By ROB W. ANDERSON
The national commander of the American Legion has been to Oklahome before, but it was a long time ago. This time around, he was most interested in getting a taste of Native American culture, and meeting some of the tribal members who had served in the military.
Blackfox-Hartness American Legion Post 135 hosted National Commander James Koutz in the Tuesday afternoon event that included Oklahoma State American Legion Commander John “Wes” Benge, members of several American Legion posts and their families, local civic and tribal leaders, as well as members of the Northeastern State University Student Veteran Organization.
Post 135 Commander Jim Savage said the day was special for Tahlequah veterans.
“This means a lot to our post,” he said. “This is the only post in Oklahoma that he’s going to be visiting.”
Koutz, a Vietnam War veteran, is seven months into his one-year term and has made trips to Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Mexico, Taiwan, Korea, Guam, Okinawa, Pearl Harbor and 29 other U.S. states.
“We travel around and talk about the programs of the American Legion, and try to take care of our veterans, especially our student veterans. That’s really big in America,” Koutz said.
He pointed to four major programs that members call the four pillars of the American Legion: Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation, National Security, Children and Youth, and Americanism.
“Those are our four great programs that we try promote, plus all the programs under them like Boys State, American Legion baseball and the oratorical contest, which is going on right now all over the United States,” said Koutz. “Then we’re promoting junior shooting sports. We’re big in that at the American Legion.”
Koutz noted the national attention the American Legion recently received through an on-air apology received from the CBS television network. The apology was issued Sunday night for a recent episode of “The Amazing Race,” which featured offensive content that included wreckage of a B-52 shot down in Hanoi and a pro-Communism singing performance.
“I wrote them a letter and asked for an apology. With all the mail and emails and everything they got from all the American Legion families, they finally gave us an apology. They shouldn’t have done that,” Koutz said. “Somebody should have looked at that more. You don’t go celebrate or anything in front of a memorial where we lost soldiers. I don’t think they’ll do that again.”
Posting of the colors, presented by the Cherokee Nation Honor Guard, included two ceremonial songs. Benge said Koutz told him he had never visited a reservation and hoped to experience the native culture in Oklahoma.
“I said, ‘Well, there’s not a reservation, but there’s something better: There’s the [Cherokee] Nation.’ I explained all that to him, and he said he hoped [to experience something from the Native American culture],” said Benge. “I didn’t tell them, but they did it. These guys came out and did a ceremony. They got my heart.”
Benge wanted to make sure Tuesday’s event had a Native American theme because more Native Americans have served in the military than any other minority group.
“I wanted him to see that. I’ve shown him all the memorials and a lot of other stuff out here. He’s really happy,” Benge said.
Koutz said this is his second trip to Oklahoma, as he visited Tulsa “a long time ago.”
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