Soldiers Back Home: The American Legion in Illinois, 1919-1939

Soldiers Back Home: The American Legion in Illinois, 1919-1939

Soldiers Back Home: The American Legion in Illinois, 1919-1939

Soldiers Back Home: The American Legion in Illinois, 1919-1939

Synopsis

This first political and social history of the American Legion in Illinois from its formation in 1919 to the onset of World War II focuses on the organization's influence of the two political parties and on public opinion at the state and local levels. Gauging the singular influence of the organization in a particularly turbulent time in Illinois and American history, Thomas B. Littlewood argues that the local orientation of individual posts was more important to most Legionnaires than the activities of the organization's national leaders. At the same time, he shows how the conflicts within the Legion mirrored those in the larger society. Soldiers Black Home: The American Legion in Illinois, 1919-1939 traces the origins of the organization, showing it to be the biggest and most politically committed of the World War I veterans organizations. Littlewood details how the organization worked to influence public policy on behalf of veterans and their families. Concentrating at first on the welfare of children who had lost their fathers in the war, the Legion later became involved in a variety of community service activities. Littlewood traces the Legion's impact on politics, community life, labor relations, race relations, and the struggle for veterans' benefits in Illinois. He maintains that the Legion experienced significant divisions along regional lines, with tension between rural and urban populations. Littlewood also discusses the careers of famed Illinois leaders such as Scott Lucas, William Dawson, and Everett Dirksen and their involvement with the Legion.

Excerpt

Some of my most vivid schoolboy memories of growing up in the 1930s in a small town in the Midwest are of November 11. Every year on that date, all the schoolchildren would march to the municipal auditorium for a ceremony commemorating Armistice Day. Several portly gentlemen would be waiting on the stage. They were attorneys, judges, store owners, insurance salesmen, many of the most prominent town fathers, all wearing on this day identical blue overseas caps with gold piping. The color guard would bring the Stars and Stripes forward. One of the men, a local politician whose name was familiar to our parents, would tell us at some length what we already knew about the importance of patriotism. At precisely 11 a.m., a bugler would sound taps and then the firing squad would deliver a rifle volley, the sound echoing inside the building while the children held their hands to their ears, because most had been there before and knew what was coming.

The self-appointed overseers of our continuing education in Americanism were members of the biggest and most politically committed of the several organizations of veterans of the First World War—the American Legion. The Legion appeared in different public roles. It was, first and foremost, a fraternal association of men whose military service set them apart. One veteran who later studied the readjustment problems of his former comrades as an academic considered the Legion to have been an invaluable “social machine” that contained and redirected their anger and alienation. “The ex-soldier has lost his years, his youth, and he brings back the memory of nameless horrors, ” said Willard Waller. “There is no place . . .

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