Nearly a century ago, at the end of World War I, an organization was created that would focus on service to veterans. The American Legion was first conceived of in Paris during November of 1918, while thousands of soldiers were waiting to go home.
The first caucus of the American Legion was held in Paris in March of 1919 by members of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). The AEF was a formation of the United States Army on the Western Front of World War I, established on July 5, 1917, under the command of General John J. Pershing. At the St. Louis Caucus in May of 1919, the name of the organization officially became “The American Legion.”
The first Legion convention was held in Minneapolis in November of 1919, where it was decided they would locate their headquarters in Indianapolis. One hundred years later, this year’s national convention will again be held in Minneapolis, August 24-30. Today the Legion has more than two million members in close to 14,000 posts worldwide. The posts are organized into 55 departments: one each for the 50 states, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, France, Mexico and the Philippines.
Over the past century, the American Legion has supported veterans, given back to communities and helped pass important legislature. Below is an excerpt from a press release from The American Legion headquarters:
A simple publicity statement in the Stars and Stripes was a harbinger for the century of success that would follow. "The AEF as a whole - doughboy, colonel and general working together organized the American Legion this month as its postwar association," said the article that graced the front page of the legendary newspaper's March 28, 1919 edition.
"To continue with success the work already launched will require the personal cooperation of every soldier in every organization now in France," the article further stated. "When we return to the States, it will be equally important to have a nucleus of men in every community who will take the lead in their particular local organizations."
It was the first known published article which would name "The American Legion" as an organization of wartime veterans. An amazing string of accomplishments would follow over the next 99 years. Equally amazing was how quickly the organization took root as a powerful national and community force.
By the end of its first year, The American Legion had more than 843,000 dues-paying members. This was an era when messages were delivered by telegram, there was no interstate highway system and car ownership was still not widespread.
Yet people went through great lengths to become part of this special organization. And while the language of the time certainly reflected a male-dominated culture, women veterans could vote for national commander before they could legally vote for president of the United States in most areas.
The American Legion's founders served in World War I and they were "still serving" when their successors fought the second world war, just as every generation of Legionnaires has served its comrades from all wars since.
The author of America's greatest legislation, Past National Commander Harry Colmery, knew it was right for America to remember returning war veterans by making it possible for them to obtain college educations and purchase homes.
While others scoffed that such a benefit would 'break the treasury,' The American Legion held firm and ensured the passage of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the GI Bill of Rights.
As the years passed, the GI Bill diminished in value. Once again, The American Legion fought hard for a new GI Bill that would allow veterans of the post 9/11 generation to transfer their benefits to family members. The benefit increased even further when the new "Forever GI Bill" was passed and usage deadlines were eliminated. It was officially named the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017.
Although historians have questioned the true source of the classic quote, “America is great because America is good," there is no doubt that America's goodness is on display at nearly 13,000 American Legion posts throughout the world.
America's goodness is on display every time an American Legion post hosts a fundraiser to assist a disabled veteran. It's on display when a Legionnaire volunteers at the local VA hospital. It is on display when The American Legion feeds the homeless, provides an honor guard, conducts a blood drive or supports a job fair.
Some may view the 1919 Stars and Stripes article as Legion prophecy. In other ways, it was an understatement of what the world's most influential veterans organization would become.
Ninety-nine years ago this month, members of the American Expeditionary Force were asked to "determine the scope of the work and carry forth the objects of this association." The association was The American Legion. They surpassed all expectations. Legionnaires continue to do so today, with a vision for tomorrow.
Thank you, God Bless America and God Bless our American Legion.
Locally, Hinckley American Legion Post #388 has given back to the community by supporting community events, supporting students through scholarships and so much more.
The Hinckley Legion kicked off the 100th birthday celebration by hosting a fundraiser called “Bands For Brothers.” It was held on June 23 at Linda’s Lodge near Cloverdale. Local bands, including The Fishtone Rockers, Lyon and the Ladies, The Sons of Promise, Dave Maser, Dirk Nelson, Lonny and Mary and Rob McGowen all performed at the event.
Photos of event by Jenifer Yocum-Stans