March 15, 2013, marks the 94TH Birthday of The American Legion, created in Paris in 1919 by American GI’s awaiting repatriation home after fighting in World War I, the “Great War, “ the “War To End All Wars,” in which some 10-million combatants “died to make the world safe for democracy.”
Four of those WWI veterans are generally credited with initiating what was then called “the movement” to create a nationwide, non-political, democratic organization open to all wartime veterans, regardless of rank, who would continue to serve America in peace by preserving, protecting, and advancing the values for which they had fought to defend in war.
Those four Founding Fathers of the Legion all modestly disclaimed such recognition and credited ordinary WWI veterans, then known as “Doughboys” (Army veterans) and “gobs” (Navy), collectively as the real Founding Fathers. However, the four credited as the initiating Founding Fathers are, as described by historian Thomas A. Rumer, in his “The American Legion: An Official History, 1919-1989”:
Col. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., son of the former President Teddy Roosevelt. A WWI hero, Col. Roosevelt is generally regarded as having been the single most significant force in organizing The American Legion. However, he modestly declined election by acclamation as the Legion’s first commander. He did so to prevent the Legion from being perceived as being created as a politically partisan organization, when it was intended to be absolutely non-political, supporting neither candidates nor parties. That prohibition is written into The American Legion Constitution. Col. Roosevelt would go on to become Brig. General Roosevelt, the first General officer to land at Normandy Beach on D-Day. He received the Medal of Honor for his heroism fighting in WWII.
Lt. Col George S. White, editor of the “Portland Oregonian,” was a veteran of the Spanish American War, in which Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., famously led the “Rough Riders.” He later was a confidant to President Teddy Roosevelt. White left his post as editor of the Oregonian to serve in the Army in WWI, when the Oregon National Guard in which he served became the first Guard unit deployed to combat duty. White was not only one of the four key founders of the Legion, he became the first editor and general manager of “The American Legion Weekly” magazine. He later authored several books.
Maj. Eric Fisher Wood was a brilliant young diplomatic attaché and architectural student in the American Embassy in Paris when WWI erupted, witnessing all of its horror. He went on to serve first in the British Army, and the American Army when the U.S. entered WWI. He was wounded by gun and shellfire, and poison gas. He returned to service in WWII, receiving a host of decorations for bravery, and becoming Brigadier General. As brilliant as he was brave, he published books and wrote articles for leading American magazines and other publications.
Last but hardly least, Lt. Col. William J. Donovan, of New York City’s “Fighting Irish” 69th Division. Brilliant, brave, and colorful, he received the tag “Wild Bill” Donovan fighting in WWI, and received the Medal of Honor for heroism. He became a legend during and after WWII as America’s chief spymaster as founder of the Office of Strategic Services, which later became the Central Intelligence Agency.
While many self-described “movements” based on utopian aspirations to transform America have come and gone, from the utopian socialists of the I.W.W. (International Workers of the World) of the WWI era to the Alinskyite “Occupiers” movement of this era, the “movement” initiated by the four Founding Fathers, Roosevelt, Jr., White, Wood, and Donovan—who were almost immediately joined by American soldiers, sailors, and marines in the enlisted ranks — has endured.
Today, the American Legion, which began as “a movement” dedicated to preserving America by walking in the footsteps of America’s Founding Fathers rather than transforming America, is the largest wartime veterans in the world with over 2.4-million members in more than 14,000 Posts.
American Legionnaires of this day continue to serve America in peace as they served in war, dedicated to protecting and preserving America as the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave” as envisioned by the Founding Fathers of America, and the Legion Founding Father veterans of WWI.
They are all or almost all proud Patriots to every veteran man or woman in the Legion. The great contributions they have made to America give the lie to Dr. Johnson’s canard that “Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels,” so loved by progressive liberals. Patriotic veterans have proven instead that “Sneering at patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.”
Legionnaires continue to contribute millions of volunteer hours, and millions of dollars in donations in service to America. This they do in commitment to the Four Pillars of the Legion established by its WWI GI founders: Defense of troops and a strong national military defense; defense of veterans, particularly those suffering wounds of war; defense of children and youth; and defense of traditional American values.
The American Legion was, among many other things, a primary force to create what would ultimately become the Veterans Administration to fulfill the promise of America to provide for those who served in the military defense of the country and were injured or disabled in war.
An American Legion Commander, Henry Colmery, first sketched the outline of a “GI Bill” on a hotel napkin —and the Legion went on from there to become the absolutely key force in achieving enactment of the “GI Bill,” which has been hailed “as the greatest social legislation in the history of America.” (Progressive Liberals who denigrate patriots like those of the American Legion as benighted “rightwing reactionaries” should take note.)
Today, the Legion diligently, professionally, and unstintingly works to protect the rights of veterans before Congress, the White House, and in the courts.
