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.
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.”
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.
The second Theodore Roosevelt remains one of the most imposing figures in American history.
He formed the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry during the Spanish-American War and led the “Rough Riders” up San Juan Hill in Cuba in 1898 — an action for which he would receive the Medal of Honor in 2001.
Roosevelt parlayed his heroism into a meteoric rise in politics, becoming president of the United States just three years later, in 1901.
Theodore Jr. spent his formative teen years living in the White House.
Yet the Roosevelts maintained a connection with everyday Americans. The president proved it in politics.
Roosevelt Jr. proved it when convalescing in a field hospital in France, when he met wounded soldier Sgt. William Patterson, reportedly resting under a tree.
Patterson told Roosevelt Jr. that he had a vision after the war to “go home and start a veterans association for the good of the country,” Theodore Roosevelt IV said in a speech in 2019, as the American Legion celebrated its 100th anniversary.
Sgt. Patteron was later killed in battle. His vision remains.
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.”
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.
He pleaded his case in a handwritten letter to Major General Raymond O. Barton, commanding officer of the 4 Infantry Division.
“It will steady the boys,” Roosevelt wrote, “to know I am with them.”
One of “the boys” was his own son, Capt. Quentin Roosevelt II, who landed with the first wave of liberators at Omaha Beach.
Roosevelt, 56 years old, limped out of his landing craft with a cane at Utah Beach.
“Stomping up and down the sands, occasionally massaging his arthritic shoulder … the only general to land with the first-wave troops,” writes Ryan.
He was not only the highest-ranking soldier, but likely the oldest man to land on D-Day; he was twice the age of most of the liberators.
Roosevelt and his officers quickly realized a colossal error: They landed 2,000 yards from their intended objectives, causeways they would use to link up with paratroopers who had landed inland.
In the maelstrom of battle, alone in command, he was forced to make one of the most decisive decisions of D-Day: Bring successive waves of troops into the errant landing spots, or divert them to the original landing zone.
“You get the word to the Navy to bring them in,” he told a junior officer. “We’re going to start the war right from here.”
Theodore Roosevelt III died on July 12, 1944.
He suffered a heart attack in Normandy, just five weeks after inspiring American boys off the deadly sands of Utah Beach and into the heart of Hitler’s National Socialist Germany.
Brig. Gen. Roosevelt was 56 years old.
He’s buried in one of the nation’s most reverent places of honor: the Normandy American Cemetery on a bluff overlooking the D-Day invasion beaches.
The gold lettering on his white marble cross gravestone denotes his status as a recipient of the Medal of Honor.
“He repeatedly led groups from the beach, over the seawall, and established them inland,” reads his Medal of Honor citation, delivered in Sept. 1944 while the Allies still battled in France.
“His valor, courage and presence in the very front of the attack and his complete unconcern at being under heavy fire inspired the troops to heights of enthusiasm and self-sacrifice … Under his seasoned, precise, calm and unfaltering leadership, assault troops reduced beach strongpoints and rapidly moved inland with minimum casualties.”
Roosevelt Jr. was given an impossible standard of achievement by his father.
And yet, he excelled in heroism.
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 3,500 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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