Why I’m an American Legion Member


StacyAfter attending a monthly meeting at Post 166 nearly ten years ago, I joined the American Legion. My new Post was smoke filled and dated, but that didn’t matter. What was most important was their local community endeavors and support they offered fellow veterans. The rest could be addressed in time. I’m a believer that we all have a choice to either sit on the sidelines and complain about what’s wrong or step up and be part of the solution to make it right.

I admit, I’m not as active in the American Legion as I’d like to be. The Veterans Portrait Project has consumed most of my time. That said, I continue to support my Post because their mission is important both locally and nationally.

Veterans issues are always in the forefront of my mind. The majority of my fellow American Legion members feel the same. Every week, members from Post 166 travel to the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center to visit with in-patient veterans and deliver clothes and toiletries to those in need. They continue to raise money to help youth sports, provide scholarships, promote youth civics and help veterans in need.

I will concede, there’s an old “Cantina” culture within the Legion I wish would take a backseat. While the cantina is a source of income, it is also a source of trouble. What’s the solution? Trade bartenders for baristas. As a private facility, each post can choose to allow smoking. Why would they? Again, the answer is driven by the “Cantina” culture. By changing from a liquor bar to a coffee bar, the Legion would effectively change the environment and culture. Trade slot machines for public computers with free WiFi where veterans can log on to “My Health e VA” and file for their VA benefits with the help of a trained volunteer American Legion veteran service officers.

Is the American Legion perfect? No. We are only as strong as our weakest link. I saw that firsthand yesterday when a fellow American Legion member posted an offensive, sexist meme they thought was funny. I brought this to the attention of the National Headquarters and they acted swiftly to have the offending post removed. Many of you were as outraged as I. Some of you expressed that behavior as a reason why you have not joined a VSO like the Legion. I implore you to reconsider. We share the same vision and voice. To affect change, we must first stand up and have our voice heard. I cannot do this alone.

Together we can steer the organization from the past to the present while staying relevant and inclusive. Together we can overcome anything. As my brother and sister veterans, you know we are stronger together. Stand with me.

As yesterday demonstrated one individual’s stupidity, which brought shame upon themselves and through them, the entire American Legion. Today, I want to share the MANY stellar American Legion members, who daily demonstrate honor, goodwill, commitment, service before self, loyalty and comradeship.

Girl Scouts Program

This series of Service and Guide Dog PSA’s were created by the young women of the Girl Scouts of Eastern South Carolina over Labor Day weekend 2018. Nikon USA provided Coolpix W100’s so the girls could learn photo and video documentation from Nikon Ambassador Stacy L. Pearsall. The budding documentarians, community volunteers and future leaders spent a day learning of the importance of Service and Guide Dogs through America’s VetDogs ambassador. Charlie. Then the Girl Scouts used their new photographic skills to story-board, produce, direct and edit these short videos.

Olivia & Olivia


I was invited to speak to a crowd of America’s VetDogs staff, volunteers and donors at their 9th annual Golf Tournament and fundraiser. After brief remarks, Charlie and I were ask to remain at the podium. I had no idea what was happening. Olivia, along with Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind‘s Sunny, came up and talked about Charlie and how special his mission is. I was crying. Olivia was crying. Then, I was told that my FB fundraising efforts had accumulated $4,500+, which is in addition to the direct donations Charlie and I’ve raised through VetDogs.org. I WAS STUNNED! I was then told we now had “naming rights” to a little female black lab puppy. Coincidentally, I’d mentioned to some folks earlier in the day that I’d love to sponsor a service dog puppy and name her Olivia in honor of Charlie’s beloved puppy raiser, Olivia Poff. Well everyone, you helped make this possible through your generous contributions. So, here she is! Please meet our very own puppy-in-training, Olivia! Since I couldn’t have done this without you, I consider her ours and I’ll be sure to provide updates on her progress! Right now, she’s eight weeks old and really cute…. that’s all I know. Olivia, I thank God every day for you and Charlie – you both have changed my life.


