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Excerpts from American Legion Extension Institute

 

Cradle Days     

 

The American Legion was born at a caucus of the American Expeditionary

 Force (A.E.F.) in Paris, France. This caucus was the result of a proposal by Lt.

Col. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. to a group of representatives of A.E.F. divisions and

service units. Roosevelt's vision resulted in the founding Paris caucus of March

15-17, 1919, and subsequent organizational caucus held May 8-10, 1919, in St.

Louis, MO. His unwavering service during these vital times won him the

affectionate title, "Father of The American Legion."

 

As the weary, homesick delegates assembled for that first Paris caucus,

they brought with them the raw materials with which to build an association of

veterans whose primary devotion was to God and Country. In minds of those

veterans of the A.E.F. were a number of lofty ideals, uppermost among them:

 

One:

Creation of a fraternity based upon the firm comradeship born of wartime service

and dedicated to fair and equitable treatment for all veterans, particularly the

disabled, and widows and orphans whose loved ones paid the ultimate price for

freedom.

Two:

Maintaining national security for America, including a universal military training

program for the prevention of future world conflicts; an

Three:

Promotion of patriotism and the combating of materialistic and totalitarian

ideologies that recognize neither the honor nor the dignity of the individual.

 

It was this Paris caucus that The American Legion received its name. The

honor of naming the new organization went to Maurice K. Gordon, then a major

in the 36th Division and later a judge in Kentucky. A controversy had developed

concerning the name, and it was Gordon who made the successful motion to

label the fledgling group The American Legion.

While lofty principles were expounded at the Paris caucus, it was decided to

leave the definition of permanent policies for a later and more representative

meeting to be held in the United States. An executive committee of 100 members

was named to complete the organization in the A.E.F., while a sub-committee of

17 returned to the United States to promote interest among those who had

already returned to the States.

Even though the American Legion was formed overseas, organizers

realized members of the armed services had no choice whether they served

in the United States or overseas. Accordingly, it was decided that membership in

The American Legion should be open to all who served honorably in the armed

forces in World War I. (Eligibility requirements for membership have since been

revised to open membership in the Legion to veterans who served honorably in

the armed forces of the United States in World War II, the Korean War, the

Vietnam War, Lebanon and Grenada, Panama and the Persian Gulf.)

 

St. Louis Caucus

 

"A representative democracy in a federal republic" was the plan adopted by

the Paris caucus for the formation of The American Legion. Advance committees

of two members from each state met May 6, 1919, in St. Louis, MO., to prepare

for a general caucus May 8-10, 1919. This St. Louis caucus, attended by some

1,100 delegates, produced the blueprint of The American Legion, approved the

principles set forth at the Paris caucus, adopted a tentative constitution and

created the machinery to provide for a permanent organization.

It was at the St. Louis caucus that the Preamble to the Constitution of The

American Legion was put into final form. A short preamble had been written at

Paris by a sub-committee consisting of Frank White, William H. Curtiss and

Redmond C. Stewart. In St. Louis the now-immortal Preamble was developed by

the fertile minds of John C. Greenway of Arizona, Hamilton Fish of New York and

George N. Davis of Delaware.

Organizational work proceeded rapidly after the St. Louis caucus.

Temporary offices were opened in New York City and on Sept. 16, 1919, the

Congress of the United States chartered The American Legion, thus giving

official sanction to the constitution adopted in St. Louis.

The charter convention of The American Legion met November 10-12 1919,

in Minneapolis, MN. The rapid pace with which The American Legion was

building its organization was evident by the presence of many delegates still in

the uniforms of the armed forces. The Minneapolis convention of 1919 approved

the acts of the temporary organization and adopted a permanent structure. The

first American Legion National Convention parade, which was to set the pace for

what has become the epitome of patriotic pageantry, color and music, was on the

first anniversary of Armistice Day, Nov. 11,1919. Included in the line of march

were the 648 delegates representing the infant organization's membership of

648,000.

A somber note was injected at this first convention with the arrival of news

that four legionnaires of a newly formed Post at Centralia, Washington were shot

down in cold blood while marching in the Armistice Day parade in their home city

by members of the Industrial Workers of the World, a radical group incited by

propaganda based on class hatred. Thus, The American Legion received its first

challenge by un-American elements, some of which to this day classify the

Legion as their greatest enemy.

