May 8-10, 1919: The American Legion’s constitution is approved at the St. Louis Caucus, conducted inside the Shubert Theater. Before declining nomination to lead the new organization but serving as temporary chairman of the caucus, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., calls the session to order with a gavel made from the steamship Roosevelt’s rudder; the vessel had carried Adm. Robert Edwin Peary during his explorations of the North Pole. Roosevelt, Jr. rejects chants of “We want Teddy!” to serve as first national leader of the organization. Roosevelt, with plans to eventually run for elected office, does not want The American Legion to be politicized in any way. Former Dallas Mayor Henry D. Lindsley is instead named chairman of the St. Louis Caucus, and plans are advanced to elect a commander at the first national convention of the organization.
By the end of the St. Louis Caucus, drafts of The American Legion preamble and constitution are approved, temporary officers chosen, a national convention site selected and the name of the organization becomes permanent.
May 9, 1951: A 21-year-old combat veteran of the Korean War is denied admission into the Tucson, Ariz., VA Hospital because, as the director tells the media and American Legion members who take up the veteran’s cause, “no returned veteran from Korea is eligible for hospital benefits unless he has been discharged from the service because of a duty disability.” This nationally publicized story leads National Commander Erle Cocke, Jr., to call on Congress to expand VA health-care services, disability benefits and pensions to veterans of the Korean War to an equal footing as those received by World War II veterans. A joint resolution to that effect is swiftly passed and signed into law May 11, 1951.