The American Legion has its roots in another organization by the same name — but not one for veterans.
In 1915, World War I was growing bloodier by the day, and a group of Americans were concerned. They wanted the government to strengthen the American military and prepare to enter the war, if necessary.
Led by magazine editor Arthur Sullivant Hoffman and writer Stephan Allan Reynolds, the American Legion of 1915 soon amassed 23,000 members with skills from 77 different possessions, and included two former presidents — Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft — among its members.
The U.S. did end up entering the first World War in 1917, and at that time, the American Legion turned over its membership rosters and shut down, off to volunteer their skills to the military.
But when World War I drew to a close in November 1918, some of the American officers who had fought in Europe wanted to form a veterans organization that could raise American soldiers' spirits as they waited long months in France before they could be returned home.
The American Legion was reborn 100 years ago, and Lodi was one of the first cities in the United States to form a chapter of the new veterans organization.
On Sept. 16, 1919, Congress chartered the American Legion. From Nov. 10 to 12 of that year, the first American Legion convention was held in Minneapolis. Delegates — including Lodi attorney J. Leroy Johnson — voted to locate the brand-new organization in Indianapolis, and to lend their support to the Boy Scouts.
By December, the American Legion of California had tasked the Lodi chapter with a special duty: combating growing American support for communism, anarchy and other “radicalism” by educating young people and immigrants. Post members stepped up to ensure local officials performed their duties, ensure new Americans could read and write in English so they could become citizens, and educate all Americans — native-born or newly arrived — on the government and history of the United States, the Lodi Sentinel reported on Dec. 2, 1919.
Post 22 got its official charter on Dec. 21, 1919. At that time, it had 144 members.
Over the past 100 years, Lodi’s American Legion members have provided a number of services to the community, from fighting floodwaters in 1928 to helping build Micke Grove Park, and Legion Hall has been a community center.
The Legion co-hosts Lodi’s annual Oktoberfest bash with the Lodi Tokay Rotary, along with hosting monthly omelet breakfasts and a crab feed every February. They provide veterans with rides to medical appointments, sponsor Lodi High School students to attend Boys and Girls State, support a Boy Scout troop and give Girl Scouts a chance to raise funds for their groups.
Legion Hall is the site of a number of club fundraisers and other social events, and home to Lodi Musical Theatre and the International Ballet Theatre Institute.
The building recently got new flooring and a new coat of paint in its entryway, thanks to a $20,000 grant from Lodi Sunrise Rotary Club. They’re also putting on a new roof, and improvements to bring the building in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act are in the works.
This is the first of a two-part story celebrating the American Legion’s 100th anniversary.