Franklin D'Olier of Pennsylvania became the first National Commander, and

Lemuel Bolles of Washington the first National Adjutant. D'Olier later became

president of the Prudential Insurance Company and performed several non-

salaried tasks for his country during World War II.

Representatives of five cities, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City,

Minneapolis and Washington, D. C., bid to gain the new organization's

permanent national headquarters. Indianapolis won, and the national

headquarters of The American Legion was moved in late 1919

from its temporary location in New York City to Hoosier capital.

 

 

 

Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation

 

When the founders of The American Legion met at the St. Louis Caucus, they

recognized that a major concern of the organization would be the plight of the

disabled veteran. The extent of the concern for these veterans is evident in the

final phrase of the Preamble, "...to consecrate and sanctify our comradeship by

our devotion to mutual helpfulness."

The D'Olier administration completed the organization of the National Service

Bureau, which worked with state service bureaus and service officers of

individual Posts to assist veterans with problems of war risk insurance,

compensation for disabilities, hospital treatment and vocational training. The

American Legion received financial assistance in this phase of the program from

the American Red Cross.

Immediately after the close of the 1920 convention in Cleveland, Ohio,

National Commander Fredrick W. Galbraith Jr. called a conference in

Washington, D.C., to consider the plight of disabled veterans resulting from the

unwieldy mass of laws and regulations administered by a multitude of

government bureaus. Out of that conference came The American Legion's

request for a presidential committee to investigate existing conditions. As a

result, the Dawes Committee, which included representatives of The American

Legion, was appointed. The Dawes Committee report, accompanied by White

House recommendations, brought about congressional action consolidating most

of the activities dealing with World War I veterans into a new independent agency

--- The United States Veterans Bureau (now the Department of Veterans Affairs).

The Veterans Bureau continued under careful study by The American Legion

during the next two years, and many reforms were suggested by Legion

leadership and put into effect, eliminating abuses that deprived veterans of

hospital treatment and other rights authorized by Congress. It was in the same

period that The American Legion improved its own procedures of handling

veterans' matters by organizing the National Rehabilitation Committee to promote

better administration of this important and highly complex activity. The National

Rehabilitation Committee later became the National Rehabilitation Commission

and, as the result of action taken at the 1970 National Convention, was renamed

the National Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission.

Justice for the disabled veteran was now The American Legion's fight in

earnest. In 1923, the San Francisco Convention drafted 91 constructive

recommendations for liberalization of laws and regulations governing veterans'

benefits. Before the next National Convention was to gather, Congress had

enacted the World War Veterans Act of 1924, which included many of the

American Legion's proposals and extended the presumption of service-

connection for certain classes of disability.

Throughout the remainder of the 1920s and early in the 1930s, The American

Legion continued to register legislative achievements necessary for the care and

rehabilitation of disabled veterans.

 

Veterans Administration Established

 

On July 21, 1930, the Veterans Bureau and other agencies administering

veterans' benefits were consolidated into the Veterans Administration, a new

independent agency which thereafter handled most veteran benefit programs.

The American Legion's efforts on behalf of disabled veterans' benefits faced

one of its greatest challenges during the Great Depression. In 1933, the new

administration passed what became notorious as the Economy Act, which wiped

out a wide range of programs and benefits that had been won for and by disabled

veterans since the end of World War I.

However, The American Legion rallied to the crisis in veterans' affairs. The

National Rehabilitation Committee at the convention in Chicago that same year

put forth the famous Four-Point Program. This was, briefly, that:

 

One:

no veteran disabled in the line of duty would suffer any reductions in benefits

granted under legislation in effect prior to March 19,1933;

Two:

federal hospitalization be afforded to veterans not dishonorably discharged, who

were requiring such care and were unable to afford treatment;

Three:

presumption of service-connection for all veterans properly granted such service-

connection under laws that were in effect prior to March 20, 1933, be continued;

and

Four:

benefits provided for dependents by World War Veterans Act be restored and the

principle established that in no event should widows and orphans of deceased

World War veterans be without government protection.

The American Legion's unceasing fight on behalf of disabled veterans was

rewarded March 28, 1934, when Congress enacted Public Law 141, carrying out

in full recommendations of the first three provisions of the Four-Point Program.

