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The Story of The American Legion Part 15

CHAPTER XII

THE CLOSING HOURS

The next resolution to be passed was that concerning "Disability Pay."

That resolution, as passed read.

"WHEREAS, under the provisions of the existing law an obvious injustice is done to the civilian who entered the military service, and as an incident, too, that service is disabled, therefore,

"BE IT RESOLVED: That this caucus urge upon Congress the enactment of legislation, which will place upon an equal basis as to retirement for disability incurred in active service during the war with the Central Powers of Europe, all officers and enlisted personnel who served in the military and naval forces of the United States during said war, irrespective of whether they happened to serve in the Regular Army, or in the National Guard or National Army."

Then followed the passage of the War Risk Insurance Resolution. This read:

"WHEREAS, one of the purposes of this organization is: 'To protect, assist, and promote the general welfare of all persons in the military and naval service of the United States and those dependent upon them,' and,

"WHEREAS, owing to the speedy demobilization of the men in the service, who had not had their rights, privileges, and benefits under the War Risk Insurance Act fully explained to them, and these men, therefore, are losing daily, such rights, privileges, and benefits, which may never again be restored, and,

"WHEREAS, it is desirable that every means be pursued to acquaint the men of their full rights, privileges, and benefits under the said act, and to prevent the loss of the said rights, benefits, and privileges, therefore,

"BE IT RESOLVED: That this caucus pledges its most energetic support to a campaign of sound education and widespread activity, to the end that the rights, privileges, and benefits under the War Risk Insurance Act be conserved and that the men discharged from the service be made to realize what are their rights under this act; and that the Executive Committee be empowered and directed to confer with the War Risk Insurance Bureau, that it may carry out the purposes herein expressed and,

"BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: That it is the sense of this caucus that the War Risk Insurance Act be amended to provide that the insured, under the act, may be allowed to elect whether his insurance, upon maturity, shall be paid as an annuity, or in one payment; and that he may select his beneficiaries regardless of family relationship."

At the time of the caucus, Colonel Lindsley was director of the War Risk Insurance Bureau in Washington. In speaking to the motion to pass the foregoing resolution, he said that more than a year ago he and other officers in France felt that if there were no other reasons for an organization such as the Legion, it would be more than worth while to create one even though its sole function was to let those who served in the war know their rights about government insurance and if it saw to it that the general scheme was perpetuated.

"I am speaking particularly of the insurance phase of the situation,"

he said in part. "The United States Government to-day is the greatest insurance institution on earth. Thirty-nine billions of dollars of applications have poured in from over four millions of men; an average of practically $9000 per man is held throughout the United States and abroad, and over 90% of these men are insured. That insurance is the best in the world, because the greatest and the best and the richest Government on earth says, 'I promise to pay.' It is the cheapest insurance in the world and always will be because the Government says, 'As part of our contribution, we, the people of the United States, in this war, as a legitimate expense, will pay all cost of administering this Bureau.' So that the men who have this insurance now and those who have it hereafter will pay only the net cost. If there is any savings, they get it. So that for all time to come they have got the insurance cheaper than any other country except the United States can give them. I say that without any improper comparison with the splendid, properly organized institutions in the United States. It is simply this: That the people of the United States pay this cost of administration. By June 1st the policies of conversion will be ready to be delivered to those who want them. You will be able to cease term insurance, if you wish, and have ordinary life, limited payment life, or endowment insurance. You can have any kind you please, but the big thing, my comrades, is this: To retain every single dollar of this insurance that you can afford to carry. Don't be in any particular hurry about conversion. If your income isn't good--carry this message back to the boys throughout the United States--if their income at this time doesn't justify carrying higher priced insurance, retain that which they have got and throughout this country tell the men that those who have lapsed their insurance because they didn't understand its value, because it wasn't properly presented to them at the period of demobilization by the Government, for it was not, tell them they are going to have every right of reinstatement without physical examination.

"There is going to be no snap judgment on any man who served in this war who, because he was not able when he went out or didn't have the information or because he was careless or for any other reason didn't carry on his insurance. I ask you, my friends, and I think it is one of the important functions of this great American Legion that is born here in St. Louis at this time, to see that the fullest possible amount of this government insurance is maintained. Every man that holds a government policy is a part of the Government more than ever before. I ask you to bear this in mind and it is going to be within your power to say yes and no to many of the great problems of the United States.

