A long time ago in Paris, France, a group of war-weary members of the American Expeditionary Forces who had fought to victory in World War I and remained in Europe, restlessly awaiting passage home, gathered for what became known as the Paris Caucus.
Out of this caucus which happened on March 15 to 17, 1919, the American Legion was born and celebrates its 100th birthday as the premier veteran’s organization in the United States of America.
In the months that followed the armistice of November 11, 1918, they had time to think about life after the war and what they might do…. in support of their wounded comrades; In honor of the fallen; To help surviving spouses and orphans; To protect the democracy they pledged their lives to defend; And to chart a new course for future generations of Americans. These American Expeditionary forces envisioned a different kind of veterans association. It would be like none before it, or any that would follow.
This new American Legion would be built on strengthening the nation–not serving themselves— through four primary pillars of volunteer work on behalf of: Veterans.
Defense. Youth. And Americanism. High on these priorities were compassionate care and treatment of disabled veterans returning to civilian life. Such care and treatment were desperately lacking in the United States at that time. The effects of wartime service were especially profound for the American Legion’s first generation. They had been attacked and wounded by weapons previously unseen in history. They had been poisoned and blinded by chemical gas. Nearly half of their fatalities had come from illnesses caused by unsanitary conditions, lack of medicine and rancid food on the battle field and and sea. They suffered psychological effects ignored at the time by medicine, the military and the government. These effects–known then as “shell shock”—-would sweep decorated combat veterans into asylums, jails and onto the street where relief was not forthcoming.
The American Legion was determined to change the culture and public perception, no matter what it took, about veterans and the honorable nature of military service.
These veterans would spend the next century–as each war era begat a new generation of Legionnaires devoted to community building, welfare of children, patriotism, education, peace and goodwill. The American Legion would chisel principles into the Preamble to its Constitution, these being Justice, Freedom and Democracy. They also elevated public appreciation for the U.S. Flag, the Constitution, law enforcement, faith, civic responsibility and community service. The American Legion founders were devout in their belief that a veteran is a veteran, regardless of race, gender, duty station, political party, rank or branch of service. Women veterans were members and leaders of the American Legion before they had the right to vote for President of the United States. Each member of the American Legion, then and now has an individual obligation to COMMUNITY, STATE AND NATION.
Some of the accomplishments of the American Legion this century are: The U.S Government establishing the Veterans Bureau in 1922, the Veterans Administration in 1930 and the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1989. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 better known as the GI Bill did more than improve the lives of veterans, it reshaped the future of America. The GI Bill was conceived, drafted and steered to passage by the American Legion. American Legion conferences in 1923 and 1924 established the first standard rules of respect that would be later passed into law as the U.S. Flag Code. American Legion baseball became a national program in 1926,
promoting teamwork, discipline and physical fitness for tens of thousands of young people. American Legion Boys State and Boys Nation were launched in 1937 and 1946 respectively to provide young men firsthand understanding of how government and civil service function in a democracy. The American Legion Auxiliary would soon organize parallel programs for young women and these programs have cultivated thousands of elected officials, judges, educators, business leaders and one U.S. President.
The annual American Legion National Oratorical contest, began in 1941, has called on young competitors to not only talk a good game but to fully understand the U.S. Constitution and the rights of Americans. Like Boys State and Boys Nation, it too has produced thousands of leaders and public servants through the decades.
Immediately following the American Legion’s birth in 1919, disaster relief arose as a natural function for the fast growing veterans association—which within its first eight months had grown to 685,000 members and more than 5,000 posts in communities worldwide. Earthquakes, fires, tornados, floods and other natural emergencies have brought out the best in the American Legion over the decades. In 1927 and 1937, two
of the most devastating flood years in history and in years to come with Camille, Hugo, and Katrina the Legion went to work and dispensed tens of millions of dollars to disaster victims throughout the United States.
American Legion research and advocacy made PTSD a recognized diagnosis in 1980 after a half century of fighting on behalf of those who came home suffering from the invisible wounds of war. The purposes upon which the American Legion associates together have proven timeless over its first century and have made lives better for millions of Americans. They have built a legacy like no other in the history of the United States. American Legion Posts have strengthened the nation and, as new posts begin their journeys into the American Legion’s second century, these purposes prove vital and necessary for the strength of a nation, for generations to come.
White Pine Post #3 American Legion was established in Ely in 1921 and will celebrate its 100th birthday at that time. May God Bless America and bless our American Legion.