Archive for August, 2013

Report: IRS Illegally Targets American Legion for Scrutiny

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk IRS targets american legionIn the latest of a series of revelations that have racked the Internal Revenue Service, the American Legion is reporting that it has been singled out by the IRS for unusually strict reporting requirements. Specifically, the IRS has told the American Legion that it must maintain dates of service and eligibility records for all their members. Failure to do so, and to make this information available to IRS auditors, will result in a fine of $1,000 per day, according to reporting from the Daily Caller.

The IRS has been under fire for several months after information surfaced that showed that the IRS department specializing in tax-exempt organizations – a Cincinnati office under the direction of Lois Lerner, had been illegally singling out conservative and Tea Party organizations by holding up their applications for tax-exempt status, and by ordering them to comply with extensive questionnaires and unusual documentation requests. In at least one case, the IRS ordered one conservative organization to describe the content of the organization’s prayers.

Meanwhile, applications from liberal organizations likely to be supportive of the Obama Administration were fast-tracked, with relatively little or no scrutiny.

The Daily Caller story provoked outrage among conservatives, including this op-ed in the Investors Business Daily excoriating the Obama Administration and the IRS for targeting veterans.

It turns out that this is not the first time the American Legion has found itself in hot water with the IRS. A number of posts in the Central Atlantic area came under scrutiny in 1995, as a result of a number of issues, among them:

  • Illegal gambling operations
  • Failure to pay taxes on revenues from the sale of alcohol and gambling revenues, which the IRS held was not part of the public mission of the organization.
  • Failure to pay taxes on revenues from Bingo games, which were not restricted to members but were open to the public.
  • Granting ‘social memberships’ to individuals who were not armed services veterans.
  • Not reporting revenues from unrelated business activities such as renting Legion halls to outside groups.


The IRS audited at least 29 separate VFW and American Legion posts at that time, looking to uncover irregularities like these.

While the IRS itself is not commenting on any specific cases, the question of ‘social memberships’ appears to be in play. These are memberships the organization grants to non-veterans, for whatever reason. While IRS rules do allow for the participation of spousal auxiliary organizations in VFW and American Legion activities, the excess granting of social memberships to non-qualified members appears to have become an issue – hence the new requirement for posts to keep records of members and their proof of service.

Specifically, in order to qualify for tax-exempt status allowed to veterans’ organizations, the American Legion, VFW and other similar organizations have to show that at least 75 percent of their members are past or present members of the Armed Forces of the United States, and that 97.5 percent must be:

 a. Present or former members of the U.S. Armed Forces;

b. Cadets (including only students in college or university ROTC programs or at Armed Services academies) or

c. Spouses, widows, widowers, ancestors or lineal descendants of individuals referred to in (a) or (b).


More broadly, the IRS appears to be cracking down on something called unrelated business income. In a nutshell, if a tax-exempt organization operates a trade or business that is not directly related to its mission, that is considered unrelated business income and is subject to income tax. For example, if an American Legion post operates a military museum, and charges admission to the museum to raise money, this is directly related to the organization’s educational and community service charter. But if it operates a bingo game, or a restaurant – especially if the bingo game or restaurant is open to the public – then the income generated from that activity is generally taxable.

The IRS does this so that business enterprises run by tax-exempt organizations – whether operated by churches, veterans’ organizations or the Rotary Club – do not get an unfair advantage over taxable private enterprises. 

However, the IRS has specifically issued guidance to veterans groups that gambling operations can be considered appropriate activities for Section 501(c)19 organizations, provided the gambling is limited to members of the post and their guests – and provided the member pays all of the guests’ expenses. (More information is available in IRS Publication 3079 – Gaming Publication for Tax-Exempt Organizations.

The IRS has had its credibility severely damaged in recent months, however, thanks to the corruption in the Cincinnati office overseeing applications for tax-exempt status. Furthermore, veterans broke strongly against Obama in the last two elections. Is this latest dust-up with the American Legion part of that same effort? It’s difficult to say for certain. Just because the American Legion has had tax issues in the past does not mean they weren’t improperly targeted for special scrutiny by Lois Lerner and her staff at the IRS office in Cincinnati. However, it is also true that just because the IRS may have improperly targeted veterans’ groups, that doesn’t mean that the American Legion and other veterans groups don’t have some sticky tax issues, either.

Are you gut-strong?

Posted by Christine A. Shelly are you gut strongEven the best-made plans can go awry, and even the most organized of us can sometimes be caught by surprise. Some people are motivated by challenges – so when things are running smoothly, they are easily distracted. Others, when faced with obstacles, need a little support to get over the bumps in the road.

The great industrialist and automobile pioneer Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you are right.” The difference maker that can change your attitude is gut-strength. 

In their book Heart, Smarts, Guts, & Luck, authors Anthony K. Tjan, Richard J. Harrington and Tsun-Yan Hsieh define one of the characteristics of successful businesspeople or entrepreneurs as “guts-dominant.” Guts–dominant people are not only the people who have an idea, but they’re willing to take action on it, endure trials and tribulations to keep it alive, and evolve as necessary to see that idea come to life.

