On Thursday, March 15, The American Legion celebrated its 99th year of existence. On that day in 1919 the first American Legion caucus, held by members of the American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.), convened in Paris.

A simple publicity statement in the Stars & Stripes was a harbinger for the century of success that would follow:

“The A.E.F. as a whole — doughboy, colonel and general working together organized the American Legion this month as its postwar association,” said the article that graced the front page of the legendary newspaper’s March 28, 1919 edition. “To continue with success the work already launched will require the personal cooperation of every soldier in every organization now in France,” the article further stated. “When we return to the States, it will be equally important to have a nucleus of men in every community who will take the lead in their particular local organizations.” It was the first known published article which would name “The American Legion,” as an organization of wartime veterans.

An amazing string of accomplishments would follow over the next 99 years. Equally amazing was how quickly the organization took root as a powerful national and community force. By the end of its first year, The American Legion had more than 843,000 dues-paying members. This was an era when messages were delivered by telegram, there was no interstate highway system and car ownership was still not widespread. Yet people went through great lengths to become part of this special organization. And while the language of the time certainly reflected a male-dominated culture, women veterans could vote for national commander before they could legally vote for president of the United States in most areas.

Nearly a century later, Denise H. Rohan would become the first female national commander.

Through her Family First agenda, Rohan reminds all Americans to serve relatives of veterans, who also have unique needs that were caused by military service.

Service is nothing new to The American Legion. But serving fellow veterans is just one of the many ways that The American Legion assists in communities throughout the land. The American Legion serves the youth of America with outstanding programs such as American Legion Baseball, Junior Shooting Sports, Boys State and Boys Nation. The American Legion has supported the Boy Scouts of America since 1919 and today charters 2,400 Scouting units comprising more than 61,000 young men and women. The American Legion High School Oratorical Contest awards scholarships to young men and women who can most effectively communicate the ideals of the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, the Legion feels a special obligation to the children of those who died or were severely disabled while on active-duty since September 2011.

Military parents can take comfort in knowing that The American Legion’s Legacy Scholarship Fund will help pay for their children’s college educations if tragedy should occur while they serve.

The American Legion does these things not because it can, but because it’s who they are.

This article was prepared by Legion member Nick Nikkila of Deep River, based on materials from the organization.

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