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American Legion turns 100

W. Kenneth Medley II • Mar 14, 2019 at 12:00 AM

World War I ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 — for most.

It was just months later when, recognizing a need to help Americans stranded in post-war France, Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing and 20 other officers gathered in Paris, said Bryan Lauzon, post commander American Legion No. 24. The meetings, held March 15 to 17, 1919, became known as the Paris Caucus.

Those days are observed as the founding of the American Legion.

After a dinner during the caucus, the suggestion came to form a new veterans organization. As Lauzon tells it, Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt, the eldest son of President Theodore Roosevelt, made the suggestion.

What followed were months of planning, when the principles and constitution of the American Legion were penned and legislation prepared.

The four pillars of the American Legion were to be:

• To ensure the care of veterans, their widows and children;

• To promote true Americanism (vs. the rise of socialism and communism);

• To ensure a strong national defense; and

• To promote programs for children and youth.

The legislation made its way through Congress during the summer months of 1919 and on Sept. 16 of that year, President Woodrow Wilson signed the measure into law.

The soldiers, sailors, Marines, American Red Cross, Knights of Columbus and veterans of the “war to end all wars” who served in many capacities returned home to a nation not ready to handle the influx of needy service members.

According to Lauzon, it was Pershing’s recognition of the need to care for veterans that gave birth to the American Legion. There is a portrait of Pershing at Post 24, and one can hear tales of how he traveled through Johnson City, on his way to accepting his post as the commander of American forces in World War I.

This need was not more recognized than here in East Tennessee. A number of the original American Legion posts were founded in this the area, creating the region’s historical ties with the American Legion.

Northeast Tennessee posts include Kingsport No. 3, Rogersville No. 21, Johnson City No. 24, Erwin No. 25, Elizabethton No. 49, Mountain City No. 61, Bristol No. 145, Jonesborough No. 253 and Gray No. 255

“The Johnson City members chose the name ‘King’s Mountain’ to honor and remember the Revolutionary War citizen-soldiers who banded together at Sycamore Shoals,” Lauzon said in a written history, “and Marched to South Carolina to defeat the British in the Battle of King’s Mountain.”

The King’s Mountain Post was founded in October 1919. The first Post Commander was Dr. Henry M. Cass, of Carter County, who later settled in Johnson City. The first meetings were held in the city hall auditorium and other locations until 1929.

At this time, according to the post historian, they bought a parcel of land and set out to build a home of their own. The Great Depression and low funds quickly snared the plans for several years.

Eventually, the post built a cabin affectionately referred to as “The Hut,” where many community events were held. This cabin was in the location of Dairy Queen on Legion Street.

Over the years the post grew from those humble beginnings and continues to emphasize support for and care of veterans. 

Recognizing that youth are the leaders of tomorrow the post sponsors many youth and community programs. The post sponsors students to the American Legion Boys and Girls State leadership program. They help with activities at the Boys and Girls Club and sponsor a Boy Scout troop.

In 2018, the post hosted the first Veterans Day Parade in Johnson City in more than 45 years and plan to make this an annual event. The post also is responsible for the “Doughboy” statue in front of the Memorial Park Community Center. In May the organization will add a commemoration plaque to that statue as part of the Johnson City Sesquicentennial memorial ceremony.

This year marks 100 years since veterans recognized a need to help fellow veterans. The scars of war run deep, according to those that have been there, and according to Lauzon the American Legion is there to help. For more information about the American Legion visit alpost24tn.org.

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