His passion for encouraging youth to educate themselves on the U.S. Constitution in order to keep democracy alive helped Andrew Steinberg of Newton, Mass., capture The American Legion’s 80th National Oratorical Contest title Sunday in Indianapolis. His winning oration, “The Constitution: A Lasting Legacy,” earned him a first-place finish and an $18,000 college scholarship.
“(The American Legion’s Oratorical Contest) is an amazing program … and I’ve just been incredibly thankful to be a part of something much greater than myself. Not just for The American Legion, but representing my generation, representing a Constitutional responsibility for our nation as well,” said 17-year-old Steinberg.
Steinberg emerged from a competitive field of 52 other high school orators who won their respective American Legion department Oratorical Contest. He was one of three finalists to advance through semifinals and quarterfinals on Saturday to claim a spot in the finals, becoming the first Massachusetts youth in 30 years to win the national Oratorical competition.
Robyn Anzulis of Woodbine, Md., who was sponsored by Post 191 in Mt. Airy, earned a $16,000 scholarship with a second-place finish; and Chad Durante of Follansbee, W. Va., who was sponsored by Post 3 in Moundsville, earned a $14,000 scholarship with a third-place finish.
The inspiration for Steinberg’s speech was from a trend he noticed across generational lines – the disengagement of exercising Constitutional rights, such as voting. This made him question “what would happen if the next generation – my generation – didn’t pick up the mantle of democracy?”
Steinberg presented his prepared oration three times over the course of the two-day competition and each time he wanted his speech to remind his audience to not “give up on us as a generation,” he said. “Each generation needs to carry the baton of Constitutional responsibility and my generation has slacked off, in my opinion. But this competition and seeing all of these other kids has made me realize that it’s not hopeless; I’m more optimistic leaving here because I’ve learned so much and met incredible people.”
In his prepared oration, Steinberg stated that “for nearly 228 years, our Constitution has protected our American way of life. But unless we educate the next generation - my generation - these rights will erode and we could lose the very essence of what makes America, well, America. Freedom. Liberty. And, justice for all. 'We the People' requires all of us. It's our responsibility. The baton is now in our hands. The future of our country depends on it.”
Steinberg said he will do his part in passing the Constitutional baton forward by using his interest in politics and government to spread awareness and to get involved more tangibly.
Steinberg was sponsored by Post 440 for the Oratorical competition and is appreciative of the post members for “believing in me and allowing me the opportunity to both teach what I know but also learn,” he said. “I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity to perform at all levels of this competition. It’s been an amazing experience.”
The high school junior encourages other youth to become informed citizens on the U.S. Constitution in an effort to pass the baton on to the next generation by competing in their local Oratorical Contest.
“This competition is as much of a teaching experience as it is a learning experience. It was hard work; I had to study and prepare (the speeches) and I had some doubts,” Steinberg said. “But I stuck through it, I did it, and the rest is I’m here and I’m proud of my experience here and really thankful as well.”
As the 2017 American Legion Oratorical Contest winner, Steinberg will receive a trip to the organization’s national convention in Reno, Nev., in August.
Since 1938, The American Legion’s Oratorical Contest has awarded more than $3 million in scholarships. Nearly 6,000 youth from across the nation participate in the contest at the post, district and department level to understand the history of America’s laws and to develop a better understanding of the duties, responsibilities, rights and privileges of American citizenship.
After two rounds of intense competition, youth from Maryland, Massachusetts and West Virginia claimed a spot in The American Legion’s 80th National Oratorical Contest finals in Indianapolis. The three competed against 50 of the nation’s top high school orators, speaking on the U.S. Constitution, and will vie for a first-place finish tomorrow and the top prize of an $18,000 scholarship.
Robyn Anzulis of Woodbine, Md., Andrew Steinberg of Newton, Mass., and Chad Durante of Follansbee, W. Va., will compete tomorrow at 10 a.m. ET; the finals will be streamed live on the Legion’s Facebook page.
All 53 American Legion department-level contestants started the National Oratorical Contest on Saturday morning separated into nine groups for the quarterfinal competition, where they presented their prepared oration on an aspect of the U.S. Constitution followed by an assigned topic discourse – a phase of the Constitution selected from Articles and Sections – in front of judges, Legion members and their family. Anzulis, Steinberg and Durante were among the top nine orators that advanced from the quarterfinals to semifinals in effort to earn a top three spot and a shot at $48,000 in scholarship prizes.
