Veterans Affairs

A couple of unrelated items this month. For starters, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced the expansion of the Traumatic Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (TSGLI) program to include injuries servicemembes and veterans received outside of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).  Under the original TSGLI law, it was made retroactive by Congress to October 7, 2001, for those qualifying service men and women who suffered injuries in the combat zones of OIF and OEF. In 2010, Public Law 111-275 removed the OIF/OEF requirement. Therefore, TSGLI coverage is now provided retroactively for those men and women who incurred qualifying severe injuries or illnesses between October 7, 2001 and November 30, 2005, regardless of where the injury occurred and whether or not they had Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance coverage at the time of the injury or illness.  TSGLI covers a wide range of injuries and losses, including amputations; limb salvage; paralysis; burns; loss of sight, hearing or speech; facial reconstruction; and certain traumatic brain or other traumatic injuries. If you or anyone you know falls into this category, claims can now be submitted, which will be payable starting October 1, 2011.

From time to time, items are passed around the Internet on the origins of certain military customs. A few months ago I reported on the origin of Taps. The following on the Origin of the 21-gun salute comes from the Arlington National Cemetery web page. The tradition of saluting goes back to the Middle Ages. By placing yourself in an unarmed position, you have placed yourself in the power of the ones being honored. Thus, the cannon salute might have originated in the 17th century with the maritime practice of demanding that a defeated enemy expend its ammunition and render itself helpless until reloaded – a time consuming operation in that era. In the Anglo-Saxon Empire, seven guns was a recognized naval salute, seven being the standard number of weapons on a vessel. Because more gunpowder could be stored on dry land, forts could fire three rounds for every one fired from sea, hence the number 21. With the improvement of naval gunpowder, honors rendered at sea were increased to 21 as well.

Beginning in our colonial period, the United States fired one shot for every state in the Union. This was continued until 1841 when it was reduced to 21 from 26.  Although it had been in use for more than 30 years, the 21-gun salute was not formally adopted until August 18, 1875. This was at the suggestion of the British, who proposed a “Gun for Gun Return” to their own 21-gun salute.  So now you know!

Finally, please remember to thank a vet or an active duty soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. They are a constant reminder that our cherished freedom is not free.

Veteran’s Affairs

The month of March highlighted several areas and events when my responsibilities in the areas of Veterans Affairs and Irish-American Heritage Month overlapped. None more dramatically than the activities which took place at Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday, March 26th. Led by Former National Director Pat Troy, I was part of a group that had the honor of laying a wreath at The Tomb of the Unknowns. The wreath and the event were in remembrance of all those Irish and Irish-Americans who have given their life in defense of this great country of ours. The wreath, a specially designed floral arrangement in the form of a shamrock with leaves of green, white and orange, can be seen on the web site of the Alexandria Virginia St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, http://www.ballyshaners.org/. I encourage you to go to the site and click on the link for the event at Arlington. As part of the day’s events, we placed flowers on the tombs of the Kennedys before proceeding on to the Tomb of the Unknowns. Our group comprised many members of the AOH and the LAOH. It was an honor and event I don’t think any of us will forget.

I have been somewhat remiss in not acknowledging the outstanding contributions to Veterans Affairs issues by the many great Veterans Affairs state chairmen around the county. Guys, I hereby publicly promise to do better in the future. As a starter, I refer you to a site created by our guy in Ohio, John Sullivan. He presents a great article, and site, at http://irishamericanwarveterans.blogspot.com/2010/12/medalions-for-veterans-graves.html.  This includes an excellent article on medallions for veterans’ graves. I recommend the article and the rest of the site to all. On a related note, I am trying to find out if anyone knows of any grave site flag holders currently in use with the AOH emblem. Examples of what I am referring to can be found at http://flagguys.com/gmarker2.html. If anyone is aware of such flag holders or grave markers with an AOH emblem, please let me know. I have talked with the folks at FlagGuys, they are very knowledgeable about the AOH and things Irish, but don’t know of any AOH flag holders or grave markers.

Do you have any old cell phones you are no longer using? Have you upgraded and don’t know what to do with the old one? Here’s an idea which I recommend. The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) has recently partnered with Cell Phones for Soldiers to turn old cell phones into calling-card time for service members abroad. Each recycled cell phone gives about an hour of much-needed talk time. Just mail your old phones to: Cell Phones for Soldiers, c/o Re-Cellular, 2555 Bishop Circle W., Dexter, MI 48130. They will also accept phone accessories and batteries, but you can just as well discard those items to save on shipping costs. It is the phones that help our service men and women.

Finally, please remember to thank a vet or an active duty soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. They are a constant reminder that our cherished freedom is not free.

