without this American Legion, here in Tombstone, I do not believe I would be here today,” says Headen, who is the Area A vice commander for the Department of Arizona.
After leaving the Air Force, Headen battled PTSD and various other service-connected traumas.
“Walking through those doors felt like I walked in to an extended family. I'm going to use a quote from my lovely lady and call it ‘framily,’ he says, referring to his wife, Denise Boyd. “It's friends that became family. Without these people giving me something to live for and something to do, I probably wouldn't be here today.”
For Headen the help he received at a critical time inspires him to dedicate himself to helping others however he can in The American Legion.
“It drives me because someone was willing to listen to me for five minutes,” he says. “I have three children that serve in the Armed Forces for this great country. And it's a way that I can help protect their rights and their benefits and get what is deserved to them and to help other veterans, because I've been there. And sometimes if you haven't been there it's hard to promote for it. I've been there and that's why I keep trying to promote for it.”
His dedication is a prime example of the post’s marketing and fundraising program, “I Give a Damn.”
Both the town and post rely on marketing to raise awareness and generate interest. Post 24 members needed to create a niche that would resonate beyond their involvement with local parades, the Junior ROTC program, shooting sports, the senior citizens food bank and other service projects.
The post launched its I Give A Damn project in 2014. Members, snowbirds and others from outside the organization buy red shirts, cups and other merchandise with the logo to support the post. The shirts are walking billboards for the program, while the post and others promote it through their social media channels like Facebook.
While the program helps market the post beyond Tombstone, the proceeds fund repairs and other maintenance work at the post. That means Post 24 can allocate more resources back into its community. To date, about $20,000 has been raised.
“The key is to find something that fits your post, run with it and promote it to your community,” he says. “We have people come in here just to buy the shirt or just to buy a cup. People see the shirts and say, ‘What's that about?’ It's an opportunity to talk about what you've done and what your post is doing and get the word out.”
Headen surveys Allen Street, where the roads are blocked off and tourists, residents and character actors all walk down the middle of the dirt street and along wooden boardwalks.
“It looks like you stepped back in time, and when you leave this post at night and step out here at 9, 10 o'clock at night and look down Allen Street, it's like looking down a ghost town,” Headen says. “Everything is shut down. Businesses are rolled up and closed for the night. But you still get that eerie feel of seeing the moon coming over and shadowing over the town. It's intriguing. Something draws people here.”
But for Headen and others, it’s something more that draws them to the town, there is an undisputable force that keeps them engaged in the community. It is, of course, the American Legion Family of Post 24.
“They've given me the opportunity to give back to my community and to my fellow veterans,” he says. “It's also given me a purpose and a life again. They've given me a goal and an objection to try to fulfill and help other veterans the way I've been helped.”
Branch of service: Air Force (1984-1991)
Military job: Surgical technician
Rank: Senior airman
American Legion post: Roy Fourr Post 24, Tombstone, Ariz.
Years in The Legion 6
- Area vice commander (2017-present)
- Area district commander (2016)
- National Marketing Commission (2015-present)
- National American Legion College (2014)
- Post 24 commander (2012-2014)