The Legion operates many programs today for veterans, such as Operation Comfort Warrior, which provides so much in aid to veterans recovering from the wounds of service—physical, emotional, and mental – and many other programs. The Legion’s programs for children and youth are renown. They include Boys and Girls State, graduates of which have included future presidents, including John F. Kennedy. American Legion Baseball serves over 100,000 youth annually, and at least half of all the players now in Major League Baseball came out of Legion Baseball. More than 150,000 children and youth are enrolled in Legion-sponsored Cub Scout and Boy Scout troops, as well as the Legion’s own “Sons of The American Legion.” The Legion, from the Post level to the National Level, provides more than $1-million annually in scholarships in the Legion’s High School Oratorical Competition On The Constitution.
Almost all Legion programs for veterans and children and youth are funded by dues and contributions of Legionnaires themselves. Donations by non-Legionnaires for designated Legion programs can have confidence that 100% of their donation will go to beneficiaries of that program, not high salaries, perks or privileges of executives or bureaucrats as in so many other organizations, and, of course, in government. (See, www.Legion.org for information on the many programs of the Legion.)
This fidelity of American Legionnaires to purpose, to principle, to patriotism, can be traced back to Legion’s founding by their WWI comrades, to the vision and principles of its founders of selfless service to the nation
Founder Col. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. expressed this in declining the request of his comrade soldiers, sailors, marines of WWI that he accept their nomination of him by acclamation to serve as their chairman and American Legion First National Commander. As reported by historian Thomas A. Rumer in his “The American Legion: An Official History, 1919-1989,” Col. Roosevelt said at the first national caucus to be held on American soil after the Paris Caucus:
“I wish to withdraw my name from nomination for a number of reasons. The first is that I want the country at large to get the correct impression of this meeting here. We are gathered together for a very high purpose. I want every American through the length and breadth of this land to realize that there is not a man in this caucus who is seeking anything for himself, personally but that he is simply working for the good of the entire situation.”
This standard of selfless service to advance the nation through The American Legion, rather than to use the Legion to advance oneself, has been the rule in the Legion, with few exceptions, notwithstanding sometimes hard fought internal Legion politics. There have been in fact very few acts of self-serving corruption, such as Legionnaires in high positions accepting perks or favors like free as European Riverboat Cruises for officers with influence over contracts and their wives — bribes by any other name — from corrupting vendors; or acts of misappropriation of funds. Woe to the man or woman who would dare do such things in the Legion. For history shows that it is all but certain that ordinary Legionnaires will rise up to put down such a corrupt miscreant dishonoring the Legion, no matter of high the perpetrator’s office, no matter how long it takes, out of loyalty and love for the Legion and to protect its integrity.
The American Legion from its founding has been a democratic organization built from the bottom up instead of the top down. Policy is made by “resolutions” rising from the members through their Posts, with state and national officers having the responsibility to implement the members’ resolutions, not lord it over and order Legionnaires about.
The American Legion, so constituted, and being faithful to its founding principles, has endured while, since its founding in 1919, so many Liberal, Progressive, Socialist, Communist, Syndicalist, Anarchist, Hitlerist, Leninist, Stalinist, Trotskyist, Maoist, Alinskyist, Old Left, New Left, Communitarian, Hippy, Yippee, Occupiers, and other utopian “movements” aimed at “transforming” America have collapsed, burned out and turned to ashes in the same century.
The American Legion has remained strong because of the allegiance and fidelity of its members to the principles of the American Founding Fathers of America in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, and Legionnaires’ fidelity to the vision, values, goals, and principles of their Founders, particularly fidelity to the Ten Principles set forth in the American Legion Preamble.
Every veteran, and thus every Legionnaire, took an oath entering military service to “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” All Legionnaires know when that oath of duty began. They also know when it ends—it never ends. The late Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf concisely stated a credo to which most if not all Legionnaires would agree: “Some things are worth fighting for. Some things are worth dying for. One of those things is freedom.”
Today, every meeting of American Legionnaires begins with a reaffirmation of that their original oath as Legionnaires pledge their allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America under which they served.
Every meeting includes placing on an empty chair the POW/MIA Flag, in remembrance that today’s Legionnaires are serving also for and in place of those the WWI founders in 1919 called “the other legion – the legion of those who didn’t come home.”
Every meeting begins also with Legionnaires of today reciting the Preamble to the American Legion as originally written and adopted by the WWI veterans who created the Legion in 1919. Therefore, I close this birthday tribute to American Legionnaires by citing the American Legion Preamble. I believe the words and principles expressed are of value for all Americans, and I willingly pledge my allegiance to those principles without reservation:
“For God and Country, we associate ourselves together for the following purposes:
“To uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America; to maintain law and order; to foster and perpetuate a one hundred percent Americanism; to preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in the Great Wars; to inculcate a sense of individual obligation to the community, state and nation; to combat the autocracy of both the classes and the masses; to make right the master of might; to promote peace and good will on earth; to safeguard and transmit to posterity the principles of justice, freedom and democracy; to consecrate and sanctify our comradeship by our devotion to mutual helpfulness.”
May God and the nation they have faithfully served in war and in peace, bless and keep them as they commemorate the 94th Birthday of The American Legion, and enter their 95th year in faithful service to God, country, and freedom.
[Rees Lloyd, a longtime California civil rights attorney, is a Life Member of American Legion and a member of the Victoria Taft Blogforce]