Virginia News

It was an honor to be a part of creating a display in the shape of an Irish flag at St. Michael’s School in Annandale on St. Patrick’s Day. (read more in the Flags article). Working to put these flags out, one for every life that we lose, dramatically illustrates that fact.

On March 17, 2011, members of the AOH Major James H. Dooley, Richmond, VA, visited with the First Lady of Virginia Maureen McDonnell at the Governor’s Mansion. Brother Vince Eikmeier serenaded the First Lady with “Home Again” as she came down the steps. Vince also sang “Danny Boy” to her. As a Group they sang “The Soldier’s Song” (Ireland’s National Anthem), the United States National Anthem and “A Little Bit of Heaven”. They enjoyed Great hospitality with Irish drink and food. Included in the group was Rev. Wayne Ball, AOH Dooley member and Pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Richmond, VA.

On Saturday, March 26, 2011, the Ballyshaners, the Irish Heritage organization in Alexandria, VA, were given a rare honor of being allowed to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. A Shamrock shaped wreath in the three colors of the Irish flag was laid at the Tomb by Ballyshaners President Chris Berry and Chairman Brother Pat Troy, accompanied by the 2011 Alexandria St. Patrick’s Day Parade Grand Marshals, Tom and Nancy VanCoverden. Approximately forty Ballyshaners were in attendance proudly wearing their AOH Irish sashes.

On Sunday, May 1st Bishop Paul S. Loverde, Bishop of Arlington, and many gather together to pray a Global Living Rosary and to adore Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in honor of the beatification of Pope John Paul II. This Rosary was in preparation for our Diocesian Pilgrimage, which will take place on October 8th. The event was held at the Pope John Paul the Great High School in Dumfries, VA and consisted of an evening of music, prayer and fellowship. Those who attended received many abundant blessings.

DC News

Here in our great Nation’s Capital, it is spring and all of our ever dependable pastimes are in full swing. Once again the Cherry blossoms are blooming, the Caps are in the playoffs and the Nats are still the losing but lovable underdogs.  I don’t even care to mention the NFL at this time, because there are so many more important things going on in our good order that I wish to share.

We had excellent attendance at the Hibernian ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery on March 19th In fact, we had the best attendance in over a decade.  As part of the AOH ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, the John F. Kennedy Division 5 laid their annual wreath at the grave of President Kennedy while the bagpiper, George Rogers played.  His son, Patrick Rogers (age 10) assisted with the wreath.  Deacon Michael Roche, seminarian for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, led us all in prayer as we paid tribute to President Kennedy.  Deacon Roche will be ordained a priest in June.

At Arlington House, the annual “George Washington Parke Custis Friend of Ireland Award” ceremony was held.  I presented this award on behalf of the DC State Board to Thomas and Garry Stack, owners of the Irish Channel Restaurants and Pubs in Washington, DC, and in Crofton, Maryland.  The Stack brothers were honored for their generous community service as well as for their charitable contributions to the Irish American community and to police and firefighters in time of need.

Also at Arlington House, we announced Brother John McInerney as the recipient of the “Hibernian of the Year Award”.  John has been tireless in his efforts to represent everything that we, as Hibernians, should strive to be.  Brother McInerney has, in the past, served on the National Board as Chairman of the National Political Action Committee to forward the AOH national agenda. He has also been active with our Order’s efforts in promoting vocations.  Brother McInerney, working with Jack O’Brien, has made great strides in making the Commodore John Barry Memorial at the Naval Academy a reality.  John also put forth strong and notable effort in erecting the Monument for the Irish Brigade at the Antietam National Battlefield.  Congratulations John!

Our powerful celebration concluded, again accompanied by pipes, when fresh shamrocks, provided by the Irish Embassy, were planted on the grave of George Washington Parke Custis, a leading advocate of Irish freedom in the early part of the 19th century.  Afterwards, a reception was held at the DC Irish Channel Restaurant and Pub.

I would be remiss if I did not extend a special thanks to my favorite and only son, Stephen April, as well as past president  Div. 4,  Brendan Koeth  for carrying the American and Irish flags at our Arlington ceremonies.

As a Lenten observance and outreach, our Hibernians assisted at Local Churches with Lenten meals and Stations of the Cross.  John F. Kennedy Div. 5 hosted Soup and Stations at Holy Family Church in Mitchellville, MD and Charles Carroll of Carrollton Div. 2, helped out with the Friday Soup and Salad at Ascension Church in Bowie, MD.  Once again we continue our work for Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity.

Also on May 1st, our members were in attendance to help Fr. Sean McManus launch his new autobiography at the Phoenix Park Hotel. I urge all Brothers to purchasing it and order it on Amazon.com. You will learn a lot about his efforts in the peace process, and getting the U.S. Congress not to ignore the big picture that lies ahead.

