Friday, June 20, 2014

Using American Legion Records

What These Records Tell Us?
Few realize that the American Legion was actually chartered by Congress in 1919, and even fewer realize that the U. S. Veterans Bureau (“forerunner of the Veterans Administration) was created, August 1921, due to American Legion efforts. The American Legion, spearheaded by 20 officers who served in the American Expeditionary Force that led to the “Paris Caucus” 15 March,1919 has resulted in the presence of local Posts in small towns and urban cities across America. Each state is represented by Departments, plus posts in the District of Columbia, France, Mexico, Philippines, and Puerto Rico (total of 55). The American Legion's primary concern is the “social and political interests of veterans.”

Preamble to the Constitution of The American Legion
For God and Country

We associate ourselves together for the following purposes:
To uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America
To maintain law and order
To foster and perpetuate a one hundred percent Americanism
To preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in the Great Wars
To inculcate a sense of individual obligation to the community, state and nation
To combat the autocracy of both the classes and the masses
To make right the master of might
To promote peace and goodwill on earth
To safeguard and transmit to posterity the principles of justice, freedom and democracy
To consecrate and sanctify our comradeship by our devotion to mutual helpfulness

How to Research
The American Legion Weekly [Volume 1, No. 19 (November 7, 1919)]
  • National Headquarters Library: Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Legions Digital Archives: 575 digitized magazines from July 1919- April 1949
  • American Legion Weekly, and American Legion Magazine not completely digitized as of this writing. 
  • Department Archives. Each state has a Department which hosts its own website. The Departments also holds Post’s charter information
  • Local museums, libraries, and State Archives
  • Newspapers. The American Legion news and the various Posts’ activities were essential during war times.
What to Expect
State Departments are independent, but researchers may verify the following:
Duryea, PA American Legion
  • Early membership of ancestor. Know that  State Departments (or National) will release membership lists. However, we have been quite successful in discovering comprehensive membership lists from early newspapers.
  • Charter information to include date of charter, or date of charter cancellation
  • Family release/correspondence. Post names are independently created to honor a deceased war veteran or hero. Today, the family must agree to the use of the veteran’s name as Post, but earlier Department records may not have a letter, as it was not required.
Researchers can learn of charter information from the Departments and local newspapers. If you suspect the post was named after your ancestor, the family letter, post history, and local membership can assist you in your research once you have obtained your ancestor’s military file. Most Posts honored those who were killed in action (KIA), prisoners of war (POW), or was an hero like Dorie Miller as played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. in Pearl Harbor.

African American Posts
Just like the early war troops, the American Legion struggled with the decision to establish segregated posts or to exclude “Negro” soldiers from membership. The compromise was to allow each state to set the policy.  Researchers from early wars may find that American Legion posts were either integrated, segregated but sponsored by a White Post, or even perhaps the black soldiers were excluded from membership altogether.

The St. Louis, MO, Tom Powell Posts No. 77, one of the oldest Black Post (if not the oldest) was organized 17 Sept 1919. However, most of the American Legion “colored” charters were established during WWII era and often under the sponsorship of an already established White posts, like that of Post 7, Rudolph Lambert, Port Arthur, TX.,who sponsored the “Colored Post” of Port Arthur, 7A.

As American Legion Departments allowed, these Colored posts became independent posts as did Colored Post 7A who was accepted as Post 816, Lawrence Broussard, on 23 July 1954. Both the Rudolph Lambert and Lawrence Broussard posts were named to honor deceased war veterans.

And the Women?
American Legion Auxiliary, also founded in 1919 was established “as a civilian association for women to support the American Legion. Again check your local museums and libraries. The Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin holds records from 1920-2009 for the American Legion Auxiliary.  The American Legion National Headquarters in Indiana does not hold a complete library of the Auxiliary publications.

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers

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