By ELIZABETH BEILMAN
Many say that U.S. Army Sgt. James Daniel Faulkner was known for his selflessness and willingness to help others — even in his final moments of life.
The night that the Clarksville native died in Baghdad, Iraq, during his second deployment for the United States military, he was in an armored personnel carrier in the gunner’s position with the lower half of his body exposed when he spotted the improvised explosive device, or IED.
“[The witnessing soldiers] saw that rather than duck down inside the vehicle, he grabbed the radio and was in the process of saying ‘I-E-D,’” Faulkner’s stepfather, Greg Gilkey, said of accounts of that night in 2004.
The bomb exploded, killing 23-year-old Faulkner and injuring two other soldiers.
“So even at the end, he basically sacrificed his safety to warn the others,” Gilkey said.
Ten years later, he will continue to be remembered not only for his selflessness, but also as namesake for the new Sgt. James Daniel Faulkner American Legion Post 565, established on Ivy Tech Community College’s campus in April.
Brennan Callan, commander of the new post, said that chartering an American Legion on a college campus helps boost younger membership.
“The American Legion themselves have come to the realization that the returning veterans are not joining the traditional standalone post,” Callan said.
Instead, they’re going to college, just as Faulkner had plans to do.
“[The American Legion is] like everybody. We’re having to evolve,” Callan said. “How are we going to do whatever our original intent was?”
More and more American Legion posts are popping up on campuses to maintain young membership; many new veterans believe that the organization is mostly full of their fathers and grandfathers, he said. Ivy Tech Community College in Sellersburg has about 250 student veterans — Callan being one of them.
He said it’s important for returning veterans to receive the support of those who understand their situations.
“These returning veterans have hardships that nonveterans just don’t conceive,” Callan said.
The American Legion Post, as well as the Student Veteran Organization that Callan is also president of, bring these veterans together.
“That’s an opportunity for all these people to get to network and help create friendships that sometimes you don’t feel when you’re on a brand new campus,” he said.
The post is the first establishment in Southern Indiana since the 1960s, and Callan said older veterans are reaching out to younger veterans so they know all the services and benefits offered to them.
“There’s people and resources, but if nobody tells you they exist, it’s almost like they don’t exist,” he said.
One of these new members of the American Legion post that caters to the younger generation is Logan Creedon, a 22-year-old member of the National Guard in New Albany. Although Creedon is not yet a veteran, he was allowed to join Ivy Tech’s post and has heard stories from older veterans about what it will be like for him down the road.
“I’ve learned about things that I might be eligible for in the future,” Creedon said.
He said more American Legion posts on college campuses would keep alive the spirit of civic engagement and political interest that the national organization traditionally has been known for.
“[The American Legion] can associate with a newer generation and not die out,” he said.
Personally, Creedon said the Ivy Tech post has helped foster his political engagement and shown him the level of influence someone can have by getting involved in local politics.
“You don’t want that to go away,” he said.
The new post is helping a younger generation of veterans and soldiers become more active and aware, under the name of someone who was known for his helpfulness. Faulkner was chosen for the post’s namesake through Callan’s online obituary search for someone both from the area and who died in the last 15 years.
“The more I learn about Daniel Faulkner, the more I know I was right to pick him,” Callan said. “He was just an impressive young man ... He cared about his community.”
Gilkey said that his stepson leaves behind a legacy of helping others.
“When he was in the Army, I don’t know how many people told us how he would help them in their training and things like that,” he said.
While overseas, Faulkner and his unit gathered supplies to donate to Iraq schools.
“So here he was, trying to help people over there get an education,” Gilkey said.
Now, Faulkner will be known to more than close friends and family.
“We’re incredibly fortunate because they’ve named this post after him, and now his name lives on,” Gilkey said.