CLEARFIELD – This year marks the 100th anniversary of the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary.
The Clearfield American Legion John Lewis Shade Post No. 6 and its auxiliary held a celebration Saturday afternoon. The Memorial Wall was also dedicated as part of the special celebration, which was held on the front lawn at the Legion home.
The Legion had several notable World War II veterans and most senior members in attendance, which included George Waring, 91, William Marriott, 94, and Ted Rowles, 92, all of whom served in the U.S. Navy.
Others included Bart Thompson, 94, U.S. Air Force, Rose Smith, 95, Navy WAVES, and Ruth Yingling, 96, Navy Nurse Corps.
History of Clearfield American Legion
Mark Crispell, incoming post commander, gave a brief history of the Clearfield American Legion Post 6.
He said its delegates received a temporary charter June 13, 1919 from the National Convention and a permanent charter Oct. 20, 1920.
According to Crispell, U.S. Marine Corps Private John Lewis Shade was Clearfield County’s first serviceman killed in action. Shade was killed April 24, 1918 during World War I, and honored June 26, 1921 with the namesake of the Legion’s post.
Crispell said the Legion dedicated the post’s home Oct. 20, 1924, and it’s been “our home ever since.”
History of American Legion Auxiliary
Donna Collins, Unit 6 recording secretary, followed with the history of the American Legion Auxiliary and its purpose.
According to Collins, a group of 20 officers who served in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in World War I were asked to suggest ideas on how to improve troop morale.
One officer, Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., proposed an organization of veterans, which is known today as the American Legion.
The original purpose of the Legion was to “preserve the memories and incidence of association in the great war,” helping those who had served in foreign wars to reintegrate into their hometowns while still remaining connected to those with whom they had served abroad.
“The Legion served as a support group, a social club and an extended family for former servicemen,” Collins said.
According to her, after two planning caucuses held by a committee of officers who had the confidence and respect of their military comrades, they designed a constitution to govern the group and set up headquarters initially in New York City to begin work on its programs of relief, employment and Americanism.
After the establishment of the American Legion, a number of women’s organizations wanted to become the official affiliation of the American Legion.
“The women who had served so faithfully during the trying days of the war wanted to continue to serve,” Collins said.
After careful consideration, the committee agreed that a new organization should be made up of the women most closely associated with the men of the Legion, and that these women would serve with the Legion, in peace as they had in war.
According to Collins, in less than one year, 1,342 local units of the Women’s Auxiliary to the American Legion had been organized in more than 45 states.
Collins said today the American Legion Auxiliary has 750,000 members in over 8,000 communities, and is responsible for various programs, which include the ALA Girls Nation and State, Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation, Poppy Program and more.
Last year in 2018, she said auxiliary volunteers had a total impact of over $1 billion through its services to service members, veterans, as well as their families and communities.
Collins said Clearfield’s Unit 6 Auxiliary was established on May 25, 1921 with 55 founding members. Some of the last names of these women are still part of the local community, such as Bell, Kurtz, Leitzinger and Woolridge to name a few.
“It was probably a challenge for these women to start Unit 6, but it’s still in existence 98 years later, so they must have done something right,” she said, adding today it has 152 members who range in age from their early 20’s to over 90.
“Some members have belonged to the auxiliary for over 50 years. We even have one member who has been with Unit 6 for 72 years …. she was signed up by her mother as an infant. She’s been a member ever since.”
Collins said the woman’s mother was very active in the Legion’s auxiliary when she was born. The woman, now living in the state of Indiana, was invited to transfer her membership there, but she couldn’t because Unit 6 was “her mother’s auxiliary.”
She said although some things have changed since the ALA’s establishment in 1919, the one thing that’s remained the same is its members’ unwavering commitment to honor and support those who served.
“… That was our vision in 1919 and is still our vision today. And it will be our vision over the next 100 years,” Collins said.
The guest speaker for the anniversary celebration was Clearfield County District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr.
He said the American Legion came to life March 15-17, 1919, in Paris, France, because of a group of “war-weary” World War I veterans who convened for the first American Legion caucus.