Durante, who didn’t make it past the first round during last year’s Oratorical Contest, took his experience and came into this year’s competition with a fresh new speech – “270 To Win” – and added more movements and reflections in it.
“I didn’t expect to make it this far; I’m shocked and feel like I’m dreaming. I’m really happy to be here,” said Durante, a sophomore at Weirton Madonna High School, who was sponsored by Post 3 in Moundsville.
For first-time competitor Anzulis, a junior at South Carroll High School, practicing all five of her prepared speeches for the past four months and watching online videos of former American Legion Oratorical winners helped her earn a spot in tomorrow’s finals. “I was always amazed at how great the top three (Oratorical finalists) were and now to be one of those … I’m still trying to process it. I am absolutely shocked,” said Anzulis, who was sponsored by Post 191 in Mt. Airy.
Anzulis believes her prepared oration, “It’s Where I Stand,” will set her apart tomorrow since it focuses on a specific aspect of the Constitution – the free speech clause of the First Amendment. “Tomorrow for me is that I made it this far, I’m doing my best, I’m just going to go out there and deliver the message," she said.
It was a “love for speech, politics and our country” that encouraged Steinberg to compete in the Legion’s Oratorical Contest. “They all converged in one opportunity with this competition, and I can say with great coaching and a little bit of luck that I’m happy to have made it as far as I did,” said Steinberg, a junior at Roxbury Latin School who was sponsored by Post 440.
His prepared oration, “The Constitution: A Lasting Legacy,” focused on how each generation passes the baton on Constitutional knowledge and responsibility. As he prepares to deliver that message for the third time tomorrow, he’s just “excited and feels fortunate to have made it this far.”
During tomorrow’s finals, each contestant will present their prepared oration, as well as an assigned topic discourse, in front of a panel of six judges, Legionnaires and family members.
The National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), founded in 1889 by Civil War veterans, is one of the oldest labor unions in the United States and has a membership of 280,000 – a good percentage of which are veterans themselves. Having become used to proactive thinking and readiness while in the service, it stands to reason that they carry it into their future careers. Thus, when NALC announced its 2016 Heroes of the Year honorees last September, three of the eight recipients were veterans – two of which are Legionnaires.
Patrick Byrne of Lynn, Mass., received the Education Award. The Army veteran has been working with substance-abuse addicts and their families, as well as with the local homeless population, for 10 years. His motivation is a personal one – his son fought his own 20-year battle with addiction until his passing in January 2016. Byrne's experiences have led to a new initiative, “Silent No More,” started by NALC, the U.S. Postal Service and Magellan Health Care to provide support for families going through issues with mental health, substance abuse and suicide.
“My time in the Army formed me as a leader at a young age,” Byrne says. He served from 1971 to 1974, a large part of that in Germany. “I took the word ‘service’ seriously and have always felt a responsibility to give back …. My career as a carrier was merely an extension of that, as I was able to continue servicing my community.” He recently joined The American Legion, of which he says, “I really appreciate the opportunity to stay current on issues facing veterans and the opportunity to remain informed on legislation.”
Bradley Gentz of Osage, Iowa, received the Humanitarian of the Year Award. The Army veteran started running and training for marathons a few years ago and noticed a boy on his route, Ryan, who has spina bifida and is in a wheelchair. Having seen the benefits of running and training, Gentz thought he could do the same for Ryan. After befriending the boy and his family, they started running together from 5ks to marathons.
Gentz raised $7,500 to purchase a custom-built chair that he could push Ryan in while running. The duo has been featured in Runner’s World magazine and the Running with Ryan Facebook page has the latest on their races.
“It’s been a compelling story for everyone,” Gentz says, “and a lovely time.”
Gentz spent 15 years in the military, including seven years overseas and a tour in Iraq. As a member of Post 278 in Osage, Gentz makes sure to visit the post every Veterans Day. “The Legion is near and dear to my heart,” he says.
Michael Murphy of Florissant, Mo., received the Central Region Hero of the Year Award. On Oct. 28, 2014, the Marine Corps veteran and Navy reservist was on the scene when a man with a cinder block started going after nearby cars – and the people inside them. Murphy took the lead in subduing the man until the police could get there; it turned out to have been part of a carjacking attempt.
