The first of a series to be issued after each
Annual National Convention
G.P. Putnam's Sons
New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press
The American Legion was conceived by practically the entire personnel of the army, navy, and marine corps! Every man in the military and naval establishment did not think of it in just such terms, but most of them knew that there would be a veterans' organization of some tremendous import, and here it is!
"A veterans' organization of some kind will be formed." I heard that identical remark not once, but a dozen times on board a transport en route to France as early as September, 1918. In fact, one night in the war zone a group of officers were huddled around a small piano trying to make the best of a lightless evening, and, having sung every song from Keep the Home Fires Burning to You're in the Army Now, paused, longingly toyed cigarettes which were taboo by ship's order, and then began to spin yarns.
"Reminds me of a G.A.R. reunion," one second lieutenant from Maine remarked, after a particularly daring training camp adventure had been recounted.[Pg iv]
"Just think of the lying we'll all do at our reunions when this war is over," chirped a youngster from South Carolina. And then spoke a tall major from Illinois:
"The organization which you young fellows will join won't be any liefest—at least not for forty years. Don't forget there's some saving to do for the United States when this European mess is over. Us fellows won't ever get out of Uncle Sam's service."
How well the Illinois major hit the nail on the head! The incident on the transport seems worth recording not only because of the major but because it shows the general anticipation of what is now the American Legion. Perhaps it was this general anticipation which is responsible for the cordial reception that the Legion has had ever since its very inception in Paris.
No one can lay claim to originating the idea of a veterans' association, because it was a consensus among the men of the armed forces of our nation. A certain group of men can take unto themselves the credit for starting it, for getting the ball rolling, aiding its momentum, and, what is more important, for guiding it in the right direction, but no one man or group of men "thought up" the American Legion. It was the result of what might be called the "spontaneous opinion" of the army, navy, and [Pg v]marine corps caused by a fusing together in a common bond of the various elements of the service, just as spontaneous combustion is brought about by the joint action of certain chemical elements.
Spontaneous opinion, like spontaneous combustion, is dangerous when improperly handled and beneficient when rightly directed. That's what the organizers of the Legion have been and will be mostly concerned with. They have their elements—these men of the army, navy, and marine corps, and the organizers mean to direct this united and organized patriotism into such channels as will make for the welfare of the United States of America primarily, and, secondarily, for the welfare of the service men themselves.
Just how much attention this Legion with four million potential members intends to pay to the United States of America, and just how much to themselves per se, is basicly important and pertinent as a question, nowadays when the Legion is being tried and is on the witness stand before public opinion. The answer is most clearly indicated by the preamble to the proposed constitution printed elsewhere.
This preamble stresses Americanism, individual obligation to the community, state, and nation; battling with autocracy both of the classes and[Pg vi] masses; right the masterof might; peace and good will on earth; justice, freedom, and democracy! Only in the last two words of the preamble is mention made of the welfare of the men themselves. These two words are mutual helpfulness. But be sure and understand the connection in which they are used.
"... we associate ourselves together ... to consecrate and sanctify our comradeship by our devotion to mutual helpfulness."
The men who framed this constitution certainly did not believe that comradeship would be consecrated and sanctified by anything of a selfish character under the guise of mutual helpfulness. Certainly not the comradeship that made bearable the zero hour in the trenches or the watch in a submarine infested sea.
To go a little in advance of the story and speak practically, mutual helpfulness has meant so far voting down a pay grab from Congress; a get-together spirit to foster the growth of the Legion; a purpose to aid in the work of getting jobs for returning soldiers, and the establishment of legal departments throughout the country to help service men get back pay and allotments. Mutual helpfulness in this case would seem to make Uncle[Pg vii] Sam as much a partner in it as are the Legion members. Because, for every job the Legion gets an unemployed man, and for every dollar Legion lawyers help collect for back pay and allotments, a better citizen is made. And better citizenship is what the Legion most wants.
So here seems to be the place to make the patent observation that mutual helpfulness will in future years mean just what it means to-day—doing something for the United States of America.
At the present time the Legion might be compared to a two-headed American eagle—one looking towards France and the A.E.F., and the other homewards to the service men here. The two are a single body borne on the same wings and nourished of the same strength. They are the same in ideal and purpose but directed for the moment by two different committees working together. One committee is the result of the caucus at Paris in March, when the A.E.F. started the organization, while the other was born this month in St. Louis, Mo., for the men here.
NEW YORK May, 1919.
|The St. Louis Caucus||Frontispiece|
|Henry D. Lindsley||18|
|The Paris Caucus||19|
|Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.||60|
|Group at St. Louis Caucus||61|
|Bennett C. Clark||94|
|Eric Fisher Wood||95|
|State Chairmen Herbert, Mathewson, and|
|Chaplain J.W. Inzer||141|