American Legion scholars recognized for achievements in nation’s capital
Photo by Jennifer Blohm/The American Legion

American Legion scholars recognized for achievements in nation’s capital

The 2023 Samsung American Legion scholars were honored for their achievement in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with The American Legion’s annual Washington Conference. to be recognized by American Legion Family members for their achievement.

During their stay in the nation’s capital Feb. 24-27, the scholars toured the National Mall and Arlington National Cemetery with Legion Family members and attended a special recognition dinner with National American Legion Commander Daniel J. Seehafer, National Sons of The American Legion Commander Donald “JR” Hall Jr., and Auxiliary President Lisa Williamson, and their state senators.  

The 10 scholars were eligible for the Samsung American Legion Scholarship for their participation in either American Legion Boys State or Auxiliary Girls State in 2023, being the direct descendant (or legally adopted child) of a U.S. military veteran, and for their academic achievement and community service.

“I am extremely grateful to be here. We’ve had the opportunity to explore D.C. and meet with delegates of The American Legion,” said Charles Hiatt of San Diego, Calif., whose late great-grandfather, a World War II bomber pilot, made him eligible for the Samsung American Legion Scholarship. A favorite story of Hiatt’s that his great-grandfather would share was about flying in formation and watching his fellow soldiers get shot down. But he stayed in formation. “He decided to continue onward. His dedication and bravery to his country continues to inspire me today. He showed that it’s important to do the right thing, even when it’s difficult. I was more than happy to write about him in my scholarship application.”

When Sydney Kirages of Lake Forest, Ill, answered her high school and local Legion post’s competition of “What Does Veterans Day Mean to You?”, she formed a relationship with the post. “I absolutely fell in love with everything the Legion is and does, and from there I became super involved in my Legion (Post 264),” she said. “I’ve been able to create amazing connections with my Legionnaires, and they sponsored me to Girls State.”

The Samsung American Legion Scholarship honors her “Pop Pop,” who served in the Army during the Vietnam War. “He never spoke of his military experience until I became close with my Legion,” Kirages said. “When we visited the Vietnam War Memorial (on Feb. 25), he asked me if I would find one of his ROTC friends. When he visited the Vietnam memorial he walked up, saw all the names, and had to step away. For him to ask me, it was honestly one of the biggest honors and a big jump for him. So while I was finding one of his good friend’s name on the wall, which I did, he was meeting with one of his Army friends who he hadn’t seen in about 10 years. Being involved in the Legion has allowed him and I to grow together, and I love getting to hear more and more of his stories as he’s been opening up with me.”

Kirages gifted her grandfather a membership in The American Legion last year. She also wrote a children’s book called “Stories with Pop Pop: Women in Disguise, the Civil War” that highlights her relationship with him and his service, both in uniform and with the Legion.

Jordan Smothers of Monroe, Ga., didn’t know his grandfather, an Air Force veteran of the Korean War. But when he visited the Korean War Memorial, “I took the time to think about my grandfather” and all servicemembers. “I feel a lot of times today that veterans are not given the honor and recognition that they deserve. They were willing to fight for us, fight for our freedom. Not everyone can say they would do that, but they did. That’s something special. It’s something we should truly recognize and be grateful for.”

Being named a National Samsung American Legion scholar and receiving $10,000 for higher learning because of it has been life-changing for Adrianna Hutton of Delaware.

“I am really so grateful for this opportunity because since winning (the Samsung American Legion) scholarship I was so amazed that I could do something like that, that I decided to apply to another scholarship, and I am so proud to announce that I’m going to Princeton University on a full ride scholarship. Being able to receive this award has already pushed me into so many opportunities that I could never have imagined myself in.

“Of course, I have to thank my Pop Pop, who served in the Vietnam War in the Army,” who served as Hutton’s chaperone. “We’ve just had so much fun (in Washington, D.C., with Legion Family members). It’s just been such an amazing experience for us. Winning this scholarship is an absolute honor. Words cannot express how life changing the Samsung (American Legion) scholarship has been for me and my future.”