The 100th National Convention of The American Legion – in the city, and even the same area, where the first was held in November 1919 – called for a celebration of the Legion’s legacy. And that celebratory feeling was evoked throughout the convention.
It was in the competitions: each band performing in the National Band Contest found a way to incorporate history into its set, and Minnesota’s 9th District American Legion Band went so far as to finish with the “American Legion March” by C.W. Parker.
It was in the entertainment: in lieu of the centennial preparation workshop held by Media & Communications staff from National Headquarters at the last several conventions, this year saw a Centennial Film Festival, anchored by a slate of 1938 Hollywood releases. In that year, all the major studios released movies that incorporated the Legion Family somehow; at the time, Post 43 in Hollywood, Calif., had a significant local influence that the post is reapproaching today. Also on the schedule was everything from convention parade footage (the 1941 parade in Milwaukee was presented in Technicolor) to a preview of “To Strengthen America,” an episodic documentary developed by National Headquarters to tell the story of The American Legion at 100 years. And it opened with the Legion Preamble as sung (yes, sung) by entertainer Morton Downey. One enthusiastic viewer was G. Douglas Willey, a past commander of Post 70 in Easton, Md. He had nothing but praise for the selections, commenting, “The video clips of the convention parades are something that should make every Legionnaire proud.”
And the general session was opened with a musical, theatrical journey through time, back to the origins of the Legion, and multiple observations about the organization’s impact. The audience was escorted back to the World War I era by music, dance and a dramatic monologue by Troupe America, which featured a re-enactor who portrayed Theodore Roosevelt Jr., a pivotal founder of the organization. “Roosevelt” closed by commenting, “Today, a new vision is coming into focus, led by new generations of veterans, including – I am delighted to say – my own grandson.” Theodore Roosevelt IV, chairman of The American Legion’s 100th Anniversary Honorary Committee, then took the stage and saluted the man portraying his grandfather. He and several other members of the Honorary Committee – Vietnam War combat nurse Diane Carlson Evans, Olympic gold medalist Jamie Corkish, former NBC Vice President Val Nicholas and international affairs consultant/educator Susan Eisenhower, as well as Past National Commander David K. Rehbein, chairman of the Legion’s 100th Anniversary Observance Committee – spoke about the Legion’s legacy and impact, especially on their lives. The younger Roosevelt concluded that concrete action on behalf of veterans and their families, “I am very proud to say, is the heart and soul of The American Legion, now entering its second tour of duty, its second hundred years.” A video of the opening ceremony is available to view, download and share on the Legion's Vimeo channel, at https://vimeo.com/290916463.