The American Legion is the nation’s largest veterans’ service organization, an army of 2 million men and women today who strengthen communities from coast to coast.
“The nation gives so much to us as veterans, it’s important that we continue to volunteer to help the nation when we come home,” Jake Comer, past national commander of the American Legion, told Fox News Digital.
The American Legion’s origin story and the man at the center of it are every bit as remarkable as the organization itself.
The American Legion was established in Paris in 1919, in the immediate aftermath of World War I, by a convention of service-minded U.S. military officers.
Theodore Roosevelt Jr., a U.S. Army officer, led the caucus of combat veterans.
He and his brother Quentin volunteered to lead American doughboys into battle in France — despite the privileges afforded them by wealth and by status, sons of the former fresident of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt.
“That’s the way we do it in our family,” Roosevelt Jr. reportedly said, according to American Legion Magazine editor Jeffrey Stoffer.
Theodore Jr. was the president’s oldest son.
“That’s the way we do it in our family.”
Few boys in American history were born under a larger shadow.
Few men in American history did more to shine their own light on the nation.
Roosevelt even founded a nascent version of the American Legion in New York state in 1915, before the U.S. joined World War I.
It had grown to 25,000 members by the time the organization, the nation and the Roosevelt lives were interrupted by World War I.
Roosevelt Jr. ended up on the front lines of a horrific conflict in which 320,000 American doughboys were killed or wounded in less than a year of combat.
“He was gassed nearly to blindness and wounded by machine-gun fire,” said Stoffer. “He walked with a limp and a cane the rest of his life.”
His assisted walk painted one of the most heroic images in American military history a quarter of a century later.
Brig. Gen. Roosevelt limped out of the ocean and onto the sands of Normandy with the first wave of American liberators on D-Day in 1944, under deadly fire.
He would receive the nation’s highest honor for heroism after inspiring men less than half his age to victory on “The Longest Day.”
Rough act to follow
Theodore Roosevelt III was born on Sept. 13, 1887 on the family estate in the exclusive enclave of Oyster Bay, New York, on Long Island.
He was the son of future president Theodore and his second wife, Edith (Kermit) Roosevelt.
More commonly known as Theodore Jr., the president’s oldest son was actually the third in the line. Grandfather Theodore Roosevelt Sr. was a wealthy New York City businessman and philanthropist.
Roosevelt Sr. helped found New York City’s Children’s Aid Society, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History.
He also helped mobilize Union troops and resources in the Civil War.
“He was gassed nearly to blindness and wounded by machine-gun fire.”
The American Legion embarked after World War I on a mission of veterans continuing to serve their nation in peacetime, too.
“That’s the whole point of the American Legion,” said Stoffer. “To make the country stronger.”
‘Going to start the war from right here’
George Washington Post 1 in Washington, D.C., became the first chartered American Legion Post in May 1919, while the Paris caucus that established the organization was formally created as American Legion Paris Post 1 in December.
Congress recognized the American Legion with a federal charter on Sept. 16, 1919.
Among its purposes: “Defend the Constitution of the United States … promote peace and goodwill … (and) consecrate the efforts of its members to mutual helpfulness and service to their country.”
Roosevelt became one of the nation’s most prominent businessmen and political figures after World War I.
His resume includes stints as assistant secretary of the Navy, governor of Puerto Rico and governor-general of the Philippines (1932-33). He was vice president of Doubleday Books and chairman of the board of the American Express Company.
His wealth, privilege and age gave him plenty of reasons — and every excuse — to sit out World War II.
He insisted instead on joining the fight, but first fought Army brass to take on one of the most heroic challenges in American history: Lead young American GIs onto the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
The brigadier general “insisted on the assignment. His first request had been turned down, but Roosevelt had promptly countered with another,” Irish war correspondent Cornelius Ryan wrote in “The Longest Day,” his epic chronicle of D-Day.
“It will steady the boys to know I am with them.”
President Roosevelt himself was given equal status with his son when he received the Medal of Honor from President Clinton in 2001, 103 years after he led the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill.
“Theodore Roosevelt Jr., and his father, Theodore Roosevelt, remain one of only two father/son duos to receive the Medal of Honor,” notes Theodore Roosevelt.org.
The other pair is Civil War hero First Lt. Arthur MacArthur and son, World War II icon Douglas MacArthur.
Roosevelt Jr.’s greatest legacy may be, however, the century-plus of service to the nation and to its veterans offered by the American Legion.
The organization commands a seven-story office building in Washington D.C.
It lobbies on behalf of veterans every day, has 12,000 chapters around the country, and organizes charities, fundraisers and parades in almost every American community.
American Legion Baseball, meanwhile, fields 5,000 teams of teenage baseball players across the country.
Texas Rangers shortstop Corey Seager, named Most Valuable Player of the 2023 World Series, played American Legion Baseball as a teen in Kannapolis, North Carolina.
Said celebrated World War II Army Gen. Omar Bradley of Theodore Roosevelt Jr. “I have never known a braver man or a more devoted soldier.”
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