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The American Legion, Inc. is a federally chartered corporation formed in Paris on March 16, 1919 by veterans of the American Expeditionary Forces (A. E. F.)

The aftermath of two American wars in the second half of the 19th century had seen the formation of several ex-soldiers' organizations. Following the American Civil War of 1861–65 former Union soldiers had established an organization called the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), while their Southern brethren had joined together as the United Confederate Veterans (UCV) in the aftermath of hostilities.[4] Both of these organizations had emerged as powerful political entities, with the GAR serving as a mainstay of the Republican Party, which controlled the Presidency from the Civil War through the Theodore Roosevelt administration for all but the two terms of office of Grover Cleveland.[4] In Southern politics the UCV maintained an even more dominant position as a bulwark of the conservative Democratic Party which ruled there.[4] Similarly, the conclusion of the short-lived Spanish–American conflict of 1898 had ushered in another ex-soldiers' organization, the American Veterans of Foreign Service, today known as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).[5]

With the termination of hostilities in World War I in November 1918, certain American officers who had been participants in the conflict began to think about the creation of a similar organization for the nearly two million men who had shipped out for European duty.[5] The need for an organization for former members of the AEF was pressing and immediate. With the war at an end, hundreds of thousands of impatient draftees found themselves trapped in France and pining for home, certain only that untold weeks or months lay ahead of them before their return would be logistically possible.[6] Morale plummeted.[6] Cautionary voices were raised about an apparent correlation between disaffected and discharged troops and the Bolshevik uprisings taking place in Russia, Finland, Germany, and Hungary.[6]

This situation was a particular matter of concern to Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., eldest son of the 26th President. One day in January 1919, Roosevelt had a discussion at General Headquarters with a mobilized National Guard officer named George A. White, a former newspaper editor with the Portland Oregonian.[7] After long discussion, Roosevelt suggested the establishment at once of a new servicemen's organization including all members of the AEF, as well as those soldiers who remained stateside as members of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps during the war without having been shipped abroad.[7] Roosevelt and White advocated ceaselessly for this proposal until ultimately they found sufficient support at headquarters to move forward with the plan. Orders were issued by Gen. John J. Pershing to a group of 20 non-career officers to report to YMCA headquarters in Paris on February 15, 1919.[8] The selection of these individuals was handled by Roosevelt.[8] Joining them were a number of regular Army officers selected by Pershing himself.[9]

The session of reserve and regular officers was given the task of providing a set of recommendations aimed at curbing the problem of declining morale.[8] A series of proposals resulted from the three days of sessions, including elimination of restrictive regulations, organization of additional athletic events and recreational opportunities, and the expansion of leave time and entertainment programs.[10] At the end of the first day, the group retired to the Inter-Allied Officers Club, a converted home located across the street from the YMCA building,[9] where Lt. Col. Roosevelt unveiled his proposal for a new veterans' society for the first time.[11] Most of those present were rapidly won to Roosevelt's plan.[12] The group decided to declare all of their actions provisional until a duly elected convention of delegates could be convened and made no effort to predetermine a program for the still-unnamed veterans organization.[12] Instead they sought to expand their number through the convocation of a large preliminary meeting in Paris, to consist of an equal number of elected delegates from the ranks of enlisted men and the officer corps.[13]

A provisional executive committee of four people emerged from the February 15 "Roosevelt dinner": Roosevelt in the first place, who was to return to the United States and obtain his military discharge when able, and then to gather assistants and promote the idea of the new veterans' organization among demobilized troops there; George White, who was to travel France touring the camps of the AEF explaining the idea in person; Secretary of the group was veteran wartime administrator Eric Fisher Wood, together with former Ohio Congressman Ralph D. Cole, Wood was to establish a central office and to maintain contact by mail and telegram with the various combat divisions and headquarters staffs, as well as to publicize activities to the press.[14]

Preparations for a convention in Paris began apace. A convention call was prepared by Wood and "invitations" distributed to about 2,000 officers and enlisted men and publicized in the March 14, 1919 issue of Stars and Stripes.[15] The convention call expressed the desire to form "one permanent nation-wide organization...composed of all parties, all creeds, and all ranks who wish to perpetuate the relationships formed while in military service."[16] In addition to the personal invitations distributed, the published announcement indicated that "any officer or enlisted man not invited who is in Paris at the time of the meeting is invited to be present and to have a voice in the meeting."[16] The conclave was slated to begin on March 15.

The Site of Ferdinand Branstetter Post No. 1 of the American Legion is a vacant lot in Van Tassell, Wyoming where the first American Legion post in the United States was established in 1919. The post was named after Ferdinand Branstetter, a Van Tassell resident who died in World War I. The structure housing the post has since been demolished. The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969. In 1969, it was hoped that an interpretative sign would be put up, and also possibly that a restored post building would be constructed.[17]

The first post of the American Legion, General John Joseph Pershing Post Number 1 in Washington, D.C., was organized on March 7, 1919, and obtained the first charter issued to any post of the Legion on May 19, 1919. The St. Louis caucus that same year decided that Legion posts should not be named after living persons, and the first post changed its name to George Washington Post 1. The post completed the constitution and made plans for a permanent organization. It set up temporary headquarters in New York City and began its relief, employment, and Americanism programs.

Congress granted the American Legion a national charter in September 1919.

American Legion China Post One, formed in 1919 one year after the "great war" and chartered by the American Legion on April 20, 1920, was originally named the General Frederick Townsend Ward Post No. 1, China.[18] It is the only Post nominally headquartered in a Communist country, and has been operating in exile since 1948 — presently in Fate, Texas.