10-Year Review by Stacy Pearsall


10-YEAR REVIEW: This week marks the ten-year anniversary of my medical retirement from the United States Air Force and the start of the Veterans Portrait Project. Here’s what I’ve learned over the last decade… Though my body and spirit was broken, I learned to push through adversity and pain. I was told I’d never run again; I ran a marathon. I was told I’d never ride my horse, Sir Prize; I switched to wagon-driving instead. I was told I’d take medications the rest of my life; I now have America’s VetDogs Charlie who’s better than any manmade elixir. I was told my photography career was over; I’ve captured in-excess of 7,500 veterans’ portraits, taught photography classes worldwide and now I’m a Nikon Ambassador.

The secret to my success has been PURPOSE. There’s nothing more powerful than having a reason to live. I don’t mean simply “existing.” I’m talking about waking up with a smile, being motived, reaching bench marks, setting new goals and going to bed feeling fulfilled.

The path I’ve walked has often felt uncertain, overwhelming and scary. Even when I’ve felt alone and listless, there’ve been guiding hands leading me through uncharted territory. I’ve had the love and support of my husband, Andy; my step-kids, Hayley and Tyler; my parents, Susan and Steven; my siblings, Meggen, Tami, Chad and John; my friends Trish and Des’ola… and so many more family and friends too countless to mention in this post.

When I was handed my DD 214, I thought life was over – figuratively and literally. Turns out, it wasn’t the end of my story – simply, the ending of Chapter 1. My time and experience in the military provided the knowledge and insight I needed to begin Chapter 2; the beginning of the Veterans Portrait Project and a new mission in life. Early on, I grappled with self-worth issues. I was weighed down by all the negativity. I felt alone, isolated and pointless. With every veteran I talked to and photographed, I felt validated and vindicated. Turns out, I wasn’t alone in my struggle. Witnessing their resilience and perserverance provided me the motivation I needed to put one foot in front of the other. Often, that’s all we really need to do – one step at a time.

I am human. Naturally I’ve made mistakes, met stumbling blocks, fallen flat on my face, even taken steps back. I’m not perfect. That’s life. These trials and tribulations have provided me perspective. They’ve proved that while I have come a long way, I’ve a long way to go. I am optimistic and hopeful for the future. My future.

Here’s what I know for certain. Never let anyone tell you what you cannot do. Rather, FOCUS on what you want to do and GIVE IT YOUR ALL. Your value and worth should be measured in the small successes you achieve in spite of the obstacles before you. For me, the Veterans Portrait Project isn’t just a give-back or photography project. It’s PURPOSE. ❤️ Stacy P.

Photographing Veterans after Capturing Combat

Photographing Veterans after Capturing Combat

by Victoria Hanson (SC Public Radio)


Stacy Pearsall’s office is tucked away in an upstairs bedroom of her Charleston area home. Her service dog Charlie checks in occasionally, tail wagging, making sure she’s alright. Above her desk, hangs a collection of spoons; small, some silver, simple and ornate. Stacy says she handpicked them for a loved one during her overseas travels, someone who has since passed away. They reflect her love of service and a discerning eye. The 38 year-old is a photographer, a master of the moment and light.


Stacy & Charlie… Soulmates

Special Dog Helps His Veteran Mom Get Her Life Back | When this veteran got back home after a traumatic brain injury, she wanted to hide her struggle from everyone — until she met her service dog, Charlie. Today on Soulmates, watch how Charlie helped his mom get back out into the world and start enjoying every minute.
You can keep up with Stacy and Charlie’s amazing relationship on Instagram, slpearsall: https://thedo.do/Stacy.
You can follow Veterans Portrait Project on Facebook: https://thedo.do/VeteranPortrait.
You can learn more about America’s VetDogs and their mission to help veterans on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AmericasVetD….
You can also help Stacy promote awareness of American veterans through the art of photography by donating to: https://thedo.do/VPP.
Special thanks to Andy Dunaway for allowing us to feature his incredible photography. You can check his work out here: https://thedo.do/Andy.

