Most people are surprised to learn that The American Legion was actually founded in Paris, France. You see World War I veterans remembered the challenges facing other wartime veterans from previous generations and vowed not to let their fellow comrades face the same hardships, especially those with service-connected disabilities. They were concerned with employment opportunities for returning combat veterans. They were concerned about the survivors of combat veterans who had paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country. They were concerned about medical care for the wounded and ill returning service members.

Now, as at its founding, The American Legion remains focused on supporting military service members and their families. Since December, The American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warrior raised over $170,000 to buy merchandise for Wounded Warriors in military treatment centers around the country. The American Legion also established the ``Heroes to Hometowns’’ program which helps local communities prepare ``welcome home’’ events when wounded warriors are finally released from military or veterans’ affairs medical centers. Since the first Gulf War, The American Legion has maintained its Family Support Network which assists deployed service members and their families, especially members of the National Guard and Reserves. Some requests are for financial assistance, but other requests are simply for household chores, such as lawn work or car maintenance, that would normally be done by the soldier, sailor, airmen, Marine, were they not deployed. No request is too large or too small.

Many Legionnaires can be found in public schools on Veterans’ Day or Memorial Day talking about their military service in periods of armed conflict to make sure the next generation of Americans understands the sacrifices and hardships of previous generations of wartime veterans. Legionnaires also teach students about the proper display and care of the Flag of the United States.

The American Legion works closely with the American Red Cross--the largest organization of blood donors and a working partner in disaster assistance. Many American Legion Posts serve as Red Cross and FEMA work centers in areas hit by natural disasters.

The American Legion is also proud of its membership’s spirit of volunteerism. Each year, Legionnaires volunteer over a million hours of services in VA and military medical facilities, State veterans’ homes, and other such community volunteer opportunities.

And one of the most solemn of functions is providing burial details for fallen comrades of every generation. The American Legion Color Guards, Buglers and Rifle Squads perform thousands of burials in veterans’ and private cemeteries around the Nation. 

The American Legion, today comprising 2.6 million wartime veterans, was chartered by the U.S. Congress in 1919, and was founded by men and women who served in the Armed Forces of the United States during World War I. Among the first to be exposed to modern warfare with its poisonous gases, overlaying fields of machine-gun fire, trench warfare, tanks and artillery, these soldiers, sailors and Marines suffered both the mental and physical wounds of war. When the armistice was announced on Nov. 11, 1918, they came home to parades, but little else. There was no comprehensive medical care, disability compensation, vocational training, effective treatment for shell shock, and no pensions for widows and orphans. The men and women who had won the Great War were expected to come home as if nothing had happened, and to pick up where they had left off. They were expected to get on with their lives with little or no assistance from the government whose call they had answered. This fledging American Legion, conceived primarily by Theodore Roosevelt Jr., took on the mission to follow Lincoln’s postbellum call for America to “care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.” Working through a fast-multiplying network of community posts, The American Legion became the nation’s largest self-help organization.

The Legion established tuberculosis hospitals, found employment for veterans, established a program of monetary grants to assist widows and orphans, and assisted those suffering from the mental wounds of war. In 1923, The American Legion conducted a nationwide survey to ascertain how World War I veterans were readjusting to civilian life. What the Legion survey revealed shocked the nation. Some veterans of the Great War were homeless, many suffered from what we know today as PTSD, not a few were housed in jails, mental institutions and county homes. Too many had given up on life, had no hope and no future. It was not uncommon to see former doughboys, without arms or legs, selling apples and pencils on the street corners of our nation, just trying to survive. The public outcry was loud and clear. The result was the creation of the Veterans Bureau, an entity that consolidated under one roof the services of many government agencies that had a small piece of the rehabilitation pie.

Today, that bureau has grown to become the Department of Veterans Affairs. Federal and state laws were enacted, based on the Legion’s advice that had been gathered from thousands of service officers who were working with veterans and their families – one on one – in the communities where they lived. Those laws brought compensation for veterans who had suffered service-connected disabilities. They built a nationwide system of veteran’s hospitals and clinics and established veterans homes, veteran’s cemeteries, and pensions for the surviving spouses of those who had given their lives for our country. Thanks in no small part to the diligence and vision of The American Legion, shell shock has been re-diagnosed as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); exposure to Agent Orange is now a recognized service-connected disability due to a study conducted by The American Legion and Columbia University; veterans suffering mesothelioma, cancer resulting from exposure to asbestos, and illness due to exposure to ionizing radiation, and its resulting cancers, are both now recognized service-connected disabilities. This list is long and grows longer each year. Most, if not all, of these conditions were called to the attention of our government due to the Legion’s work with veterans through its Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission.

The American Legion’s founders envisioned a future of honor, respect and prosperity for military veterans and the nation they vowed to protect and defend. That vision brought into existence the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, today known as the GI Bill. The American Legion is recognized as the organization that wrote and created the bill. Ironically, it passed the conference committee of the House and Senate by only one vote, and, yet, has come to be known as the greatest piece of social legislation ever conceived, triggering a half-century of American economic prosperity. The American Legion still believes in the vision of our founders, a vision for a strong America – freedom and opportunity. And The American Legion firmly believes that veterans and their families have earned every benefit awarded to them by a grateful nation because of their selfless service. Indeed, this basic principle was succinctly written into law when the Supreme Court stated in 1983:

“It is … not irrational for Congress to decide that, even though it will not subsidize substantial lobbying by charities generally, it will subsidize lobbying by veterans’ organizations. Veterans have ‘been obliged to drop their own affairs and take up the burdens of the nation, subjecting themselves to the mental and physical hazards as well as the economic and family detriments which are peculiar to military service and which  do not exist in normal civil life.’ Our country has a long-standing policy of compensating veterans for their past contributions by providing them numerous advantages. This policy has ‘always been deemed to be legitimate.’”