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The American Legion is a congressionally chartered mutual-aid veterans organization of the United States armed forces founded to benefit those veterans who served during a wartime period as defined by the U.S. Congress. The American Legion was founded in 1919 by veterans returning from Europe after World War I, and was later chartered under Title 36 of the United States Code. The organization is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indianamarker and also has offices in Washington D.C. The group has nearly 3 million members in over 14,000 Posts worldwide.

In addition to organizing commemorative events and volunteer veteran support activities, the American Legion is active in U.S. politics. While its primary political activity is lobbying on the behalf of the interests of veterans and service members, including support for veterans benefits such as pensions and the Veterans Affairsmarker hospital system, it has also been involved in more general political issues.

At the state level, the American Legion is organized into "departments", which run annual civic training events for high school juniors called Boys State. Two members from each Boys State are selected for Boys Nation. The American Legion Auxiliary runs Girls State and Girls Nation. The American Legion also hosts many social events.


Founding and early years

The American Legion's Post Officers Guide recounts the organization's founding:

"A group of twenty officers who served in the American Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F.) in France in World War I is credited with planning the Legion.
Headquarters asked these officers to suggest ideas on how to improve troop morale.
One officer, Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., proposed an organization of veterans.
In 1919, this group formed a temporary committee and selected several hundred officers who had the confidence and respect of the whole army.
When the first organization meeting took place in Parismarker in March, 1919, about 1,000 officers and enlisted men attended.
The meeting, known as the Paris Caucus, adopted a temporary constitution and the name The American Legion.
It also elected an executive committee to complete the organization’s work.
It considered each soldier of the A.E.F. a member of the Legion.
The executive committee named a subcommittee to organize veterans at home in the U.S.
The Legion held a second organizing caucus in St. Louis, Missourimarker, in May 1919.

As is confirmed by The National Library of the American Legion and its official supporting documents, the first post of the American Legion is George Washington Post 1 in Washington, D.C. Organized March 7, 1919, it obtained the first charter issued to any post of The American Legion on May 19, 1919. Originally, the post was named the “General John Joseph Pershing Post Number 1” in part to its members’ sincere admiration of Pershing as a man, as well as their appreciation for his career as a soldier in the United States Army. However, at the St. Louis caucus that same year, members decided that posts of the American Legion should not be named after living persons, and therefore the "Pioneer Post" was given its new and current name. The post completed the constitution and made plans for a permanent organization. It set up temporary headquarters in New York Citymarker and began its relief, employment, and Americanism programs.

Congress granted the American Legion a national charter in September, 1919. Among the founders was Ernest O. Thompson (1892-1966) of Texas, later Lieutenant General of the Texas National Guard, a member of the Texas Railroad Commission, and an expert on petroleum issues. Another Texan founder was Clayton W. Williams, Sr., an oilman, rancher, geologist, and historian from Fort Stocktonmarker.

The first national convention of the American Legion was held from November 10-12, 1919, in Minneapolis, Minnesotamarker, at which time the attendees adopted a permanent constitution and elected officers to head the organization. The original purpose of the Legion was to "preserve the memories and incidents of our association in the great war". Prior to World War I, few rural, working-class, or even middle-class Americans traveled to Europe. For a majority of urban Americans, their understanding of Europe had been acquired through the European immigrants they knew. Thus the 2 million Americans who had served in the American Expeditionary Forces had very different experiences than their families, friends and neighbors. The American Legion allowed these young men who had served "Over There" to re-integrate into their hometowns and to still remain in contact with others who had been abroad. The Legion served as a support group, a social club and a type of extended family for former servicemen.

Some Legion groups engaged in strikebreaking activities during this time and into the 1930s. In 1919, a new American Legion group in Washington was involved in the Centralia massacre.

Lindbergh's Distinguished Service Medal
The American Legion was very active in the 1920s. It was instrumental in the creation of the U.S.marker Veterans' Bureaumarker, now known as the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Legion also created its own American Legion Baseball Program. Commander Travers D. Carmen awarded Charles Lindbergh its "Distinguished Service Medal," the medal's first recipient, on July 22, 1927. American Legion national convention was held in Paris, France in September 1927. A major part of this was drum and bugle corps competition in which approximately 14,000 members took part.

