American Legion marks 100 years

Members of the American Legion celebrated its 100th anniversary on Saturday at Post No. 10 in Manistee. (Michelle Graves/News Advocate)

MANISTEE — Marking the American Legion’s anniversary each year is a way for members to go back to their roots.

“The tree is only as strong as its roots,” said Keith Graham, historian, for American Legion Post No. 10 in Manistee. “We celebrate the anniversary every year, it just happens that this is the 100th.”

On Saturday, about 70 people gathered at the Manistee post to mark the American Legion’s 100th anniversary.

From March 15-17, 1919, members of the American Expeditionary Force convened in Paris for the first American Legion caucus. On Sept. 16, 1919, the American Legion was chartered by Congress as a patriotic veterans organization.

The American Legion focuses on service to veterans, service members and communities; it “evolved from a group of war-weary veterans of World War I into one of the most influential nonprofit groups in the United States,” according to its website, www.legion.org.

(From left) Keith Graham, historian, for American Legion Post No. 10 in Manistee, and Randy Gilbert, 9th District Commander, Department of Michigan, American Legion, celebrate the American Legion’s 100th anniversary on Saturday. (Michelle Graves/News Advocate)

Membership quickly grew to over 1 million as local posts sprang up across the country. Today there are more than 13,000 posts worldwide with more than 2 million members.

Graham has been a member of Post No. 10 for 33 years.

“There’s a certain amount of camaraderie with veterans,” he said, adding that the Legion hosts various programs at the local and national level from Veterans Day and Memorial Day festivities to fish frys, Boys State, Student Trooper, scholarships and more.

Randy Gilbert, 9th District Commander, Department of Michigan, American Legion, joined the post in Fife Lake 20 years ago.

“I was coming through our local town and I saw the color guard doing the Memorial Day ceremony and it was a cluster … being an instructor I went to the post and said ‘I want to join,’” he recalled. “They made me sergeant at arms. The color guard (exploded)! So every year we do this marching thing, that’s why I joined.”

Post No. 10 commander Brian Kluesner also said he joined because of the camaraderie.

“I came in here a few times as a guest with somebody. I liked the people that were here, I thought I’d join and get involved. I started working on the fish frys that we do in the summer time and everything kind of snowballed from there,” he said.

Graham and Gilbert both said that the Legion also is a voice for veterans.

“When we stand as a whole and say something, Congress listens,” said Graham. “It’s the same thing with the VFW. If you see something that should be corrected or you’d like to see something, you give it to our congressional people and push it through. Of course, it works its way up from the bottom to the top.”

About 70 people attended a dinner celebration at Post No. 10 in Manistee to mark the 100th anniversary of the American Legion. (Michelle Graves/News Advocate)

Graham said it just takes one person to get the ball rolling.

“It starts here; he can write a resolution to change something – it goes post level, district level, department level, national,” he said. “It starts as a resolution at a local post and works its way up through the chain. The next thing you know it’s law.”

On Aug. 9, 1921, the Legion’s efforts result in the creation of the U.S. Veterans Bureau, forerunner of the Veterans Administration.

One interesting thing about the American Legion is that female veterans have always been able to join the Legion itself, said Kluesner.

“Spouses of veterans join the Ladies Auxiliary,” he said. “That’s something I think a lot of people really aren’t aware of, that we welcomed women right from the beginning, even before they could vote.

To join, one only needs to apply, to have served one day of active duty during specified dates (visit www.members.legion.org for qualifying dates), have an honorable discharge and pay membership dues, which varies by post.

On June 29, the Manistee post will mark its 100th anniversary with its Post Charter Day. The event will be open to the public; details are still being finalized.

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Posted by Michelle Graves

Michelle is the managing editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3106 or mgraves@pioneergroup.com.

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