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Fox & Friends Coverage!

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Welcome Home Grandpa

Click here to read the text of AVI's letter to Senator Tom Harkin.

Mike Jackson, Lt. Col. USAF (Ret), founder of the American Veterans Institute, appeared on Fox News Channel's popular morning news show Fox & Friends on May 23, 2008.

As a result of that appearance, AVI is receiving e-mails and inquiries about our Embracing Freedom book series. Currently the books are being distributed free of charge to several school districts for testing and feedback. We do, however, plan to make the books available for sale to the general public shortly. Please check back to our site in a couple weeks if you are interested in purchasing the first two books in the series, Welcome Home Grandpa and My Neighbor Is A Caterpillar. The third book in the series, My Mother Wears Combat Boots, will be available as soon as the illustrations are complete. To read  excerpts from the books, please click here.
If your Foundation or Corporation is interested in sponsoring the series and/or the AVI / Victory Museum education program, please e-mail us at [email protected]. To support our programming with a cash donation, please click here.
And a special thanks to Fox & Friends for spotlighting our organization and its efforts on behalf of veterans!


AVI Founder Chosen For Legion of Honor Award
Press Release Links and Downloads
American Veterans Institute Encourages a Different Kind of
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Senator Lugar Endorses Operation Welcome Home effort!

AVI President Honored by Ohio University

AVI's education consultant, Dr. Terry Maris, Inducted Into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame

Duke Foundation Awards Grant to American Veterans Institute

AVI Makes Front Page News
Feature article from Dayton Daily News

Press Conference to Unveil Unique Military Museum
Kruse’s National Military History Center will tell story of America’s veterans

AVI launches initiatives that help veterans apply for VA benefits and honor their service and sacrifice
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AVI Board Members Honored for Service, Sacrifice
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Making the Long March Home
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AVI Strategic Plan

Newspaper editor Dennis Anderson, and AVI board members Ray Santana and Gary Chapman were all honored by the Lancaster City Council with a "Courage and Dedication" award. Kudos to the City of Lancaster for celebrating these brave veterans!

AVI Board Members Honored
For Service, Sacrifice

Antelope Valley Press, California
Thursday, March 1, 2007 (Valley Press)

LANCASTER - They were just a couple of guys who wanted a parade for Vietnam veterans, and it only took a wait of about 40 years and their own personal determination to make it happen. On Tuesday night, the Lancaster City Council awarded the "Courage and Dedication" award to local photographer Ray Santana and aerospace veteran Gary Chapman.

Before Santana was ubiquitous with a camera at local civic events and before Chapman began a career working on space shuttle engines, both had paid their dues in a place called Vietnam.

Another Vietnam veteran, former Navy man Jim Jeffra, bestowed the award on behalf of a grateful City Council.

The "Courage and Dedication" award was bestowed for two separate achievements - bravery under fire in hot combat, and the successful organization of the "Operation Welcome Home" parade for Vietnam veterans and troops. The Veterans Day parade on Nov. 11 was so successful that thousands of veterans, their families and supporters lined Lancaster Boulevard.

Mayor Henry Hearns, an Army veteran of the Korean War, said, "These two gentlemen are deserving of all the honors in America we could give them."

Jeffra, who initiated the award, wanted to tell a little bit about a couple of Purple Heart vets who paid their dues in rice paddies and jungle canopy a long time ago in a war far away.

"These courage and dedication certificates go to people who don't even know they are heroes, but they are," Jeffra said.

It was Chapman who initially encouraged his buddy, Santana, to go to Las Vegas with him in 2005 for a "Welcome Home" parade there. It opened up the emotional blockage that had held firm for Santana since 1968, almost 40 years ago.

Jeffra related that when Chapman was flying in Vietnam as a door gunner on a Huey, he got hit with a bullet that lodged a millimeter from his spine.

