After a year serving as national commander of the American Legion, Vincent J. “Jim” Troiola, of Windham, is back behind the wheel of the No. 8 bus for the Falmouth school district. A Vietnam War veteran and grandfather of three, Troiola, traveled overseas and across the country to represent the American Legion and speak about “Be the One,” a program to prevent veteran suicide. Courtesy of Vincent Troiola

Vincent J. “Jim” Troiola is back behind the wheel of the No. 8 bus for the Falmouth school district after taking a year to serve as the national leader of the American Legion, representing nearly 2 million wartime veterans and spreading the word about “Be the One,” a program to prevent veteran suicide.

It’s hard to say in which capacity the retired grandfather from Windham has spent more time on the road.

After being elected to lead the Legion in September 2022, he was away from home for nearly 300 days over the next 12 months, traveling to Normandy, France, for D-Day commemorations in June, testifying to Congress on behalf of veterans, meeting service members in Japan and learning of their concerns about inadequate housing and food insecurities on the base, and traveling throughout the United States to advocate for Be the One.

People from all walks of life “were telling me how they lost loved ones who took their lives,” said Troiola, 73. “The more I spoke, the more I heard it.” One mother in Wyoming cried hysterically telling him about her son who lives three states away, and that every week she “has to talk him off the ledge,” he said. “It’s just horrible.”

The program urges fellow veterans, family members and community members to step up to help a veteran in crisis, offering guidance and support to remove the stigma of seeking mental health services.

According to the Veteran’s Administration’s 2022 annual report, there were 6,146 veteran suicides in 2020, a decrease of 343 from 6,489 in 2019 and a drop of 650 from the peak of 6,796 in 2018. Despite the declines over the last two years, the veteran suicide rate has increased steadily since 2001 and roughly 17 veterans took their lives each day in 2020, leaving the veteran suicide rate more than 50% higher than that of non-veteran adults, according the Legion’s website.


Much work needs to be done, Troiola said, but Be the One has raised awareness and is making a difference.

The road that led him to head the American Legion started during the Vietnam War.

Troiola, who was born in New York and grew up there, served in the Navy from 1969-74.

“I wanted to join the Navy,” he said. “I felt they needed me.” During those years he served aboard the USS Nitro, an ammunition ship deployed to the Mediterranean Sea, and then he served as a reservist.

After he left the Navy, he resumed working in the automobile business. He and his wife, Saveria, raised a family and just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

He started his career at a Chevrolet dealership working behind the counter. Before long, he became manager. Eventually he was working for several dealerships, managing service, parts and body shops.


Meanwhile, he joined the Sons of the American Legion, an organization for sons and grandsons of veterans. He then joined the American Legion.

“I went there and saw what they were doing in the community,” hosting lunches for patients at the VA hospital, helping students with speech contests, participating in Memorial Day and Veterans Day events. “It struck me, ‘Boy, I could make a difference.’ ”

Troiola worked his way up from being a member to holding office, first at the local post, then regional, then at the state level. After retiring six years ago, he and his wife moved to Maine to be close to their three grandchildren, one of whom is disabled and needs their help, he said.

When their grandchildren’s school department put out an ad looking for bus drivers, Troiola got his license.

Vincent Troiola, of Windham, who served as national commander of the American Legion in 2023, participated in D-Day ceremonies in Normandy, France, in June. Courtesy of Vincent Troiola

In Maine, Troiola continued to work his way up to national American Legion positions. He was asked to run for the top job, which required being on the road most of the year. He asked his wife about running. “She said, ‘Are you crazy!’ ” Troiola said with a laugh.

But he ran, and was elected during a national meeting in Milwaukee with representatives from all 50 states. His family attended, with his granddaughter Abigail placing the red commander’s cap on his head during the ceremony.


During his stint as national commander, he took a one-year leave of absence from being a bus driver.

Part of leading the American Legion is visiting service members and veterans. During his tenure, he traveled to 42 states. “I decided to go to legion posts in small, rural communities,” some in towns with a population of 400. “They don’t see anybody.”

While national commander, he heard about problems, including a VA hospital administrator who said he needed help with severe understaffing, that the Veterans Administration didn’t seem to be listening, Troiola said. He held a town meeting with Navy sailors in Okinawa, Japan. They told him about problems at the base with water contamination, housing, food insecurity due to inflation, lack of quality child care. He brought those problems to light by testifying to Congress.

But the major priority was calling attention to veteran suicide to decrease the loss of lives. The goal of the Be the One program is to help someone, one person at a time, at risk of taking his or her life.

There’s no better way, Troiola said, to remove the stigma than by talking about it. The program educates and encourages veterans and members of the military to look out for each other and offer counsel in a way that active and former military members can relate to.

“Veterans all speak the same language. We’ve all seen things you don’t want to see,” he said.


The program encourages buddy checks with phone calls, conversations, personal visits, asking how can they help and letting them know they’re not alone. Resource centers were created at American Legion posts to provide immediate help to those who need it, he said, adding that too often veterans have long waits at VA hospitals.

As Troiola traveled, he spoke to the national media, to Congress, to veterans at Legion posts asking them to Be the One to help a veteran in crisis.

Much work needs to be done, but Be the One has raised awareness and is making a difference, he said, citing testimonials that veterans have written about how the program saved their lives.

Troiola is not good at being retired. He remains involved in Legion programs as a past national commander, and is enjoying being back on board the No. 8 bus and around the students.

“I was going nuts at home,” he said.

Besides, “I like kids. I have patience for kids. It’s all about building a rapport,” he said. “They’re a riot.”


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