Although this bill met with a presidential veto, Congress overrode the veto. Plus,

The American Legion recorded an outstanding accomplishment in the restoration

of the major part of the benefits taken from disabled World War veterans by the

Economy Act.

From this significant milestone, The American Legion has worked

successfully to pass further legislation liberalizing benefits for disabled veterans

and bringing about the fourth provision of the Four-Point Program concerning

protection of widows and orphans.

Since that major victory in 1934, the Legion has repeatedly mustered its

resources to meet subsequent challenges attempting to reduce the role of the

Veterans Administration and its successor -- the Department of Veterans Affairs–

in their essential missions of providing for our sick and disabled veterans. The

increased demand for VA hospital and medical services resulting from the

returning Vietnam wounded and disabled not only justified the Legion's earlier

position in this matter, but also strengthened its campaign for adequate

congressional appropriations to meet the needs of the then-newest generation of

disabled war veterans.

 

 

 

Children and Youth

 

Closely allied with its concern for the disabled veteran is The American

Legion's interest in the welfare of the children of deceased and disabled

veterans. There is no definite time nor place that can pinpoint the beginning of

The American Legion's Children and Youth Program (formerly known as the

Child Welfare Program). Like many of the purposes and principles set forth in the

Preamble, the child welfare concepts undoubtedly were first formed on the

battlefields of France during World War I, where shared dangers and hardships

created a deep sense of responsibility for the children of fallen comrades.

The American Legion has two child welfare objectives: first, to assure care

and protection for the children of veterans; second, to improve conditions for all

children. These objectives are expressed in the slogan, " A Square Deal for

Every Child."

First activities in the field of child welfare by The American Legion were

carried on by Legion rehabilitation workers who, as early as 1922, saw the need

for special effort on behalf of these unfortunate youngsters.

In the mid-1920s, American Legion child welfare efforts were centered around

the establishment of Legion-sponsored institutions known as "billets," where

children of deceased and disabled veterans were housed and cared for.

However, the experience of only a few years proved the institution approach

inadequate and unsatisfactory. A new concept of child care gradually emerged,

placing the emphasis on maintaining the family in the home.

In 1925, a National Child Welfare Division was established in National

Headquarters at Indianapolis. Within three years, the national organization had

completely  withdrawn from the institutional approach and had replaced it with a

program of direct temporary assistance to needy children in their own homes.

This new concept of child care by The American Legion provided the impetus

for other public and private organizations to develop their own home-care

programs for children.

In order to finance its child welfare and rehabilitation programs, The American

Legion launched a campaign in 1924 to raise a $5 million endowment fund. This

goal was reached in a little over a year. In 1945, the endowment fund was

increased to $7 million. In addition, the national budget for children and youth

received generous contributions annually from the Legion's affiliated

organizations--the American Legion Auxiliary, the eight and forty, and until 1959,

the forty and eight.

 

Emphasis Shifted to Concern for all Children

 

After World War II, the National Child Welfare Commission recognized the

need to establish programs for all American children in order to guarantee care

and protection of veterans' children.

The commission also recognized that many of the larger problems of child

welfare couldn't be met solely by offering direct help to individual children. For

example, immediately after World War II a major cause of death among school-

age children was rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease. Spurred by the

National Child Welfare and Rehabilitation commission, in 1946 the National

Executive Committee responded by appropriating $25,000 to the American Heart

Association to begin research on this health problem. The American Legion

Auxiliary also donated a like amount, and the $50,000 became, to a great extent,

the seed money for the American Heart Association's current program. The

research financed by these grants helped contribute to the decline in rheumatic

fever deaths among children.

Similarly, in 1950, The American Legion gave $25,000 to the National

Association for Mental Health for its research.

Accordingly, to avoid possible misunderstanding and to clearly define the

purpose and scope of its children's programs, The American Legion, by action of

its 1970 National Convention, changed the name of the National Child Welfare

Commission to the National Commission on Children and Youth.

 

The American Legion Child Welfare Foundation, Inc.