The councilman told the people in the council chamber that Santana, temporarily blinded, still manned a machine gun, with small aiming stakes used so the injured Marine could fire despite impaired vision.

"Gary got shot, but that didn't make him stop fighting, and putting fire on the ground to cover those troops," Jeffra said. "After surgery, he went back, and fought some more."

Of Santana, Jeffra said that although injured, "he didn't run, didn't hide. He stayed with his outfit. His dedication was to the people he was with. They're like family."

Upon their return home, like many Vietnam veterans Santana and Chapman discovered their service occasioned indifference and sometimes hostility.

"It was very disheartening," Jeffra said. Now, he said, Americans need to take care to honor the service of American sons and daughters returning home from war in Iraq and Afghanistan. "These young people coming back know that freedom is not free."

Remembering his own service, Hearns said, "I was honored to be able to go, and I see these fellows faced another fight. How do I say thank you?"

The council members - Hearns, Jeffra, Vice Mayor Ed Sileo, Ron Smith and Andy Visokey - also issued an award to Valley Press Editor Dennis Anderson for Army service and support of veterans.

Attending the ceremony along with the veterans' wives, Ingrid Chapman and Linda Santana, were "Welcome Home" committee member Marie Kinnon, and Ida Ketchum, who suggested the "Welcome Home" parade idea to Valley Press columnist William Warford.

Ketchum said, "This is so exciting," likening the "Welcome Home" parade to an acorn that grew into a mighty oak.

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Antelope Valley chairmen Ray Santana and Gary Chapman stand with National Chairmen Tara Dixon-Engel and Mike Jackson at a California press conference.

Making the ‘Long March Home’

Three Vietnam Veterans Share Welcome Home with America

CALIF. -- Mike Jackson has never met Gary Chapman and Ray Santana, yet they share an unbreakable bond. It is a bond forged in combat and tempered by a nation’s neglect.

All three men served in Vietnam, each in a different branch of the service. All three were wounded in action and have wrestled with the on-going physical challenges of their injuries. Each returned from combat to build a purpose-driven, meaningful life. And, like so many other Vietnam veterans, each man wishes that politics and cultural upheaval had not marred his long-ago homecoming.

“You got home and there was no real welcome. You were just greeted by protest signs and taunts,'" Chapman said. "It was a bad time. It's not like today…I'm glad to see our troops are getting a proper welcome now.”

In November 2006, the three men -- who represent the Army, Marines and Air Force -- will meet for the first time in the Antelope Valley of California, where they will share a deeply personal moment. It will mark the end of one long journey home and the completion of a shorter one that started on Veterans Day 2005 – though none of them knew it at the time.

It was back in 2002 that Mike Jackson first decided the time had come to stop regretting the past and do something to reframe it, forever. At the time Jackson, then Executive Director of the National Aviation Hall of Fame (NAHF) in Dayton, OH, was working on his Vietnam memoir, Naked In Da Nang (Zenith Press, 2004) and was “retracing both my own history and that of so many guys I served with.”

The retired combat pilot and Air Force officer had long dreamed of fashioning a combat story that captured not simply his experiences and perspectives, but those of anyone who has ever left home to fight a war.

As Jackson and his co-author, Tara Dixon-Engel, worked to craft a humorous and life-affirming story, “we realized that it had no ending,” he recalled. “The epilogue was titled “we never got our parade,” and it really bothered me to end it like that. We wanted to write a book that could change America’s perspective of Vietnam veterans. But I realized that we Vietnam veterans also had to change how we felt about ourselves, largely due to the homecoming we didn’t receive and the way we’ve been portrayed in the media ever since.”

And that’s when Dixon-Engel posed the question that launched a thousand press releases.

“Tara asked me if it was too late to make that parade happen. At first I said it was – that America wasn’t ready for it…even now, so many years later. But the more we talked about it, the more I thought it could and should happen, and the more I wanted it to happen. This was something that could reframe America’s perception of us and, much more important, our perception of ourselves,” Jackson said.