These troops envisioned a veterans’ organization that would be like none before it or any that would follow. “It was built on strengthening the nation, not on serving themselves,” Shaw said.
Since it was established a century ago, the American Legion has put compassionate and comprehensive care and treatment for disabled veterans “front and center.”
According to Shaw, the effects of war-time service were especially profound for the Legion’s first generation who had been attacked and wounded by weapons previously unseen in history.
He said they were poisoned and also blinded by chemical gas, and that nearly half of the fatalities were from unsanitary conditions, lack of medicine and rancid food on battlefields and at sea.
He said decorated combat veterans were left to deal with the psychological effects of war, and were swept into jails, asylums and onto the streets where relief wasn’t forthcoming.
However, Shaw said the Legion was determined to change the culture and perception – no matter what – about veterans and the honorable nature of their military service.
According to him, these veterans spent the next century, as each war era begat a new generation of “Legionnaires,” devoted to their communities, patriotism, education, peace and goodwill.
He said the challenging World War I experiences of its founders formed the mission and identity of the Legion that would make America stronger.
“It pressed for … understanding of U.S. democracy,” Shaw said. “It elevated public appreciation for the U.S. Flag and Constitution, law enforcement, faith, civic responsibility and community service.
“The founding generation was ahead of its time … and had a mantra of ‘a veteran is a veteran, regardless of race, gender, duty station, political party, rank or branch of service.’”
He said the Legion demanded for a federal agency to provide disability benefits, healthcare and education and economic opportunities for veterans.
Prior to the Legion, he said there was no such agency, and from that priority came the Veterans Bureau in 1921, Veterans Administration in 1930 and today’s Department of Veterans Affairs.
Also, he said the veterans’ organization played an important role in the development and passage of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the “G.I. Bill.”
“It did more than improve the lives of veterans,” Shaw said. “It reshaped the future of America … it made higher education, home ownership and gainful employment reasonable expectations.”
According to Shaw, the Legion led conferences in the 1920’s that established the first Standard Rules of Respect that was later passed into law as the U.S. Flag Code.
In 1925, it started its nationwide baseball program that promoted teamwork, discipline and physical fitness to tens of thousands of youth, many of whom were called upon in World War II in 1941.
The first Boys State and Boys Nation convened in 1935 and 1946, respectively, which provided young men with a first-hand understanding of the federal government.
The American Legion Auxiliary established parallel programs for young women. And in 1938, the Legion held its first-ever National High School Oratorical Contest.
“These programs have cultivated thousands of elected officials, judges, educators, business leaders and even one U.S. President,” Shaw said.
Since it was established in 1989, he said the Legion’s National Emergency Fund has dispensed tens of millions of dollars to disaster victims.
He said the organization’s groundbreaking research and advocacy has helped countless veterans suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Agent Orange, Gulf War illness and others.
In the post-9/11 era, Shaw said the Legion’s portfolio of advocacy includes acceptance of all effective treatment for PTSD and traumatic brain injury.
Presently, Shaw said a new Legion Post is being established on the campus of the University of Illinois to support student veterans using their Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.
Like thousands of others, it’s been named in honor of a fallen war-time U.S. veteran. The post selected Shawna Morrison, whose life was taken by a roadside bomb in 2004 while deployed with her Army National Guard unit in Iraq.
Shaw said the Legion’s mission is 10 lines in length and only one is even “loosely” dedicated to self-interest. The other nine lines, he said, speak of its broader purpose, which is:
- to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America;
- to maintain law and order;
- to foster and perpetuate a 100 percent Americanism;
- 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.
“… Those purposes have made lives better for millions of Americans,” Shaw said. “They’ve built a legacy like no other in the history of United States. They have strengthened the nation.
“And as new posts begin their journeys into the American Legion’s second century, those purposes continue to prove vital and necessary to the strength of the nation for generations yet to come.”
In recognition of the Legion’s 100th anniversary, Shaw closed by inviting all veterans who were in attendance and able to join him and reaffirm their oath of service.