When you have guts, you take action. You are resilient. You are accountable. And you get things done. This is a concept our military students and veterans know quite well; they are people who have a vision,  make a plan, take action, measure results and adjust accordingly.

How can you tell if you are gut-strong?

When you encounter an obstacle, do you stop in your tracks, unable to fully function because you are analyzing every possible outcome (repeatedly)? Or do you briefly consider your options then take a decisive action? Gut strong people take action.

Are you willing to make tough decisions and accept the outcome? Notice this is not the same thing as blindly forging ahead and damning the torpedoes – that isn’t strength, that’s carelessness. Gut-strong people accept responsibility and consequences for their actions.

If you’re saying to yourself, “But I don’t have any of these qualities,” think again.

You’ve already made a tough decision: You’ve decided to earn your degree. The responsibilities attached to this are substantial – you’ve got to do the work to gain the prize. If you have a family, work, or other commitments as well, you must work out a way to honor those too. That takes resilience and – you guessed it – gut strength.

You can bet that the ride won’t be smooth. But it will be worth it. The experience and knowledge you gain will propel you toward your goals, and the sense of achievement and confidence you earn will stay with you throughout your life.

If you’re willing to keep moving forward, take action and accept responsibility, you can endure and not only succeed, but thrive in your educational and professional pursuits




Ms. Shelly has spent more than a decade working in higher education. She currently serves as executive vice president for Grantham Education Corporation. Ms. Shelly is passionate about changing lives – about making college education accessible and affordable to more people and preparing students and graduates for success.

US Marine Corps Slashes Respite Care Benefits for Exceptional Family Members

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk US Marine Corps respite care for familyIf you are a Marine Corps family enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program and you receive benefits for respite care, things are going to be a lot tighter come October 1. The Exceptional Family Member Program is designed to help military members with disabled or developmentally delayed or autistic dependents, whether children or spouses.

The Marine Corps announced that families enrolled in the EFMP designated as level-of-need (NoD) 1 and 2 will be kicked out of the respite program. For those in levels 3 and 4, the maximum benefit of 40 hours per week will be reduced to 20 hours.

The criteria for determining the level of need follow: 

  • Level One. Includes EFMP families with children 12 years old or younger with mild special needs.
  • Level Two. Includes EFMP families with children 18 years old or younger with moderate special needs that require a higher level of respite care than provided at the Installation CDC.
  • Level Three. Includes EFMP families with children 18 years old or younger with severe special needs that require trained support from providers to stay safe in their home.
  • Level Four. Includes EFMP family members of all ages, with profound special needs who require nursing care services as documented by qualified medical providers,to stay safe in their home.

The respite care benefit was initiated in 2008 to take some stress off of Marine families caught between the challenges of frequent deployment and the need to provide care for family members. The Marine Corps says that as it transitions to peacetime levels of funding and since deployments are less frequent, there is less need and fewer resources available to fund respite care.

Respite care allows primary family caregivers a break from the direct care responsibility.

In addition, the Marine Corps announced that after October 1, they will no longer fund age typical sibling reimbursement, and that adult EFMs (exceptional family members) will no longer receive age typical reimbursement for their children.

VA Announces More Funding for Effort to Fight Homelessness Among Veterans

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk VA funding for homeless veteransWASHINGTON – The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs today announced the second round of HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) funding to local public housing agencies across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The $7.8 million will provide housing and clinical services for 1,120 currently homeless veterans. In May of this year, the two agencies announced $60 million in HUD-VASH vouchers. See state/local distribution of the assistance here.

The supportive housing assistance announced today is provided through the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program which combines rental assistance from HUD with case management and clinical services provided by VA. Since 2008, a total of 58,140 vouchers have been awarded and 43,371formerly homeless veterans are currently in homes of their own because of HUD-VASH. 

“Our nation’s veterans have sacrificed and given up so much for our freedom,” said HUD Secretary Donovan. “These vouchers are helping America end veterans’ homelessness one veteran at a time until we see not one veteran living on the street. I look forward to continue working with Secretary Shinseki and the Department of Veterans Affairs to target assistance to our homeless veterans.” 

“These HUD-VASH vouchers are a vital tool in our effort to provide these brave men and women with the earned care and benefits that help them live productive, meaningful lives,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “So long as a single Veteran lives on our streets, we have work to do. But with the continued support of President Obama, Congress and our community partners, we will end homelessness among Veterans.”

HUD-VASH is a critical part of the Obama Administration’s effort to end Veteran and long-term chronic homelessness by 2015, asserted VA officials. Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness serves as a roadmap for how the federal government will work with state and local communities to confront the root causes of homelessness, especially among former servicemen and women. HUD’s annual “point in time” estimate of the number of homeless persons and families for 2012 found that veteran homelessness fell by 7.2 percent (or 4,876 people) since January 2011 and by 17.2 percent since January 2009. On a single night in January 2012, 62,619 veterans were homeless, according to the Veterans Administration.

