The American Legion was founded in March 1919 in Paris, France by U.S. World War I military personnel stationed there. Members of the American Expeditionary Forces were awaiting shipment home when they gathered in Paris for what became the American Legion Paris Caucus.

Following the Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918, they had ample time to think about their return to the states. They had time to think about their own futures and those of their comrades, both living and dead. They thought about the plight of the many wounded, their families and the communities that would be forever changed by the experience of what was then called the Great War.

While the exact words have changed over the years, they dedicated themselves to the Four Pillars of Service: Veterans, Defense, Youth and Americanism.

Veterans

The American Legion has always supported the care of war wounded and was a big part of the creation of the Veterans Administration, later known as the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA not only operates hundreds of hospitals and clinics, but also supports the work of counselors and veterans home loans, and assists with transitioning war fighters into civilian life.

The American Legion regularly renders military honors for veterans’ families and honors those veterans every year on Memorial Day at cemeteries across the nation and around the world, and on Veterans Day.

Defense

The American Legion actively supports the men and women of our military communities with social activities, family support and personal care, and support overseas or at stateside duty stations.

Youth

The American Legion actively supports many youth programs in nearly every community where the Legion is present. The best-known are American Legion Baseball, Boys State and Girls State, a nationwide speech contest, park and playground construction, sponsorship of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, community bands and disaster prevention and recovery.

Americanism

The American Legion has always worked to foster Americanism — that sometimes elusive quality that makes our rich mix of immigrants and native born into the amalgam that is uniquely American. It is a singular strength of this nation and the liberties and freedoms that we all enjoy.

Citizenship is a commodity that cannot be bought, stolen or seized. It must be won by every individual and defended together as a society and a united people.

Your American Legion Post 22, Lodi is part of the Department of California. There are 55 “departments” in the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, France, Mexico and the Philippines. There are 13,000 local posts worldwide with more than 3 million members.

Membership is open to active-duty military and veterans who have honorably served their nation on active duty during war time and other periods as designated by the Congress of the United States.

The legacy of the American Legion includes being instrumental in the creation of a number of major institutions of American Society, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Flag Code, and passage of the G.I. Bill.

But the American Legion’s efforts don’t start there.

Every year, American Legion posts:

  • Donate more than 3.7 million hours of volunteer service in their communities.
  • Provide assistance on more than 181,000 VA benefits claims and cases.
  • Donate more than 80,000 pints of blood to collection centers nationwide — the nation’s largest group of blood donors.
  • Award more than 8,000 medals to Junior ROTC students.
  • Sponsor more than 2,500 Scouting units serving more than 64,000 young people.
  • Award more than $4 million in college scholarships.

The American Legion was chartered in the U.S. in September 1919. Lodi Post 22 was chartered in December of that same year. That was long before the internet and email — most people didn’t even have telephones. Rapid communication was by Western Union telegrams, delivered by taxi cabs and kids on bicycles.

Lodi Post 22 was founded by a muster of 144 charter members. The first commander was Archie R. Stephens, a U.S. Navy veteran whose service dated back to the Spanish-American War. Stephens was an engineering officer on the USS Maine when it exploded in Havana harbor.

The first meeting of the new Post 22 was held in the Old City Hall at 114 N. Main St., which later became Lodi Firehouse No. 1. They later met in a room over the Beckman, Welch and Thompson Co. on School Street.

They grew and moved again to the Eagles Hall on Locust and Church streets, now the site of the Lodi Public Library. They met there for just over 20 years until the new Veterans Memorial Hall — widely known as American Legion Hall — was constructed at 320 N. Washington St. This is where the Legion still meets today.

As prescribed in the original bylaws, Legionnaires serve as equals, regardless of military rank. In peacetime, the Legion honors all service and every veteran.

The community service tradition

Before the new building was even planned, Post 22 entered into an agreement with William G. Micke to use what was then still called Pixley Woods for Legion events and recreation, such as their annual picnic. Micke leased the oak grove to the Legion for $1 per year; in exchange, the Post members cleared brush, dug a well and an irrigation system, ran an electric line from Armstrong Road to the grove, and built dance floors and baseball diamonds.

In 1938, Micke deeded the park to San Joaquin County as Micke Grove Park.

As Post 22 grew following World War II and the returning wave of new veterans, a new meeting space became an imperative.

The site the Legion hoped to build its new building on was actually part of Lawrence Park, and as such could not be purchased. However, it could be traded for other park land, so the Legion purchased the property that later became part of the softball complex and traded it for the Lawrence Park location.

Funds in the amount of $150,000 were raised by public subscription — the equivalent of $1,596,819 in today’s dollars. The Legion had been raising funds that were held in reserve for the new “Legion Hall.” Events such as the famous Legion Picnic probably produced much of the funding.

The newly completed Veterans Memorial Hall was dedicated in October 1950 with Commander Ellsworth Beckman presiding. When it opened, it was — and still is — one of the largest Legion Halls in the state. It included the auditorium and stage, kitchen, game rooms, meeting rooms, offices and spacious men’s and women’s restrooms. It is still a very popular gathering site for Legion events, family events, dances, balls and other entertainment.

By 1956, Post 22 had grown to 687 members.

Legion membership in the 1950s and ’60s read like a Who’s Who of Lodi and the surrounding area. A sampling from 1956-57 includes Commander John Burrell; Ben Schaffer, past commander; Tony Rader, first vice commander; Leslie Bischofberger, second vice commander; Adjutant Walt Jacobsen; Ben Stoebner, finance officer; Chaplain C.J. Lear; Ray Bender, historian; and Frank Watson, judge advocate.

Members of the executive committee included Leslie Bishofberger, Ole Mettler, Vernon Kuhl, Charles Boynton and Alvar Sperring. Major committees of the post included Frank Stocking, Clarence Naas, Roland Belforte, Mrs. Jewel Jones, Harry Schumacher, Lou Farnsworth, Bill Callis, Vern Hoffman, William Lange, Harold Jones and E.J. Crescenzi.

Current activities include:

  • Veterans counseling.
  • Emergency financial assistance to veterans.
  • Military honors at veterans funerals.
  • The “Avenue of Flags” at Cherokee Memorial Park each Memorial Day.
  • Color guard services at community events.
  • Sponsorship of the American Legion Riders and Boy Scouts.
  • Sponsorship of oratorical competitions, Boys State and Girls State.
  • Veterans services in VA hospitals.

We also regularly provide classroom and civic group speakers who are properly vetted and qualified to represent the American Legion and veterans. The American Legion Auxiliary visits home-bound veterans, bringing gifts, every Christmas.

Do you know anyone who has not attended a family or community event at the American Legion? The American Legion Hall is the most popular rental facility in the area. Many people know of the American Legion thanks to events at the hall and our Third Sunday Omelet Breakfast, held each month.

Over the next year, we will be doing a much better job of informing you of the many things our Legionnaires and Auxiliary members are doing to serve veterans and their families, as well as the greater Lodi community. We are planning a number of events over the coming year that will give you an opportunity to meet our veterans and have some fun at the same time.

Author’s note: The preparation of this article required and used many resources. Appreciation is hereby expressed to the American Legion National Office, American Legion Post 22 collections, the collections of the San Joaquin County Historical Society and Museum, and the Lodi News-Sentinel c. 1957.

Michael W. Bennett is the past commander of American Legion Lodi Post 22.

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