“I feel that my military training came into play when I had to evaluate the situation quickly and make a decision to ‘stay in the fight,’” Murphy says. “My self-defense and close-combat training came into play. And I felt that as a leader I had a responsibility to take action.”
Earlier this week, Kenyan Geoffrey Kirui won the 2017 running of the Boston Marathon. But 87 years ago, a record that has yet to be broken was set: Clarence DeMar won his seventh Boston Marathon.
Running enthusiasts and historians likely know that fact, as well as that DeMar ran in three U.S. Olympics, earning a bronze medal in the men’s marathon in Paris in 1924.
Some may know that early on in his running career DeMar was diagnosed with a heart murmur and advised to give up running. But even fewer probably know that DeMar was a Legionnaire, a life member of Melrose Post 30 in Massachusetts. Or that he was a Sunday school teacher and dedicated to volunteering with the Boy Scouts of America.
Born in 1888, DeMar didn’t take up distance running until 1909 but managed to finish second in the Boston Marathon in 1910. A year later he won his first Boston Marathon.
After a 12th-place finish in the 1912 Olympics, he took the advice of doctors and took a break from running. He took extension courses from Harvard and Boston University while working as a printer.
He got back into running marathons in 1917 and finished third in Boston, but a short time later he was drafted into the U.S. Army. According to a 1927 American Legion Monthly article, DeMar served with the Army of Occupation and was shifted to an athletic detachment.
DeMar ran a few races while in the Army, but after his discharge from service in 1919 he went back to his job as a printer and didn’t take part in any races for two years. But when a sleet storm hit Boston in 1921 and DeMar was unable to ride his bicycle to work, which was his normal routine, he decided to run instead.
Running back and forth to work each day, DeMar realized he could still run long distances and began training for the Boston Marathon. Amazingly, he won the race in 1922 – the first of three straight victories in the nation’s oldest marathon. He followed with wins in 1927, 1928 and then his final one, at age 41, in 1930.
DeMar would still run until late in life, competing in 33 Boston Marathons – his final at age 65. He succumbed to cancer in 1958 at age 70. Forty-two years later he was inducted into the National Distance Running Hall of Fame. And in Keene, N.H., the Clarence DeMar marathon has been run since 1978 in his honor.
For more than a year, members of Johnston-Blessman Post 38 in Wisconsin had the cloud of a six-figure debt hanging over their heads. The town of Grand Chute had assessed the post a bill of more than $100,000 to pay for road improvements on West College Avenue, a road the post resides on but does not use.
The original bill was for $114,966, though the actual job ended up costing just over $103,000. Payment was due May 1, leaving Post 38 in a jam. It had just spent more than 10 years paying off a similar bill of $65,000 for improvements to Bluemound Drive, on which the post also resides. Not paying the current bill off in time would have resulted in being charged steep interest rates.
"It was panic mode," Post 38 Adjutant Laurel Clewell said. "We were all trying to figure out how we could possibly (pay the bill). We thought we might have to close. At one point we thought there was no way it was going to happen."
But it did happen, thanks to incredible community support for a post that has meant so much to its community. It addition to regular community flag retirement ceremonies, Post 38 also awards $6,000 yearly in college scholarships, provides flag donations and flag etiquette lessons to local schools, puts on egg hunts and Christmas parties for low-income families, and lets other community organizations use its property for their fundraisers.
The post also has a big presence in the annual Appleton Flag Day Parade and last year was invited to 14 Veterans Day events, attending as many of those (nine) as it could.
The post's efforts in its community obviously have been noticed. After local media reported on Post 38's dilemma, donations began to pour in, and post members also were able to get other community members and organizations to match their donations.
"We had one gentleman come in and give us a $25,000 check," Clewell said. "His brother used to be a member of our post, and he had died and left him money. He said he wanted to give it right back to us, to the veterans. I just wanted to cry."
Attendance at the post's fundraisers spiked. A local band donated time at the post's annual corn roast. "Our corn roast usually makes like $2,500," Clewell said. "We were way up around $12,000. The community stepped up so large."
The post ended up raising $112,000 and with the leftover money was able to put in a new air conditioner at the post that had been needed for more than a year.
"We're just looking at things in a different light now," Clewell said. "We just had a lot of people do some really good things. It's amazing how dedicated they are to helping veterans. The community stepped up large, and we are so grateful."