The grants announced today are part of $75 million appropriated this year to support the housing needs of homeless veterans. Local public housing authorities provide rental assistance to homeless veterans while nearby VA Medical Centers (VAMC) offer supportive services and case management. This is the second round of the 2013 HUD-VASH funding. HUD expects to announce more HUD-VASH funding this year.

VAMCs work closely with homeless veterans then refer them to public housing agencies for these vouchers, based upon a variety of factors, most importantly the duration of the homelessness and the need for a longer-term, more intensive support to obtain and maintain permanent housing. The HUD-VASH program includes both the rental assistance the voucher provides and the comprehensive case management that VAMC staff provides.

Veterans participating in the HUD-VASH program rent privately owned housing and generally contribute no more than 30 percent of their income toward rent. VA offers eligible homeless veterans clinical and supportive services through its medical centers across the U.S., Guam and Puerto Rico.

Obama Proposes Radical Reform of College Financial Aid

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk obama college financial aid reformThe President has outlined a proposal for a sweeping reform of how federal college aid is allocated, which could affect what schools students can afford, after about 2018.

The problem of inadequate returns on college aid has been attracting Congressional scrutiny for some time. Outstanding student loan balances now top $1 trillion and they are still growing, yet a substantial portion of Americans now in their mid-20s and even older have not graduated with a degree. Among those who have graduated, a substantial number are defaulting on student loans, or barely getting by because of a deeply depressed job market for young graduates.

President Obama introduced his plan while speaking to a college audience yesterday in Buffalo, New York. Obama’s plan would tie student aid to a series of metrics on which colleges must compete against each other. Examples would include default rates, affordability and cost, scholarship availability, graduation rates, earnings of graduates, advanced degrees attained, percentage of students receiving Pell grants, and the like.

The Administration plans to push to make the new system effective in 2018, giving colleges a chance to improve their ratings in these key metrics. The extra time will also give federal officials a chance to refine their criteria.

The Obama Administration suggested that extra resources would go to schools that did well on these factors. Specifically, students enrolled at schools that rank high according to the new criteria would receive more generous Pell grants and lower interest on student loans.

Additionally, the President called for taxpayers to fund a bonus for schools that demonstrate that they actually graduate a high percentage of students have received Pell Grants in the past.

The President’s plan also called for more accountability on the part of students. Obama’s proposal would make students show periodic progress, expressed as a percentage of completion, toward a specific degree before the student could receive additional federal assistance.

Veterans may also benefit from a proposal, also outlined within Obama’s plan, to encourage colleges to award credits for professional experiences, life experiences and on-the-job training.


Pay As You Earn

The President also expressed a desire to expand ‘pay-as-you-earn’ programs. These programs tie student loan payments to income. The more you earn, the more you can afford to pay on your student loan. The president’s plan calls for a cap on student loan payments equal to 10 percent of a student’s income.

Critics of the plan are already lining up. Some of the points raised in objection include:

  1. Basing the criteria on graduation rates creates a perverse incentive for colleges to game the system in the worst possible way: By lowering standards.
  2. It would take a new bureaucracy to administer the program and maintain the ranking system.
  3. The rankings could take schools serving remote or hard-to-serve communities and put them out of business altogether.
  4. The system could unfairly penalize colleges that serve nontraditional students. For example, older students with more established, full-time careers are more likely to get sidetracked from their degree program by familial responsibilities and professional opportunities. These could well cause them to withdraw from a degree program through no fault of the institution.
  5. The very fact that the federal government is creating necessarily arbitrary ratings criteria invites the possibility of rent seeking, manipulation and cronyism. Key members of Congress could manipulate criteria to favor colleges in their own districts, for example.
  6. The plan seems tailor made to route federal dollars to traditional state colleges with largely liberal faculties and reliable Democratic Party donors at the expense of colleges in the private sector, who often hire part-time instructors who are actually working in their fields, and who are less likely to be political allies of the President.

Another more indirect criticism is that it won’t matter how good a job these colleges do creating qualified graduates if the economy is not creating jobs to employ them.

At the same time, Congress also has a responsibility to the taxpayer to ensure an adequate return on money committed to providing financial aid. Colleges with inordinately high default rates or that do not produce graduates commensurate with the amount of money invested are not providing a great ROI when the same dollar can be awarded to another student with a better shot at success and eventual repayment of the loan.



The President has little authority to accomplish this on his own: At some point, Congress will have to pass legislation for the President to get what he wants. Such an occurrence is not likely as long as the House of Representatives remains under GOP control. 

America’s Top 10 Military Musicians, #5 and #6

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

We’re continuing the countdown of the Top 10 Military Musicians (so far). If you missed the first installments of the series, look back to see who was named #9 and 10, and #7 and 8.


