History

The American Legion was founded March 15-17, 1919, by members of the American Expeditionary Forces still stationed in Europe awaiting passage home from World War I. The American Legion’s emergence and rise to prominence was based on a mission to strengthen the nation through programs, services and advocacy that helped millions throughout the organization’s first century. The American Legion built its legacy with a vision to make the nation prouder, stronger, smarter and more respectful of those who have sacrificed some, or all, in defense of the nation. Following are only some The American Legion’s achievements during its first century.

Veterans 

  • Formed a network of service officers in 1919 that now exceeds 3,500 to help disabled veterans, free of charge, file for government benefits
  • Successfully campaigned to put all veterans services under one federal authority, the Veterans Bureau in 1921, predecessor to the Veterans Administration in 1930 and the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1989ƒ
  • Assisted millions of veterans in pursuit of rewarding careers; by June 1922 had already placed more than 500,000 veterans in permanent jobs and 200,000 more in temporary positionsƒ
  • Successfully lobbied Congress to protect veterans benefits, VA hospitals, training programs and services on the federal budget chopping block over the decadesƒ
  • Developed programs and advanced research into what became post-traumatic stress disorder as early as 1921, when it was mischaracterized as “shell shock”ƒ
  • Produced studies that led to official diagnosis of PTSD in 1980 and proved that service-connected exposure to Agent Orange and atomic radiation caused diseases that demanded government accountabilityƒ
  • Achieved Veterans Preference Hiring for federal jobsƒ
  • Drafted, presented, promoted and pushed to passage the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the original GI Bill that transformed U.S. economy and culture in the second half of the 20th centuryƒ
  • Worked to improve the GI Bill for post-9/11 veterans, including the 2017 Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, the “Forever GI Bill”ƒ

National Security

  • Lobbied persistently for a better-funded and more efficient national system of defenseƒ
  • Called for the establishment of a separate service branch for aeronautics as early as 1919, which helped give birth to the U.S. Air Force in 1947ƒ
  • Pushed Congress for “universal military training” for decades, culminating in the Reserve Forces Act of 1955ƒ
  • Conducted thousands of troop-support programs, including deployment ceremonies, welcome-home events and provision of needed items in theaterƒ
  • Established and staffed thousands of local first-response units and civil patrols during World War IIƒ
  • Provided financial and volunteer aid for military parents through American Legion Temporary Financial Assistance and Family Support Network programs established during the Gulf Warƒ
  • Began The American Legion Blood Donor Program in 1942, and became the largest organizational blood donor to the Red Cross in the nationƒ
  • Re-established the Blue Star Banner program to recognize military families with deployed loved ones after 9/11ƒ
  • Launched a program to provide comfort items for U.S. military personnel recovering from wounds in DoD hospitals or transition units, ultimately named Operation Comfort Warriors in 2008; has distributed millions of dollars of goods, games, books, music, recreational equipment and event passes for troops and their familiesƒ
  • Provided emergency grants for members of the U.S. Coast Guard who had pay delays due to the January 2019 federal government shutdownƒ
  • Fought to protect military retirement benefits and TRICARE insuranceƒ
  • Stood as a national leader in the recovery and repatriation of all U.S. POWs and MIAsƒ
  • Passed and reaffirmed national resolutions, beginning in 2005, supporting the troops and their mission in the global war on terrorism

Americanism

  • Actively promoted responsible U.S. citizenship and patriotic awareness beginning in 1919ƒ
  • By January 1920, began providing U.S. citizenship and naturalization programs for immigrants, with support from Congressƒ
  • Led flag conferences in 1923 and 1924 that established the first standard rules for treatment and respect of the U.S. flag, adopted in 1942 as U.S. Flag Codeƒ
  • Established official retirement ceremonies for worn-out U.S. flags, most often a joint activity with Boy Scouts of America unitsƒ
  • Began American Legion Boys State in Illinois in 1935 to counter communist-inspired youth camps in the United States and to teach the way government operates in a democracy, a program that went national in 1946 and ultimately became American Legion Boys Nationƒ
  • Strongly advocated for active participation in the voting process, conducting thousands of candidate forums and a national Get Out the Vote programƒ
  • Assembled the Citizens Flag Alliance after the controversial 1989 Supreme Court ruling defining deliberate flag desecration as free speech and began a campaign to seek a constitutional amendment to return to the states the right to pass laws to protect the flagƒ

