Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Birth of the Legion by George Seay Wheat, Chapter VII, (post #8)



We have arrived at what is the most significant event of this session of the caucus, if not of the entire gathering. The caucus has already shown its spirit in ousting the Soldiers and Sailors Council because, in its opinion, it could not measure up to one hundred per cent. Americanism, and now we shall see what the same simon-pure brand of red, white, and blueism is demanded of the second largest city in the United States.
It came about in the most dry, matter-of-fact way. Let the minutes of the meeting form the introduction for it.
The Chairman: "Next is the report of the Committee on the Next Meeting Place and Time."
Secretary Wood (reading): "From the Committee on Next Meeting Place and Time, to the Chairman of the American Legion; action of the Committee.
"Charles S. Caldwell, of New Mexico, unanimously elected chairman.
"Frank M. Ladd, Jr., of Alabama, Secretary.
"The majority of the States being represented as per attached list voted unanimously for Chicago as next meeting place. Date being set as November 10, 11, and 12, 1919.
"Respectfully submitted,
"FRANK M. LADD, JR., Secretary."
Mr. Sexton (of Illinois): "When you consider your place for your next convention tell Chicago what you want, and in response to that Chicago will answer you. 'We will give you whatever you want.'"
Then the excitement started. Mr. Dietrick of Pennsylvania moved to amend the report of the committee. "By striking out the word Chicago and substituting therefore the city from the State which furnished more soldiers than another state—the city of Pittsburgh."
This elicited great applause—especially from the Pennsylvania delegation. Mr. Stems of Louisiana got the floor—
"I want to tell you what took place in that committee," he said. "The committee selected a place to the best interest of this organization [Pg 95]and not to the best interest of any one specific locality, and the question was argued in a very quiet, organized, gentlemanly manner. A number of the delegates put up towns that did not get enough support to get the meeting, so they withdrew their names. It was all to the interest of the organization so it was unanimously adopted by that committee, without any dissenting vote, that Chicago be unanimously adopted as the place for the next convention for the best of all interests concerned. I am from New Orleans, Louisiana, which is a convention city and I will not offer my city to you as a convention city at this time because I do not think it is to the best interest of your country."
Bennett C. Clark
Who presided at the Paris Caucus
Eric Fisher Wood Secretary
When Mr. Stem took his seat at least a dozen delegates clamored for recognition from the chair. Colonel J.F.J. Herbert succeeded in getting it. It was he who then fired the gun which, if not heard around the world at least made Chicago's ear drums rattle.
"Mr. Chairman," he began—
Colonel Lindsley rapped for order.
A man near me whispered, "There's Herbert of Massachusetts. I think Boston is too far east for this convention, at least for the first one."
"As the spokesman for my delegation on this question of next meeting place I want to say that if no other body and if no other party of this caucus wants or believes it is its duty to rebuke any city or the representative of any city for Un-Americanism during the time when the soldiers of that city were offering their lives in defense of the world, then Massachusetts stands ready to offer that rebuke. Massachusetts will not agree willingly to having a convention of soldiers and sailors in the Great War, go to a city that has as its first citizen, by vote, one who can not measure up in any small part when the test is one hundred per cent. Americanism."
"The hall has been placarded with invitations, reading, 'The American Legion, Chicago wants you in November,'" he said. "I believe that this convention, this convention of soldiers and sailors should say, 'Chicago, you cannot have American soldiers in Chicago when there is a possibility that the chief representative of that city may not believe it is his duty to come before the Convention and welcome it.' If these placards read, 'American Legion, Chicago soldiers want you in November,' our answer might be different. The answer of Massachusetts would be different but when your placard reads, 'Chicago wants you in November' the answer of Massachusetts is, 'Chicago cannot have us in November'—or any other time until Chicago has an American for Mayor in an American city.
"The literature circulated through the caucus reads, 'Chicago pledges itself to go any other city one better on anything this convention requires.' This convention first requires that Chicago shall reach a standard different from the standard of being the most despised city in America, and when it has reached that standard, it is then in a position to say whether it can go one better. It has not yet reached par. Until Chicago reaches par, Massachusetts votes no!"