"I ask you to see that this great bureau is kept out of politics and that it is administered, in the years to come in the interests of those for whom this law was enacted, those who served as soldiers, sailors, and marines in this war and their dependents. I thank you for this opportunity of presenting this matter to you."

"... It is going to be within your power to say yes or no to many of the great problems of the United States."

The service men know this but coming from a man like Colonel Lindsley it is especially important. How are they going to use this power? What sort of a legislative program will the Legion have? The answer isn't hard to find by a perusal of the resolutions which were passed and by remembering that most important one which did not pass, viz.: the pay grab.

The next resolution occupying the attention of the caucus was that one relating to disability of soldiers, sailors, and marines. It reads:

"BE IT RESOLVED: That the delegates from the several States shall instruct their respective organizations to see that every disabled soldier, sailor, and marine be brought into contact with the Rehabilitation Department of the Federal Board at Washington, D.C., and,

"BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: That the secretaries of the various states be instructed to write to the Federal Board for literature as to what it offers to disabled men, and that the members of the Legion be instructed to distribute this literature and to aid the wounded soldiers, sailors, and marines to take advantage of governmental assistance, and that every effort be made by the American Legion in the several States to stop any attempt to pauperize disabled men."

The whole work of the Legion as outlined at the caucus is constructive and therefore inspiring. The reader will note from the last resolution that members of the Legion are to be instructed to distribute the literature of the Rehabilitation Department among wounded soldiers, sailors, and marines and to show them how to take advantage of governmental assistance; and also that every effort will be made by the American Legion to stop any attempt to pauperize disabled men.

A higher-minded, more gentle resolve than that, can hardly be imagined. All of us remember the host of begging cripples who were going the rounds of the country even so long as thirty-five or forty years after the Civil War. This last resolution means that such will not be the case after this war. I think that it would be safe to say that in nine cases out of ten, after the Legion gets thoroughly started, crippled beggars who pretend to have been wounded in the service of their country will be fakers. Mr. Mott of Illinois, in the discussion on this question, brought out the fact that there were approximately sixty thousand soldiers, sailors, and marines permanently disabled as a result of wounds, accidents, and disease incurred in the war, while approximately one hundred and forty thousand discharged men were only more or less disabled.

The final resolution was that copies of all resolutions passed by the caucus were to be forwarded to every member of the United States Senate and each representative in Congress.

Louis A. Frothingham, chairman of the Resolutions Committee, made an address in which he thanked the people of St. Louis for their hospitality and the War Camp Community Service for its aid. The War Camp Community Service sent special men to St. Louis under the direction of Mr. Frank L. Jones to cooperate with its St. Louis leaders in helping to make the delegates comfortable. Arrangements were made whereby delegates of small means could get lodging for twenty-five cents a night and meals at the same price.

Mr. Foss of Ohio introduced the following resolution of thanks which was passed standing:

"RESOLVED: That a standing vote of thanks be tendered to the War Camp Community Service for its active hospitality to the delegates to this St. Louis Caucus of the American Legion, which is in keeping with its splendid work through the war in extending community service to our American soldiers, sailors, and marines, and,

"BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: That an engrossed copy of this resolution be forwarded to the national secretary of the War Camp Community Service."

In this connection it might be well to digress a bit and to say that War Camp Community Service functioned splendidly for the young men of our Army, Navy, and Marine Corps during the war, and as "Community Service, Inc." intends to continue caring for not only the doughboys and gobs it served so well but for an enlarged patronage. During the conflict, War Camp Community Service organized the social and recreational resources of six hundred communities which were adjacent to training camps, army bases, and naval stations, and also developed the same resources in thirty large communities dominated by great war industries, of which the industrial centers at Bethlehem, Chester, and Erie, Pennsylvania, are types.

I believe it is well worth while for every member of the American Legion to know something about War Camp accomplishment, and Community Service possibilities for each has a similar aim and goal which may be realized by harmonious effort on the part of community service branches and legion posts throughout the entire country.

The idea of War Camp Community Service, like all successful experiments, was based on sound truth and simple theory and proved to be far reaching in results. Communities were not told what to do; there was no cut and dried program, but rather each community received special treatment suited to its particular needs, temperament, and physical characteristics. The basic idea underlying this activity is to allow each one to express himself. No person or community has the same thoughts, manner of living or thinking, and entire communities, like individuals, are affected by their environment and the life which circumstances compel them to lead. An iron monger's stalwart frame may conceal a poetic-soul, while the frail body of an obscure clerk may enclose the spirit of a Cromwell. War Camp has helped a great many such men to find themselves. Community Service promises to do the same thing, for the war has given ample proof of the need of just this kind of service.