Children & Youth

  • Urged American Legion support for Boy Scouts of America as the organization’s first youth program supported by resolution, in November 1919ƒ
  • Established an enduring relationship in 1921 with the National Education Association “to cooperate in securing for America a program of education adequate to meet the needs of the 20th century ... which will make all, native or foreign-born, good American citizens.”ƒ
  • Launched American Legion Baseball in 1925 to promote citizenship through sportsmanship, a program that would grow to field thousands of teams over the centuryƒ
  • Developed and operated marksmanship competitions that became the national American Legion Junior Shooting Sports Program in 1991ƒ
  • Sponsored thousands of Junior ROTC programs across the country and at American schools overseasƒ
  • Created and operated a National Oratorical Contest beginning in 1938, continuing today, that requires high school-age orators to speak on the U.S. Constitutionƒ
  • Established a national network of child-support field representatives in the 1920s and operated orphanages throughout the country to assist kids who needed stable homes and mentorshipƒ
  • Formed the Child Welfare Foundation in 1954 to provide grants to support organizations and agencies that assist young people facing challenges not of their makingƒ
  • Provided thousands of scholarships for high school students seeking college educationsƒ
  • Launched an ongoing program in 1926 that recognizes with School Award Medals young people for their character, service and citizenshipƒ
  • Was chosen by Samsung Corp. in 1995 to administer a $5 million fund to provide scholarships for Boys State or Girls State participants who are descendants of U.S. wartime veteransƒ
  • Established an American Legion Legacy Scholarship in 2001 that provides college funds for children of military personnel killed or 50 percent or more disabled 

Community Service

  • Immediately established civil defense as a function of The American Legion and began a century of support in communities wracked by disasters, from mining accidents to tornados, wildfires and hurricanesƒ
  • Launched a Community and Civic Betterment Bureau in 1923 to help municipalities build and improve parks, playgrounds, health-care facilities, swimming pools, schools and theaters throughout the United Statesƒ
  • Served meals, provided housing for refugees and searched for survivors of the massive Mississippi and Ohio River floods of 1927 and 1937ƒ
  • Sponsored soup kitchens at American Legion posts to help destitute citizens during the Depression throughout the countryƒ
  • Helped establish state highway patrols, and supported them, as they emerged across the countryƒ
  • Established the National Emergency Fund in 1989 to formalize The American Legion’s long program to provide disaster reliefƒ
  • Delivered millions of dollars in National Emergency Fund grants for relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, Wilma and Rita on the Gulf Coast, and the flooding that followed in New Orleansƒ
  • Conducted dozens of natural disaster relief efforts, following Superstorm Sandy, Hurricanes Irene, Michael, Maria and others, wildfires in California, devastating flooding in the Midwest and other crisesƒ

Honor & Remembrance

  • Took a lead role in 1920 to formally observe Memorial Day at the graves of U.S. military personnel laid to rest in some 2,400 temporary cemeteries in Europeƒ
  • Was actively involved in the development of the American Battle Monuments Commission in 1923ƒ
  • Backed legislation in 1920 to install the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, dedicated Nov. 11, 1921ƒ
  • Helped dedicate the towering Liberty Memorial in Kansas City during the third national convention, in 1921ƒ
  • Raised funds in 1926 to help build the Ossuary at Verdun, France, to remember the cost of World War Iƒ
  • Pushed for 24-hour guarding for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1937 and purchased lights for the shrine in 1969ƒ
  • Raised over $1.2 million, most by any organization, to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, dedicated in a Legion-sponsored 1982 “Salute to Vietnam Veterans”ƒ
  • Passed a resolution in 1985 to open every official American Legion meeting with a prayer for all American POW/MIAsƒ
  • Raised funds and provided marketing support for the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.ƒ
  • Raised more than $3 million for the construction of the National World War II Memorial, dedicated in 2004ƒ
  • Pledged funds to help construct a National World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C.ƒ
  • Conducted thousands of local memorial services a year at funerals, special events and ceremonies honoring those who served their country and lost their livesƒ
  • Argued in court, including the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019, to protect veterans and military memorials from removal due to religious symbolism in their design