These men were cheering for Americanism. They wanted one hundred per cent. Americanism, untainted and unvarnished by a hyphen or an "ism," especially when the word pacific precedes the latter. Everyone felt sorry for the Illinois delegation, for it was realized that Colonel Herbert's remarks were intended solely to reflect upon the person he specially mentioned and not upon the thousands of soldiers and sailors who went from Illinois and Chicago and did more than their part in writing glorious history.
Just how this was impressed upon the men from Illinois let the minutes show. The chairman recognized "the gentleman from Chicago."
"The Tank Corps of which I am a member, and an enlisted man originally, gave from Chicago 11,250 enlisted men, volunteers in the most hazardous branch of the service. They gave 11,250 men as against 11,000 which the rest of the country contributed. If that doesn't bespeak patriotism for Chicago, I don't know how you are going to gauge it. I am saying that in the invitation which was extended to you we are speaking for the boys of khaki and blue who rallied to the colors from Illinois, and who are here to-day, extending the invitation to you notwithstanding the fact that we are cursed by a mayor who is not our choice. We would throw him out if we had the chance, but we are extending the invitation to you on [Pg 100]behalf of 750,000 men from Illinois and we do not feel that you are going to impugn their patriotism, that you are going to insult them by saying they are members of an unpatriotic community."
Mr. Hawkins (of Oklahoma): "The great State of Illinois stands unchallenged in the patriotism of its soldiers throughout the world. I am only sorry that you didn't leave enough patriots at home to elect a patriotic mayor of that great city. You are in the embarrassing position of having a man who has repudiated the things we went out to die for. Either you have got to repudiate us or repudiate him."
"We'll repudiate him next time when the boys get home," shouted several of the Illinois crowd.
Then other speakers tried to make it plain that the Legion's attack was solely against the municipal head of Chicago, but some of the men of Illinois let the incident rankle. How it came out (and it was ended happily) will develop. Meantime the attention of the caucus was diverted from the Chicago incident by the manifestation of that desire which is in every true American's heart, namely to be a booster for his own home town. In less time than it takes to tell it, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Atlantic City, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Chicago were being voted upon. While the delegates were voting, a small body of soldiers [Pg 101]and sailors were gathered together in a wing of the theater, seriously discussing the incident which was developed by Colonel Herbert's speech. They desired that it should be made more plain to everyone just what Colonel Herbert meant and that the millions of patriotic simon-pure Americans who live in Illinois should not take undue umbrage of the incident. Therefore while the vote on the convention city was being counted, Colonel Luke Lea was recognized by the chairman and asked unanimous consent to present for consideration the following resolution:
"Resolved, That the action of the caucus of the American Legion in refusing to accept the invitation to hold its next convention in Chicago is no reflection upon the splendid patriotism of the men and women of that great city, who have loyally proved their Americanism by supporting our Army and Navy and all war activities.
"Be It Further Resolved, That this caucus records its admiration of the valor and heroism of the thousands and thousands of Chicago's sons whose pure patriotism has been proven on the battlefields of France."
The resolution was adopted by unanimous vote.
No booster ever had a better time than had those who attended the St. Louis Caucus. Local pride assumed its highest pitch during the vote, and at length Minneapolis won it. The date was set for November 10-11-12th.
Just before adjournment Colonel Herbert arose to a question of personal privilege.
"I would like, if possible," he said, "to have the attention for a few minutes of every man that is in this theater. Intentionally or otherwise, and I think it was otherwise, the soldiers of Illinois have felt that I was not just to them in the remarks that I made bearing on the report of the Committee on the Next Meeting Place. I meant to say, and I believe now that I did say, that if those banners that were hung in this theater had read, 'American Legion, Chicago's soldiers invite you next November.' Massachusetts' answer would have been 'Yes.' I believe I said that. The men of Illinois believe I did not say it. The men of Illinois believe that when I sat down after making the few remarks I did, that I had a sardonic smile on my lips and they say that I have insulted them to the heart and I say to them: 'If there is anything that I can say, anything that I can do, as soldier [Pg 103]to soldier to remove from your mind, or from the minds of any man who may have been in this theater, any belief that there was any feeling except of highest admiration, the highest respect, and the deepest affection on the part of the soldiers of Massachusetts for the soldiers of Illinois, then I want to correct that impression, because I want you, the soldiers of Illinois, to know that we recognize in Massachusetts that no better soldiers wore the khaki, no better sailors wore the blue, than the men of Illinois. My remarks were, as I stated, for the purpose of saying Massachusetts would, if no other State would, take such action to rebuke the city of Chicago; would say to Chicago that if it would have the right to invite Americans to meet in that city, first Americanize the City Hall. That was my chief purpose of rising to my feet. If Chicago's soldiers, if Illinois' soldiers still think that I have not made reparation for what they believe was the intention of my remarks, then I say to them that no higher respect, no deeper affection exists for them than in the hearts of the men of Massachusetts."
