Celebrating The American Legion's Birthday
Founded in 1919, The American Legion celebrated its 98th birthday this year. During the nearly 100 years since its founding, The American Legion has not only made it their mission to ensure the well being of veterans, it's also made significant contributions to American society as a whole. With more than 2.4 million members at 14,000 worldwide posts, The American Legion is one of the most influential nonprofit groups in the U.S.
The history of The American Legion
In the aftermath of World War I, Colonel Ernest Lester Jones, a member of the First Army Air Service overseas, had the idea of creating a veterans group to commemorate the comradeship and sacrifices made by those who fought in the Great War, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. After convening a meeting of 375 veterans at the Cosmos Club in Washington D.C. on March 7, 1919, Col. Jones and the representatives decided not to form a permanent organization since so many soldiers were still deployed overseas. However, the caucus did organize the first unit and elect officers at this meeting.
Eight days later on March 15, another group of officers and members of the American Expeditionary Force met in Paris and formally adopted the name "The American Legion" for this fledgling veterans group.
Two months later, another caucus was held in St. Louis, Missouri, where the assembled individuals adopted the group's now world-famous preamble and constitution. Shortly after this caucus, the members unanimously elected Col. Jones as the first department commander of The American Legion.
Congress chartered The American Legion in September of that year, and the First Legion convention convened in Minneapolis that November.
Major accomplishments for veterans benefits
In the ensuing 98 years, The American Legion has made significant accomplishments for veterans in a variety of ways.
Only two years into their existence, the Legion was instrumental in the creation of the U.S. Veterans Bureau, which continues to this day as the Veterans Administration, a crucial department that helps meet the medical needs of veterans after their active duty service finishes.
In 1943, Harry W. Colmery, a former National Commander of The American Legion, began drafting the "GI Bill of Rights." A year later President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Serviceman's Readjustment Act, otherwise known as the GI Bill, which incorporated much of Colmery's draft.
Continuing its noble tradition today
Over the past 98 years, The American Legion has made a major impact in helping veterans receive funding for medical, disability, educational and other benefits. In addition, the group has also been influential in producing many important programs for children and youths.
More than 1,700 Boy Scout units, comprised of around 64,000 youths, owe their chartering agency to The American Legion. The American Legion Baseball program has about 82,000 youths involved each year, and more than 50 percent of players in Major League Baseball have graduated from the program. In 1946, the group presented a $50,000 grant to the American Heart Association, which was at that time a small, struggling organization. The funds allowed the Association to grow and to become a leader in the study, prevention and treatment of rheumatic heart disease.
In its ongoing effort to improve the mental and physical well being of veterans, The American Legion recently passed a resolution calling on Congress to "reclassify [cannabis] in a category that, at a minimum will recognize [it] as a drug with potential medical value" for veterans. The resolution stems from the potential for cannabis to help in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, two conditions that remain major problems for veterans.
With its centennial anniversary around the corner, The American Legion remains a positive force in advocating for veterans benefits and other social endeavors.