By: C. Pat Smith, Department Adjutant
Once upon a time…….. This famous opening line of many a story, real or imagined, has special significance for the American Legion. For once upon a time, March 15, 1919 to be exact, a group of doughboys who had just fought the “war to end all wars” made a decision that would change the course of history. It was on that day the collective mind-set of these WWI heroes came together to form The American Legion. From then on The American Legion has celebrated many, once upon a time days.
For instance, in November of 1919 the NEA and The American Legion decided that many of returning combat veterans were illiterate, and that they needed to highlight the value of education.
I quote from the first paragraph of the NEA website. “Distressed that 25 percent of the country’s World War I draftees were illiterate and 9 percent were physically unfit, representatives of the NEA and the American Legion met in 1919 to seek ways to generate public support for education.”
From that meeting in 1921 The American Legion and the NEA sponsored a resolution that designated a week in November to be called “American Education Week.” This year we will celebrate that event from November 13-19. For over 90 years the American Legion has been concerned about the education of our youth. So our “once upon a time” story here is the beginning of our commitment to education and it continues today.
Once upon a time the WWI veterans were concerned that all of the services they needed as veterans to assist them and their families back to a normal life were scatted among many federal agencies. So in 1930 they fixed that by passing a resolution asking Congress to roll all of the services available to veterans into one agency. From that resolution, and American Legion’s activism in Congress, came the Veterans Administration as we know it today.
Once upon a time this country entered into another war with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. America was drug into a war they did not want and once again America would ask their young men to fight and defend our freedoms. The America Legion was right in the middle of the war with their activism on behalf of these new veterans and imploring Congress to provide the resources to win that war. The WWI veterans running the American Legion at that time soon made the decision that these new veterans needed to belong to The American Legion so they went to Congress and changed our charter to permit these WWII veterans to join their ranks.
Once upon a time in 1946 a single WWI Legionnaire, Harry Comerly, wrote the words on hotel stationery, which would eventually become the Post WWII GI Bill. It has been argued over the years that this single document essentially changed the face of America, It opened up opportunities for the WWII veterans to purchase homes, further their education, and secure good paying jobs and to transform America into a real economic powerhouse. The vision of our WWI veterans was still alive, a better America for all.
Once upon a time America again found itself embroiled in a war in a far off country called Korea. This war is often referred to the “forgotten war” by those who served in it, but the America Legion did not forget. They continued their activism before Congress to be sure that these veterans would not be forgotten nor lost in the system. Once again the leaders of the organization recognized the need to bring these veterans into the fold so that they too could be a part of the solutions to their unique problems.
Once upon a time a “conflict” broke out in a place called “Vietnam.” Once again American boys and girls were asked to fight a war in a far off country. There is still a controversy today about when that war really began. Some say our involvement in Vietnam goes back to 1956 and that should be the start day for veteran’s benefits. Others say the start date should be in 1959 when the first American military advisors were inserted into the country. The American Legion finally settled on February 28, 1961 and asked Congress to make this the official start date for benefits. The first recognized casualty of that war, James T. Davis from Tennessee was killed in hostile action on December 22, 1961. For years this remained the official start date. But no matter what the date, The American Legion was once again in the forefront of advocating for veterans of that war.
Once upon a time continued for veterans of the Panama, Granada/Lebanon, Persian Gulf and all of the veterans serving since August of 1991 as the American Legion welcomed them into our ranks. We have been continuously addressing their unique issues and problems.
Once upon a time continues to this day. It would take a book to tell all of the stories of “Once Upon a Time” for The American Legion. In fact a book and a DVD do exist. Just order it from our National Emblem Sales catalog.
Today, if you are reading this and you are not a member of The American Legion you need to join. It is an organization worth the effort. If you are reading this and you know a veteran who is not a member, take pride in your organization and ask them to join.
There will be many, many more “Once upon a Time” events in the future. Count on it.