6. Corporal Anthony Benedetto.

Anthony Dominick Benedetto was born in 1926 in Astoria, Queens, New York City. He was drafted in 1944 and assigned to the European Theater of World War Two, where he saw savage fighting as an infantryman with the 1/255th Infantry Regiment in the 63rd Infantry Division in the final two months of the war in Germany. In addition to having several close brushes with death, Benedetto was present for the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp at Landsberg. His combat experiences were so traumatic – Benedetto described his infantry service as a “front row seat in Hell,” and “A nightmare that’s permanent.”

After Germany surrendered, however, Benedetto stayed on in a special services unit as a singer and entertainer. He was caught eating chow with a black friend of his. At the time, the Army was still regularly separated. His commander busted him a stripe and sent him to work in Graves Registration.

That didn’t last long, however, and he soon found an assignment with the 314th Army Special Services Band. This was the band formed after Glenn Miller’s Orchestra had completed its tour. While Miller’s orchestra was mostly made up of professional musicians, the Army wanted to recruit the players in the 314th from its own ranks. The New York Times tells their story here.

Benedetto was originally assigned as a librarian, but he sang one song a week with the band. “It was usually St. James Infirmary, Benedetto recalls. 

While there were many successful musicians who came out of the 314th Army Band, Benedetto achieved the most fame by far. But he didn’t do it using his birth name. Shortly after World War Two, Benedetto began performing under a stage name that was to become legendary: Tony Bennett.

Bennett achieved his first great commercial success in 1951, with the single Because of You. Shortly thereafter, Bennett scored hits with Blue Velvet, and Hank Williams’ Cold, Cold Heart, hit pay dirt again in 1962 with I Left My Heart in San Franciscolong considered Bennett’s signature tune.

His sound fell out of favor in the late 60s through the 80s, and Bennett went through some difficult times, but found his audience again in the 1990s, and has recorded duets with a veritable Who’s Who of pop, jazz and rock.

In 2011, Bennett got into hot water after an appearance on the Howard Stern Show, in which he said that he believed that the U.S. brought the 9/11 attacks on itself because of prior U.S. military actions in the Middle East. He also said that former President George W. Bush confessed to Bennett that invading Iraq was a mistake – an account which Bush’s spokespeople dismissed as ‘flat wrong.’

Bennett later walked back his remarks somewhat, saying, “There is simply no excuse for terrorism and the murder of the nearly 3,000 innocent victims of the 9/11 attacks on our country. My life experiences, ranging from the Battle of the Bulge to marching with Martin Luther King, made me a life-long humanist and pacifist, and reinforced my belief that violence begets violence and that war is the lowest form of human behavior.”

In all, Bennett has won 16 Grammy Awards  – including the Album of the Year of MTV Unplugged – Tony Bennett, and two Emmy Awards.

In addition to his many musical achievements, Bennett has generously supported a variety of charities. In recognition of his work, he received the Humanitarian Award from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as well as an induction to the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in 2007.


5. Dave Brubeck

Dave Brubeck was born on December 6th, 1920 in Concord, California, near San Francisco. As a young man, he enrolled in the College of the Pacific in Stockton, California – to study veterinary medicine. However, after a year, a professor of his told him “Brubeck, your mind’s not here. It’s over there, across the lawn in the conservatory. Go there, and stop wasting your time and mine!”

And so he changed his major to music. He demonstrated a keen grasp of piano technique, composition and music theory and was a phenomenal jazz player at an early age – but couldn’t read a lick of music notation. He faked his way through school, though, until word that he couldn’t read music reached the dean, who told Brubeck he wouldn’t be allowed to graduate. 

Once word got out, Brubeck’s other music professors rallied to his defense, telling the Dean that Brubeck was the finest and most promising student they had. The dean relented, and told Brubeck he’d let him graduate, provided he promised never to “embarrass the school” by teaching.

Brubeck took the deal.

Brubeck graduated college in 1942, and was quickly drafted into the U.S. Army. After completing basic training, Brubeck successfully auditioned to join the 253rd Army Band, then headquartered in San Francisco, California, where he met Paul Desmond, who would years later become part of the Dave Brubeck Quartet.  However, despite the successful audition, Brubeck was nevertheless ordered to Europe for combat duty. He was assigned to Patton’s 3rd Army, but once word of his piano playing got out, he was reassigned to go around Europe entertaining troops and VIPs. The brass asked him to start a band. At the time, the Army was still racially segregated. The young Brubeck, still in his early 20s, insisted that he be allowed to form a racially integrated group – and he did: The Wolfpack. 

“I had the first integrated Army band in World War II,” recalled Brubeck in a Public Broadcasting interview. This old colonel, the one that spoke German, was a humanitarian. And he allowed me to have blacks in my band. It was against principle. I don’t know if you’ll ever find a regulation saying you can’t have blacks, but nobody had blacks when I did. I tried to get into a black band. And being white, they wouldn’t let me. So I was glad to do it in reverse and bring two blacks into my band.”