 

By 1954, the wisdom of the grants to the American Heart Association and the

National Association for Mental Health was quite apparent, as was the need for a

mechanism to provide future grants that would bring the best result to the

greatest number of children. Consequently, that year The American Legion Child

Welfare Foundation, Inc. was authorized by the National Executive Committee

with two primary purposes:

 

One:

to add to the sum total of knowledge about children and youth through research, study, etc.; and

Two:

to help distribute information that society already possesses about children in order that it be better used.

 

Through its grants each year, The American Legion Child Welfare Foundation

continues the Legion's traditional children and youth programs by stimulating

preventive research, complementing the Legion's long-standing program of direct

assistance and Capital Hill efforts to secure legislation that would benefit children

and youth. The foundation is supported primarily through the generous

contributions of individuals, Posts, Units, Departments and the national

organization of the American Legion Auxiliary. Many donations are bestowed in

memory of departed comrades.

In addition to research, The American Legion Child Welfare Foundation is

authorized to use funds for special projects such as the prevention of juvenile

delinquency and venereal disease, and programs that aid blindness, mentally

handicapped children, mental health, institutional care, education and physical

fitness.

 

Americanism

 

      From the very beginning The American Legion was not content to confine its

interest and support to easing the plight of deceased or disabled veterans and

their dependents. One of its major projects also has been the preservation and

furtherance of basic American concepts and principles. At the charter convention

in Minneapolis in 1919, the Nation Americanism Commission was established.

Among its first responsibilities were combating anti-Americanism, educating

citizens in the ideals of true Americanism, distributing information about "the real

nature and principles of American government," and fostering the teaching of

Americanism in all schools.

It is the objective of the National Americanism Commission to impart these

precepts, principles and ideals to Posts and other groups and individuals.

     This mission has led the National Americanism Commission over a difficult

route at times. Early in the 1920, unemployment and a period of general national

unrest coincided with an upsurge of communism and other subversive theories.

The Americanism Commission has met these challenges through the years

with education and action. Much of the commission's work include combating

unemployment until that problem was eventually assigned to the National

Economic Commission.

In order "to foster and perpetuate 100 percent Americanism," a large segment

of the Americanism Commission's efforts are channeled into education programs

and citizenship activities for the leaders of tomorrow -- America's youth. Millions

of young Americans have gained a better understanding of the Constitution of the

United States through The American Legion's National High School Oratorical

Contest, in which several thousand students participate annually.

 

National Security

 

The deep-rooted interest of The American Legion in the security of the nation

was born in the hearts and minds of its founders and those who piloted it through

the treacherous waters of its early years. The bitter experiences of seeing

comrades wounded and killed through lack of proper training crystallized the

determination of these veterans to fight for adequate defense establishment

capable of protecting the sovereignty of the United States.

The tragic events of World War I, largely precipitated by unpreparedness,

were still vivid in the minds of combat veterans when the committee on military

policy met at the 1919 National Convention in Minneapolis. The charter

convention approved 10 committee resolutions embodying the important

principles of Universal Military Training, retention of a small Regular Army

establishment and creation of a citizens' army composed of an Organized

Reserve and National Guard units.

In the intervening years, this original committee has grown to become the

National Security Commission and Committees, which focus Legion attention on

all segments of the nation's defense. In the years since the birth of The American

Legion, the United States has engaged in another World War and fought in

Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama and the Persian Gulf to oppose

further aggression by the totalitarian regimes. Perhaps these wars would not

have occurred had our nation followed the call of American Legion

recommendations on National Security matters.

During the 22 years separating the birth of The American Legion and the

attack on Pearl Harbor, which brought the United States in to World War II, The

American Legion had been a consistent, though too often unheeded, voice

advocating adequate military strength.

 

National Defense Act of 1920

 

The efforts of the American Legion, acting through its National Security

Commission and Committees, resulted in the enactment of the National Defense

Act of 1920, which gave the nation its first workable plan for a small Regular

Army, augmented by a large National Guard and Organized Reserve. However,

because appropriations for carrying out the provision of this act were repeatedly

denied, the military establishment -- which at the end of World War I had been as

well prepared as that of any country in the world -- was steadily reduced.

In the face of discouraging setbacks, The American Legion continued to

propose recommendations which have had a profound effect on our nation's

history. Twenty years prior to Pearl Harbor, The American Legion was calling for

the equivalent of a two-ocean Navy and firmly supported the development and

use of a new weapon system, the airplane.

