The American Legion Centennial – by Jeff Olson
Over a week ago, as I sat down to decide the subject for this week’s column, my research uncovered the fact that America’s largest wartime veterans service organization was celebrating its centennial on that day, September 16. Though you are reading about this milestone one week later, it is nevertheless important that we pay well-deserved homage to the American Legion this month.
The founding of the American Legion can be traced back to a group of 20 officers who served in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in France during World War I. AEF Headquarters asked the officers to suggest ideas on how to improve troop morale. One officer, Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt Jr., proposed the establishment of an organization of veterans. In February 1919, the group formed a temporary committee and selected several hundred officers who were held in high esteem. Subsequently, delegates, officers and men from all units of the AEF held an organizational meeting on March 15, 1919, establishing the American Legion. In May, the “American Legion” was adopted as the organization’s official name and the Legion’s draft preamble and constitution were approved.
Six months later, on September 16, 1919, the U.S. Congress chartered the American Legion. In November, the first Legion convention took place in Minneapolis where a permanent constitution and preamble were adopted and delegates voted to locate the Legion’s national headquarters in Indianapolis. Also, a resolution was passed in support of Boy Scouts of America, which at that time had been in existence only for about nine years. Today, Legion posts sponsor more than 2,500 Scouting units across the country. The Legion charter was later amended to admit veterans of World War II (1942), the Korean War (1950), the Vietnam War (1966), the Lebanon, Grenada, and Panama hostilities (1990), and Operation Desert Shield/Storm (1991).
Listing all of the achievements and contributions of the American Legion is beyond the scope of and space for this writing, so I will condense them to some of the more notable and consequential ones. In August 1921, the Legion contributed to the creation of the U.S. Veterans Bureau, forerunner of the Veterans Administration. In June 1923, the first “Flag Code” is drafted during a Legion conference in Washington. Congress adopted the code in 1942. In July 1925, the Legion created the American Legion Baseball program. More than 50 percent of Major League Baseball players are graduates of the program. In December 1943, the first draft of what would later become the “GI Bill of Rights”, considered the Legion’s single greatest legislative achievement, was completed. This lead to the passing of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the G.I. Bill. And, among its many other contributions, the American Legion remains a loyal and stalwart defender and advocate for America’s veterans consistently on the front lines in helping to ensure they and their families receive the consideration, care and benefits they have earned. The Legion is also a loyal and active supporter of law enforcement at all levels of service through its acts of appreciation and recognition. These are but a small but powerful sample of what impact the American Legion has contributed to the military morale, cultural bonds, and community strength of our country over the past century.
From out of of a relatively small group of war-weary veterans of World War I, the American Legion has grown into one of the largest and most influential nonprofit groups in the United States. The Legion has approximately 2 million members, men and women, in nearly 14,000 American Legion Posts worldwide. These posts are organized into 55 Departments – one each for the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, France, Mexico and the Philippines.
The American Legion motto is “For God and Country.” The past 100 years have bore that out, especially as we have seen first-hand from the contributions of our own local post, Frank Fried Post #18. Thank you, American Legion!