Sneak Peak- Gala Auction Items!


Without giving all the mystery and anticipation away for the 2nd Annual Celebrating their Legacy Gala Auction–we did want to share some of the amazing items up for bidding! And don’t forget–all proceeds will go towards our mission of strengthening and supporting the Gold Star Families of our Nation’s Fallen Heroes, and bringing national awareness to life and character of all service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

1. Seven Day Holland America Cruise










2. NFL Ticket Packages










3. Two Day Vegas Trip – the perfect amount of time in Vega!










4.  Army- Navy Game with Legacies Alive










5. Trip to the Cycle to Celebrate finish line in New York, New York









This is just a sneak peak at some of the amazing items that have been donated. A big thanks to our title sponsor 7- Eleven, Inc. all of our sponsors, and Gala guests for their generosity and for helping Legacies Alive continue to carry out its mission and kick start Cycle to Celebrate!

James Patrick Blecksmith – 2nd Lieutenant, USMC

Meet James Patrick (J.P.) Blecksmith

2nd Lieutenant, USMC: 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines

September 26, 1980 – November 11, 2004 (Fallujah, Iraq)

J.P. had unflappable integrity and perseverance – traits that almost made him destined to be a Marine.  He was a gifted athlete, a loyal friend, and a fierce patriot. With a great sense of humor, J.P. never took himself too seriously, but had an infinite list of dreams, goals, and aspirations.  There was a certain wanderlust to him that fueled unique and varied tastes in music, food, and travel.   He was a focused leader and never took his leadership responsibilities lightly.


To J.P., being a Marine was not about him – the medals, the ribbons or the promotions – it was about his Marines and serving this great Country.  His greatest satisfaction was putting his Marines in a position to be successful, and then seeing their accomplishments.  He loved the physical side of being a Marine and the challenges of long days with little food and water.  J.P. had an enviable ability to live in the moment, to dream big and most importantly, to be doing exactly what he wanted to do – being a Marine.

Jason Aaron Rogers – Staff Sergeant, USMC

Meet Jason Aaron Rogers
Staff Sergeant, United States Marine Corps
April 9, 1982 – April 7 2011

From an early age, Jason was always smiling and caring. Always making sure you were okay. If I was sad he would come sit with me and hug me to cheer me up. He always cared for other people before he would himself. As early as 2 years old if he saw a person begging for money on the street, Jason insisted on stopping to give them something. Even if it was only pocket change he wanted to help the needy.

Jason had such a caring heart. I was visiting Jason’s grave site at the cemetery when a van pulled up. A young adult got out with his mother. He asked if I was Jason’s mother. I said “yes”. He said Jason saved his life. He told me that he had been bullied at school and hit over the head with a fire extinguisher one day when kids were trying to beat him up. Jason intervened. He just wanted to tell me “Thank you”.

Jason had a funny personality. You could not stay around him for any length of time without laughing. But that’s what he did. He had a very unique wit. And he was a thinker. He also loved his clothes. He loved to look sharp. He LOVED his tennis shoes. They had to be white and clean. His jeans had to look a certain way. One reason he wanted to join the Marine Corps is because they have the best looking uniforms. He thought they were the sharpest. After boot camp, he would wear his dress blues to the mall just to go walk around and be seen.

Before Jason’s 4th deployment, many parents came up to us and to tell us of how proud and comforted they were that Jason would be their Marines squad leader because they had heard of his leadership skills and experience.

Jason was a child God lent me for a while to love and raise and he was put here to be exactly who he was. When I think back to the events of his life, which is really too much to put here, his purpose was to share his soul and help others. To be a Marine, set an example and to help others.

After Jason’s death, I received dozens of letters from Marines about what they learned from him. I found out Jason’s vehicle had been previously hit by an IED. It was not his time to go. There was more for him to teach, more for people to learn.

The last year of his life fell into place like it was supposed to. He was able to see everyone, say what he wanted to say to everyone, marry his bride, go on a family vacation, be home for Christmas and see the Celtics play. But when he left before his last deployment, there was a feeling in his soul that he wasn’t coming home. I felt it and he felt it. I could see it and he knew it.

I can honestly say the last words we said to each other was “I love you”. He sent a letter to me to be mailed when he went on his last deployment to clear Ladaar Bazaar. It said, “If you get this letter, don’t worry, I’ll see you on the other side”. And that I will.

John Savage – Sergeant, U.S. Army

Meet SGT. John Savage

John Jared Savage was born March 04, 1982. John was assigned to the 103rd Engineer Company, 94th Battalion, Fort Leonard Wood, MO. He was killed December 04, 2008 in Mosul, Iraq when a suicide bomber driving an SUV, broadsided his armored vehicle, which set off an explosive device upon impact.