Members of the Commodore John Barry Division attended a reception on St. Patrick’s Day held by the DC Friends of Ireland. Pictured (L- R) Kevin Dillon, Gerry Adams, Cathy O’Connor (1st Secretary of the Irish Embassy for Energy Policy) and Div. President Ralph Day.

Veteran’s Affairs

The Internet is a wonderful thing. So much great information can be passed around so quickly. Unfortunately, a lot of it is false. I can’t count the number of emails which have told the sad tale of how “Taps” was written by a Confederate soldier, died on the battlefield, and his brother, a private in the Army of the Potomac, found the song in his brother’s pocket. Several different versions exist. Lovely, but nowhere near correct. The following is extracted from the Arlington National Cemetery website pages on “Ceremonies.”

During the Civil War, in July 1862 when the Army of the Potomac was in camp, Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield summoned his brigade bugler, Pvt. Oliver Wilcox Norton, to his tent. Butterfield, who disliked the colorless hymn “extinguish the lights” call then in use, whistled a new tune and asked the bugler to sound it for him. After repeated trials, and changing the time of some notes which were scribbled on the back of an envelope, the call was finally arranged to suit BG Butterfield and used for the first time that night. The next day buglers from nearby brigades came to Butterfield’s camp to ask the meaning of this new call. They liked it, and copying the music, returned to their camps. But it was not until sometime later that orders were issued, or permission given, to substitute it throughout the Army of the Potomac.

General Butterfield, in composing this call, and directing that it be used for “Taps” in his brigade, could not have foreseen its popularity and the use for another purpose into which it would grow. Today, whenever a member of the Armed Forces is buried with military honors, the ceremony is concluded by firing three volleys of musketry over the grave, and sounding with the trumpet or bugle “Put out the lights. Go to sleep.”

Also, note that the firing of three volleys is far different from the 21-gun salute. I recommend visiting the Arlington National Cemetery website, http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/index.htm, for information on these traditional ceremonies.

Finally, please remember to thank a vet or an active duty soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. They are a constant reminder that our cherished freedom is not free.

Washington DC News

The DC State Board had the pleasure of presenting a check for $2,000 to Archbishop Broglio, who is the Bishop of the U.S Military Archdiocese. Bishop Broglio was very grateful to the AOH for the contribution and said “It would be put to great use for fostering vocations and supporting our Catholic chaplains who are fighting two wars and serve our Catholic servicemen and women worldwide.” The DC State Board would like to encourage all Divisions to consider this charity in the future. Their need is great. On March 13th, 2010 at the Custis-Lee Mansion in Arlington National Cemetery, the DC State Board presented our annual “Friend of Ireland” award to Dan Layden of the Baltimore Railroad Workers Irish Shrine and Monument. Dan has given many hours restoring and rebuilding four houses in SE Baltimore, where Irish Immigrant lived and worked for the B&O Railroad in the mid-1800s. Tours are now available of these homes when you visit Baltimore, with thanks to Dan. When you visit, you will get a firsthand experience of what it was like to eke out a living as an Irish Immigrant in the United States. We also presented a wreath at the gravesite of John F. Kennedy on that day.  The JFK Division carries on this ritual each year to our only U.S. President that was a member of the AOH. On a Convention note, the DC State Board has wholeheartedly endorsed Brother Keith Carney to be re-elected to the office of National Director. Keith has done a wonderful job for the AOH; one just has to look at the improvements he has made with the Digest. Not to mention all the traveling he has done for the benefit of our order in the Mid-Atlantic States, to keep in touch with many Divisions and State Boards. I look forward to seeing everyone in Cincinnati.

The DC State Board had the pleasure of presenting a check for ,000 to Archbishop Broglio, who is the Bishop of the U.S Military Archdiocese. Bishop Broglio was very grateful to the AOH for the contribution and said “It would be put to great use for fostering vocations and supporting our Catholic chaplains who are fighting two wars and serve our Catholic servicemen and women worldwide.” The DC State Board would like to encourage all Divisions to consider this charity in the future. Their need is great. On March 13th, 2010 at the Custis-Lee Mansion in Arlington National Cemetery, the DC State Board presented our annual “Friend of Ireland” award to Dan Layden of the Baltimore Railroad Workers Irish Shrine and Monument. Dan has given many hours restoring and rebuilding four houses in SE Baltimore, where Irish Immigrant lived and worked for the B&O Railroad in the mid-1800s. Tours are now available of these homes when you visit Baltimore, with thanks to Dan. When you visit, you will get a firsthand experience of what it was like to eke out a living as an Irish Immigrant in the United States. We also presented a wreath at the gravesite of John F. Kennedy on that day.  The JFK Division carries on this ritual each year to our only U.S. President that was a member of the AOH. On a Convention note, the DC State Board has wholeheartedly endorsed Brother Keith Carney to be re-elected to the office of National Director. Keith has done a wonderful job for the AOH; one just has to look at the improvements he has made with the Digest. Not to mention all the traveling he has done for the benefit of our order in the Mid-Atlantic States, to keep in touch with many Divisions and State Boards. I look forward to seeing everyone in Cincinnati.

