American Legion History

Jan. 1, 1917: Having grown to a membership of more than 24,000 volunteers, led in part by Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., the former president’s son, who trained under Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood at the Preparedness Movement-inspired Plattsburgh, NY, military camp for college men, American Legion, Inc., turns its roster and contact information over to the U.S. government. Among the Plattsburgh and American Legion, Inc., alumni, in addition to Roosevelt, Jr., are future founders of the organization Thomas W. Miller, Hamilton Fish Jr., William Donovan and Eric Fisher Wood. Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing would later refer to the American Legion, Inc., roster for sorely needed officers as the United States drew closer to entry in the Great War. Two wartime aircraft maintenance regiments would also come from the original American Legion, Inc., roster.

Jan. 1, 1942: The January American Legion Magazine, published just three weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, features a call to action for all members of the organization to “give our utmost to our beloved country.” National Commander Lynn Stambaugh reports in the magazine that he has assured President Roosevelt that the Legion stands ready to serve under the direction of civil and military authorities.

Jan. 1, 2018: American Legion National Judge Advocate Philip B. Onderdonk, Jr., retires after 35 years as the organization’s chief legal counsel. He is the longest-serving national officer in the history of The American Legion. The Liberty Institute’s Philip B. Onderdonk Award, introduced in 2015, is presented annually to national leaders who protect veterans memorials with religious symbols from legal decisions that could remove them from public sight. Onderdonk, who was surprised to be named the first recipient of the Liberty Institute award bearing his name, filed numerous amicus briefs for The American Legion during his tenure to defend such veterans memorials as the Bladensburg Peace Cross and the Mount Soledad Memorial in California.

Jan. 3, 1946: The American Legion pushes for, and gets, the Veterans Administration to introduce the Department of Medicine and Surgery, forerunner of the Veterans Health Service and Research Administration, to conduct research, develop and introduce new prosthetic limbs.

Jan. 3, 1971: In a move strongly urged and promoted by The American Legion, the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs is born, transferring Senate responsibility of veterans issues from the Finance and Labor committees into a nine-member panel of its own. U.S. Sens. Ted Stevens of Alaska and Howard Cannon of Nevada, both Legionnaires, introduced legislation in February 1969 to establish the committee, which was described at the time as “a major goal of The American Legion.” American Legion National Commander William J. Rogers sends telegrams, following a proposal to make the Senate panel a subcommittee under the Human Resources Committee, to every member of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, successfully arguing for the Senate Committee in Veterans Affairs to stand on its own. The committee has since grown from nine to 15 members.