The duo began contacting friends, business associates, “and more than a few total strangers” to try and gain support for a day of nationwide welcome home parades across America. When the city of Las Vegas and Nellis Air Force Base offered to co-host a four-day Operation Welcome Home over Veterans Day weekend 2005, Jackson and Dixon-Engel left their jobs at the NAHF to serve as National Chairmen, promoting the celebration to anyone who would listen.

The event exceeded the authors’ expectations, despite a limited budget for nationwide promotion. Jackson, a 1997 inductee into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame for his efforts on behalf of unemployed veterans, poured much of his own money into press packets, speaking junkets and media events. Combined with publicity generated by Las Vegas, the effort paid off in support from actress Ann-Margret, the Pentagon, and the America Supports You program, as well as advance coverage by Fox News, the Associated Press, Paul Harvey, MSNBC, CNN and many more media outlets. Jackson urged communities across America to hold their own Operation Welcome Home event, or to designate a local “veteran ambassador” to march in the Vegas parade. The Mayors of Palmdale and Lancaster, CA endorsed Gary Chapman and his Marine Corps pal Ray Santana as parade participants. Neither man knew what to expect; both were overwhelmed by the reception that greeted them.

“The experience was phenomenal,” recalls Chapman, who served in Southeast Asia as a door gunner with the Army's 123rd Aviation Battalion, Aeroscout Company. “There were thousands along the parade route who shook our hands and yelled ‘thank you’ and ‘welcome home’ as we passed in review. People were crying, laughing and hugging. Veterans who had been standing cautiously on the sidelines were climbing over the barriers and joining the parade. No one expected anything like this.”

For Santana, who has undergone 15 spinal surgeries due to a combat injury, the celebration was truly a life changing event. The former Marine served as a machine gunner in the 1st Marine's 5th Battalion Bravo Company.

"When I came home from Vietnam and they told me I had risked my life for nothing, it was very disheartening. A lot of survivors wished we hadn't survived because of the way we were treated. A lot of veterans out there still need healing and support," he said. “This celebration gave me back my sense of pride. It made me feel the way I did when I graduated from the Marines Corps.”

Both men returned home to California knowing they needed to share the healing they had experienced in Las Vegas by developing a celebration in their own state. Supported by their wives, Linda Santana, a journalist, and Ingrid Chapman, a public relations executive, the two veterans did exactly what Mike Jackson had been dreaming of…they took the vision and ran with it.

On November 11, 2006 the Antelope Valley will be the location of what could be the biggest Vietnam welcome home yet. The organizers are working with state and local officials to develop a huge parade honoring Vietnam veterans from across the country, in addition to all those who serve America. A web site has been created to promote the event and update the rapidly expanding list of sponsors and participants. It can be seen at, www.AVWelcomeHome.com. It’s a time-consuming job but Chapman is quick to say “if we can help one veteran find peace, all of our efforts will be worth it.”

On the other side of the country, in the quiet mid-western town of Tipp City, Ohio, Mike Jackson is helping to promote the celebration and is looking forward to his Nov. 8 flight to California, where he will finally offer a heartfelt ‘welcome home’ to the two men who are keeping his dream alive.

“They are doing everything right, from spotlighting the veterans and their sacrifice to making certain that any profits from the event will go to support the local veterans home,” the disabled vet reflected. “This is what Tara and I envisioned. This is what I wasn’t sure could ever happen. Las Vegas gave Operation Welcome Home its legs…but Gary and Ray are giving it heart!”

For Jackson, the seminal moment in last year’s Las Vegas event was when a grateful veteran from Oklahoma shoved a note into his hand that read simply “thank you for bringing me home.” Ray Santana echoed that sentiment in the Antelope Valley Press recently when he said “I completed my Marine duties in Vietnam on June 11, 1969, but I didn’t begin the long march home until Nov. 11, 2005.”

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