The world was worn out by The Great War, the one we know now as World War I, when veterans of the American Expeditionary Force met for three days in Paris starting on March 15, 1919 to form what would become known around the globe as The American Legion. (If you want to see the results of that first meeting in France, minutes of “The Caucus,” are available on line.)
These military service personnel had set the stage for a subsequent meeting in May, called The St. Louis Caucus,” which officially established this war-weary patriotic group as “The American Legion.”
In these first two meetings the “mission” of The American Legion was declared to be mutual support of other veterans, service members and the community.
By September of 1919, in a time when there were little to no government benefits as we know them for service personnel (especially those who had sacrificed so much coming face-to-face with war), the US Congress recognized the supportive values of the The American Legion and chartered The American Legion as a patriotic veterans organization.
According to The American Legion’s historic timeline, from the initial focus on service to veterans, service members and communities, the Legion “evolved from a group of war-weary veterans of World War I into one of the most influential nonprofit groups in the United States. Membership swiftly grew to over 1 million, and local posts sprang up across the country. Today, membership stands at over 2 million in more than 13,000 posts worldwide. The posts are organized into 55 departments: one each for the 50 states, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, France, Mexico and the Philippines.”
Appropriately, Post 1 is reserved for Paris.
Nationally, “The Legion,” as it is most often called, has influenced considerable social change in America, won hundreds of benefits for veterans and produced many important programs for children and youth. Following is a chronology of some of significant dates in Legion history.
One of the first community initiatives was accepted at the first official convention in November 1919 convened in Minneapolis. That was to support the Boy Scouts of America. While the Legion remains the chartering agency for more than 1,700 scouting units comprising nearly 65,000 youths, it should be known that the Hudson American Legion Post 184 was out in front of that, sponsoring Boy Scout Troop #102 starting in 1924 and which we have continued to foster ever since.
Additionally, who has not heard of The American Legion baseball program? Few, I’d say. But how many fans of America’s Pastime know that, according to Legion statistics, that more than 50 percent of major leaguers have participated in local Legion leagues?
The American Legion can claim much of the credit for the establishment of the US Veterans Bureau, forerunner of the Veterans Administration (eventually elevated to presidential cabinet status), and to this day The Legion continues to lobby for adequate funding to cover medical, disability and education and other benefits for Veterans.
Topping the long list of contributions The American Legion has made to active and past military personnel is what is known in verbal shorthand as “The GI Bill.” It became obvious in 1943 that Germany and Japan was doomed, as far as World War II went. On December 15, 1943, Past National Commander Harry W. Colmery while in Washington began drafting in longhand what would become known as “The GI Bill of Rights,” which now is considered by the Legion to be its greatest legislative achievement. Six months and one week later, President Roosevelt signed into law the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act – The GI Bill – that led to more available education through college, better jobs and the ability to buy homes. What is little known statistically is that for every dollar spent on educating veterans, the US economy gets back seven dollars.
And we were one of the first organizations to support the American Heart Association.
The list goes on and continually includes full accounting of prisoners of war and troops missing in action in Vietnam. The legion also presented a check for $1 million to help build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, thus becoming the largest single contributor to the project. And we sued the federal government over failure to conduct a study of the effects of Agent Orange on Vietnam veterans – something was mandated by Congress.
Today, we continue to battle delays in veterans getting VA medical care, and back tax relief for veterans.
Closer to home is the Hudson American Legion Post #184, which is historic in its own right.
While The Legion celebrates its Centennial on the 15th of March, our own post is not far behind. We turn 100 on July 31, 2019. The fact is that our post was formed a bit over four months after the Paris convention and about six weeks before Congress chartered the national organization. And if that is not enough, be it known that one of the founding members of Post #184 was in attendance at the beginning, as a member of the Paris Convention. We have many of his mementos in our possession, including his official American Legion cap from back in the day.
As July draws near, the Hudson American Legion Post #184 will begin a year-long celebration with events to which you will be invited as a guest of the post and of its commander. Consider this your official invitation to all our public events.
But for now, with March 15 upon us and in light of world and national event, it is important to focus on what we have done as a nation and what the American Legion has done to support and defend those who support and defend our nation.
Ed Coons is the Commander Hudson American Legion Post 184.