The idea for an American Legion began when Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of the former president, and a few officers met in Paris in February 1919, to consider the postwar needs of American servicemen, the state of U.S. democracy, and the plight of children who lost parents to war. The American Legion emerged the next month, March 15-17, in the Paris Caucus of military personnel still stationed in France after the armistice. It was followed by a stateside gathering in May 1919 in St. Louis, Missouri, where the organization’s goals and aims were clarified, and a constitution was drafted. The American Legion was federally chartered on September 16, 1919.
At the American Legion’s first national convention in November that year in Minneapolis, delegates from around the country selected Indianapolis as the new organization’s national headquarters and elected its first national commander. Delegates also passed resolutions to improve care for disabled veterans, stimulate employment opportunities for those who had served, strengthen national security, promote “100 percent Americanism,” call on schools to teach patriotic values, encourage local support for the Boy Scouts, and more. In just eight months, the American Legion had grown to more than 685,000 members.
The Legion’s first long-term home in Indianapolis was dedicated at 777 North Meridian Street in 1925, the cornerstone of what would become known as “American Legion Mall,” before moving to the present structure at St. Clair and Pennsylvania streets. The organization crossed the mall and moved into a newly built headquarters building, dedicated in 1950. The original building at the corner of St. Clair and Meridian streets became the headquarters of the.
The organization’s top staff officers–the national commander, national adjutant, national judge advocate, and national treasurer–are based at the Indianapolis headquarters, as is The American Legion Magazine, the largest monthly publication for veterans in the United States. The library, archives, and museum of the organization are also housed there.
An annual national convention governs the Legion, choosing new national officers and a new national commander. Between conventions, a national executive committee representing the various departments meets to continue and complement the convention’s directives. Throughout its first century, operating through thousands of local posts, state departments, and national headquarters in Indianapolis and Washington, D.C., the American Legion has been the driving force behind multiple accomplishments in U.S. society. These include: establishment of rules that would become U.S. Flag Code in 1942; creation of the U.S. Veterans Bureau which evolved into the Department of Veterans Affairs; drafting and fighting for passage of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the “GI Bill”; multiple youth programs like Oratorical Contest, American Legion Baseball, American Legion Junior Shooting Sports, and others at the state and local levels; emergency response and civil defense programs; and support, maintenance, and protection of thousands of military and veterans memorials worldwide.
The American Legion celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2019, as the largest veterans service organization in the United States, one that has a worldwide reach from its home base in Indianapolis.
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