After the war, Brubeck continued playing, composing, arranging and performing. He was well known throughout the country, and even graced the cover of Time Magazine in November 1954. In the early 1960s, Brubeck took his racially integrated band on a tour of the American South, where he ran into a lot of trouble from Jim Crow. 

In February 1960, an article in the Spokesman-Review did a story on Dave Brubeck and his initial refusal to do a 25-day tour of the South because the colleges and universities he would be playing at required him to have an all-white band. The paper quoted Brubeck as saying, “We simply cannot consider it. It would be morally, religiously and politically wrong.”

“I wasn’t allowed to play in some universities in the United States and out of twenty-five concerts, twenty-three were cancelled unless I would substitute my black bass player for my old white bass player, which I wouldn’t do,” Brubeck said,

They wouldn’t let us go on with Gene [Wright] and I wouldn’t go on without him. So there was a stalemate and [we were] in a gymnasium, a big basketball arena on a big campus. And the kids were starting to riot upstairs. So the President of the school had things pushing him from every side: The kids stamping on the floor upstairs, me refusing to go on unless I could go on with my black bass player.

So we just stalled and the bus driver came and said, “Dave, hold out. Don’t go on. The president is talking to the governor and I think things are going your way.” And the Governor says, “You’d better let them go on.” So we held on and the president of the college came in and he said, “Now you can go on with the understanding that you’ll keep Eugene Wright in the background where he can’t be seen too well.” And I told Eugene, “Your microphone is off and I want you to use my announcement microphone so you gotta come in front of the band to play your solo.”

Although 23 of the tour’s 25 dates were cancelled, the tour was a success in another important way. Brubeck, again: 

“Well, the audience went crazy. We integrated the school that night. The kids wanted it; the President wanted it; the teachers wanted it. The President of the college knew he might lose his funding from the state. So here’s the reason you fight is for the truth to come out and people to look at it. Nobody was against my black bass player. They cheered him like he was the greatest thing that ever happened for the students. Everybody was happy.”

Brubeck was convinced that jazz music could swing in many different time signatures, besides the usual 4/4 and the jazz waltzes in 3/4 time. He proved it convincingly with his most well-known for his composition Take Five, an innovative jazz composition with a 5/4 time signature that is still regularly played in jazz clubs everywhere. He also wrote Blue Rondo a la Turk, the first cut on now legendary album Time Out, released in 1959. Blue Rondo made musicians and jazz enthusiasts’ heads explode from the very first bar.

Time Out was the first jazz album to go platinum, selling more than a million copies. Brubeck also wrote Summer Song, Koto Song, and scores of albums in a prolific recording career with the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

Brubeck disbanded the quartet in 1967 and devoted himself to longer compositional works, including Gates of Justice, a cantata in which Brubeck juxtaposed his own music with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, and The Light in the Wilderness, an oratorio based on the teachings of Christ, arranged for solo baritone, organ and choir.

He also composed a piece called To Hope, a mass commissioned by the editor of a Catholic Magazine called Our Sunday Visitor, and joined the Catholic Church soon afterwards.  His work in sacred music earned him an honorary Doctor of Sacred Theology title from University of Fribourg, Switzerland.

Dave Brubeck died in December 2012, at the age of 91.



America’s Top 10 Military Musicians, #7 and #8

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Continuing our series of great military musicians, here are entries 7 and 8. What did you think of #9 and 10? Who is left on the list?


8. Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger has a place in American songwriting history for the singular most successful act of plagiarism in the history of music: He simply added three words to a biblical verse from the Book of Ecclesiastes, and it became a legendary hit: Turn, Turn Turn.

This one song is frequently associated with the Peace Movement of the 1960s, but that’s because The Byrds covered it in 1966 as the U.S. was just ramping up its involvement in the Vietnam War. But Turn, Turn, Turn was much older than that; Seeger wrote it in in the late 1950s and first recorded it in 1962.

That song alone would put Seeger in the pantheon of legendary writers. But he didn’t stop there: He also co-wrote Where Have All the Flowers Gone and If I Had a Hammer, but his history is far more interesting. Seeger, still living in New York at the age of 94 at press time, was a friend and contemporary of Woody Guthrie’s in the 1930s.

Pete Seeger has become closely associated, for good or for ill, with left-wing, ‘progressive’ politics in the United States. He joined the Young Communist League in 1936, when Seeger was 17, though he did eventually part company with the Communist Party later in life.

In the 1930s and the early years of World War Two, Communists and progressives tended to oppose American involvement in the war, believing it to be a corporatist plot to secure opportunities for war profiteering. Seeger was a staunch pacifist, of course, like most American communists at the time. The Communist Party was receiving significant funding from the Soviet Union to further the argument. Until Hitler invaded Russia, that is – which caused American communists to change their tune. 

Shortly after Hitler invaded Russia, the Soviet Union directed American communists to support the draft and told them not to strike until the war was won.

Seeger’s band, the Almanacs, dutifully recorded a song in support of the American War Effort, Dear Mr. President.

