What is the American Legion?

The American Legion is an organization that was founded in 1919 and is classified as a federally chartered corporation. The Legion, as it is often referred, was formed by members of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). It is headquartered in Indianapolis and serves a worldwide membership.

Membership

In order to qualify for membership, one must be a veteran who was honorably discharged or currently enlisted personnel of one of the branches of the United States military. These include the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard. In addition, Legion membership is available only to those service members who served active duty during specific periods of conflict. These include World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Lebanon, Granada, Panama, Persian Gulf War and the Global War on Terrorism. World War I was classified as an eligible period; however, no service members from that conflict survived past 2011.

Formation of the Legion

Throughout American history, fraternal organizations for war veterans had been successfully formed following various conflicts. When World War II ended in November 1918, discussion began to circulate regarding the formation of a similar type of organization for the military members who had served in Europe. Because hundreds of thousands of soldiers remained detained in France while awaiting the logistic possibility of return to the states, the need for a support system of some kind was pressing. These soldiers were becoming impatient and dissatisfied with their conditions, and morale was low.

It was Theodore Roosevelt, along with a National Guard Officer by the name of George A. White, that suggested that a new servicemen’s organization be formed. Membership was to be extended to those serving in the AEF, as well as soldiers who remained stationed stateside. With consistent advocacy by Roosevelt, a team of 20 non-career officers was ordered by General John J. Pershing to tackle the problem of declining morale. Various ideas were considered, but it was Roosevelt’s suggestion of a veteran’s organization that received the most interest. Preparations were made for a meeting on the issue set to begin March 15, 1919. All enlisted personnel in Paris at the time were invited. A national charter was granted to the American Legion in September of 1919.

Organizational Structure

The Indiana World War Memorial Plaza in Indianapolis is the location of Legion headquarters. Historical archives, magazine staff offices, an organizational library, various administrative offices and the office of the National Commander are found here. Other organization offices are housed in Washington, D.C. State level branches of the Legion are known as Departments, of which there are 55. One exists for each of the 50 states, as well as for Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Mexico, France and the Philippines.

Departments are broken down into Districts or Divisions. Each District oversees approximately 20 Posts. The purpose of this structure is to give each group a voice. A Division is made up of four or more Districts that designate delegates to represent them at organizational events and conferences. Several posts exist within each county in the U.S. The legislative body of Posts is known as a County Council. Posts are the location of local meetings and community events.

Throughout the years since its establishment following World War I, the American Legion has grown into a thriving fraternal organization with a vast membership.

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