Clewell believes the post's image in the community made the effort so successful. "I think a lot of people relate The American Legion to good," she said. "They see that we're not in it for us. I think people understand that we're a good organization. You could see it when they came through (the post). They were all thanking us for our service, throwing $5 in the bucket or $10 in the bucket. All of that added up. It was awesome."
Here’s a look at some upcoming career events and transition summits for veterans, servicemembers and military spouses:
April 27: Joint Base Andrews. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. job fair and free resume seminars. You must have a common access card or military ID for base access. If not, then to obtain access to the base, send full name, birthday, drivers license number, expiration date and state registered via email to Janet.Giles@JobZoneOnline.com or call (434) 263-5102 or (540) 226-1473 with info no later than one week prior to the event. The Club at Andrews, 1889 Arnold Avenue, Joint Base Andrews, Md.
May 2-4: Fort Campbell Transition Summit. Tuesday: 9 a.m.-4 p.m., industry sector briefings for job seekers; 4-6 p.m., networking reception. Wednesday: 9 a.m.-noon, job seeker workshops and opening ceremony; 1-4 p.m., Hiring Our Heroes hiring fair. Thursday: 9 a.m., hiring fair. Personnel Processing Center Building, Hedge Row Road and 4th Street, Campbell Army Airfield, Fort Campbell, Ky.
May 2-3: Marine Corps Base Quantico Military Spouse Career Event. Tuesday: 5:30-8:30 p.m., networking reception and Arts in the Armed Forces performance. Wednesday: 10 a.m.-1 p.m., hiring fair. The Clubs at Quantico and Crossroads Events Center: Quantico Station, 3017 Russell Road, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
Follow the links for full details and keep tabs on upcoming career fairs at www.legion.org/careers/jobfairs.
Over the course of four years, Legionnaire William “Sarge” Garlitz made what he thinks is around 15 trips back and forth from his home in Ocean City, Md., to Annapolis -- roughly 116 miles each way. The reason: to urge the Maryland General Assemby to pass legislation that would fly the POW-MIA flag above the Maryland State Building and all other state buildings, with a few minors expeceptions, that fly the U.S. flag.
Recently, Garlitz saw his efforts pay off. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed into law legislation that will do just what the Synepuxent Post 166 Legionnaire has been seeking for so many years.
“(The POW-MIA flag) flies over the White House six times a year, and it’s the only flag that’s ever flown over the White House other than the American flag,” said Garlitz, a former post commander and 51-year Legionnaire. “I just thought that this flag should be flown here so that Maryland wants to send a message that we’re not going to forget the unaccounted (servicemembers).”
Garlitz previously had convinced former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake to fly the POW-MIA flag over the Baltimore Convention Center during The American Legion’s 2015 National Convention.
“I told her that the message would be given out that Baltimore does not forget the POWs and (MIAs),” Garlitz said. “We got a lot of comments on it. It was flying right outside that door. It looked good.”
For years the proposed state legislation remained stuck in committee. “Once I get my teeth into something, I don’t give up,” Garlitz said.
Garlitz repeatedly testified in front of House and Senate committees wearing his Legion cap. He also worked with state legislators and praised State Sen. James Mathias Jr. and State Delegate Teresa Reilly for their efforts in gaining passage of the legislation. “(Mathias) never gave up on us,” Garlitz said. “And (Reilly) was very, very instrumental in the House.”
Finding out the legislation passed unanimously in both chambers was special for Garlitz. “”It was a feeling like … a weight off my shoulders,” Garlitz said. “It was like you won a ballgame in overtime, and you had whatever it took to make the victory work.
“It was your mind being at ease and saying ‘mission accomplished.’”
During the month of March, several American Legion family members of Post 73 in Enterprise, Ala., spent their Thursday afternoons at the local YMCA. While there, they sat one-on-one with youth ages 8 to 12 to hear recaps on books that they read and to help them write book reports. It was all part of Post 73’s Bucks for Books program.
The program encouraged youth in the YMCA’s afterschool program to read up to four books a week that were age-appropriate and to complete an oral and written report with help from a Post 73 volunteer (Legion, Auxiliary or Legion Rider member). The children were awarded $2 per book, a special completion certificate and an ice cream social on April 6 where Legion, Auxiliary and Legion Riders from the post were all in attendance.
