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By now I hope most of you have seen a flyer created by Save The VA, thanks Stu, that’s posted in business’s all over town. The flyer is a result of a letter mailed to members of our local American Legion Post 71. The letter is formal notice of a potential suspension or revocation of Post 71’s charter by the American Legion Department of South Dakota. In the opinion of the State American Legion the need for the suspension or revocation can be summed up by the following excerpt from their letter “... the negative impact of his unbecoming public behavior, while expressly representing the American Legion, can no longer be condoned.”

The word is out, the State American Legion is mad at Don Ackerman. The letter goes on to say “It has been reported that the membership of Post 71 has chosen not to address these concerns, nor take any action to insure that this conduct ceases.”

Don’s fellow veterans stand by him now just as they have always stood by their fellow veterans.

This editorial touched many emotions as I sat down to write it. Anger mostly, at the audacity of the State American Legion to punish an entire post because they can’t silence one voice. Disbelief they would try to paint this picture in a different light. In this veteran’s opinion the proposed action isn’t about “... the negative impact of his unbecoming public behavior,” it’s about his style and the willingness of Don to speak the truth about what’s happening to veterans care in Hot Springs in a manner that makes them uncomfortable.

Instead of trying to mute Don, the State American Legion should be making it very clear to the VA that any action that diminishes veteran’s care won’t be tolerated in any community across the entire state of South Dakota. That’s their job. If the American Legion angers the VA so be it; this is about veterans.

The last verse from a poem attributed to pastor Martin Niemöller, “Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me,” seems fitting here. Because the South Dakota American Legion can’t sway Don directly, by threatening to “suspend or revoke” Post 71’s charter, they’re demonstrating a lack of respect for every member of Post 71.

Every American Legion Post across South Dakota should now be on notice they’re entitled to a local opinion as long as that opinion is sanctioned by the State American Legion.

There’s a lot I could say about Don but I think everything is best summed up by sharing a personal observation. During Honoring Our Heroes, on numerous occasions, I watched while Don accompanied fellow veterans to the Vietnam Wall Replica. He stood, side-by-side with them while emotions from past tragedy bubbled to the surface once again. He’s “been there, done that” so he was able to comfort them in a way few Americans ever will. He shared their pain and their tears.

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I believe that’s why his style scares the State American Legion. I challenge them to embrace it, not run from it. I’m comforted knowing Don ‘has my six’ and am proud to consider him my friend.

Hot Springs, what I’m asking from you is to once again show your support for veterans, because of their style, by showing up at the American Legion Post 71 in Hot Springs on September 14, at 9:30 a.m.

We’ve got a new banner for this new fight, “Not In Hot Springs.” We must not shy away from another fight, our veterans never have; it’s what defines them. Once again let’s demonstrate why Hot Springs is “The Veterans Town!”

Bob Nelson is a Navy Veteran, who retired after a career in service at the Hot Springs VA, and is an American Legion Post 71 member.

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