The year was 1919. The Great War was over in Europe, and there was turmoil all over. Thousands of American troops were still in Europe, and the process of returning them home was not working smoothly. The officers of the American Expeditionary Force knew something had to be done. A caucus was held in Paris, France. In February the American Legion, still active today, was born. Congress granted The American Legion a national charter in September 1919.
For the next two decades, the American Legion was active in promoting Americanism and taking care of the veterans of World War I. This period also saw American Legion posts opening all over America. In 1932, the veterans of Cambria received a charter for American Legion Post 432. Veterans from Cambria have a proud history of serving in all the wars our country has fought.
Warren Atherton of Stockton was the national commander in 1943. He saw hundreds of proposals being made to help the returning veterans of World War II, but few were becoming laws. The government was not prepared to deal with the issue of providing health care to the returning veterans. The VA was having growing pains, and the claims process was bogged down. The future was bleak for the returning veterans.
Atherton appointed Lt. Gen. John Stelle, a future American Legion national commander, to be chairman of a committee to come up with an omnibus bill to help veterans. These leaders and many more came up with the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944 — the GI Bill of Rights. National American Legion Cmdr. Harry W. Colmery distilled the multiple initiatives into a one 10-plank platform. Sen. Ernest McFarland and Rep. Edith Nourse Rogers helped carry the bill through Congress and stood behind President Franklin Roosevelt when he signed the landmark bill.
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Our GI Bill educated millions of veterans, developed the future leadership of America, made house ownership a reality for millions and provided health care for the many returning disabled veterans. The GI Bill continues to do that today. This year, President Donald Trump signed a bill to further assist our present-day veterans, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017.
Some people who have been American Legion members are presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush, George W. Bush; Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Gen. George Patton and Sergeant York. The list goes on and includes all 2.3 million proud veterans who belong to the American Legion today.
In Cambria, the American Legion family is responsible for making sure we always honor veterans on Veterans Day, and that we remember veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice on Memorial Day. In the 1980s, work started on the wonderful Cambria Veterans Memorial Project we have today.
We wanted the community to have a patriotic event to help celebrate our Independence Day, so we sponsor the Shamel Park “Picnic in the Park” each year, with fireworks when appropriate. Our American Legion family makes sure Old Glory is flying all over Cambria on patriotic days. We have scholarship programs for high school kids and Boys and Girls State programs. We support local charities and do all we can to make Cambria a better place.
We have about 220 members in the Cambria’s American Legion Post 432, and that includes quite a few out-of-town members and quite a few WWII, Korean, and Vietnam-era veterans. All of us are getting old, although we fit well within the demographics of Cambria. We are looking for new members. Hundreds of veterans in Cambria do not belong to the American Legion.
If you served even one day on active duty during any wartime period, in a war zone or not, you are eligible to belong to the American Legion. The Legion has been working for veterans and making sure you get the benefits you earned. We want you to be in the American Legion family. Even if you are not a veteran, you may be able to be in our family. The American Legion Auxiliary is for the wives and daughters of veterans who served during wartime. The Sons of the American Legion is for the male descendants of wartime veterans.
Brian Griffin is junior past commander of American Legion Post 432.