The American Legion at 100
The American Legion was formed by combat troops of the American Expeditionary Forces in Paris, France, a century ago. Weary and homesick, these American Legion founders restlessly awaited passage back to the United States and a return to their civilian lives after World War One. As they waited, they had time to think about what they would do after discharge from service: support their wounded comrades, honor the fallen, care for the surviving spouses and orphans and protect the democracy they pledged their lives to defend.
These troops envisioned a different kind of veterans association. It would be like none before it, nor any that would follow. The American Legion would be built on strengthening the nation – not serving themselves – through four primary pillars of volunteer work. The pillars are veterans, defense, youth and Americanism.
The early American Legion fought for creation of the U.S. Veterans Bureau in 1921, the Veterans Administration in 1930 and the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1989.
Empowered by its federal charter, signed into law on Sept. 16, 1919, The American Legion organized an army of expert service officers to provide free health-care and benefits assistance to veterans and their families. The American Legion also found jobs for hundreds of thousands of veterans in the 1920s and fed entire communities during the Depression.
Large in number and staked to thousands of local communities worldwide, The American Legion family – which came to include an American Legion Women’s Auxiliary and Sons of The American Legion – was uniquely positioned to positively impact tens of millions of lives.
The American Legion would further strengthen the nation by its commitment to fitness, discipline and teamwork through a national youth baseball program, sponsorship of thousands of Junior ROTC programs, Boy Scouts units and Junior Shooting Sports teams.
The American Legion fought for decades for “Universal Military Training” and out of that movement came the Reserve Forces Act of 1955 – establishing the modern Reserve component of the U.S. military and a more effective National Guard, which have proven so vital to American strength, especially in the War on Terrorism.
The American Legion Legionnaires have also proven uniquely well-suited to handle life-threatening catastrophes – fires, floods, tornados, mine disasters, superstorms and even a terrorist attack. In 1927 and 1937, two of the most devastating floods in U.S. history destroyed homes and farms, claimed hundreds of lives and left thousands homeless. The American Legion mobilized rescue crews, provided communications, found stranded families, fed and sheltered them. In time, deadly hurricanes Camille, Hugo, Katrina, Irma, Harvey, Florence and others have devastated countless homes and lives, and The American Legion has responded quickly with tens of millions of dollars in cash grants from its National Emergency Fund.
The purposes for which The American Legion has associated together over the last century have proven timeless. At this very moment, a new American Legion post is taking shape on the campus of the University of Illinois to support student veterans using their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. Like thousands of other American Legion posts around the world, it is named in honor of a fallen wartime soldier. In this case it is National Guard Sergeant Shawna Morrison, whose life was taken by a roadside bomb in 2004 in Iraq. Shawna joins thousands of others who made the ultimate sacrifice from every war era and are now enshrined by The American Legion. To preserve the memories and incidents of our nation’s associations in the great wars, The American Legion has stood as the conscience of a grateful nation, through honor and remembrances of all who gave their lives or were taken prisoner of war so others might live in freedom.
Among the 10 lines of The American Legion’s mission statement – the Preamble to its Constitution – only one is even loosely dedicated to self-interest – “to consecrate and sanctify our comradeship by our devotion to mutual helpfulness.” The other nine lines speak to The American Legion’s broader purpose – to strengthen the nation.
As new posts begin their journeys into The American Legion’s second century, they inspire a renewed vision that is equally timeless and built to serve generations of Americans yet to come.
Additional information about The American Legion, including locating other area Posts, can be found at www.legion.org, or www. scarolinalegion.org.
Article provided by The American Legion