It all began during World War One.
The American Legion was organized by a 1,000 Officers and Enlisted men, delegates from all the units of the American Expeditionary Forces, who gathered at a caucus meeting in Paris, France, on March 15 to 17, 1919, where they adopted the name “The American Legion”. They also appointed a committee to return to the United States, and meet with representatives of those Soldiers, Sailors and Marines who were in camps and stations at home, and with those Veterans who had been discharged from service and became civilians.
Prior to the meeting in Paris in March, 1919, there had been a good deal of discussion everywhere that men served and in every branch of the services, about such an organization. Some of this discussion was being held even before the Armistice had been signed in November, 1918, particularly among men who had been hospitalized for wounds, and knew that they would not return to their outfits at the front. There had even been talk of it on the transports that took the men to France, but it went no further than discussion.
Following the Armistice, the formation of a Veterans’ organization of some kind became a subject of animated conversation and argument, by both Officers and Enlisted men. They talked of it in Paris, on the docks in the SOS, on the long trek to the Rhineland occupation area. It was being discussed back home, too – – in the camp and the streets, among those who had returned from overseas, and among those who never got over.
On February 15, 1919, a meeting was held in Paris. It was called by the G.H.Q. for the purpose of discussing the betterment of conditions so that there would be less discontent in the Army in France, most of whom wanted to go home right then.
But there were matters discussed at this meeting which were not on the agenda. At a dinner on February 16, attended by 20 Officers, it was determined to hold a meeting in Paris a month later to be attended by delegates from every outfit that could find some way of getting a representative to Paris. It was also decided that delegates would include all ranks, from Private on up.
What happened at this meeting was the organization of The American Legion. The committee that returned to the United States, and those they talked to back home called a caucus to be held in St. Louis, MO, on May 8, 9, and 10, 1919, less than two months after the Paris caucus. At St. Louis, work of organization continued. Temporary Officers were chosen. The date of a national convention was set — this to be in Minneapolis, MN, on November 10, 11, and 12.
At the first regular convention in Minneapolis, the temporary officers were replaced by officers elected by the delegates in attendance from every State of the Union, and from forces still overseas. It is interesting to note that one thing that the founding fathers insisted upon at the start was that:
- The American Legion would not be used as the political vehicle for any individual,
- That it would be non-partisan,
- That it would be non-sectarian, and
- That there would be no carrying over into the Legion of rank.
In The American Legion, all would be equal, no matter whether a man had achieved the stars of a General or wasn’t even a First Class Private.
That was the way it started, and that is the way it has been carried on ever since.