The Beginning of The American Legion
The creation of post-war organizations are not a new concept, especially in American history. After the Civil War, which lasted from 1861-1865, both armies created post-war organizations. The former Union soldiers created the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and former Confederate soldiers established the United Confederate Veterans (UCV). Both of these organizations were big supporters and lobbied for the Republican (GAR), and Democratic (UCV) parties, respectfully. After the Spanish-American War in 1898, former soldiers created the American Veterans of Foreign Service, which is known presently as the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW).
In 1915, with the first World War creating chaos across the globe, two men were concerned with the United States’ absence of the Great War. Arthur Hoffman, a magazine editor, and Stephen Reynolds, a writer, founded the American Legion in February of 1915. Pre-war organizations were a new concept, and the American Legion lobbied for the government to strengthen the military to prepare for our impending participation in the war.
Key officers of the American Legion at this time were Arthur Hoffman,Theodore Roosevelt, and William Taft. The Legion had 23,000 members that pledged to fight in World War I. The governments to create two regiments of air mechanics from the members. The American Legion concluded in 1917, immediately after the United States joined the fight.
The American Legion Post WWI
With the war over, U.S. drafted soldiers of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) were stuck in France yearning to go home. Logistically, they knew it would take weeks or even months until it was possible to return. Because of this, their spirits took a plunge and their impatience was felt throughout the troops.
Seeing this as a pressing matter in January of 1919, Theodore Roosevelt’s son, Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. searched for support to create an organization that would include all members of the AEF and soldiers who were stateside since the original American Legion was discontinued. A group of 20 non-career officers were asked to assemble at the YMCA in Paris on February 15th, 1919 with regular Army officers. After convening for three days, the officers created proposals to eliminate restricting regulations and to organize recreational events for the stranded soldiers. With unanimous support from the soldiers, Roosevelt and other officers decided to hold a convention to promote the idea of a new veterans’ organization. The convention was held in Paris and all those who were enlisted were able to join and make their voices heard.
After months of organizing caucuses around the nation, Congress granted the American Legion a national charter on September 16th, 1919, which is when we celebrate American Legion Day. The founding convention took place in Minneapolis, two months after The Legion was recognized as a national charter. There the delegates decided that the American Legion would abstain from choosing political sides and would be seen as a nonpartisan organization. Instead, the organization focused its efforts on lobbying for veterans’ rights and benefits. Some of the ideas they lobbied for were increased compensation for soldiers that were disabled in WWI and a bonus payment for those unemployed after returning from overseas.
In 1930, the American Legion was a primary player in creating the U.S. Veterans’ Bureau, now known as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Throughout the Department’s of Veterans Affairs history, the American Legion was at the forefront in drafting and passing the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the G.I. Bill. This bill has helped millions of military members graduate from college, buy houses, and get better jobs. The Legion has also been associated with creating the first “Flag Code,” which was adopted by Congress in 1942, and is still an influence in refining the Flag Code to this day.
Some other recent achievements of the Legion include contributing funds for the Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., elevating the Veterans Administration to Cabinet-level status, creating the Citizen Flag Alliance (an organization that protects the U.S. flag from physical desecration), partnering with the Smithsonian Institute, passing the following bills: The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, The Veterans Health Care Budget Reform Act of 2009, etc.; organizing the American Legion Baseball World Series, plus much more.
Today The American Legion has over 2 million members and over 13,000 posts globally. The posts are organized into fifty-five departments; fifty for each state, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, France, Mexico, and the Philippines.
How to Join
To be eligible to join The American Legion, you must:
- Be a veteran who served at least one day of active duty during wartime* or are currently serving
- Have been honorably discharged or still serving honorably
- Have been a Merchant Marine who served from December 7, 1941 - December 31, 1946 (World War II).
- *Wartime Dates are:
- Persian Gulf/War on Terrorism: August 2, 1990 to Today
- Operation Just Cause- Panama:December 20, 1989 to January 31, 1990
- Lebanon/Grenada: August 24, 1982 to July 31, 1984
- Vietnam: February 28, 1961 to May 7, 1975
- Korea: June 25, 1950 to January 31, 1955
- World War II: December 7, 1941 to December 31, 1946
- World War I: April 6, 1917 To November 11, 1918
To learn more or to join, please visit: https://www.legion.org/
To find a post near you, where you can celebrate or donate, visit: http://www.members.legion.org/CGI-BIN/lansaweb?webapp=MYLEPOST+webrtn=wr_dsplcr+ml=LANSA:XHTML+part=TAL+lang=ENG