Gen. John J. Pershing facilitated the creation of The American Legion by permitting Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., and three other line officers of the American Expeditionary Forces to call upon their comrades to gather in Paris in March 1919 to consider ways to improve morale among troops still stationed there, months after the armistice that ended World War I.
Pershing whittled a list of 40 to 20 for a February 1919 meeting to discuss the morale issue, which led to the calling of the Paris Caucus in March of that year. One of history’s most celebrated military leaders, Pershing proved to be one of The American Legion’s earliest and most stalwart supporters, not merely because of the caucus he authorized but also due to the spirit behind it.
His words appeared on the cover of the first issue of The American Legion Magazine, published on July 4, 1919. “The Legion is destined to be of tremendous value in fostering the ideals and purposes for which we fought, and in spreading among our people the lessons learned in the war period.”
At the eighth American Legion National Convention in Philadelphia, Pershing received a rare honor. He was named an honorary national commander of the organization. Not normally willing to speak extemporaneously before crowds, the general made an exception, as Legionnaires cheered his name, a band played, and he was called forward. “Legionnaires, it is a great pleasure to be here, and I want you all to know you can always count on me as one of you, as standing shoulder to shoulder, as we did together during the war,” he told the crowd. “We are not a political organization, but political affairs must interest
Legionnaires because they stand for the things that are right, they stand for good environment everywhere. But it is especially important that you interest yourselves in your local communities to see that your representatives are fine, upstanding, alert, honest men, intelligent and efficient, and not slackers nor demagogues.”
American Legion Resolution No. 334, passed by the eighth National Convention of The American Legion in 1926, conferred upon Pershing, commander-in-chief of the AEF, the title of “Honorary Commander of The American Legion.”
Similarly honored at the same convention, in the same resolution, was Marshal Ferdinand Foch, commander-in-chief of the allied armies of the world war.