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The Story of The American Legion   By:

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The Story of The American Legion


George Seay Wheat

The Birth of the Legion

The first of a series to be issued after each Annual National Convention


[Illustration: The St. Louis Caucus]

G.P. Putnam's Sons New York and London The Knickerbocker Press 1919

The Knickerbocker Press, New York


The American Legion was conceived by practically the entire personnel of the army, navy, and marine corps! Every man in the military and naval establishment did not think of it in just such terms, but most of them knew that there would be a veterans' organization of some tremendous import, and here it is!

"A veterans' organization of some kind will be formed." I heard that identical remark not once, but a dozen times on board a transport en route to France as early as September, 1918. In fact, one night in the war zone a group of officers were huddled around a small piano trying to make the best of a lightless evening, and, having sung every song from Keep the Home Fires Burning to You're in the Army Now , paused, longingly toyed cigarettes which were taboo by ship's order, and then began to spin yarns.

"Reminds me of a G.A.R. reunion," one second lieutenant from Maine remarked, after a particularly daring training camp adventure had been recounted.

"Just think of the lying we'll all do at our reunions when this war is over," chirped a youngster from South Carolina. And then spoke a tall major from Illinois:

"The organization which you young fellows will join won't be any liefest at least not for forty years. Don't forget there's some saving to do for the United States when this European mess is over. Us fellows won't ever get out of Uncle Sam's service."

How well the Illinois major hit the nail on the head! The incident on the transport seems worth recording not only because of the major but because it shows the general anticipation of what is now the American Legion. Perhaps it was this general anticipation which is responsible for the cordial reception that the Legion has had ever since its very inception in Paris.

No one can lay claim to originating the idea of a veterans' association, because it was a consensus among the men of the armed forces of our nation. A certain group of men can take unto themselves the credit for starting it, for getting the ball rolling, aiding its momentum, and, what is more important, for guiding it in the right direction, but no one man or group of men "thought up" the American Legion. It was the result of what might be called the "spontaneous opinion" of the army, navy, and marine corps caused by a fusing together in a common bond of the various elements of the service, just as spontaneous combustion is brought about by the joint action of certain chemical elements.

Spontaneous opinion, like spontaneous combustion, is dangerous when improperly handled and beneficient when rightly directed. That's what the organizers of the Legion have been and will be mostly concerned with. They have their elements these men of the army, navy, and marine corps, and the organizers mean to direct this united and organized patriotism into such channels as will make for the welfare of the United States of America primarily, and, secondarily, for the welfare of the service men themselves.

Just how much attention this Legion with four million potential members intends to pay to the United States of America, and just how much to themselves per se , is basicly important and pertinent as a question, nowadays when the Legion is being tried and is on the witness stand before public opinion. The answer is most clearly indicated by the preamble to the proposed constitution printed elsewhere.

This preamble stresses Americanism, individual obligation to the community, state , and nation; battling with autocracy both of the classes and masses; right the master of might; peace and good will on earth; justice, freedom , and democracy ! Only in the last two words of the preamble is mention made of the welfare of the men themselves... Continue reading book >>

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