Throughout those 20 years before our entry in World War II, The American

Legion remained unrelenting in its struggle for a strengthened national defense.

In 1938, The American Legion demanded an Air Force of 8,000 planes,

production of 1,500 planes annually, a strengthening of our Pacific defenses, and

the discontinuance of shipment of war supplies to Japan. Had it not been for The

American Legion's efforts to alert America to the need for continuing

preparedness, our nation at the time of Pearl Harbor would have been notably

weaker than it was.

After the surrender of Germany and Japan in 1945, The American Legion

again faced the unpleasant task of calling for a retention of adequate military

strength in the face of an overwhelming popular demand for demobilization.

Despite Legion opposition, the American people permitted the greatest defense

machinery in history to disintegrate and in so doing, encouraged communist

aggression throughout the world.

Just as it had after World War I, The American Legion urged Congress to

enact Universal Military Training legislation following World War II, but it took the

commitment of American troops fighting again on foreign soil-this time in Korea-

to convince the nation's lawmakers of the vital need of a Universal Military

Training program. However, the legislation embodying the principles of universal

military training, which was passed by the 82nd Congress, contained several

flaws that remained uncorrected until the enactment of National Security Training

Law in July 1955.

Today, with the evolution of space technology and scientific advancement of

both conventional and nuclear weapons, The American Legion is again proving

itself a pioneer by insisting on an adequate arsenal and a properly trained

fighting force to deter aggressors.

 

Foreign Relations

 

Of interest to all American veterans has been the matter of foreign affairs.

This is as true today as it was with our nation's first veterans who, after the

Revolutionary War, became leaders in the new republic. With each war, the

veterans became more intense in their desire to seek peace and national

security. Such was the case with The American Legion following World War I.

Not only did the veterans of this war have a keen desire to sustain peace, but

they also had a solemn wish to perpetuate the battlefields and cemeteries

overseas as living shines to sacrifice and achievement. From its earliest

convention, The American Legion has expressed concern and interest in foreign

affairs based on these principles. Neither conservative nor liberal, neither

international in character nor isolationist in principle, this foreign policy has been

consistent in two respects: first, by continuing to protect American sovereignty

and right; and second, by seeking world peace on the premise that the

diplomatic front is often the first theater of operations that, if lost, inevitably leads

to armed conflict.

In the period after World War I, while the infant veterans' organization was

struggling for its very survival, its foreign-relations policy was becoming more

complex in character. Primarily, this policy was directed toward major items of

concern to legionnaires in the overall interest of America, with emphasis directed

toward maintaining international peace. During the World War II era, the goal of

The American Legion was to bring the war to a successful conclusion and secure

world peace. Discussions during that period showed an interest on the part of

many to create an international organization similar to that known today as the

United Nations. Because the League of Nations after World War I had become a

partisan, political issue in the United States, the young American Legion had

neither endorsed nor repudiated it.

 

 

Legion Supports United Nations

 

In 1945, then-National commander Edward Scheiberling was an observer at

the conference in San Francisco where the United Nations organization took

substantial form. At its National Convention that year in Chicago, The American

Legion voted its full approval of the United Nations. At its next five National

Conventions, the Legion, recognizing weakness within the structure of the United

Nations, advocated strengthening of the U.N. charter. The American Legion

issued early and prophetic warnings that "the persistent misuse of the veto power

by Soviet Russia is destroying the ability of the United Nations to prevent war,"

and that Russia "sought to sabotage the United Nations and thus weaken it for

world peace and justice."

Thus, at the conclusion of World War II and the establishment of the United

Nations, The American Legion's foreign policy become more intricate and more

complex than ever before. The World War II veteran returned to civilian status far

more internationally-minded than those predecessors of World War I. Veterans

had served in the Pacific areas, in Europe and in other world regions. They were

not only keenly mindful of the extreme need for sustaining peace, but were also

intimately familiar with the many countries with which America must work to

maintain peace.

The Korean War eventually brought to the ranks of The American Legion a

new veteran who, for the first time in American history, had fought as a member

of an international force. These were the first American veterans to meet in

combat the ruthless communist forces bent on world domination. As a veteran

and Legionnaire, the soldier who had faced communism's fire has offered one

more conerstone in the formation of the Legion's foreign policy.