John was drawn to the military when he was just a young boy. He loved the idea of being a soldier. In fact, John replaced his bed with an Army-style cot and footlocker. He also painted his room black with netting on the walls. He even built a Quonset hut in the backyard, and dressed up in camouflage outfits to play Army.

Kevin Cross, a friend of John’s when they were teens, said this, “J.J. was my best friend as a teenager. I miss him. We always wanted to be in the Army. We had all the military gear. We would go hiking and pretend to be soldiers. I’m glad he fulfilled his dream.”

John’s family was his #1 priority. He also leaves behind a 9-year old daughter, Nicole. His mother, Jackie, describes John as a charismatic young man with a great sense of fun and who was taught to always look for the brighter side of a situation.

In a letter to me, his father, Battalion Executive Officer Major Stephen Peterson wrote. “Sgt. Savage was better than great; he was phenomenal. He acted much more like an officer than an enlisted soldier. On top of loving the Army and his job, he was brilliantly intelligent, articulate, outgoing, friendly and ambitious. He was always excited about life, his family and his friends. He made everyone else’s life better.”

John served two tours overseas. He was just four days shy of coming home when he was killed. It was his plan to go on a father/son trip when he got home, and then open an automotive business together. Because of John’s death, his step-mother and I are not only members of PCGSF, but of the Patriot Guard Riders, and are Peer Mentors of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (T.A.P.S.) Seminars.

Proud GS Father and Step-Mother, John & Carole Savage

Ex-Navy SEAL swimming Mississippi River for fallen heroes’ families

On this Veteran’s Day, the nation honors and celebrates those who served and sacrificed in our military. One Navy veteran is doing it a unique way — by swimming the entire length of the Mississippi River, reports CBS Sports Network’s Dana Jacobson.

Chris Ring spends six to eight hours a day, six days a week, swimming down the Mississippi River. At his journey’s end, he will go down as the first American to swim the entire Mississippi, but he says it’s those families and the memory of their loved ones that made it happen.

Though he’s a former Navy SEAL, Chris Ring doesn’t consider himself a strong swimmer.

But every day except Sundays – since the sixth of June – this decorated combat veteran zips up, jumps into the Mississippi River and proves otherwise.

“There’s always that little chill going up the back,” Ring said. “Being comfortable in the water and swimming a long distance. Those are two different things.”

Ring, who served for 10 years, said he did not want to put the service behind him. He started his mission five years ago to bring attention to the families of the fallen.

“I couldn’t imagine anything better than to really raise awareness and honor these fallen heroes,” he said.

Read the rest of the article on CBS News

Alejandro Villanueva Creates New T-shirt to Support Military charities

Legacies Alive is proud to announce our partnership with one of the NFL’s fastest rising stars! No doubt you have heard the inspiring story of Alejandro Villanueva (“Big Al”) who graduated from West Point and played 4 years of football with the Army’s Black Knights. As a Captain in the U.S. Army Rangers, “Big Al” would serve 3 tours of duty in Afghanistan and awarded the Bronze Star Medal with V device; “Big Al” is a real life American Hero. He joins a small but elite group of Military veterans to play professional football in the NFL.

“Big Al” has teamed up with shirt producer, Fanatics Only, LLC to create a shirt for fans that reflect his
patriotism and his service to this great country. Al’s input was instrumental in the design and concept of the finished product. His reasoning for the project was to raise awareness and dollars for charities that are near and dear to his heart. 100% of Alejandro’s proceeds are being donated to Legacies Alive and the U.S. Army Lead The Way Foundation. is the official website for “Big Al’s Army” T-shirts or you can order them via this website. Fans can pick their shirts up at local participating Walmart stores starting Wednesday evening.

Join Big Al’s Army and Legacies Alive in supporting Gold Star Families by purchasing a shirt today!

United Through Reading Receives Inaugural Community Service Hero Award

Medal of Honor recipient and Society President Tom Kelley (left) and Medal of Honor recipient Barney Barnum (right) present the Community Service Hero Award to UTR. UTR CEO, Dr. Sally Ann Zoll and UTR Board Chair, Jeff Mader received on behalf of the organization.

“We are incredibly humbled by this experience and to be the first recipient of this award. It is an extraordinary honor to be recognized out of all of the many worthy organizations that serve our nation’s military members and their families.”
– Dr. Sally Ann Zoll, United Through Reading CEO

We are honored to announce that, on Friday, March 25, United Through Reading proudly received the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s inaugural Community Service Hero Award at a ceremony at Joint-Base Myer-Henderson Hall on National Medal of Honor Day. United Through Reading was selected for our innovative and grassroots response to a critical need in the armed forces community for over 25 years, our exceptional international impact on military families, and demonstrating the impact of one person’s courageous transformative vision and actions.