Colonel Herbert's assault upon Chicago's mayor in itself is only half significant. It is only wholly so when its reception is considered. Colonel Herbert will have none of Chicago until it has purged [Pg 104]itself of its municipal leader. He remembered, perhaps, the assertion that it is "the sixth largest German city in the world." He might have said as much in a newspaper interview as he said on the floor of the caucus had he been asked about the Illinois city as a meeting place for soldiers, and, perhaps, the editor would have given to it a half column of space; in the larger dailies, less. But when men of the army, navy, and marine corps, from every battlefield in France, from every State in the union, voice their approval so thunderously; when they stand on their seats and cheer; when they so positively overrule the recommendation of committeemen who have studiously considered the matter, presumably from all angles, it means much. No wonder Metropolitan dailies devoted columns to it.
Those of you who have become low-spirited over your own particular view of the future; those of you who have talked about "the good old days"; or, the Spirit of '76, take heart. Take counsel of the Spirit of '19, based on the deeds of '17 and '18, on the mistakes of '14, '15, and '16. '19 is all right!
A large number of the delegates attended, on the second evening, a dance and supper at Sunset Inn given in honor of the Legion by the ladies of St. Louis. For most though, there was work in plenty to do. Some of the committees hadn't yet reported and there was an all important meeting of the executive committee in the Statler Hotel.
I said all important by design. The caucus had taken up a great deal of time with the proceedings already recounted and it was the purpose of the executive committee on adjournment-eve to get down to brass tacks. It certainly did that. It was agreed to recommend to the caucus that the Legion should attempt to help get returning soldiers and sailors positions and that a legal department should be established which would aid men to get back pay and allotments, while still another department would look after their insurance and instruct them how to change it to policies of a permanent character. Needless to say these conclusions were not arrived at without a great deal of helpful discussion.
Then too this executive meeting was all important because it let several persons who claimed to [Pg 106]be dissatisfied, air their grievances, thereby clearing the atmosphere of considerable cloudiness. For the most part these malcontents didn't seem at first to distinguish between the caucus and the November convention. They didn't seem to catch at first hand the spirit of the A.E.F. caucus which positively refused to take action on large questions of policy until the Home Army could be consulted. The principal leaders of the caucus in St. Louis determined upon the same course, as has been previously explained, and rightly so. One thing one element wanted to do was to elect permanent officers. "How could you do that when more than a million men entitled to a vote are still in France?" they were asked. They couldn't answer. Another element wanted to go on record against universal military training while still others were for endorsing it. Someone else wanted this city to be chosen as permanent headquarters while another wanted some other town selected. There was some grumbling to the effect that the caucus had been too "rowdy." Then, too, everybody was more or less tired out and a darker view of things was natural.

It might truthfully be said that the "silver lining" quite properly had a silver tongue. When he had spoken just about a hundred words even the grouches were holding onto their chairs if they weren't using their hands for purposes of applause. And many a man, who thought he'd talked his voice silent dug deep down in his vocal chords and brought forth something that could easily be labeled a cheer! This preacher told everybody who might have the slightest idea of making trouble just where to get off. But I am not going to try to remember his speech and perhaps improperly quote the chaplain. The speech was so good that they made him do it again at the very opening of the caucus the next morning, so I'm going to lead off with it in my story of the proceedings of the last day, just as the stenographers recorded it.

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