Terry Ledford spent nearly 26 years in the U.S. military, serving in the U.S. Navy, Navy Reserves and U.S. Marine Corps before retiring as a U.S. Army chaplain. He’s still in the Retired Army Reserve, but the wear and tear from his military services have forced him to wear braces on both feet.
Ledford used to love to run, but now he says it’s difficult to even walk with his wife and daughter. But thanks to an American Legion Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) grant, Ledford is on the way to improving both his health and mental outlook.
On May 20, Ledford was presented with an elliptical bicycle via OCW, which provides items that help wounded warriors' recovery but aren’t provided by the government. The bike was given to Ledford during the second annual Sixth District Department of California Armed Forces Ball, which serves as a fundraiser for OCW.
Ledford is 100-percent service-connected through the Department of Veterans Affairs and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The elliptical has helped with the physical side of his wounds.
“I miss running. My ankles have collapsed,” said Ledford, who serves as chaplain at Elijah B. Hayes American Legion Post 168 in Patterson, Calif. “My wife and my 3-year-old (daughter) go walking all the time, and I can’t even go to the park. But as I’m building my strength on this (bike), it’s allowing me to be able to get out more with them. To get to the park. I’m building up more muscles. It’s just easier.
“It’s a lifesaver. I could never afford this. I’m on a fixed income. I don’t even have my retirement yet. I don’t get it until I’m 60. The American Legion stepped in and filled the gap.”
Ledford said after his first military deployment decades ago, he visited a local veterans service organization, but felt he didn’t fit in because of the age difference. But that changed when he revisited the Legion more than a year ago, which has helped his emotional scars.
“When I started going to the Legion post, and as I matured, I started to realize we needed each other,” Ledford said. “I realized The American Legion isn’t guys sitting around drinking beer and telling war stories. These guys actually want to help each other.
“So, my perception of The American Legion was totally changed. All of the sudden I feel like I’m part of a family. They’re all my brothers and sisters. I trust them more than I trust people in the civilian world. It makes me want to volunteer my time more. It’s family based. We help each other out. This connectivity I never found in any of the other veterans organizations.”
Ledford – who now also serves as post and District 12 adjutant, as well as Area 3 chaplain – became connected with The American Legion through Douglas Chace, a Member Engagement Coordinator and the OCW coordinator at American Legion National Headquarters. The pair had served together in California, and Chace was looking for a chaplain for the first Sixth District Armed Forces Day Ball.
The 2022 ball, which raised around $35,000 for OCW last year (the 2023 numbers are still being tallied), was the idea of California Legionnaire Brian McGuinness, a past Post 233 commander and past California District 6 commander. McGuinness made Operation Comfort Warriors his official program while district commander.
“There’s lot of ways to support veterans in The American Legion. (OCW) is how I do it,” McGuinness said. “The program is the best-kept secret in The American Legion. Everybody knows about the Four Pillars … all the excellent programs. But OCW gets to the heart of what the (founding of The American Legion) in 1919 was all about: to take care of our veterans. That’s the base core of The American Legion.”
McGuinness is in the process of creating a how-to manual for organizing a fundraiser event like the Armed Forces Ball that will be shared with American Legion National Headquarters to provide a blueprint for others to follow.
But one way that he’s been able to put on two successful events is via publicity. McGuinness utilizes social media to spread the word, having created a Facebook page for the 2023 ball. “I was able to spread the word throughout the country through social media, and to do all my advertising through social media this year,” he said. “I had people come from Colorado and other places because of social media. I’ve been contacted by others to ask me how to put on a similar event. And we generate so much publicity and awareness from (the ball), quite often, that the donations come in from the corporate and private sector well after the ball is over.”
McGuinness said his passion for OCW comes from a desire to continue the service he provided while in the military. “I was a combat medic in the Army,” McGuinness said. “Although we all promise to leave no one behind, as a medic we take that very personally, and so we do everything we can to bring our brothers and sisters home.
“My belief is the care doesn’t stop for our brothers and sisters when I get them off the field. I promise to get them home and take care of them. I’m among the people that believe that no one ever relieved me of my oath. This is how I continue to leave no one behind.”