“I believe this is one of the most worthwhile programs that we have tried,” said Iris Keen, a Unit 73 member. “It’s about teaching these kids that they can always read and learn and explore through reading. That’s our goal … to help the kids get excited about reading.”
The concept for the Bucks for Books program was shared by Post 73 member Elaine Roberts, who had been invovled with the same program with another organization. Post 73 chose to launch the four-week program with the YMCA in March with an April celebration event since April is the Legion’s Children & Youth Month and the Month of the Military Child – several youth in the YMCA’s afterschool program are military children. When post members went to the YMCA to introduce the program to the children, those interested were required to have parents sign a consent form since the volunteers would be working one-on-one with them.
YMCA After School Camp and Summer Camp Director Felicia Holley said every Thursday the children were excited to see the Legion family members, which “meant a lot for me to hear because you don’t always see kids getting into reading, especially after they have been in school all day. It was good to see them excited about something educational, and it taught them responsibility – they had to work for the ($2).”
Buddy Keen, Post 73 commander and Iris’s husband, said the children enjoyed telling the Legion volunteers about the books as much as they enjoyed hearing about them. “It was difficult to tell who was having the best time – the Legion volunteers or the children,” he said. “The children, the volunteers and the YMCA employees all agreed that the Bucks for Books program was a great success.”
Iris agreed about the excitement shared by all.
“It was exciting to see their enthusiasm and their expression when explaining their book reports to us,” she said. Iris had a young boy who said his book was about an elephant that had an extra-long trunk to blow out of and the elephant blew the scales off fish and feathers off birds. “His eyes would just light up and he would just smile,” Iris said. “When I asked if he was telling the truth, he turned right to the pages where this happened.”
Iris and Buddy said they plan to conduct the Bucks for Books program again at the start of the next school year. “We hope it grows because I think children can teach themselves an awful lot by reading,” Iris said.
“We realize that our future is our children,” Buddy said.
Holley, and the children, would be grateful if Post 73 conducts the program again.
“It was an awesome experience for me to get to work with (The American Legion), and I know the kids loved it. Seeing them excited made me excited,” she said. “I hope they do it again, and I know the kids hope they come back.”
The American Legion invites all Anchorage, Alaska, veterans and their family members to a town hall meeting to discuss their VA care.
The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 1, 2017, at Northland VFW Post 10252, 3105 Mountain View Drive in Anchorage.
The town hall event is one of about a dozen that the Legion will conduct around the United States this year. The Legion hosts these events to hear feedback from veterans about the quality of health care they receive at their local VA facility.
Representatives from The American Legion Department of Alaska, The American Legion National Headquarters office in Washington, D.C., VA and members of the Alaska congressional delegation will be in attendance.
Clifford Benton, an injured Iraq Army veteran from Florence, S.C., wanted a road bike for his rehabilitation therapy and for recreational use. His physical therapist at the Williams Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center agreed; however, the problem was finding a bike that fit Benton’s 6-foot-7-inch frame.
Benton contacted The American Legion for assistance, and on April 15 the organization’s Operation Comfort Warriors program donated a custom-fit bike to Benton to aid in his recovery.
“We do everything we can to make sure our veterans get what they need,” said Walt Richardson, Department of South Carolina vice commander and Legion Rider who helped present the bike to Benton at Post 1 in Florence. “When we have a veteran that needs something, we do it.”
Richardson was one of nearly 20 Legion Riders who escorted the bike – which was carried in one of the department’s vehicles – from Columbia to Florence, about 100 miles one way. Upon arrival to Post 1, dozens of other Legion family members and Legion Riders from as far as Myrtle Beach, Conway and Rockhill joined in on the donation.
“I would not have missed the donation. It was a rewarding experience,” Richardson said.
Once Benton was presented the bike he took off his boots, jumped on the bike and rode it around the home of Post 1. The custom bike was built by Outspokin Bicycles in Columbia and features a carbon-fiber reinforced frame to support Benton’s height
“He was extremely grateful that he could get this bike,” Richardson said. “He was courteous and polite; he is a fine southern boy.”
Besides the bike donation, Post 1 paid for Benton’s first year of Legion membership.
“He is quite a guy and we are delighted to have him as a member,” said Post 1 Commander Don Handley. “I think he is going to make a really good member.”