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Taking on the American Legion


When the United States entered the war, a grand promise was made: America would “darken the skies of Germany” with a vast air armada. In 1917 the War Department asked Congress for $640 million with the assurance that the planes would arrive at the front by May 1918. Congress approved the appropriation, the largest single amount ever granted, and President Wilson signed it into law in July 1917.

The reality was somewhat less impressive than the promise. By the time the war ended in 1918, there were only 196 American aircraft in service on the Western Front. It was apparent that the program was a failure. There were accusations of scandal

On this date in 1919, the Washburn Leader reported on a World War Veterans meeting in Bismarck. The newspaper called the group a socialist organization and said it was determined to break the political influence of the newly established American Legion. The aircraft scandal played a role. Lester Barlow, a featured speaker at the World War Veterans meeting, used the aircraft scandal to heighten his audience’s resentment of the Wilson Administration and their disdain for the American Legion. He asserted that the American Legion was controlled by big business and a party to the graft. He said the Legion was more interested in politics than in helping veterans.

The newspaper said Barlow’s speech was full of unsupported assertions, innuendoes, and generalities. The newspaper pointed out that most of the American Legion delegates had served as enlisted men who were not interested in politics.

A bill had been introduced in the state legislature establishing an office for veterans’ affairs at the Capitol. The original bill included an office for the American Legion, but the Legion turned down that offer, determined to remain non-political.

The WWV’s challenge of the American Legion was not successful. The national organization had disbanded the previous spring, and it was a small chapter in Minneapolis that had tried to make inroads into North Dakota.

The American Legion, founded in the wake of the war, has survived through the years, with a membership today of nearly 2 ½ million. Notable former members include Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher.


Relevance: The Quarterly Journal of the Great War Society. “US Aircraft Production: Success or Scandal?” "http://www.worldwar1.com/tgws/relairprod.htm%20Accessed%207%20November%202017" http://www.worldwar1.com/tgws/relairprod.htm Accessed 7 November 2017 .

Washburn Leader. “Would Break the Legion.” Washburn, ND. 5 December 1919. Page 1.