List of National Commanders[edit]

Franklin D'Olier, Pennsylvania, 1919–1920

Frederic W. Galbraith, Jr., Ohio, 1920–1921

John G. Emery, Michigan, June 14, 1921 – November 2, 1921

Hanford MacNider, Iowa, 1921–1922

Alvin M. Owsley, Texas, 1922–1923

John R. Quinn, California, 1923–1924

James A Drain, Washington, 1924–1925

John R. McQuigg, Ohio, 1925–1926

Howard P. Savage, Illinois, 1926–1927

Edward E. Spafford, New York, 1927–1928

Paul Vories McNutt, Indiana, 1928–1929

O. L. Bodenhamer, Arkansas, 1929–1930

Ralph T. O'Neil, Kansas, 1930–1931

Henry L. Stevens, Jr., North Carolina, 1931–1932

Louis A. Johnson, West Virginia, 1932–1933

Edward A. Hayes, Illinois, 1933–1934

Frank N. Belgrano, California, 1934–1935

Ray Murphy, Iowa, 1935–1936

Harry W. Colmery, Kansas, 1936–1937

Daniel Doherty, Massachusetts, 1937–1938

Stephen F. Chadwick, Washington, 1938–1939

Raymond J. Kelly, Michigan, 1939–1940

Milo J. Warner, Ohio, 1940–1941

Lynn U. Stambaugh, North Dakota, 1941–1942

Roane Waring, Tennessee, 1942–1943

Warren Atherton, California, 1943–1944

Edward N. Scheiberling, New York, 1944–1945

John Stelle, Illinois, 1945–1946

Paul H. Griffith, Pennsylvania, 1946–1947

James F. O'Neal, New Hampshire, 1947–1948

S. Perry Brown, Texas, 1948–1949

George N. Craig, Indiana, 1949–1950

Erle Cocke, Jr., Georgia, 1950–1951

Donald R. Wilson, West Virginia, 1951–1952

Lewis K. Gough, California, 1952–1953

Arthur J. Connell, Connecticut, 1953–1954

Seaborn P. Collins, New Mexico, 1954–1955

J. Addington Wagner, Michigan, 1955–1956

Dan Daniel, Virginia, 1956–1957

John S. Gleason, Jr., Illinois, 1957–1958

Preston J. Moore, Oklahoma, 1958–1959

Martin B. McKneally, New York, 1959–1960

William R. Burke, California, 1960–1961

Charles L. Bacon, Missouri, 1961–1962

James E. Powers, Georgia, 1962–1963

Hon. Daniel F. Foley, Minnesota, 1963–1964

Donald E. Johnson, Iowa, 1964–1965

L. Eldon James, Virginia, 1965–1966

John E. Davis, North Dakota, 1966–1967

William E. Galbraith, Nebraska, 1967–1968

William C. Doyle, New Jersey, 1968–1969

J. Milton Patrick, Oklahoma, 1969–1970

Alfred P. Chamie, California, 1970–1971

John H. Geiger, Illinois, 1971–1972

Joe L. Matthews, Texas, 1972–1973

Robert E. L. Eaton, Maryland, 1972–1973

James M. Wagonseller, Ohio, 1974–1975

Harry G. Wiles, Kansas, 1975–1976

William J. Rogers, Maine, 1976–1977

Robert Charles Smith, Louisiana, 1977–1978

John M. Carey, Michigan, 1978–1979

Frank I. Hamilton, Indiana, 1979–1980

Michael J. Kogutek, New York, 1980–1981

Jack W. Flynt, Texas, 1981–1982

Al Keller, Jr., Illinois, 1982–1983

Keith A. Kreul, Wisconsin, 1983–1984

Clarence M. Bacon, Maryland, 1984–1985

Dale L. Renaud, Iowa, 1985–1986

Hon. James P. Dean, Mississippi, 1986–1987

John P. Comer, Massachusetts, 1987–1988

Hon. H. F. Gierke, North Dakota, 1988–1989

Miles S. Epling, West Virginia, 1989–1990

Robert S. Turner, Georgia, 1990–1991

Dominic D. DiFrancesco, Pennsylvania, 1991–1992

Roger A. Munson, Ohio, 1992–1993

Bruce Thiesen, California, 1993–1994

William M. Detweiler, Louisiana, 1994–1995

Daniel A. Ludwig, Minnesota, 1995–1996

Joseph J. Frank, Missouri, 1996–1997

Anthony G. Jordan, Maine, 1997–1998

Butch L. Miller, Virginia, 1998–1999

Hon. Alan G. Lance, Sr., Idaho, 1999–2000

Ray G. Smith, North Carolina, 2000–2001

Richard Santos, Maryland, 2001–2002

Ronald F. Conley, Pennsylvania, 2002–2003

John A. Brieden III, Texas, 2003–2004

Thomas P. Cadmus, Michigan, 2004–2005

Thomas L. Bock, Colorado, 2005–2006

Paul A. Morin, Massachusetts, 2006–2007

Martin Conatser, Illinois, 2007–2008

David Rehbein, Iowa, 2008–2009

Clarence Hill, Florida, 2009–2010

Jimmie Foster, Alaska, 2010–2011

Fang A. Wong, New York, 2011–2012

James E. Koutz, Indiana, 2012–2013

Daniel Dellinger, Virginia, 2013–2014

Michael D. Helm, Nebraska, 2014–present