The aftermath of the Great War brought about the formation of the American Legion, when members of the American Expeditionary Force met in Paris from March 15-17, 1919. With 463 registered for the meeting, possibly more than 1,000 attended.
The first meeting established four committees: Convention, Permanent Organization, Constitution and Name.
On the last day, St. Patrick’s Day, the organization picked its name. Fifteen names were considered, including “Veterans of the Great War,” “Legion of the Great War,” “Liberty League” and “Army of the Great War.” The body chose “American Legion.”
In May 1919, the organizing American Legion met again in St. Louis. Fourteen delegates from West Virginia attended, including Maj. John C. Bond, Capt. M.V. Godboy, Capt. Joseph H. Jackson and Capt. Gurnett “Gurney” Ferguson (later known for the Ferguson Hotel on The Block).
The meeting made the American Legion permanent. The preamble and constitution were approved, and the first — although temporary — officers were chosen. A November meeting was set in Minneapolis.
In June 1919, the Charleston Daily Mail posted a story on the organization announcing the American Legion Weekly magazine, with the first issue published on July 4, 1919, with Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing writing the introduction. The goal of the publication “to foster and perpetuate 100% Americanism” and “to safeguard the benefits of justice, freedom and democracy” earned through the Great War.
Congress chartered the American Legion on Sept. 16, 1919. This authorized the American Legion to adopt a constitution and bylaws, elect officers, define membership criteria, and to manufacture and use the unpatented American Legion emblem. It also restricted the American Legion to be nonpolitical and not endorse or promote public office candidates.
In November 1919, the American Legion held its first national convention. Indianapolis was chosen over Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis — possibly because of the extreme cold convention temperatures. On Nov. 10, 1919, the American Legion created the Women’s Auxiliary of the American Legion for the mothers, sisters, wives and daughters of members. The Sons of the American Legion was established in 1932 for male descendants, adopted sons and stepsons of members of the American Legion.
The American Legion successfully pressured Congress to raise the benefits of totally disabled veterans by Christmas 1919. Although not a political organization, in the mold of the Grand Army of the Republic, the American Legion is an advocate for veterans and patriotism.
The Charleston Daily Mail reported on July 14, 1919, that posts were established in Wheeling, Morgantown, Moundsville, Weston, Hinton, Welch, Buckhannon, McMeehen, Bluefield and Weirton. In addition, Huntington, Parkersburg, Martinsburg, Fairmont, Princeton, Montgomery, Elkins, Sutton and Piedmont were organizing. Nitro Post No. 43 existed by Nov. 11, 1919 — the first Armistice Day.
Charleston veterans were scheduled to meet in late July to organize both white and black posts. Capt. Ferguson held an organization meeting at his 604½ Kanawha Blvd. office on Aug. 7, 1919, for a black post in Charleston.
That month, the American Legion had 2,400 local posts, of which about half were awaiting national chartering, with more than 300,000 members. By the end of the month, there were 33 posts in West Virginia.
On Nov. 7, 1919, Kanawha Post 20 was established with “several hundred members.” In 1923, the John Brawley Post 61 was chartered, named for John Brawley of Charleston, who was killed on Oct. 4, 1918. Brawley was one of 1,120 West Virginia servicemen to be killed in action during the Great War. In 1921, he was interred in a family plot at Spring Hill Cemetery.
In 1923, the John Brawley Post 61 was chartered on Charleston’s West Side. In 1925, the Kanawha Post 20 and Brawley Post 61 merged, creating the John Brawley Post 20. There are more than a dozen still active posts in and around the capital city.
The only change to the preamble of the American Legion happened in September 1942 when “War” was changed to “Wars.”
The poppy became the official flower of the American Legion in September 1920 to memorialize soldiers who fought and died in WWI. In 1924, the American Legion adopted a national program to distribute poppies.
In 1921, Franco-American Children’s League sold poppies for war orphans of France and Belgium. In August 1922, the Veterans of Foreign Wars took over the cause and became the first veterans’ organization to nationally sell poppies called “Buddy Poppy” in honor of their buddies who never returned from the war. In February 1924, the name as registered with the U.S. Patent Office. Disabled veterans make all poppies with a VFW label.
In 2017, Congress decided for the 100th of the U.S. entrance into the Great War (1917-1918) and the founding of the American Legion (1919) it was “fitting to expand the meaning the poppy and formally recognize its historic symbolism.” House Resolution 309 declared “Friday before each Memorial Day is an appropriate day to recognize as ‘National Poppy Day.’”