Why I work with the 501st Legion

Posted by andrew on Sep 15, 2017 in Hobbies |

Tarful the Wookie (Dan Smith) and R2 (with me operating in the background as a Jedi) visit Holtz Children’s Hospital in Miami

When I started building a full size R2D2 and later a Death Trooper outfit, many of my none geek friends questioned what I was doing and why.  I have been fan of the 501st Legion since I first heard about them many years ago, but it wasn’t until I began spending so much time in children’s hospitals with my son who was fighting cancer that I really understood their power and knew I had to get involved.  For anyone who isn’t familiar with the 501st Legion, they are a costuming organization whose members make and dress up like members of the Imperial Forces from the Star Wars Movies.  They are most well known for marching in parades or at comicons as the all white Storm Troopers.  But there is a lot more to them than that.  The 501st is the worlds largest all volunteer fund raising organization in the world.  Their members come dressed up in costume to help raise money for all kinds of children’s organizations including Make-A-Wish, St. Jude’s Hospital, The Miracle Network, and countless other children’s hospitals all over the world.  When ever this group shows up so do people and their wallets.  Exactly home much money they are responsible for helping to raise is unknown exactly but estimates have it close to $35,000,000.  The Legion has garrisons in almost every country in the world and multiple garrisons and squads in every state of the United States.

At the Fort Lauderdale Supercon we raised over $3k for the Children’s Miracle Network

But its not all about money.  What the groups members love doing the most is visiting hospitals or actively participating in Star Wars themed Make-A-Wish events for kids.  Going into a hospital where many of these kids are fighting for their lives is one of the most rewarding things we do.  For most of these kids, long stays in the hospital mean lots of boredom  coupled with pain and discomfort.  But when we walk into their room, for just a moment they are able to escape that boredom and join us in the excitement and wonder of the world of Star Wars.  Even for the kids who have not seen Star Wars, they are excited by the costumes and characters.   Their faces light up with smiles and that makes all of the hours put into making the costumes worth while.

The Make-A-Wish events that we often get to participate in are extremely special.  For those who are not familiar with Make-A-Wish, it is an organization that grants wishes to children fighting deadly diseases.  So when one of these children request to fight Darth Vader or meet their favorite Star Wars characters, we know that they are kindred spirits in being fans of the Star Wars universe  and we go all out to make sure their wish is filled.

The 501st Joined Teams with the Miami Jedi for this Make-A-Wish

So how did I get involved?  My son was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer in 2015 and my wife and I made the decision that everything else in our life would be put on hold to help him fight and win his fight against cancer.   Our whole family entered a world that most people know very little about and I actually hope they never have to experience.  This is the world inside a children’s hospital’s oncology wing.  Here children fight every day for their lives and their families struggle to try to understand why this is happening to them and putting all of their energy into saving their sons or daughters.  While I was there I got a chance to see the real Force that this group had when they entered into a hospital.  I had already begun building my R2 unit with my son and had met many of its members when I was asked to help participate with my R2 in “Brady’s Wish”, a Make-A-Wish event for a little boy who had just finished a bone marrow transplant to fight leukemia.  Little would I know at that time that my son too would have the same procedure.  While at that event I got a chance to meet many of the guys behind the masks and knew I wanted to be a part of this group.  The group is made up of some of the most caring individuals I have ever met.  They were doctors, lawyers, policemen, firemen, accountants, and parents.  They all had two things in common.  They were Star Wars fans and they cared about people.  They were the Bad Guys doing Good.  So for the next 6 months, I would return to my home after being at the hospital with my son and work late at night on making my own trooper outfit, a Death Trooper from the movie Rogue One.  This was a new costume in the 501st and Star Wars universe so I got to work with a lot of great people all around the world on Facebook developing the parts and methods for making this costume.  It even became a small side business for me to make ends meet by creating 3D printed props for other members who didn’t have access to the tools I had in my shop.  After a lot of hard work and over a year of time, I officially became TX-97649 Death Trooper Specialist in the 501st Legion, Florida Garrison, Everglades Squad.  I was one of the first 20 Death Troopers to officially enter the 501st.

So the next time you see a group of guys dressed as a bunch of Storm Troopers and Darth Vader marching under a 501st legion flag,  give them a quick solute, because they really are #badguysdoinggood.

For anyone wanting to know more about the 501st Legion, here are some links.


Copyright 2010 Andrew McClary