Excerpts from American Legion Extension Institute
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:
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
Maintaining national security for America, including a universal military training
program for the prevention of future world conflicts; an
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.)
"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
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.
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:
no veteran disabled in the line of duty would suffer any reductions in benefits
granted under legislation in effect prior to March 19,1933;
federal hospitalization be afforded to veterans not dishonorably discharged, who
were requiring such care and were unable to afford treatment;
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;
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
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.
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
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.
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:
to add to the sum total of knowledge about children and youth through research, study, etc.; and
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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