With the war gone, with thousands of young men thrown upon their own initiative and resources for both work and play, there is going to be a great need of proper guidance, companionship, and comradeship, unless a great many are to be overtaken by some madness like Bolshevism or in a lesser degree--constant and brooding dissatisfaction. The American Legion post, with its leaders, is going to fill a great need here. It will be some place to go where a man can meet his fellows of the better type, and, not only indulge in the pleasure of discussing former days but, better still, take an interest in present-day movements affecting his country.

Also, I feel that Community Service will have a great place in this same scheme: that it can take the former service man, lonely and seeking expression, just where the Legion leaves off and, with Legion ideals on Americanism and the duties of citizenship as a basis, can round him off in the softer, more intimate molds of life, so that between the two he may not be only an honor to his country, but to his family and to his God as well. Therefore, I believe Community Service will fall heir to the goodwill created by War Camp throughout the nation, that it will retain the best of the latter's tenets and will take its place as one of the great powers for good in the community life of this country.

At the final session, Major Caspar G. Bacon was elected treasurer of the Legion to serve until November 11th. Delegations appointed State chairmen and secretaries to carry on the work of further organization for the November convention.

During luncheon time of the last day there had been some fear expressed among certain of the delegates that the loyal foreign-born element in the United States might not thoroughly understand the Alien Slackers Resolution. In order to make that perfectly clear Chaplain Inzer, during the last hours of the caucus, called for a cheer for every foreign-born citizen who gave loyal service to the United States. A rousing one was given.

Then came the unanimous report of the Committee on Constitution and By-Laws and declaration of principles. It was passed upon, section by section. You will find it printed elsewhere in this volume, and you must read it if you would get a true view of the principles underlying the Legion. It is as plain as a lesson in a school reader. Any comment on it from me would be editorial tautology, so I don't want to say anything more than that its framing was one of the cleverest and most comprehensive bits of work done since the very beginning of the Legion.

On the question of eligibility of Americans who had served in other armies, Mr. Palmen of California, announced as a bit of information that an Act approved by Congress on October 15, 1918, provided that such men must repatriate themselves. "We must go before a judge qualified to give citizenship back, taking with us our honorable discharge and credentials to show that we were American citizens at the time we enlisted," Mr. Palmen declared. Mr. Palmen was with the Canadian Army for three and a half years. "This question has been debated and the public at large is much confused about it," he continued. "I am told all that I must do is to go before a judge and that I will immediately be made a citizen again with all the rights and privileges which that implies."

There was no "hero stuff" at all at this caucus, no names of heroes, as such, were mentioned. The name of the President of the United States was not called nor any member of his Cabinet nor was any reference made to them either direct or indirect. This was done to avoid the appearance of politics. General Pershing's name was mentioned once and that was during the discussion of the sixth section of the constitution which provides that "no Post may be named for any living person."

Major Leonard of the District of Columbia delegation obtained the floor and said that his delegation was in an embarrassing position because they had already organized a post and named it "Pershing Post No. 1." Major Wickersham of New York, stated that a number of posts were already in the process of organization in his State and that the names of living men had been adopted by them.

After all why not call these posts after living men?

Delegate Harder, of Oklahoma, offered the answer:

"With all due respect to the gentlemen who have already named their posts they are subjected, as are we to the action of this caucus," he said. "We know positively that in due course of time those names will be used, at least to a certain extent, politically. Let us find some other way to honor these men and make it impossible for the people of this country to get the idea that this is a political organization."

There you have it, the real reason. Delegate Harder was only one of the hundreds who not only wanted to keep the Legion out of politics now but for all time to come.

Mr. McGrath of New Jersey also took an amusing fling at article six.

As originally drawn it stipulated that the local unit should be termed a billet. "I object to the word billet," he said. "It has too many unpleasant associations as those men who slept in them in France will testify. A billet meant some place where you lay down and slept as long as certain little animals would let you, and the American Legion isn't going to do that."

Just about this time the afternoon was drawing to a close. Everybody realized that a monumental task had been performed. Sleepless nights and nerve-wracking days had been endured. Many pocketbooks were running low. Everybody felt it was time to go home.

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