In 1923, American Legion Commander Alvin Owsley followed the lead of several progressive thinkers such as Ida Tarbell and advocated the dissolution of the American system of government, replacing it with a Fascist system such as the one imposed in Italy. The Legion would later reverse this in the 1930's as Fascism fell into disrepute.

Many American Legion posts that supported labor unions or whose membership included significant numbers of unionized workers were expelled from the American Legion at this time. During this period, the American Legion was known for its involvement on behalf of factory owners against labor unions, due to fear of Communist penetration of those organizations.

1930s to 1960s

In 1930, the American Legion Memorial Bridgemarker in Traverse City, Michiganmarker, was completed. In that year, the Traverse City city commission decided to purchase dedication plaques for $100 at the request of the American Legion. By 1931, membership of the American Legion had reached 1 million.

National Commander Ralph T. O'Neill and the Executive Committee of the American Legion praised Mussolini as a "great leader" in a resolution. The legion called for the end of "non-Aryan" pollution of "American stock" and an end to non Anglo Saxon immigration as a way of controlling "anarchist" infiltration.

The Sons of the American Legion formed at the American Legion's 14th National Convention in Portland, Oregonmarker, on September 12-15, 1932. Membership is limited to the male descendants of members of the American Legion, or deceased individuals who served in the armed forces of the United States during times specified by the American Legion. In 2007, The Sons of the American Legion celebrated 75 years of service. The organization has more than 300,000 members.

In 1935, the first Boys' State (Premier Boys State) convened in Springfield, Illinoismarker, and the American Legion's first National High School Oratorical Contest was held in 1938. The first Boys Nation program was held in 1946.

In 1942, the original charter of the American Legion was changed in order to allow veterans of World War II to join. Throughout the 1940s, the American Legion was very active in providing support for veterans and soldiers who fought in World War II. The American Legion wrote the original draft of the Veterans Readjustment Act, which became known as the G.I. Bill. The original draft is preserved at National Headquarters. The American Legion vigorously campaigned for the G.I. Bill, which was signed into law in June 1944.

The American Legion asked for a congressional investigation into the ACLU for their petitioning to end loyalty-oath laws for public workers such as school teachers during the red scare.

Veterans of the Korean War were approved for membership in the American Legion in 1950, and the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation was formed in 1954.

1960s to 1990s

On May 30, 1969, the Cabin John Bridge, which carried the Capital Beltway (I-495) across the Potomac River northwest of Washington, D.C.marker, was officially renamed to the "American Legion Memorial Bridge" in a ceremony led by Lt. Gen. Lewis B. Hershey, director of the U.S. Selective Service System.

In 1976, an outbreak of bacterial pneumonia occurred in a convention of the American Legion at The Bellevue Stratford Hotelmarker in Philadelphiamarker. This pneumonia killed 29 people at the convention and later became known as Legionnaires' disease, or Legionellosis. The bacterium that causes the illness was later named Legionella.

After a 1989 U.S.marker Supreme Courtmarker decision, the American Legion launched and funded an unsuccessful campaign to win a constitutional amendment against harming the flag of the United States. The Legion formed the Citizens' Flag Honor Guard and it later became the Citizens Flag Alliance.

1990s to present

In 1993, the Commonwealth of Massachusettsmarker renamed a bridge in the city of Chicopeemarker to the "American Legion Memorial Bridge".

Also in 1993, two members of Garden Citymarker, Michiganmarker American Legion Post 396 shared an idea that would bond motorcycle enthusiasts in the Legion from the idea of Chuck Dare and post commander Bill Kaledas, the American Legion Riders was born. Joined by 19 other founding members the group soon found itself inundated with requests for information about the new group. As a source of information a website was set up, and it continues to be a source of information worldwide. By 2009, the American Legion Riders program had grown to over 1,000 chapters and 100,000 members in the United States and overseas.

In a letter to U.S. President Bill Clinton in May 1999, the American Legion urged the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Operation Allied Force in Yugoslavia. The National Executive Committee of The American Legion met and adopted a resolution unanimously that stated, in part, that they would only support military operations if "Guidelines be established for the mission, including a clear exit strategy" and "That there be support of the mission by the U.S. Congress and the American people."

The Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), announced that he planned to eliminate the annual congressional hearings for Veterans Service Organizations that was established by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In response, National Commander of the American Legion Thomas L. Bock said, "I am extremely disappointed in Chairman Buyer's latest effort to ignore the Veterans Service Organizations. Eliminating annual hearings before a joint session of the Veterans Affairs Committees will lead to continued budgetary shortfalls for VA resulting in veterans being underserved."

Membership eligibility requirements

Eligibility for American Legion membership is limited to those honorably discharged veterans and current personnel of the United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard or Air Force who served at least one day of active duty during any of the following periods:

  • KOREA:  June 25, 1950, to January 31, 1955

  • VIETNAM:  February 28, 1961, to May 7, 1975

  • PANAMA:  December 20, 1989, to January 31, 1990

Organizational structure

American Legion Headquarters in Indianapolis


The Post is the basic unit of the Legion and usually represents a small geographic area such as a single town or part of a county. There are roughly 14,900 posts in the United States. The Post is used for formal business such as meetings and a coordination point for community service projects. Often the Post will host community events such as bingo, Hunter breakfasts, holiday celebrations, and available to the community, churches in time of need. It is also not uncommon for the Post to contain a bar open during limited hours. A Post member is distinguished by a navy blue garrison cap with gold piping.


Each U.S. county comprises several Posts and oversees their operations, led by a County Council of elected officers. The County Commander performs annual inspections of the Posts within their jurisdiction and reports the findings to both the District and the Department level. A County Commander is distinguished by a navy blue garrison cap with white piping.


Each Department is divided into Divisions and/or Districts. Each District oversees several Posts, generally about 20, to help each smaller group have a larger voice. Divisions are even larger groups of about 4 or more Districts. The main purpose of these "larger" groups (Districts - Divisions) are to allow one or two delegates to represent an area at conferences, conventions, and other gatherings, where large numbers of Legionnaires may not be able to attend. A District Commander is distinguished by a navy blue garrison cap with a white crown and gold piping.


The Posts are grouped together into a state level organization known as a Department for the purposes of coordination and administration. There is a total of 55 Departments; one for each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, France, Mexico, and the Philippines. Canada was merged into Department of New York several years ago.The 3 Departments located overseas are intended to allow active duty military stationed and veterans living overseas to be actively involved with the American Legion similar to as if they were back in the states. The Department of France [38884] consists of 29 Posts located in 10 European counties, the Department of Mexico [38885] consists of 22 Posts located in Central America, and the Department of Philippines covers Asia and the Pacific Islands. A Department Officer or Department Executive Committee Representative is distinguished by a white garrison cap with gold piping.

National headquarters

The main American Legion Headquarters is located on the Indiana World War Memorial Plazamarker in Indianapolis. It is the primary office for the National Commander and also houses the historical archives, library, Membership, Internal Affairs, Public Relations, and the Magazine editorial offices. The Legion also owns a building in Washington D.C. that contains many of the operation offices such as Economics, Legislative, Veterans Affairs, Foreign Relations, National Security, and Media Relations, and etc. A National Officer or National Executive Committee Representative is distinguished by a red garrison cap with gold piping.

List of National Commanders

See also


  1. Welcome to the American Legion Online
  2. Mike Cochran, Claytie: The Roller-Coaster Life of a Texas Wildcatter, College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 2007, pp. 30-31
  3. William Pencak, For God And Country: the American Legion, 1919-1941, Northeastern University Press, 1989.
  4. Information on the American Legion Memorial Bridge (Michigan Department of Transportation Web Site)
  5. "Cabin John Bridge Given a New Name", Washington Post, Times Herald (Washington, D.C.): City Life Section, May 31, 1969
  6. [1]
  7. Archives, Library of the State of Massachusetts Retrieved June 11, 2007
  8. [2]
  9. [3]
  10. [4]
  12. From The American Legion Questions and Answers page
  14. [5]

External links

Further reading

  • Richard Seelye Jones. A History of the American Legion (1946)
  • Thomas B. Littlewood. Soldiers Back Home: The American Legion in Illinois, 1919-1939 (2004)
  • William Pencak. For God & Country: The American Legion, 1919-1941 (1989)
  • Thomas A. Rumer. The American Legion: An Official History, 1919-1989 (1990)
  • George Seldes. The George Seldes Reader. Barricade Books, 1994

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