Once the war broke out, Seeger was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942 – the same year he formally joined the Communist Party. While the Roosevelt Administration was rounding up Japanese Americans and sending them to internment camps, Seeger went on leave from the Army in 1943 and married a young Japanese-American activist named Toshi Ohta.

They remained married for nearly 70 years – until her death in July of 2013.

While in the Army, Seeger was deployed to the Pacific Theater. He was originally assigned as an aircraft mechanic, but the Army had another use for him: They flew him around the theatre to perform for U.S. troops.

After the war, Seeger remained connected to a wide variety of progressive causes, including pacifism during the Cold War. During the height of anti-communist sentiment in the 1950s, a mob of anti-communists  – many from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, attacked a show he was playing at in Peekskill, New York. They targeted both performers and spectators, and attacked Seeger’s car as he tried to escape with his family. Toshi and Seeger’s three-year-old son were both injured in the attack. The mob left behind a burning cross.

As someone who was personally in a mixed-race marriage when it was very uncommon, Seeger supported Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement and marched alongside Dr. King.

In 1955, Seeger was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee and questioned about his association with the Communist Party. Most other individuals who were subpoenaed by the HUAC chose to plead the 5th Amendment. Seeger refused and counterattacked, refusing to explain or discuss his own personal politics because the HUAC’s efforts to get him to defend his personal political beliefs were a violation of the 1st Amendment.

Seeger was found in Contempt of Congress, and sentenced to ten years in jail. He appealed the sentence, however, and won his appeal, finally, after a long series of court battles, in 1962.

The testimony he gave before the House Un-American Activities Committee is riveting. A transcript is available here.

He left the Communist Party itself in the 50s, as well, though he has continued to call himself a small “c” communist. He was excoriated as “Stalin’s Songbird” for his appearances at Communist-party affiliated events and fundraisers, but late in life, responding to criticism that he wrote songs about the Nazi death camps, he never wrote any about Stalin’s Gulags, Seeger wrote, “I think you’re right. I should have asked to see the gulags when I was in the USSR.” Seeger, in his late 80s, soundly rejected Stalin and Stalinism, along with Nazism, though remained a pacifist.

The author of the piece linked to above concluded:

I was deeply moved that Mr. Seeger, now in his late 80s, had decided to acknowledge what had been his major blind spot – opposing social injustice in America while supporting the most tyrannical of regimes abroad. Mr. Seeger rarely performs anymore. But if he does, and if he sings this song, I suspect that few in the audience would have any idea of what it is about. And I doubt that any other singer today would cover it. Only an audience composed entirely of the now-aging old left veterans would understand it instantly. Undoubtedly, many of them would be shocked.

I phoned Mr. Seeger at his home in Beacon, NY, and thanked him for his letter and its warm and supportive tone. We spent some time reminiscing about the old days and people we knew and things we had experienced together. Turning to a discussion of the community he lives in, Mr. Seeger told me he’s a friend of the Republican mayor of his town, who sponsors community events and welcomes him as a participant. Mr. Seeger, it is clear, believes in bringing people together for good works, and in reconciliation.

Mr. Seeger is still a man of the political left, and I’m certain we disagree about much. But I never thought I would hear him acknowledge the realities of Stalinism. I honor and admire him for doing so now.


7. Gene Autry

Gene Autry isn’t well known to the younger generation; But their grandparents sure know who he was. Autry was among the most important singers and songwriters in country music. Already an established singer, Autry was one of the biggest-earning celebrities in the country by the time World War Two broke out. He was already a private pilot, but when the war began, Autry sought lessons in larger, multi-engine aircraft at his own expense, in preparation for joining the Army Air Corps.

He was inducted into the Army live and on the air during his radio broadcast, Melody Ranch, in 1942, and served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps. He was assigned to the 555th Army Air Base Unit, Air Transport Command, and eventually assigned to fly the treacherous Hump run, flying over the Himalayas to supply Chinese troops and American Army Air Corps units fighting the Japanese.

During his time with the Air Force – and between flying supply missions – Autry performed a number of shows for American troops, mostly around Texas.

When the war ended, Autry transferred to a Special Services unit and led a USO troupe on a tour of the South Pacific, performing for US soldiers, sailors and marines there. He received the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. 

While hosting his weekly radio show, Melody Ranch, which he continued to do even while in the Air Force, Autry also developed the “cowboy code,” a sort of guide for living for his many young fans.

  1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
  2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
  3. He must always tell the truth.
  4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
  5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
  6. He must help people in distress.
  7. He must be a good worker.
  8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
  9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s laws.
  10. The Cowboy is a patriot.

As a songwriter, Autry leaves behind over 300 songs, including Here Comes Santa Claus, I Hang My Head and Cry, Ridin the Range and You’re the Only Star (In My Blue Heaven).

He cut over 600 records during his career, and appeared in over 100 movies, in addition to his radio show. He was named to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. His prolific recording and songwriting and many successful investments propelled him to become one of the wealthiest individual in the country – worth an estimated $320 million by the end of his life.

