The last time The American Legion’s centennial float rode through the streets of Indianapolis, it did so as the recipient of the IPL Indy 500 Festival Parade’s Grand Marshal’s Award for Most Creative Concept and Execution.
Three months later, on Aug. 25, the float again traversed downtown Indianapolis, this time near the front of the 2019 National Convention parade. Along with American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad and other Legion Family dignitaries, it also carried three very special guests.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Dustin Maxfield, Sgt. Chris Leverkuhn and Sgt. Chris Henderson – all medically retired after suffering injuries while either in training operations or combat – were guests of The American Legion over the weekend as part of the Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors program.
The trio, who served together in the 209th Quartermaster Company out of Lafayette, Ind., were able to do some sightseeing, hit area restaurants and even attend the Aug. 24 Indianapolis Colts game – witnessing quarterback Andrew Luck walk off the field as a member of the Colts for the final time in the process.
The weekend “was pretty cool,” said Maxfield, who was medically discharged in 2017 after suffering injuries to his legs, head and neck during a nighttime training operation. “It was really relaxing.”
Henderson, injured by an IED and awarded a Purple Heart while serving in Iraq in 2004, said, “Everyone we’ve met has been really nice.” And Leverkuhn, who was injured during the same IED blast and wound up with a below-knee amputation, said, “It’s the first time a few of us have been together in a while.”
The trio had another dinner planned after the parade and were going to visit the grave of a fallen comrade before heading back home. Maxfield said the weekend showed the benefit of Operation Comfort Warriors.
“I think more people need to know about it,” Maxfield said. “It’s a really good operation. I think it needs to be more recognized."
The OCW recipients – along with the rest of the parade participants and the large crowd lining Pennsylvania, New York and Meridian Streets – benefitted from unseasonably cool temperatures that hit the high 70s and carried very little of the high humidity typical for this time of year in Indiana.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles served as grand marshal, while immediate Past National Commander Denise Rohan was honorary grand marshal. More than 90 units took part in the parade, including American Legion Riders, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Motorcycle Drill Team, and the 38th Infantry Division Band, the Ceremonial Unit Mounted Color Guard, bands and delegations from American Legion Family departments.
The Department of Alabama led off the procession of contiguous Legion departments after finishing No. 1 in membership, which was a source of pride for Alabama National Executive Committeeman Willis Frazier.
““It shows that our members are very dedicated to increasing our membership,” said Frazier, who announced his delegation and joined it on the parade route. “They did a great job. Everybody pitched in. It was a team effort. We’ve got people who just want to be in the Legion.”
The reception the parade got from Indianapolis-area residents also moved Frazier. “It lets us know that we’ve got some very patriotic people in Indianapolis and the great state of Indiana,” he said. “It makes us proud to know that they still care about the service we gave to this great nation.”
Following the parade Legion Family members were able to attend a post-parade party hosted by The American Legion Department of Indiana on the American Legion Mall. The party included food, beverages and live music.