 

Realistic Foreign Policy

 

The American Legion's foreign policy -- blueprinted at the St. Louis Caucus,

endorsed and broadened at the first National Convention in Minneapolis and

adjusted to world conditions through the ensuing years -- has reflected attainable

goals in the interest of promoting the security of America peace and good will on

earth.

Emanating from every community throughout the nation and representing all

classes and religions in America, the Legion's foreign policy reflects the hopes

and fears, the very desires and wants, of most Americans. In it are found the

sentiments of the nation and through it a better American foreign policy can be

developed to ensure peace and freedom throughout the world.

 

Legislative

 

As The American Legion began to take form in the spring and summer of

1919, its leaders soon saw the need for a central legislative agency that could

present the Legion's legislative programs effectively to Congress.

Therefore, one of the first committees created was the National Legislative

Committee (now Commission), which was established before the first National

Convention was held at Minneapolis.

The early responsibilities of the National Legislative Committee are described

by Marquis James in his history of The American Legion: "...an essential cog in

the national machinery to make veterans' voices heard and heeded in the

council chambers of the nation where the laws are made, in the executive offices

where they are enforced and in the hundreds of Department bureaus, great and

small, from which the actual administration is directed."

The initial action of the newly formed committee was to request congressional

recognition of The American Legion. The 66th Congress overwhelmingly

endorsed "An Act to Incorporate The American Legion," which became Public

Law 47 with the president's signtaure on Sept. 16,1919. The charter limited

membership to honorably discharge veterans with service between April 6, 1917,

and Nov. 11, 1918. Subsequent amendments have been made to establish

eligibility dates for membership of veterans of World War II, Dec. 7, 1941, to Dec.

31, 1946; the Korean War, June 25, 1950, to Jan.31, 1955; the Vietnam War,

Dec. 22, 1961, to May 7, 1975; Grenada and Lebanon, Aug. 24,1982, to July 31,

1984; Panama, Dec. 20 1989, to Jan. 31 1990; and the Persian Gulf, Aug. 2,

1990, with no closing date as of May 1996.

Although not authorized to formulate policy, the National Legislative

Commission is charged with the exclusive responsibility of petitioning Congress

on behalf of any and all legislation in which The American Legion is interested.

Declaration of legislative policy is the right and responsibility of National

Conventions. Between conventions the National Executive Committee

may mandate legislative action.

 

Serving the Entire Organization

 

Since it has no program of its own, the National Legislative Commission

serves the entire American Legion and many American Legion programs. In the

various states, Department legislative committees operate much the same way,

their efforts resulting in legislative successes in such areas as rehabilitation, aid

to war veterans and child welfare.

In 1919, war veterans returned to a nation that was almost totally unprepared

to cope with the needs of sick and wounded. There were scant provisions for

alleviating the suffering and distress of the families of those who gave their lives

in the war. There was little help toward the readjustment of thousands whose

lives had been disrupted by service and who were in need of rehabilitation. It was

a dark age for the returning defenders of democracy. On top of this came a

depression. Since there was no national agency like today's Department of

Veterans Affairs, veterans' hospital care was inadequate.

Such was the Herculean task facing the infant American Legion and its

legislative committee. The years 1919 to 1933 saw unrelenting legislative efforts

by the Legion to: establish the Veterans Bureau, which was later named the

Veterans Administration (forerunner of today's Department of Veterans Affairs);

gain realistic compensation programs for the disabled and their dependents;

provide hospitalization for the disabled; create education programs for the

service-connected disabled; and obtain other veterans' benefits.

In addition to beneficial legislation affecting veterans and their dependents,

the National Legislative Committee's work in Americanism and national security

also bore fruit. Its endeavors contributed to the passage of anti-subversive laws,

as well as legislation to strengthen our military forces, including the National

Guard and Reserves. These were busy years for the committee, and during

that period The American Legion was recognized as having the most powerful

and effective legislative lobby in Washington.

Compared to the standards of the time, the veterans' programs at the

beginning of 1933 were in excellent condition, but our nation was in the depths of

the Great Depression. The Legislative Committee of The American Legion had

been so successful that economy-minded members of Congress, reinforced by

the National Economy League, worked for passage of "An Act to Maintain 

the Credit of the United States," which became Public Law 2 with the president's

signature on March 20, 1933.