The Citizen Honors Awards were created by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society to recognize organizations and individuals that have made a difference in the lives of others through a singular act of extraordinary heroism, or through their continued commitment to putting others first.

“The Society congratulates United Through Reading for receiving Citizen Honors, in recognition of their visionary leadership  in serving military service members.  UTR embodies the spirit of the Medal of Honor and we are pleased to recognize them for their efforts,” said Tom Kelly, Medal of Honor recipient and Congressional Medal of Honor Society President.

We are honored to be included in these awards, and will endeavor to use this opportunity as the recipient of the inaugural Community Service Hero Award to expand our service to the military community, and to encourage other organizations across America to serve their communities with courage, sacrifice, selflessness and patriotism.

Thank you for your continued support of United Through Reading! Our mission delivery would not be possible without the help of volunteers, military families, generous donors,  and UTR friends like you. With your support, we look forward to continuing our mission of connecting military families and encouraging literacy worldwide.
Visit the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation online to learn more about the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and 2016 Citizen Honors Recipients.

Legacies Alive Challenge Featured on CBS News Veteran’s Day Special

Legacies Alive featured on CBS News for Veterans Day

On November 11, former Navy Seal Chris Ring was featured on CBS News’ Veteran’s Day Special. Chris Ring is currently swimming 2,350 down the Mississippi River and is meeting Gold Star Families along the way, as his Legacies Alive challenge. As of Tuesday, November 10th, Chris hit his 2,000 mile mark.

Chris spends six to eight hours a day, six days a week, swimming down the Mississippi River. At his journey’s end, he will go down as the first American to swim the entire Mississippi, but he says it’s those families and the memory of their loved ones that made it happen.

“I couldn’t imagine anything better than to really raise awareness and honor these fallen heroes,” [Ring] said.

Ring, who started his 157-day long journey in June, said he was inspired to make the swim for Legacies Alive by a cross-country hike last year by army veteran Mike Viti.  Mike Viti began his 6 month journey in DuPont, WA. Hiking an average of 25 miles a day, Mike walked around the perimeter of the United States of America covering over 7,100 kilometers, or 4,400 miles honoring the 6,843 service members who were killed in the Global War on Terrorism and ending on December 13th, 2014 at the Army-Navy game in Baltimore, MD.

As for Ring, he has met nearly 200 Gold Star Families since his journey began, and hopes to meet many more before his challenge ends in early December.

“If I’m having a terrible day on the river, it’s going to be over in however many hours, but these families have to live with their pain and suffering and their burdens for the rest of their lives,” said Ring. ” I feel more than privileged to be able to do it. It is truly an honor to do it.”

Read more on CBS News.


legacy5Chris Ring is slightly dazed, and the arms and legs of his wetsuit show holes from run-ins with logs and other obstacles he’s encountered on his historic swim of the Mississippi River.

“That water was pretty choppy. I was rolling all over the place,” he said minutes after emerging from the river at the base of the Gateway Arch in downtown St. Louis. “I’m a little tired, but you get out [of the water] and it gives you a big boost to see the families of soldiers who have come out to see you.”

Ring, a Navy combat veteran, is trying to become the first American to swim the entire length of the Mississippi River, a feat he’s attempting in honor of our country’s fallen heroes and their families. The challenge, called Swim for Their Sacrifice, is sponsored by Legacies Alive, an organization supporting families of soldiers killed in combat.

About a dozen people met Ring on Monday night as he reached the halfway point of his journey in St. Louis. The families of fallen soldiers cheered the 28-year-old Tennessean as he approached the cobblestone landing and gave him hugs, even though he was dripping wet, when he stepped out.

“We’re doing this so no one ever forgets about those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. It’s about awareness and our desire to carry on the legacy of our fallen soldiers,” said Ring. “This [leg] is an important piece, because this is about halfway [down the Mississippi].”

Since June, Ring has been swimming an average of 15 miles a day. He will cover2,552 miles over approximately six months and anticipates reaching the end of his journey in the Gulf of Mexico sometime in November.

“You never know what to expect on the river. It can be calm one day and stormy the next. The water can be warm one day and freezing cold the next,” he said. “One memorable day, we were in a section of the river about three miles wide and a storm rolled in. I couldn’t see more than 20 feet in front of me and had to deal with some pretty big waves. I could feel the lighting hit the water somewhere ahead.”

But those are the times when Ring thinks about his mission.

“It’s not about setting a record, it’s about bringing awareness to our fallen heroes, and connecting as many of their families as possible,” said Ring. “I think about that a lot while I’m swimming.”

Get more information about Legacies Alive and Swim for their Sacrifice at

Author: Brad Kovach is the editor of Terrain magazine