A brief history of the American Legion

The American Legion is this country’s largest veterans organization. I would like to present a brief history and overview in this article, as we remember the fallen of this nation’s wars this Memorial Day.

Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of President Theodore Roosevelt, first had the idea of a veterans organization talking to a wounded sergeant in an army hospital in France during World War I. Because of the unprecedented scale of death and horrendous injuries suffered by those serving in the war, millions of soldiers and their family members would need some type of medical, financial or educational aid. With few governmental or private resources available, Roosevelt felt those who had served in the military during this war would be a vast resource of support for those affected, including the wounded, the widows and orphans of the dead.

Roosevelt assembled a caucus of soldiers in Paris, France, in March 1919. Here the name of the American Legion and general ideals of this new organization were born. In a caucus in May 1919, in St. Louis, Mo., were developed the specific purposes and goals of the American Legion. Congress chartered and incorporated the American Legion Sept. 16, 1919, and the first national convention was held in Minneapolis in November 1919.

The Legion charter set the principles by which it is run, including three main points:

  • Eligibility for membership.

  • Purpose of the American Legion.

  • Prohibited the American Legion from being involved in partisan politics.

There are four pillars that define the purpose our organization: veterans affairs and rehabilitation, national security, Americanism, and children and youth.

In 1930, at the urging of the American Legion, Congress assembled the different bureaus and departments related to veterans into the Veterans Administration, “to consolidate and coordinate Government activities affecting war veterans.”

In 1944, former American Legion National Commander Harry Colmery hand-wrote what would later become law almost word for word — the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the G.I. Bill. This congressional act served as the foundation of the educational and financial boom in the United States after World War II.

Over the years, the Legion has developed and supported many programs and legislation to support not only active-duty, reserve, National Guardsman and their families but also local communities and especially the children of those communities. From sponsoring Boy Scout troops, Legion baseball teams, the Oratorical contest, Boys State, and flag etiquette programs; to disaster relief, Operation Comfort Warrior, and scholarships for students; to laws recognizing Agent Orange as being a service-connected sickness; to helping draft and pass legislation and oversee government agencies affecting the military, veterans, and their families, the American Legion affects every community we are a part of today.

For more information about the American Legion, please see our national website at legion.org.

Next time, I would like to introduce our local American Legion Post in Wilton, the James B. Whipple Post 86.
Tom Moore
Adjutant, Post 86