American Legion Questions

It has recently become public that the American Legion has decided to sell their property, one of the last, large parcels of undeveloped land in the town.

They have every right to do so.

The Town of Chapel Hill had signed an agreement in 2005 that the town would have the right of first refusal to purchase the land, but we now find that the town manager and outgoing town council held a secret meeting where they decided not to purchase the property, and signed secret legal documents with the developers on November 20th, only 5 working days before the new mayor and town council were sworn in.

This raises serious questions that need to answered publicly. Why was this decision made in secret right before the new mayor and council were to be sworn in?

Why was all this done with no public hearings? I think the people have a right to comment on such major decisions. What was the hurry, if not to ensure yet another massive residential development would be built, even though the people had just voted to slow the pace of this?

All this may (or may not) have been legal, but it was clearly wrong. What other back room, secret agreements were made in the last minutes of the outgoing mayor and council?

Listen to Scott Madry’s commentary

We already have over 5,000 new apartments approved and in the pipeline, and Chapel Hill has now lost the chance to own one of the last large natural tracts of land in the town.

This is a very serious matter and the public deserves a full and open explanation, including the public release of the minutes of this and any other secret decisions made just before they left office.

This type of secretive and ‘behind your back’ dealings are not in the best interest of the town, or the citizens who these people are supposed to represent. I am deeply offended by this, and you should be too.

Who will be held accountable for this?

— Scott Madry

“Beach Shack Boil” Saturday Will Benefit SKJAJA

You’re invited to American Legion Post 6 in Chapel Hill this Saturday, November 14, from 6:30-10:00 pm for a “Beach Shack Boil” to benefit the SKJAJA Fund.

The event features a traditional lowcountry shrimp boil, beer and wine, plus live music by Lester Fricks and much more.

It’s all to benefit SKJAJA, a local nonprofit founded in 2008 to provide funds for area kids to participate in “social and educational enrichment activities.” Students apply for funding to support an activity or program of their choice; in return, they “pay it forward” with a community service project.

Charlotte White and Sondra Komada joined Aaron Keck on WCHL this week to talk about the Beach Shack Boil and SKJAJA. (Charlotte co-founded the organization seven years ago with her husband Eric.)


The American Legion post is located at 1714 Legion Road behind Rams Plaza.

For more information on the Beach Shack Boil, including tickets, visit this page.

Memorial Day, “A Hero’s Best Medicine” From Fisher House

This Memorial Day from 3-6 pm, WCHL proudly airs “A Hero’s Best Medicine,” a national radio special (with a Chapel Hill tie) produced by the Fisher House Foundation, an organization that provides a home away from home for the families of hospitalized military veterans.

Founded by Zachary Fisher, the Fisher House Foundation is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Today, there are 65 Fisher Houses located near military and VA hospitals across the country – including one near Fort Bragg.

“A Hero’s Best Medicine” is produced by the Foundation and hosted by Doc Washburn. The first hour of the show (airing Monday at 3 pm on WCHL) will feature a segment on Chapel Hill’s annual “Marathon Jam” – a 12-hour musical jam session organized by John Santa and hosted by the American Legion, with proceeds benefiting the Fisher House. (You’ll hear WCHL’s Aaron Keck on the segment.)

Fisher House Foundation Programs and Community Relations VP Derek Donovan joined Aaron on WCHL this week.

Tune into WCHL on Monday from 3-6 pm to hear “A Hero’s Best Medicine” – and visit to hear more about the Fisher House Foundation.

Local Vets Reflect On Memorial Day, Shinseki, And VA Scandal

Following a week of controversy in the wake of revelations surrounding the scandal at VA hospitals nationwide, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki submitted his resignation to President Obama on Friday. But should he have resigned? Should he have had to resign? And will his departure make a difference?

Those questions are still being discussed, even now that Shinseki has stepped down – but those were also the questions at the heart of the conversation all week long.

On Tuesday, WCHL’s Aaron Keck invited Fred Black and Lee Heavlin to the studio to discuss the issues surrounding the VA – not just Shinseki’s role, but also the scandal itself. (Or both scandals, more accurately: what made the news initially was the allegation that VA officials had deliberately covered up long wait times at VA hospitals, but the fact that veterans were waiting so long for treatment is a separate scandal in itself.) Black and Heavlin are both veterans; Heavlin currently serves as post commander at the American Legion Chapel Hill, and he also took the opportunity to reflect on Memorial Day and the commemorative ceremonies that had just taken place in Chapel Hill.

While Black and Heavlin were both concerned about the scandal, both men also observed that veterans do receive good care at VA hospitals – a fact that’s often lost in the current controversy. Black in particular argued that Shinseki’s departure would not make much difference in itself; Black has worked with Shinseki in the past, and vouches for his character as a concerned and dedicated official.

Listen to their conversations below, from the Tuesday Afternoon News with Aaron Keck.

