How much do you know about the American Legion?
I admit, for me the answer was ‘Not much’ until I discovered that my great-grandfather Edward C. Laughlin—always a mystery to me—had served as an officer for the Bradford Post No. 108 of the American Legion. In fact, he also involved himself in the Veterans of Foreign Wars and several other service organizations upon his return from WWI, which made me curious to learn what those organizations might reveal about his values and priorities.
A Need Recognized
|Theodore Roosevelt Jr.,
Assistant Secretary of the Navy, 1921.
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
At the close of the Great War, anxious American servicemen waited to return home. The American Expeditionary Forces Headquarters asked a group of twenty officers who served in France for suggestions to improve troop morale, and Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt Jr. suggested a veterans’ organization. The idea gained traction, and the March 1919 meeting now known as the Paris Caucus saw the drafting of a temporary constitution, the election of committee leaders, and the birth of the American Legion.
|Photo taken before start of the Paris Caucus, March 1919.
Paris Caucus-March 1919. Via Wikipedia.
As the “Lost Generation” returned home from war—those who did return—the Legion’s mandate naturally expanded. Mobilized forces from the United States totaled about 4,355,000 persons who served, and just as today, veterans’ post-war reintegration adjustments included help getting healthcare and finding employment. The organization also served as a social club, allowing veterans to maintain the connections they’d made overseas.
Posts began springing up around the country. On the eve of the American Legion’s second National Convention, its first National Commander, Franklin D’Olier, made a statement regarding its growth and purpose: “It is but eighteen months since a few hundred American soldiers met at Paris and brought forth the idea of the American Legion. It is but ten months since, at Minneapolis, that idea was crystallized, committed to paper and made imperishable in the constitution of this organization. … The second annual convention at Cleveland finds the American Legion an organization which already has behind it a creditable record of accomplishment. We can review with satisfaction what we have done in our infancy for the disabled, for all ex-service men and for our country. It finds it also an organization which realizes that it has heavy obligations and much more to do in the future.”
Women Stepping Up
|National President of American Legion Auxillary Mrs. Malcolm Douglas
honors the Unknown Soldier at Arlington on Armistice Day, November 11, 1937.
Photo Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division,
photograph by Harris & Ewing. [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62-123456]
The Women’s Auxiliary of the American Legion also formed in 1919. The wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of military men had been stepping up in a variety of ways throughout the war, and many were motivated to continue. On July 11, 1919, the Legion’s national executive committee announced its decision to admit women auxiliary posts.
Establishing these posts came with its share of difficulty. Some established women’s service organizations had no desire to form official affiliations and surrender their autonomy. On March 19, 1920, the Shortsville Enterprise reported that Miss Byrd Mock, founder and executive secretary of an unrelated organization called the American Women’s Legion, commented, “While it is our purpose to aid in every way members of the American Legion and all ex-service men, we do not want to become mere hangers-on and to lose our identity.” Additionally, some women reportedly believed auxiliaries old-fashioned, and others feared that their organizations would become ineffective under regulations the American Legion might impose.
Nonetheless, the ALA gained a foothold and at almost 800,000 members is today the largest women’s patriotic service organization in the world. Their mission statement declares in part, “For God and country, we advocate for veterans, educate our citizens, mentor youth, and promote patriotism, good citizenship, peace and security.’
A Passionate Brotherhood
As the Legion grew, so did its clout and emphasis on winning veterans benefits. One of its cornerstone achievements? A former National Commander, Harry W. Colmery, penned what would later become the GI Bill of Rights, which President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law in 1944. The Legion still exercises its powerful influence for the good of veterans today, with its current membership boasting over 2.4 million in 14,000 posts.
Members of the American Legion, like my great-grandfather, saw their membership and service as a way to honor their fallen brothers in arms and continue the fight they’d begun by seeing to each other’s post-war well-being. These earnest lines from a poem written by disabled veteran and published in the Angelica Advocate on July 12, 1923, explain more deeply than I ever could the depths at which this duty was felt.
Say, Bud, have you joined the Legion yet?
Now don’t get angry and swear.
For we never can be pure strangers, you know.
For look at the memories we share.…
Have you forgotten Belleau, St. Mihiel and Argonne
And your buddies you left over there.
And your crippled chums who are needing you now
Come on, be a Legionnaire.
-Robert Lee Beveridge
(Read the poem in its entirety here.)
|Copyright Emilie Hendryx of
E.A. Creative Photography 2014
BRANDY HEINEMAN is a Christ-follower. She’s also a book hoarder, a cat herder, a first-generation Southerner, and a self-appointed family historian. She likes to cook when it’s convenient, and to order pizza when it’s not. An alumna of Wesleyan College (Macon, Ga.), she has written for ACFW’s The Journal, Writer Interrupted, and Book Fun Magazine. Brandy resides in metro Atlanta with her Captain of Street Cred and super-hero hubby, Michael. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and at brandyheineman.com.
Whispers In The Branches
"As a lover of research and genealogy, this novel was a soul-treat. Abby Wells hears the siren call of buried family secrets. Add to that a ghost and a love triangle, and Whispers In The Branches is one suspenseful read. I was hooked and couldn't put it down. Heineman is a talented storyteller. --Nicole Seitz, author of Saving Cicadas and The Spirit of Sweetgrass