With the historic War Memorial Stadium as the backdrop, and row after row of vintage, restored and almost brand new Corvettes providing the eye candy, The American Legion’s Be the One veteran suicide-prevention program had a diverse audience in Little Rock, Ark., on Veterans Day.
Members of the American Legion Family took part in Saturday’s Corvettes and Veterans event outside and inside War Memorial Stadium. The event celebrated the 75th birthday of the stadium and the 70th birthday of the Corvette, all while promoting Be the One. A portion of the proceeds from the day also will go directly to Be the One.
The event was exactly what Department of Connecticut Legionnaire James A. “Jim” LaCoursiere, the leading candidate for 2024-2025 American Legion national commander, feels Be the One needs to be. LaCoursiere was invited to serve as the keynote speaker during a Veterans Day ceremony later in the day inside the stadium and didn’t hesitate to say yes when he learned Be the One was involved.
“(Be the One) is something we need to make all of America aware of, not just the veterans,” LaCoursiere said. “We’re losing over 6,000 veterans annually. That needs to change.
“Whether it’s a single post or the department, when they can pull the whole community together, that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to reach into the community and get the community’s help to make this program work.”
Jason Irby, chairman of the Jason Irby Innovation Foundation and the president of the A-State Corvette Association, served as the event’s primary organizer and worked with American Legion Department of Arkansas Public Relations Chairman Keith Dover to bring the Legion and Be the One into the program.
“The American Legion is one of the largest veteran support organizations in the world,” Irby said. “It was just fitting with what we have here today: an iconic car, an iconic stadium … to have an iconic organization to be a part of this as well. It was a natural to have The American Legion’s Be the One be a part of this. I hate to refer to it as the perfect, but in some ways it is a perfect storm.
“A number of people had not heard of Be the One before. But with this (event) as a platform, Be the One is being exposed to more people.”
Dover, a member of Criswell-Robinson Post 71 in in Cabot, spent a good portion of the day on the public address system educating those in attendance about Be the One and its importance.
“We’ve got a lot of people coming back from the war,” Dover said. “Some of them can’t find jobs. Some of them cannot hold a job. Some of them are having a really bad time readjusting to life in general and reintegration with their families and loved ones, and their friends.
“Sometimes, unfortunately, these individuals take their own lives. That’s why we’re here. Be the One is a program that will help those that need the help the most. That’s why this is all so important. Spread the word.”
The day’s event included a Corvette car show with prizes, food vendors, a bounce house and a procession that preceded the ceremony attended by well over 100 people inside the stadium. Corvettes, JROTC groups, a local cheer squad, local first responders and others took part in the procession, which was led off by Arkansas American Legion Riders Chapters 111, 11 and 13.
Arkansas State ALR Director Michael Stambough, a member of American Legion Post 13 in Hot Springs, said for him, Veterans Day is a day “to share this day with my fellow veterans. Today is a day that we honor those that made it back. We share a bond that nobody else could share. For me today, it’s a day to honor my brothers and sisters who served.”
Department of Arkansas Commander Marie Wilbanks served as the procession’s grand marshal and said being able to promote Be the One through Corvettes and Veterans was “awesome, for lack of a better word, that we have the ability to showcase what our organization … can do, and to have Be the One as the program of choice for the Corvette club, and have a way to explain to the public what we’re doing … to bring awareness to veteran suicide in general … and what everybody can do to help. Let’s get those numbers down. You want to change a life by saving a life.”
A member of Londagin and Hardcastle Post 159 in Gentry, Wilbanks also spoke about Be the One during the ceremony. “We all have stories,” she said. “Sometimes we need to tell the story to somebody who’ll listen, and sometimes we need to be the person to listen. For many of us it’s personal. For many of us it’s not so personal yet. But you never know.”
Wilbanks said she recently had a chance to spread the word about Be the One to a group of middle school students, and that they were willing to help spread the word about the program.
“So, my ask to you is, can you do the same thing?” Wilbanks said. “Can you Be the One when somebody needs you, and can you face up and say, ‘I need help’ when it’s your turn?”
LaCoursiere started his address thanking both veterans and their families. But then his focus shifted to Be the One. “We need to destigmatize mental illness,” he said. “I’m going to come out and say it: There is nothing wrong with hurting inside, as long as you ask for help. Reach out for help.”
He noted that veterans have a much higher rate of suicide than the non-civilian population and said Be the One is about caring to ask if someone is OK.
“It’s a very a simple program, and where does the program come from? Right here,” LaCoursiere said as he tapped his chest. “Because we care. Every life should matter. Our national commander, Dan Seehafer, says that The American Legion, we are about ‘changing lives and saving lives’. I want to insert and incorporate with his phrase ‘protecting lives.’”