Here is a brief history of the founding and accomplishments of the American Legion.
The American Legion was chartered by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization. Focusing 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 nearly 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.
Over the years, the Legion has influenced considerable social change in America, won hundreds of benefits for veterans, and produced many important programs for children and youth.
The following is a chronology of significant dates in Legion history:
• March 15-17 – Members of the American Expeditionary Force convene in Paris for the first American Legion caucus.
• May 8-10 – St. Louis Caucus; “The American Legion” is adopted as the organization’s official name. The Legion’s draft preamble and constitution are approved.
• June 9 – The National Executive Committee adopts the Legion emblem.
• Sept. 16 – Congress charters The American Legion.
• Nov. 10-12 – First Legion convention convenes in Minneapolis. The Constitution and preamble are adopted. Delegates vote 361-323 to locate the Legion’s national headquarters in Indianapolis, instead of Washington.
• Aug. 9, 1921 – The Legion’s efforts result in the creation of the U.S. Veterans Bureau, forerunner of the Veterans Administration.
• June 15, 1923 – The first “Flag Code” is drafted during a Legion conference in Washington. Congress adopts the code in 1942.
• June 23, 1935 – The first American Legion Boys State convenes in Springfield, Ill., to help youths gain an understanding of the structure and operation of the federal government. The first Boys Nation, bringing together youth leadership from all the Boys State programs, convenes in 1946.
• Dec. 15, 1943 – Past National Commander Harry W. Colmery starts to write in longhand, on Mayflower Hotel stationery in Washington, the first draft of what will later become the “GI Bill of Rights” – considered the Legion’s single greatest legislative achievement.
• June 22, 1944 – President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs into law the original GI Bill, or Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, ushering in monumental changes in U.S. society.
• May 4, 1950 – The Legion votes to contribute funds to the field of mental health, thereby playing a key role in launching the National Association for Mental Health.
• July 9, 1954 – The American Legion Child Welfare Foundation is formed.
• Sept. 1, 1966 – The Legion voices great concern over the fate of prisoners of war in Vietnam.
• Aug. 26, 1982 – The Legion presents a $1 million check to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund for construction of the Wall in Washington, becoming the largest single contributor to the project.
• July 21, 1983 – The Legion announces its sponsorship of an independent study on the effects of exposure to Agent Orange on Vietnam War veterans. Congress receives the results of the “American Legion-Columbia University Study of Vietnam-era Veterans” in 1989.
• Jan. 1, 1989 – The Veterans Administration is elevated to Cabinet-level status as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The Legion fought hard for the change, arguing that veterans deserve representation at the highest levels of government.
• Oct. 16, 1989 – The long-standing objective of the Legion to improve adjudication procedures for veterans claims is achieved when the U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals becomes operational. Most of the provisions contained in the law creating the court were originally included in the Veterans Reassurance Act, written by the Legion and introduced in Congress in 1988.
• Aug. 2, 1990 – The Legion files suit against the federal government for failure to conduct a Congress-mandated study about the effects of Agent Orange on veterans who served in Vietnam.
• Oct. 11, 1990 – The Legion creates the Family Support Network to assist families of service members deployed for operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the Middle East.
• Aug. 24, 1994 – The Legion announces the creation of the Citizens Flag Alliance, a coalition of organizations and individual citizens united to work for a constitutional amendment to protect the U.S. flag from physical desecration. Since 1995, the amendment has passed in the House by a supermajority six times: in 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2005. In 2006, the amendment fell one vote short of passage in the Senate.
• Oct. 1, 1995 – The Legion forms the Persian Gulf Task Force to enhance service for the newest generation of wartime veterans, thousands of whom suffer from illnesses linked to their service in the region.
• Aug. 16, 2017 – The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 – also known as the “Forever GI Bill” because it removes time limits for veterans who wish to use it for college – is signed into law by President Donald J. Trump. The legislation is named for The American Legion past national commander who in the winter of 1943-44 drafted the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act that changed the nation after World War II.
• March 15-17, 2019 – The American Legion celebrates its 100th birthday in Paris, France, throughout the United States and around the world.
• June 20, 2019 – The U.S. Supreme Court rules 7-2 in favor of The American Legion in its case to allow a 40-foot cross-shaped memorial in Prince George’s County, Md., to stay on public property. The memorial was erected in 1925 by The American Legion and Gold Star Mothers to honor 49 who gave their lives fighting in World War I. The Supreme Court heard the case after the American Humanist Association filed suit to have it removed, claiming its presence on public property violated the Constitution.
Delaware County American Legion posts and monthly meeting schedules:
• American Legion Post #115
P.O. Box 432, Delaware, OH 43015
Meets second Wednesday at 7 p.m.
• American Legion Post #457
P.O. Box 173, Sunbury, OH 43074
Meets fourth Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
• American Legion Post #518
8008 Ashley Rd., Ashley, OH 43003
Meets first Monday at 7 p.m.
Harold B. Wolford is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095. He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1973. Wolford can be reached via email at [email protected]