Lee Heavlin:

Fred Black:

Marathon Jam Aims To Raise Money For Military Families

CHAPEL HILL – Local musicians will play music for 12 straight hours at the tenth annual Marathon Jam this Saturday to help raise money for families of injured military personnel.

Here’s local musician and organizer John Santa.

“The reason I do this charity is because it keeps families together,” says Santa. “All the little kids know is that mom or dad is hurt or mom or dad is away in the hospital. This lets the kids and families stay close. That helps the healing—just having the love and family together. That’s what it’s all about: no politics allowed. It’s just about families and honoring the sacrifice that the families of these soldiers make.”

All proceeds from the event will be donated to the Fisher House at Ft. Bragg in Fayetteville.

The Fisher House hosts families of injured soldiers for free who are admitted at VA hospitals. There are 58 Fisher Houses across the United States and Germany. In just over two decades, the charity has assisted more than 180,000 families.

In previous years, much of the proceeds came from friends, family and local organizations sponsoring the musicians for how long they played. But Santa says this year; the marathon jam will not just be limited to music.

“A cool thing we are doing this year is we are opening it up for some artists, says Santa. “We are going to have some people painting. We call the players that play for the whole 12 hours ‘Iron Pickers.’ We may have our first ‘Iron Painter’ this year. We are going to have two painters with easels up, one sketch artist, and I think two photographers coming in and taking pictures and stuff.”

Santa says a solider that just this week returned from duty in the Middle East will also join in the effort.

“There’s a group called the Baghdad Bad Boys and one of the Bad Guys just got in from Kuwait on Tuesday,” says Santa. “He lives in Sumter, South Carolina and is driving up so that he can come up and play with us after being away from his family and friends for a year. That’s how important this thing is to the soldiers and their families.”

The Baghdad Bad Boys also participated in the 2010 Marathon Jam.

For the fifth straight year, the marathon jam will take place at American Legion Post 6 on Legion Road from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. The event is free and open to the public, but donations are encouraged.

Why Do They Do It?

Memorial Day is over and it was well celebrated by many citizens in our community. Lots of work went into the activities and more than a few lent their time and energy to make all of the events a success. Why do they do it, some may wonder. There’s really a pretty simple answer; they do it because they care!

Who’s “they?” They are the members and the auxiliaries of The Veterans of Foreign Wars, C.V. Cummings Chapel Hill Post 9100 and American Legion Post 6 and community volunteers. Each year they work long hours to ensure that Memorial Day is properly celebrated and that those who died in battle are properly remembered.

Planning begins early to make the event a smooth and efficient operation. On the Saturday before Memorial Day, Boy Scouts, veterans and family members gathered early in the morning at Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery to drape flags on more than 500 graves of local service men and women. When they completed the task, they conducted a short, public memorial service in the cemetery with the help of the Boy Scouts.

Later Saturday morning, The Veterans of Foreign Wars distributed poppies at University Mall from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The tradition of handing out poppies goes back almost 100 years and the poppies are now the symbol for the Veterans of Foreign Wars in remembrance of those who have served and died. Made by hospitalized veterans, the VFW believes that handing out the flowers with a simple “please remember” message is very effective.

On Memorial Day, another brief memorial service at the cemetery started the day’s events. The American Legion Post held an open house from 10-11 a.m. and there were tables laden with scrapbooks, military equipment, and memorabilia, all watched over by a variety of uniforms and photos hanging on the walls. The formal program started at 11 a.m.

This year, the Orange County Sheriff’s Color Guard presented the colors. After an opening prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, Ms. Cathy Klein sang the National Anthem. As is their tradition, there was a reading of British Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s 1915 poem, “In Flanders Field.

The guest speaker for this year was Colonel Saul Strauss, U.S. Army (Retired). As a World War II veteran, Colonel Strauss shared his battlefield experiences treating the wounded, irrespective of their uniform; he just treated people, he said. Following his presentation Mr. Markos Simopoulos provided a rendition of “America the Beautiful. The program leaders then dedicated a wreath and conducted a very stirring “Two Bell Ceremony” in tribute to the departed.

After retiring the colors and the closing prayer, guest observed the wreath that was placed at the flagpole. In spite of the heat, people gathered wherever they could find some shade to hear a concert by The Village Band and visit the display tables organizations set up. To satisfy the hungry crowd, Boy Scout Troop 835 prepared hot dogs and served drinks provided by The Chapel Hill Magazine again this year.

Yes, it took a lot of planning to make all of the moving parts come together to properly honor our fallen heroes and heroines, and all of those who made it all come together should be proud, especially VFW Commander, Master Chief Petty Officer Lee Heavlin and Robert Patton, Adjutant, VFW Post 9100.

So why do they do it? They think it is important to do it. They know we must remember and teach the true meaning of Memorial Day. They served. They care.

What do you think?