Autry died on October 2nd, 1998, of lymphoma.

America’s Top 10 Military Musicians, #9 and #10

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

For the next five weeks, our Fun Friday posts will showcase some of the military’s best historical musicians. As we count down each week, will you be able to guess who is Number 1?

The Department of Defense spends about $200 million per year on military bands. That seems like a lot of money, but it’s actually down from about $388 million. There are over 5,000 servicemembers employed as military members – a program that cost taxpayers some $1.55 billion over the four years ending in September.

But there’s another side to that expenditure: A tremendously rich cultural history that’s paid immense dividends not just to the military community, but to the nation as a whole. 

With this series, I’d like to pay tribute to a group of musicians who became legends after getting their start in military bands – or who were already legends, and who went above and beyond the call of duty or citizenship in generously giving themselves and their musical gifts to American troops of all services – sometimes at great risk to themselves. Here are the top ten military musicians in U.S. history – so far.


10. Paul Desmond

Saxophonist Paul Desmond was born on November 25th, 1924 in San Francisco, California. He played clarinet and alto saxophone while in school, but was drafted into the Army during his freshman year in college. By that time, his musicianship was strong enough to land him an assignment to the 253rd Army Band, also in San Francisco.

Desmond would spend three years in the Army, but never deployed to combat. He stayed with the band his entire enlistment.

After World War Two, Desmond continued to play music up and down the West Coast, and soon connected with Dave Brubeck – another Army musician (also on this list) whom Desmond had met when Brubeck auditioned for the 253rd.

Brubeck eventually brought Desmond on as a full partner in the Dave Brubeck Quartet – a legendary ensemble that broke new musical ground while fighting Jim Crow laws in the South throughout its history, from 1951 to its disbandment in 1967. 

Paul Desmond left behind a rich legacy of dozens of recordings, mostly with Dave Brubeck, but also with legendary guitarist Jim Hall, pop vocal star Art Garfunkel, Chet Baker, Don Sebesky, Jack Sheedy and under his own leadership with the Paul Desmond Quartet.

After his death of lung cancer in 1977, Desmond directed that all his substantial royalties from the popular Dave Brubeck tune Take Five be donated to the Red Cross.


9. Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie is the legendary folk singer who wrote scores of enduring favorites that have become icons of Americana, including This Land is Your Land, Pastures of Plenty, and Wildwood Flower, and many others. He was a huge influence on a later generation of songwriters that included Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, John Cougar, John Prine, and thousands of others.

Guthrie also frequently appeared with a guitar that had a sign on it reading “This machine kills fascists.” While Guthrie and many other singer songwriters prominent in folk music in the interwar years were frequently associated with left-wing causes, Guthrie, unlike his contemporary Pete Seeger, was apparently never a member of the Communist Party.

When World War Two broke out, Guthrie sought to offer his services to the USO as a musician, and sought a draft exemption on that basis, believing his contribution to the war effort singing anti-fascist songs and songs extolling the nobility of the American common man who would ultimately triumph over the Nazis and Imperial Japanese would be greater than what he could contribute as a private soldier or sailor.

The Selective Service folks didn’t bite, though, and Guthrie joined the Merchant Marine during World War Two. At the time, with the U-Boat War at its height, the Merchant Marine was an immensely hazardous profession. By some accounts, the U.S. Merchant Marine suffered the greatest losses as a percentage of those engaged out of all the services. Guthrie has his detractors – one linked here accuses him of cowardice. But statistically, Guthrie had more of a chance of being killed in the Merchant Marine than as a draftee in the Army, Navy or Marine Corps. However, Guthrie served in the Merchant Marine throughout World War Two, as a messman and cook, and he sang and played his guitar for the enjoyment of his fellow sailors.

During his time in the Merchant Marine, he was on three torpedoed ships.

After the war, Guthrie was discharged from the Merchant Marine because of his association with Communist causes. However, he was still eligible to serve in the uniformed branches, and he was quickly drafted into the Army, where he served an additional two years.

Like many folk musicians of his time, he was closely associated with agrarian and mining labor interests and pro-labor politics. In the 20s, 30s and 40s and to some extent beyond that, that put him in close and regular association with communists and radicals, as this article from the socialist publication Monthly Review documents.

AAFES Lets You Trade In Old Cell Phones for Smart Phone Upgrade

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk aafes cell phone trade inDALLAS – Military shoppers who have an old cell phone or two lying around gathering dust can now trade them in for credit toward a Smart Phone upgrade at the Exchange Mobile Center.

A trade-in can result in instant credit toward the purchase of a new Smart Phone, accessory or even insurance for a new phone. The new program, “Trade-Up and Save,” is available only at Exchange Mobile Center in-store locations in the continental United States.