Stacy Pearsall: Jefferson Award Recipient

Stacy Pearsall Receives the Jefferson Award

by Dean Stephens


She has traveled the world capturing life and death.

She served three combat tours. She did it for our country. She did it for her fellow service members.

Service before self; it’s not a motto, but a way of life for this month’s Jefferson Award winner, retired Staff Sargant Stacy Pearsall.

“I was a combat photographer, at the top of my game. I was the military photographer of the year twice and was doing everything right, “said Pearsall.

Her pictures from three combat tours are simply stunning.

Anguish, pain, loss, active military operations all caught by Pearsall’s eye.

“I joined the service when I was 17. I grew up there, it was my identity. I took a bad knock in Iraq and it ended my career,” said Pearsall.

“I found myself in a dark place suffering from PTSD and physical pain from rehabilitation,” said Pearsall.

How could Stacy Pearsall ever know that the end would actually be the beginning?

“When I went to the VA, there were not a lot of women. Going around the hallways, I stuck out like a sore thumb,” she said. “I would hear cat calls, silly things. People asking me if I was bringing my grandpa to his doctor appointment. People didn’t look at me like a veteran. Everything I had given was gone in an instance,” said Pearsall.

How could Stacy Pearsall ever know in that same VA her life would be redirected by the first-hand account of an aging veteran?

“Mickey Dorsey was a World War II veteran. He survived D-Day and liberated a concentration camp. He was a POW and an amazing American hero and for whatever reason our paths crossed that day. It was meant to be in that moment,” said Pearsall.

A moment in time framed by a single subject.

That’s when Stacy Pearsall finally knew.

“They said I couldn’t do photographs anymore, so I took Mickey’s portrait and I’ve been doing Veterans Portrait Project for 10 years. He was one of my first and my inspiration,” said Pearsall.

The faces of men and women who have bravely served make up Stacy’s Veteran Portrait Project, each with a story to share.

“One veteran shared how his job was to identify body parts and match body parts with individuals. A gruesome job and I can imagine why he is so emotional about it. We were in our own world, nothing else going on around us when I heard someone sobbing. His wife was behind us crying. She would tell me later that it was the first time he shared what he did in Vietnam,” Pearsall said. “I felt honored to be the person he actually shared with and he felt safe enough and had confidence in me to share that. I’m proud I can share his military history with others so they know what he did. He carried it with him for 50 years,”

Her new focus is to take veteran portrait photos in every state. She’s up to 28.

Stacy’s latest veteran is her husband, Andy Dunaway, also a fellow combat photographer.

“The life I had planned for myself wasn’t nearly as fulfilling as the life that is panning out now and I’m thankful for that,” said Pearsall.

That life now includes her service dog, Charlie.

“Because PTSD rears its ugly head at inconvenient times, he talks me off the ledge a lot quicker than I could by myself. He has been a wonderful battle buddy,” said Pearsall.

Her project has brought some of her friends on the front line back into her life.

“This was my battle buddy Katy. That’s her right there. To her right is Alan, he was killed the day before Katy was shot. Leroy was killed the same day as Alan,” said Pearsall as she points to one of her combat pictures.

Three combat tours, hundreds of thousands of pictures taken has led Stacy to a life with a single purpose.

“I think it was incredibly shortsighted to believe that I had to wear a uniform to serve others. I definitely still serve today, said Pearsall.

“I knew I had to go through a lot to get to where I am, and without suffering the things I had experienced, I wouldn’t have a better understanding or relatability to the veterans I meet so that it was necessary and I have no regrets about that either. Some things aren’t meant to make sense nor will they ever make sense. I could ask that question every day or I could live to honor their memory and be the best person I could be because I was spared and live in their memory and that’s what I try to do,” said Pearsall.

That’s exactly what she is doing. Her Veterans Portrait Project now preserves the memory for more than 7,000 veterans.