The American Legion was chartered and incorporated by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans service organization (VSO). A nonpartisan and non-profit membership organization, it is made up of veterans and servicemembers and has over 2 million members and 14,000 posts nationwide, making it the largest VSO in the United States.
Throughout its century-old history, The American Legion has had an impressive track-record of advocating on behalf of veterans from grassroots efforts at the local level to driving change at the highest level of government.
Of note: The Legion drafted the first “Flag Code” which was adopted by Congress in 1942. In 1943, Past National Commander Harry W. Colmery wrote the first draft of what is now known as the “GI Bill of Rights” on stationary at a local hotel in Washington, D.C. The GI Bill was signed into law in 1944 and is considered the organization’s greatest legislative achievement. In 1989, as the result of a Legion-led effort to ensure that veterans have representation within the federal government, the then-Veterans Administration received Cabinet-level status as the Department of Veterans Affairs.
As a VSO, all American Legion programs fall into one of its four pillars of service: Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation (VA&R), National Security, Americanism, and Children & Youth.
Pillar I, VA&R:
The American Legion’s VA&R pillar covers several programs, services, and advocacy efforts that aim to improve the lives of veterans and their families after separation for military service.
Pillar II, National Security:
The American Legion has long supported the belief that “the key to peace and world stability is a strong, well-resourced defense.” Programs under the National Security pillar cover troop support, Operation Comfort Warriors, transition assistance, disaster preparedness, and much more.
Pillar III, Americanism:
The American Legion promotes Americanism and love of country through activities for young people, such as American Legion Baseball and American Legion Boys State/Boys Nation, voter registration drives, citizenship programs, educational opportunities, and patriotic observances.
Pillar IV, Children & Youth:
The Children & Youth pillar focuses on strengthening the family unit, supporting organizations that help children in need, and providing programs that provide an opportunity for young people facing challenges.
All veterans and service members – male or female – who served, or are currently serving, on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces during any of the war eras listed below, and were honorably discharged, are eligible for membership in The American Legion.
Aug. 2, 1990, to TODAY | Persian Gulf/War or Terrorism*
Dec. 20, 1989, to Jan. 21, 1990, | Operation Just Cause – Panama
Aug. 24, 1982, to July 31, 1984, | Lebanon/Grenada
Feb. 28, 1961, to May 7, 1975, | Vietnam
June 25, 1950, to Jan. 31, 1955, | Korea
Dec. 7, 1941, to Dec. 31, 1946, | World War II
April 6, 1917, to Nov. 11, 1918, | World War I
*Because eligibility dates remain open, all members of the U.S. Armed Forces – including Reserves and National Guard – are eligible to join The American Legion until the date of the end of hostilities is determined by the U.S. government.
After the battles were fought in World War I, a group of 20 officers who served in the American Expeditionary Forces were asked to suggest ideas on how to improve troop morale. One officer, then Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., suggested an organization of veterans – and the idea of The American Legion was planted.
The Legion’s original purpose was to “preserve the memories and incidence of our association in the great war” by helping those who served in World War I reintegrate into society and remain connected to those with whom they served.
In its early years, much as it has remained today, the Legion served as a support group for veterans, a social club, and an extended family for service members. However, nearly 100 years later, the Legion has also proven to be a staunch advocate for veterans rights and a fixture in local neighborhoods through its community service projects and programs throughout the nation.
Harry Truman, 33rd President of the United States
Dwight Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States
John Kennedy, 35th President of the United States
Lyndon Johnson, 36th President of the United States
Richard Nixon, 37th President of the United States
Gerald Ford, 38th President of the United States
Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States
Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States
George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States
George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States
Louis Johnson, 2nd U.S. Secretary of Defense
General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Medal of Honor recipient
General George Patton Jr., two-time Distinguished Service Cross recipient
Admiral Mark Ferguson III, 37th Vice Chief of Naval Operations
Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., Medal of Honor recipient
Sergeant Alvin York, Medal of Honor recipient
Humphrey Bogart, Academy Award winner
Clark Gable, Academy Award winner
*This is by no means an exhaustive list.
To learn more about The American Legion, visit www.legion.org
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