     Passed by Congress without a hearing -- with no opportunity being given The

American Legion to oppose it -- the measure dictated: "All public laws granting

medical or hospital treatment, domiciliary care, compensation and other

allowances, pension disability allowance, or retirement pay to veterans and

dependents of the World war are hereby repealed." One stroke of the pen wiped

out 13 years of American Legion legislative efforts.

 

Successful Counteroffensive

 

The American Legion quickly organized a legislative counteroffensive. With

one out of every five veterans in its ranks to give it strength, the Legion took to

the highways and byways and descended upon the main streets of the nation to

advise the people of the terrible consequences of Public Law 2. Meanwhile, the

National Legislative Committee organized its plans for the 1934 session of

Congress. Overwhelming veteran support, combined with the Legislative

Committee's testimony before Congressional committees, brought about a

complete reversal by Congress on March 28, 1934, when the measure became

law over President Franklin D. Roosevelt's veto. A great amount of credit for this

notable achievement must be given to the indomitable spirit and courage of then

 -- National Commander Edward A. Hayes of Illinois.

 

GI Bill of Rights

 

The greatest single legislative achievement of The American Legion was the

enactment of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, more popularly known

as the GI Bill Rights. Not only is The American Legion universally recognized as

the originator of this complex and multi-dimensional bill, but also as the force

which overcame major political opposition by massing public opinion in favor of

the measure.

With over 15 million men and women in the U.S. Armed Forced in World War

II, The American Legion resolved that its post-World War I experiences would not

be repeated. The painful memories of disabled men waiting more than five years

for legislation that would secure their rights to hospital care and compensation

inspired American Legion leaders to work for the enactment of GI Bill -- a law

described as the most comprehensive piece of social legislation ever enacted.

    The GI Bill of Rights embodied all The American Legion had learned during a

quarter century. Its preparation involved many months of careful research,

analyzing convention mandates and exchanging ideas with the military and

experts in educational, financial and employment fields. Invaluable in drawing up

this legislation was the input of the National Rehabilitation Commission of The

American Legion. The GI Bill of Rights is best described by its subtitles:

1. Hospitalization, claims and procedures; 2. Education of veterans; 3. Home,

farm and business loans; 4. Employment of veterans; 5. Readjustment

allowances for the unemployed; and 6. General administrative and penal

provisions.

The Veterans Administration was made the focus of most benefits under the

law and the point contact for the veteran in matters falling under other

government jurisdictions. The drafting of this legislation has been called the

greatest single feat of statesmanship in the history of The American Legion. The

methods by which it was guided through Congress to the president's desk

demonstrated the strong links that bind The American Legion to all segments of

American life.

With the government's commitment of American troops to meet aggression in

Korea in 1950, South Vietnam in 1964 and the Persian Gulf in 1990, similar

programs supported by The American Legion were enacted for the benefit of

wartime veterans.

 

Economic

 

The activities and programs under the jurisdiction of the National Economic

Commission are as old as The American Legion itself. However, these activities

and programs were not grouped into one commission until action was taken by

the National Executive Committee in November 1947.

The program started when young World War I veterans, with $60 in

mustering-out pay in hand, faced gloomy prospects of finding jobs. One of the

earliest American Legion economic efforts was devoted to assisting veterans in

finding employment and establishing a program giving veterans preference in

federal employment.

The Legion had for many years advocated preferences for veterans in federal

employment. Passage of the Veterans Preferences Act of 1944 was the

culmination of years of hard work by the major veterans' organizations, the Civil

Service Commission and Committee on Civil Service in both the Senate and

House of Representatives.

The American Legion was instrumental in drafting the language of this law,

which was enacted with just a single dissenting vote. The Legion wrote the

provisions establishing preference by giving five points to veterans and 10 points

to disabled veterans in competitive examinations for federal employment. Thus,

qualified compensable service-connected veterans were able to get to the top of

the list in applying for federal jobs.

 

Wagner-Peyser Act of 1933

 

At the request of The American Legion, The first legislation providing federal

assistance to veterans in finding employment was included in the Wagner-Peyser

Act of 1933. This act provided for developing and maintaining a national system

of employment offices that were devoted in part to securing employment for

veterans.