John and Michael McInerney present the AOH wreath at the Kennedy gravesite at Arlington Cemetery.

Charities And Missions

I hope everyone had an enjoyable St. Patrick’s Day.  My schedule brought me to events in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Washington, D.C. and my thanks for the hospitality shown by the divisions and boards I visited. While it is a busy time of year for all of us, those who can fit it into their schedule should make every effort to attend the yearly ceremony organized by the Hibernian DC Board at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington. Just as they do with their Annual Right to Life Breakfast each January 22 and numerous other charitable events throughout the year, our DC Hibernian brothers do an outstanding job of promoting the Hibernians and causes important to us in the Capitol Region. It was also great to have National Historian Mike McCormack in Connecticut on March 14th After speaking at the Bridgeport AOH Annual Communion Breakfast in the morning, Mike traveled with me and participated in the New Haven St. Patrick’s Parade that afternoon before heading home. Great to have you with us Mike!

Our thanks to all those who responded to our call for donations to aid victims of 2009 flooding in Ireland. Given the economy and the number of causes our membership supports, the response has been nothing short of outstanding. Especially gratifying has been the number of donations by individual members and non-members responding through press releases sent to Irish American publications. The number of donations will allow us to send money not only to the Irish Red Cross but also the Society of St. Vincent DePaul who is doing tremendous ground level work in the effected areas. For those who have not made a donation and who still wish to contribute, donations should be made payable to the AOH Nat’l Board IFR Appeal and mailed to me at 315 Chamberlain Highway, Meriden, CT 06451. Please be sure the checks are made payable to the AOH Nat’l Board and NOT Hibernian Charity. A final report will be made in the next issue of the Digest.

Our thanks and congratulations to the following boards and divisions who continue the charitable efforts of our Order by organizing projects and supporting causes in their communities:  Division 14, Queens County, NY for their work on behalf of Blessed Sacrament Church and the Holy Child Jesus Outreach & Food Pantry; Miles Scully Division #1 of Westchester NY for 2009 donations exceeding $17,000.00 to numerous local causes; Officer Joseph Friel Division #5 of Philadelphia whose 2009 activities included support of various religious, civic and veterans organizations; The Theodore Cardinal McCarrick Division of Kent, Delaware for their support of local shelters and the SPCA; Sons of Aidan Div #4 in DC who worked in conjunction with St. Jerome’s Parish K of C  in organizing an “Irish Celebration” to benefit the school; the Bishop Patrick Lynch Div #1 of Beaufort, SC whose 2009 projects benefited local CCD Programs, the Low County Pregnancy Center as well as various religious and civic organizations; the Thomas W. Carroll Division #1 of Erie County, NY for their donations to Hibernian Charity; Division #32 of Chicago, IL whose 2009 Report included financial donations of $22,000.00 to 75 local organizations, 300 donated man hours in support of local charity efforts and the support of three (3) local soup kitchens feeding 570 individuals and the Fr. Solanus Casey Division of Macomb County, MI whose charitable efforts in 2009 generated $13,824.00 to 22 various causes including $10,000.00 to the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. Great work everyone!

OMAGH BASKETBALL TOUR UPDATE

Communication with Brother Eamon Daly of the Omagh club indicates that the tour has been extended a day, with the team arriving on July 15 and leaving the evening of July 26th. Their schedule will include games with local youth teams and clinics led by local US basketball coaches in Neptune NJ, Philadelphia PA, Meriden CT and Watertown MA and on their off days touring New York City, Six Flags Great Adventure, Philadelphia, Wildwood, NJ, Mystic CT, the Basketball Hall of Fame and Boston MA.

If you are aware of an American business or other organization who might be interested in acting as a sponsor, please solicit a tax deductible donation on our behalf or send me the contact information. The AOH hosts will be responsible for housing and feeding as well as transporting these young athletes during their time in the USA. We will need a tremendous effort because rules governing youth travel from Ireland require that these young people be housed in dormitories or hotels. Funding for the team while here in the US will be coordinated through AOH Hibernian Charity and donations of $250.00 or more are tax deductible. Donation checks should be made out to Hibernian Charity-Omagh Basketball Tour and sent to the Charity at PO Box 391, Meriden, CT 06451.