Doughboy Center

The Story of the American Expeditionary Forces

American Legion


of the


Legionaires Parading With Boy Scouts, C. 1941

Presented the Great War Society

Contributed by Leon Loupy

The Great War drew to a close. Many members of the American armed forces still training in the United States or in Europe awaiting shipment home began talking about creation of a veterans’ organization. They remembered that following the Civil War the Grand Army of the Republic had flourished.

Wm. Donovan
The subject was treated seriously by four soldiers of high rank meeting in late January 1919 on fashionable Faubourg St. Honore in Paris. Front line officers who among them could count seven wound chevrons on their uniforms, the four were prominent and able to have their voices heard in important places. They were Theodore Roosevelt Jr., member of the 1st Division and son of the just deceased former President; William J. Donovan who had made his name with New York’s “Fighting 69th”; Eric Fisher Wood of the 88th Division; and George S. White from General Headquarters of the AEF in France.

The focus of their discussion was how to go about forming such an organization which would have a reservoir of over 2,000,000 young persons to draw from. At the least, it was reasoned, it would be a basis for fraternalism, and it was hoped that it could eventually make its presence felt in matters important to veterans and to America. A suitable name was bandied about: Liberty League, American Crusaders, Comrades in Service, or Legion of Honor. The suggestion of American Legion at first drew little favor.

T. Roosevelt, Jr.
Enthusiasm evident, presentation of the idea to General John J. Pershing was called for. The commander-in-chief was initially upset at having read an early mention of the plan in Stars and Stripes, which he regarded as a transgression of his rights as head of the American armed forces. But Pershing could not long ignore the makings of a runaway popular notion and gave his blessing to scheduling a prompt and wider treatment of the subject at a caucus at the Inter-Allied Officers’ Club.

The event in Paris held 13 to 15 March 1919 was so successful that the American Legion today celebrates those three days annually as its birth dates. Good formative business was conducted at the caucus with selected officers and enlisted personnel in attendance. Other distinguished names started to come aboard. Captain Ogden Mills was one; he would become prominent in the San Francisco Bay Area (the Mills Building, Mills Field, Mills Estate) and Secretary of the Treasury in the Hoover Administration. . Hamilton Fish and Bennett C. Clark went on to the national political arena. San Francisco newsman Harold C. Ross would later found The New Yorker magazine. And adding to the atmosphere in a major way was the arrival of President Woodrow Wilson to participate in the treaty conference at Versailles.

A subsequent meeting was decided upon for St. Louis, Missouri, in May and by that time the name American Legion was adopted, leading to “Legionnaires” entering the American lexicon. President Wilson, who like Pershing knew a good thing when he saw it, gave his endorsement. And Minneapolis was selected to be the site in November for the initial national convention,

Ogden Mills
Minneapolis inaugurated the series held annually at other cities, where Legion parades became a highlight that entertained the public and served as the nation’s most ambitious animated tableau of patriotism. San Francisco was an early host in 1923 -- the city, including this spectator, was provided a splendid show. A placard at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park commemorates the event. Legionnaire high-jinx were at that time a part of things until the frivolities were regarded as unacceptable and harmful to the Legion’s reputation. The leadership initially was devoted to the promotion and safeguarding of veteran affairs. Then as the membership grew and more posts opened throughout America, the Legion was encouraged to portray a larger image in national affairs by dealing with matters of real importance. Education, land use, immigration and naturalization, public health and universal military training were primary causes on the agenda. Lobbying Congress and state legislative bodies to voice concerns became a must.

With roots established at St. Louis, Minneapolis, and permanent national headquarters at Indianapolis, the American Legion was affected by attitudes of the warm, easy-going people of the Midwest. Included were the heartland feelings on foreign affairs that tended to favor isolationism and the avoidance of foreign entanglements. The numerous American individuals and groups who in the late 1930s crusaded for America First and non- intervention were a force right up until the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor.

See also THE PARIS CAUCUS at the From American Legion Magazine website.

Sources and thanks: Leon Loupy was a founding member of the Great War Society and the first Chairman of our San Francisco Chapter. He passed away before I could bring his first internet article on-line. His primary source was Thomas A. Rumer, The American Legion -An Official History (New York: M. Evans & Co., 1990) Photos from Ray Mentzer. MH.

To find other Doughboy Features visit our

Directory Page

For Great War Society
Membership Information

Click on Icon

For further information on the events of 1914-1918 visit the homepage of

The Great War Society

Additions and comments on these pages may be directed to:
Michael E. Hanlon ( regarding content,
or toMike Iavarone ( regarding form and function.
Original artwork & copy; © 1998-2000, The Great War Society