104th National Convention recharges the spirits

By Tim Engstrom
During the nomination parade at the 104th National Convention, Daniel Seehafer shakes hands with 5th District’s Dennis DeLong and 10th District’s Bill Gordon.

Wisconsinite elected national commander

CHARLOTTE — Keni Thomas sang the national anthem at the start of the 104th American Legion National Convention.

Who is Keni Thomas? He is a country music singer and former Army Ranger who was part of Operation Restore Hope in Somalia and fought in the Battle of Mogadishu, a battle made well-known to Americans in the book and movie “Black Hawk Down.”

Thomas said the original mission of the Rangers that day was a raid. It was done in 35 minutes and the truck was driving away, he said. It was then they got word that Super 61 crashed. The helicopter had been struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. Both pilots were killed and the two remaining crew were wounded and began to defend themselves from a mob.

“The mission changed,” Thomas said. “You see it. You can’t believe it is happening, but it is happening, and it’s happening to you. Then you can see it is happening to people left and right of you. What do you do?”

You fall back on your training. The first letter of each part of the Ranger Creed spells out R-A-N-G-E-R. The N line states: “Never shall I fail my comrades.”

“When you say something over and over and over again, you tend to do it,” Thomas said. “Who do you want to be in the moment?”

He said many people might look out for No. 1 in such a situation. People tend to default to flight, fright or freeze.

“They never were told they are part of something bigger than themselves,” he said. “The helicopter went down, and I can’t say, ‘Oh, gosh, I hope they are going to be OK.’ I have to step out of my comfort zone and go do something that’s hard.”

He said his team went three blocks, then turned toward the crash.

“People were shooting at us, but it wasn’t that bad,” Thomas said.

Wait a second. Did he just say people shooting at them wasn’t bad?

That because they were missing, he added.

On what was previously an ordinary day, the residents of the whole city now were rushing to the crash site, Thomas said. It became what he calls the “Hollywood moment.” A second chopper, Super 64, also was shot down. A third, Super 62, was hit but managed to land away from danger.

There came a “crazy firefight” to save the helicopter crews. Why did these soldiers fight for the stranded men?

“Because they would have done it for us.”

Thomas told how many of the U.S. Special Operations — Delta, Ranger, Special Forces, Special Tactics, SEALs, 160th Aviation Regiment — look to the Bible verse Isaiah 6:8, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’”

The lesson of his address to the Legionnaires was: “Serve your people.”

National elections

Here is what happened in Charlotte regarding elections of officers:

• One of Minnesota Legion Family’s own members was elected to a national office.

Robert L. Bristo of Minneapolis Gopher Squadron 440 was elected one of the five national vice commanders for the Sons of The American Legion. A large contingent of Minnesota Legion Family members turned out on Aug. 27 for the announcement.

Bristo will cover the SAL’s Central Region. You can visit legion.org/sons/officers and see Bristo smiling in his picture.

The other four are Northeast Region John R. Cook of New Hampshire, Southeast Region Linwood A. Moore of Virginia, Midwest Region Terry A. Harris of Kansas; Western Region James R. Fischer Sr. of California.

• The American Legion elected Daniel J. Seehafer of Horicon, Wis., Post 157 the 2023-24 national commander.

Seehafer likes to say, “It’s personal,” when it comes to The American Legion’s mission of serving veterans and their families. He is continuing the theme of “Be the One,” to prevent veteran suicide.

He is an ordained minister and is a veteran of the Navy and Navy Reserve. He served as a chaplain in the military and is a past American Legion national chaplain.

Seehafer and his wife, Stacey, who is a member of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 157, live in Beaver Dam, Wis. Dan’s son, Jacob, and daughter, Emma, are also members of the Post 157 family. Dan is the son of the late Lester Seehafer and Jean Sabatke.

• Five national vice commanders were elected. They are Robert “Mark” Shreve of Pine Mountain Valley, Ga., Post 189; Raymond L. Vail of Arma, Kan., Post 182; Charles D. Aucoin of Westlake, La., Post 370; Bill Roy of Manchester, N.H., Post 2; and Randy D. Edwards of Provo, Utah, Post 13.

• The other national constitutional officers are Adjutant Daniel S. Wheeler of Richmond, Va., Post 137; Treasurer Shawn T. Long of Greenwood, Ind., Post 252; Judge Advocate Mark Seavey of Mathews, Va., Post 83; Chaplain Frank Carr of Halifax, Va., Post 99; Historian Edward A. DeGumbia of Southington, Conn., Post 72; Sergeant-at-Arms James W. Kell of Horicon, Wis., Post 157.

• The leading candidate for 2024-25 national commander is James A. LaCoursiere Jr. of Connecticut. He will visit the Department of Minnesota during the Fall Conference in St. Cloud on Friday, Oct. 27.

LaCoursiere served as commander of the Department of Connecticut 2006-07, in addition to several other offices and going through American Legion College. He is a founder and past director of the Connecticut Legion Riders, too. He has been in many roles at the national level, and this past year, he was on the Citizens Flag Alliance Advisory Committee and chaired the Legislative Commission. He belongs to Moosup, Conn., Post 91 and Squadron 91.

He served in the Air Force from 1981 to 1983 during the Grenada/Lebanon era and was trained to help medical evacuations and worked in patient affairs at Tactical Air Command, Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Ga. He is married to his wife, Lisa, and has two children, Patrick and Meghan, and three stepchildren, Jason, Kaylene and (deceased) Johnathan.

LaCoursiere works for the Department of Connecticut as a field representative helping veterans and their families.

• At the 102nd American Legion Auxiliary National Convention, delegates elected Lisa Williamson of Fairbanks, Alaska, Unit 57 the national president.

She is eligible for ALA membership through her father, Ray Allington, her adoptive father, Keith LaChance, and through the military service of her son, Kyle, who serves in the Alaska Air Guard. Williamson is also an American Legion Rider. She has worked for the Department of Alaska for eight years and has been a licensed real estate agent for 20 years.

She escapes the winter months to Arizona with her husband Darrel. She has two children, Danielle and Kyle, and two grandsons, Dawson and Micah.

She has held many positions at the national, department, district and unit levels. She served as the national vice president in the 2022-2023 year.

• Other national ALA officers are Vice President Trish Ward of Kansas, Secretary Kathy Daudistel of Kentucky, Treasurer Marybeth Revoir of Illinois, Central Vice President Carol T. Robinson of Ohio, Eastern Vice President Debra Tiernan of Vermont, Northwestern Vice President Karen Susag of Montana, Southern Vice President Christine Trahan of Texas, Western Vice President Jeanette Cushing of Arizona, Historian Donna Thurman of Kentucky, Chaplain Brister Thomas of Hawaii

• Sons of The American Legion delegates elected Donald “JR” Hall Jr. as national commander for the coming year.

Hall, a member of Squadron 40 in Glen Burnie, Md., where he’s served as squadron commander several times, said, “This whole trip’s been for one guy: Edward Hall, World War II vet (and Hall’s grandfather).”

He also thanked his family for their support: “You don’t do this without your family. You can’t do it without your family. I have such a great family.”

• Other SAL national officers, not including assistants, this year are Adjutant Anthony W. Wright of Pennsylvania, Chaplain Earnest E. Laberge of Maine, Historian Jeffrey Thorne of Maryland and Sergeant-at-Arms Mark T. Fayer Sr. of Maryland.