“This is an eco-friendly program that makes it even easier for military shoppers to buy that hot, new Smart Phone, upgrade early or just change their mobile look with a colorful new skin or cover,” said the Exchange’s Senior Enlisted Advisor Chief Master Sgt. Tony Pearson.  

Shoppers can trade in up to three handsets per transaction and the credit must be applied toward a purchase at that time.  Trade-in values vary depending on model, condition, age and market factors.

The Exchange Mobile Center Exchange carries the latest models and accessories as well as experts who can assist in understanding features and plans.  

The Army & Air Force Exchange Service is a joint non-appropriated fund instrumentality of the Department of Defense and is directed by a Board of Directors which is responsible to the Secretaries of the Army and the Air Force through the Service Chiefs of Staff.  The Exchange has the dual mission of providing authorized patrons with quality merchandise and services at competitively low prices and generating non-appropriated fund earnings as a supplemental source of funding for military morale, welfare and recreation programs. To find out more about the Exchange history and mission or to view recent press releases please visit our Web site at

DoD Introduces New Online Tool to Help Troops and Veterans Combat Stress

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk DoD tool for veterans stressIf you are a servicemember or veteran and you are undergoing one or more stressors in life, well, you can join the club. But you can also go online to and get some coaching to help you navigate some of life’s challenges. 

The website walks you through common stressors that most of us go through at one time or another, from financial difficulties to relationship problems, and helps you identify different things you can do to cope with the problem. Some of these coping behaviors are positive and effective, of course, while others, like avoidance and procrastination, are negative coping mechanisms. The website is designed to help veterans and servicemembers develop successful strategies, and avoid falling prey to the unsuccessful ones.

The site is the brainchild of Art and Christine Nezu, two Philadelphia-area psychologists who emphasize cognitive-behavioral therapy in their own practices.

We’ll let them describe the cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) approach in their own words:

CBT places a strong emphasis on the principles of learning and how faulty learning may cause problems in a person’s life. This approach also involves evaluating how effective a therapy is by monitoring a patient’s progress. A “behavioral” approach to treatment focuses on a patient’s current circumstances as one important factor that affects a person’s behavior. Behavioral procedures generally are geared to improve upon a person’s self-control by expanding their skills and abilities. Often this is accomplished with the help of homework assignments and practice of new behaviors in a patient’s environment as part of treatment. A “cognitive” approach to treatment views problems as stemming from maladaptive and dysfunctional thoughts, ideas, and beliefs that have been learned earlier in life. Consequently, such ways of viewing the world can affect a person’s behavior and emotions in negative ways. The goal of cognitive therapy is to modify a person’s way of thinking so that a change in behavior and emotions can occur. This is achieved by monitoring tasks, such as tracking thought patterns and performing experiments in everyday life, in order to determine if the ideas or beliefs are actually valid.

CBT combines behavioral and cognitive approaches to treatment and focuses on helping people become more aware of their emotions and how such feelings influence their thoughts and behavior. CBT includes many different techniques and interventions that have been found to be scientifically sound. It helps people achieve specific goals and changes. 

Goals might include:

  • New ways of acting or behaving, such that the likelihood of future behavior problems is significantly reduced and new skills are developed (such as assertiveness, communication, self-management, or parenting skills).
  • New ways of managing feelings, such as helping a person to understand and better manage feelings of fear, depression, anxiety, shame, or hostility. A focus on feelings may also help people experience more positive emotions, such as joy, gratitude, or peace.
  • New ways of thinking, such as learning to solve relationship problems or change negative thinking. 
  • New ways of coping, such as being able to more accurately identify problems, change cognitive distortions, tolerate and use negative emotions more effectively, and change destructive relationship patterns.

CBT usually focuses on the current situation, rather than the past. However, consistent with our integrative psychotherapy approach, it is important to note that early emotional learning experiences can significantly contribute to current thoughts, feelings, and actions. Some CBT strategies work on changing views that were learned early in one’s life experience and replacing ways of living that do not work well with behaviors that are more effective in order to provide individuals with more control over their lives.

The website, an initiative of the Department of Defense’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology and the Department of Veterans Affairs, is intended to give servicemembers and veterans who may not have ready access to mental health professionals, who cannot afford counseling or who may be averse to counselors for whatever reason a way to get some help and perspective without having to go to a clinic, or speak to strangers on the phone.

A big focus for the website is stress management. The site helps viewers develop positive stress management behaviors, while avoiding negative ones. The site fits in a broader spectrum of mental health resources available for veterans and service members, along with, military and VA counselors and clinics, private clinics, suicide hotlines, and medical professionals.

The Moving Forward website is not designed to replace an in-person professional therapist, psychologist or other medical professional. It is also not designed to replace anti-anxiety, anti-depression or other beneficial medications, if appropriate. If your issues are severe, the Nezus and the DoD urge you to additionally see a mental health professional in person. 

For a referral qualifying individuals can contact,, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) (Spanish/Español 1-888-628-9454). Veterans press “1” after you call.

An additional listing of available support agencies and services in place to help service members, veterans and their families can be found here.