Pennsylvania American Legion

The Department of Pennsylvania was founded on June 12, 1919, when the temporary National Headquarters in New York granted it a charter. The Department’s immediate origins go back to the historic meetings in Paris, where the launch of the National organization began.  In 1919 National Commander D’Olier congratulated the Department Officers by noting “that in no other state in the union has there been put over a more substantial job than in the state of Pennsylvania.”

  • From the start, The American Legion became the most visible proponent of the rights and entitlements of veterans. The problems of veterans returning from war were widely recognized then as they are today
  • 1921 was marked by a surge of activity by the Legion on behalf of sick and disabled veterans. More than 11,300 cases were taken up by the Veterans Bureau through the regional agencies. The Pennsylvania American Legion State Committee on Medical Aid and Disabled Veterans demanded that the Veterans Bureau treat claimants “as men, not mendicants,” and that adequate hospitals be built quickly
  • The struggle for veterans’ benefits in Pennsylvania mirrored the fight to protect veterans under a national policy. The Pennsylvania Legion charged itself with putting the plight of the suffering and disabled on the front burner as they continued to press this concern. In 1924, only after considerable pressure from veterans’ groups, was enough money allocated to build veterans’ hospitals across the country.
  • 1930 the Pennsylvania Legion concluded a successful year when membership exceeded 73,000 in 567 Posts. The Pennsylvania American Legion worked to improve the status of World War veterans, mainly men reaching middle age in a difficult employment market. In 1938 the Employment Committee led the fight to maintain opportunities for men over forty. This campaign used the virtues of the experienced man, civilian or veteran, and urged businessmen to pledge and hire a percentage of men over forty; they obtained pledges from U.S. Steel, the Pennsylvania Railroad, Mellon Bank, coal companies, and others.
  • The period between 1940 and 1954 saw great change in the Pennsylvania American Legion. World War II provided a new generation of servicemen eligible for membership. And the Cold War fears created new Legion activities and enhanced the value of existing ones.
  • In 1940 we were the third largest Department in the Legion with more than 100,000 members. Pennsylvania’s Sons of the Legion led the nation in membership with 6,500. And by 1944 the Auxiliary brought its membership to the goal of 53,800.
  • By 1968 final papers were signed for the purchase of land in Wormleysburg, where a new headquarters was to be constructed. The work began on the fiftieth anniversary of the National Organization. This coincided with publicity drives such as Operation Servicemen and Freedom Is Not Free, which provided much-needed reminders of the sacrifices of veterans
  • The Pennsylvania American Legion supported federal legislation to research Agent Orange-related illness and treat the effects. At that time, we also provided an Agent Orange hot line manned by Legionnaires, health care professionals, and Vietnam veterans
  • In 1985 Congress’s decision to cut spending on veterans; medical care was to be restricted to those with strictly service-connected disabilities, former prisoners of war, pensioners, and sick veterans “with demonstrated needs.” The Pennsylvania American Legion strictly opposed restricting veterans’ benefits according to need. This stand awakened many Legionnaires as to how times had changed. More than 1000 veterans demonstrated at ten VA medical centers in Pennsylvania on Saturday, May 26, 1990
  • Pennsylvania American Legion Department Officers organized an innovative program for aiding homeless veterans. Housing for Homeless Veterans was born when HFHV purchased an abandoned four-unit home in Pittsburgh to help homeless veterans with transitional housing.  Today HFHV has homes in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Ephrata and Philadelphia
© Copyright 2019, The American Legion
facebook