The current program for veterans' employment was developed by Legion-

sponsored legislation that provides for effective retaining, job counseling,

employment placement service and maximum job opportunities for veterans.

 

Wartime Service

 

Although commonly described as an organization of wartime veterans, The

American Legion has always been very much in a position to perform vital

service for the community, state and nation immediately before and after armed

conflicts.

More than a year before the United States entered World War II, the Legion

began establishing closer cooperation among local, state and national defense

activities. In February 1941, a commission was sent to Europe at The American

Legion's expense to study civil defense under modern war conditions. Heading

this commission was then-National Commander Milo J. Warner. After the

commission returned, the Legion published and distributed 150,000 copies of a

civilian defense manual, the first publication containing such information to be

issued in this country.

After Pearl Harbor, Legion Posts threw themselves into the task of

strengthening the home front to assure victory. Legionnaires collected salvage;

engaged in a nationwide program to train instructors for air raid wardens,

auxiliary police and firemen; established blood banks; collected cigarettes and

gifts for soldiers in camps and overseas; located skilled workers for essential

services and industry; cooperated with the Red Cross and the USO; provided

entertainment and support for hospitals at home and abroad; operated canteens

for men and women in uniforms; staged bond drives and invested Post and

personal surplus funds in U.S. War Bonds; cooperated with the FBI in helping to

check sabotage and espionage; and recruited volunteers for the various

branches of the armed forces. Thousands of Legionnaires themselves returned

to active duty with the armed forces and saw action on every front.

For three years before the outbreak of hostilities in Korea, The American

Legion warned of the spread of communism in Asia and called for a Universal

Military Training program to strengthen the nation in dealing with the problem.

However, an America enjoying the first sweet taste of victory and peace after

World War II would not heed the Legion's call.

Throughout the period of hostilities in Korea, the Legion supported the

measures necessary to bring about a total military victory, but the advocates of a

political settlement prevailed. The consequences of such a decision are still to be

weighted by future historians.

On Aug. 5, 1964, an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin changed the role of the

United States in its assistance to the people of South Vietnam. Overnight, U.S.

armed forces personnel became more than advisers to South Vietnamese

military units, and another generation of Americans went in harm's way.

Leading the nation's expression of support for the men and women in

uniform were Legion Posts, which established elaborate programs of contact with

military personnel, providing mail, gifts and the hospitality of their Post homes.

The American Legion also launched Operation Our Kind of Guy, an outreach

program to help ease the problems facing veterans as they returned to civilian

life.

 

American Legion Publications

 

The first venture of the national organization of American Legion into the

publishing field was The American Legion Weekly, which made its debut on July

4, 1919. The weekly was published until June 18, 1926, when it was succeeded

by The American Legion Monthly. In June 1937, the publication's name was

changed to The American Legion Magazine, which today goes to every

Legionnaire and ranks as one of the leading general-interest magazines in

America.

In January 1935, a monthly tabloid, The National Legionnaire, was

established and also sent to every member. Unlike The American Legion

Monthly, The National Legionnaire carried no fiction stories or advertisements

and was devoted entirely to news of Legion activities. After 14 years as a

separate publication, in February 1949, The National Legionnaire was merged

with The American Legion Magazine.

 

American Legion National Headquarters

 

While the heart and soul of The American Legion rests in its millions of

members and nearly 15,000 Posts guided by its 55 Departments, the nerve

center of the organization is the National Headquarters.

In 1950, The Legion's National Headquarters moved into the a magnificent

building erected by the state of Indiana on the War Memorial Plaza in

Indianapolis. The building, which sits across the Plaza Mall and houses the

National Headquarters of the American Legion Auxiliary and the Indiana

Department Headquarters of the American Legion and Auxiliary, provides

The American Legion with double the floor space of its former headquarters.

The American Legion's own building in Washington, D.C. is occupied by the

Legislative, Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation, Economic, and National Security

and Foreign Relations divisions, plus a media representative and administrative

offices. In dedicating the Washington Office building of The American Legion

National Headquarters in 1951, President and Legionnaire Harry S. Truman

lauded The American Legion as "a powerful and constructive force in American

life."