When Lisa Witt received the news on her front doorstep that her husband, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Daniel Witt, was killed while on active duty, finances became a concern. Daughter Eva was headed to college soon, and sons Eric and Peter were not far behind.
But The American Legion’s Legacy Scholarship helped eased some of that financial burden and ensured the siblings followed in their father’s footsteps of becoming lifelong learners.
The Legacy Scholarship was “very easy to apply to, very supportive, and very easy to renew,” said Lisa, a retired Air Force colonel. “Those were all very helpful things at a time when there was a lot of stress and grief, and it was hard to focus.”
The Legion’s Legacy Scholarship Fund has ensured higher education is a possibility for children whose parents lost their lives while honorably serving on active duty on or after 9/11. And now children of post-9/11 veterans with a VA disability rating of 50 percent or higher are eligible to apply to the renewable scholarship.
The Legacy Scholarship enabled Eva to study art – a passion she shared with her father – at Xavier University in Cincinnati. “I was the first one going to college and the first one who brought this extra financial burden to the family. By applying to The American Legion Legacy Scholarship it allowed me to study something I was passionate about and then pay for things like (art) supplies,” said Eva, 25, who recently graduated with a masters in counseling and art therapy and lives in Chicago. “It was really special to be able to pursue art in higher education and be supported in a financial way to pursue that passion.”
A piece of her artwork created on the day she learned of her father’s passing helped earn her a spot in Xavier’s art program and has become symbolic for the whole family. The painting is of a bird with what looks to be a hole in its chest due to spilled ink caused from Eva rushing away from the painting to hear of the news. “Birds are now an important symbol for us because they remind us of dad because of that flight,” she said. “That for me as an artist was a very symbolic moment of that day.”
At the time of his passing in May 2008, Daniel, 42, was a C-5 pilot with the 445th Airlift Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. With nearly 20 years in the service, he flew numerous medical evacuations of wounded soldiers and supply missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Lisa said Dan would pray with the wounded soldiers en route back to the states and then verbally promise, “’I’m going to get you back home safely.’ That captures who he was.”
“He had a strong sense of duty,” said Peter, 20, who is studying architecture at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. “So it’s been very helpful to have The American Legion Legacy Scholarship to help with the financial burden and to carry on our dad’s legacy.” Peter has used the scholarship to purchase materials for the building of architecture models. “(The scholarship) is very personalized because (the Legion) empathized with our story.”
As the three siblings applied for college scholarships during their pursuit for different educational paths, a commonality among the three of them was that they were all recipients of The American Legion Legacy Scholarship. “That’s really been a blessing to have that support not just individually, but as a family,” said Eric, 24, a graduate of Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, with a degree in biology. Eric used the scholarship to help pay for lab fees and a case study conducted in Bermuda. “And just the fact that we were all able to return to it because many scholarships are non-renewable.”
Recipients of the Legacy Scholarship may reapply up to six times for the expense of graduate or post-graduate tuition, books, room and board, meal plans, transportation and other supplies needed to achieve a higher education.
“(The American Legion) cares so much about these families that have really hard stories, that are struggling in financial ways but also struggling with loss,” Eva said. “Being able to know that the organization is not just looking at our financial need but also taking into consideration the other burdens that are on the family and how that financial support can take some of that burden off of us. That was why (the Legacy Scholarship) was always a really important one to return to.”