Dunford is the first major national speaker to address some 9,000 members of the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary gathered at the Duke Energy Convention Center. This week, Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Secretary of the VA Robert McDonald will address veterans in the convention hall.
Dunford took time to memorialize Marine 1st Lt. Brian McPhillips and Army Private 1st Class Matthew Bean, both from his home state of Massachusetts and who died of combat injuries sustained in Iraq, and told the former service members the current generation of those in the military have stepped up to meet global threats. Dunford said they have deterred Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, sailed maritime patrols in the Persian Gulf and South China Sea, and intercepted narcotics traffic outside of the nation’s borders, among other demands.
“A lot of folks here today question the youth of America,” Dunford said. “At one time, we have disparaged them as the Nintendo generation. But that’s not what I have seen in the past 15 years at war.”
Stanley Pleasant, a 64-year-old Air Force veteran and retired Wright-Patterson Air Force Base civilian employee who lives in Dayton, said Dunford’s message reassured him the U.S. military was making gains against the Islamic State terrorist group, also known as ISIL.
“But it’s just going to take some time,” he said. “We’re not going to do it overnight.”
The American Legion does does not endorse candidates nor ascribe to political affiliations, but the convention hall had the feel and appearance of a political convention at times with delegates gathered around placards with the name of their home state.
Vietnam veteran Dennis Dickey, 65, of Covington, Ohio, was waiting to find out this week what Clinton and Trump would say to veterans in the midst of a heated and divisive national campaign for the White House.
“We’re looking forward to hearing what they have to say about what they’re going to do for the veteran population and the direction they are going to take this country,” the former Marine said. “It’s important for us to hear this and pass the word on to the local citizens back home.”
Staff writer Michael Pitman contributed to this story.