By AMANDA ARNOLD
NEW ALBANY —
On Tuesday, the American Legion Bonnie Sloan Post #28 in New Albany held its annual Veterans Day dinner. The event was open to the public and very successful with more than 200 people enjoying a meal prepared by volunteers.
“It’s a great sight to see so many of you here. It’s even more of a privilege that I can be a member of the American Legion Ladies Auxiliary,” said Ladies Auxiliary President Jennifer Moulden.
Moulden added that the turnout was impressive as the community supported our nation’s veterans.
“This went really well. I come every year, and I have been a member for 11 years. It helps me because it shows me what the veterans are all about. Every day should be Veterans Day,” said Jimmy Martin, who joined the American Legion after his grandfather served in the military.
The well-attended event can also be attributed to the fact that former Miss America Heather French Henry spoke in honor of the veterans, and the community. She won her crown 13 years ago, and since then she has been very active with the Heather French Foundation for Veterans, which is the foundation she started in order to honor our nation’s heroes.
“As a daughter of disabled vet, she has experienced the pain and suffering that can come with the military service,” said Past Southern Vice Commander Dave Roche during her introduction.
After Henry earned her crown, she went on a national speaking tour titled “Our Forgotten Heroes, Honoring Our Nation’s Homeless Veterans.” Her travels led her to veteran facilities, meetings and Washington, D.C. to lobby to the members of Congress regarding veteran issues and legislation.
Henry continues to travel the country in support of her foundation and to support the veterans. Part of her speaking engagements also include visiting elementary schools and she has started a mobile health unit for veteran screenings.
“We’re still traveling and getting the word out on veterans’ issues, whether it be homelessness, housing, health care, you name it. When a vet needs it, we try to facilitate,” Henry said.
Sometimes, the foundation, [which has its headquarters in Rochester, N.Y. but serves nationwide] receives calls regarding the nearest VA hospital. On other occasions, there are more serious calls from veterans who are at risk of losing their homes.
“We are able to connect them with the American Legion, because you all are the only veteran organization that has family assistance and emergency funding. You are the difference between a vet staying home or becoming homeless,” Henry said.
She explained that there are many homeless veterans who go unnoticed, and 20,000 of them are women with families.
Henry also stressed the importance of health care for veterans, and that hopefully 100 percent of the veterans are able to be taken care of more efficiently, compared to the eight hours she recalls waiting with her father at the VA hospital years ago.
However, it remains important that all veterans are aware of available benefits, such as health care and benefits for families. She recalled meeting a man who served for 13 years, but he wasn’t sure if he qualified as a veteran.
“As a civilian, I believe it’s my duty, and our duty to make sure our veterans know that they are appreciated, and what they are entitled to,” said Henry, whose uncle was a homeless veteran, but now he triumphantly speaks to others about his journey.
At the conclusion of her talk, Henry showed a Purple Heart lapel pin that was given to her by a veteran, and her Miss America crown. For her, the colors on the crown represent the veterans, with the ruby representing the blood that was shed for this country.
“Everyday I get the chance to hold this, and speak out, it makes me even more proud to be an American. I know how special it is to call yourself a veteran and how special your camaraderie is, and how much of an honor it is to be able to say thank you for serving our country,” she said.
During the speech, her husband, Steve Henry, watched alongside their daughters.
“It’s always a pleasure speaking during Veterans Day and during the week we get to spend time with our veterans. Especially in Kentucky and Indiana, where people really appreciate their veterans,” said Steve Henry, who stressed the importance of always treating our veterans with the utmost respect.
For more information about French’s foundation, visit heathersveterans.org or call 585-392-0269. The American Legion Bonnie Sloan Post 28 can be reached at 812-945-1944.