100 Years of Presidents speaking to The American Legion

 
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100 Years of Presidents speaking to The American Legion

I did an article for this month's magazine that illustrates some of these quotes, but I wanted to get all of them.  The Legion has always been non-partisan, meaning we don't support a political party.  But we are political about veterans issues, in the sense that we push certain views, answers to political questions, and positions on things of import.  But this list shows how Presidents of all political colors have honored the Legion and recognized the importance of addressing them.

President Woodrow Wilson (March 4, 1913 – March 4, 1921)

July 12, 1919, letter to The American Legion Weekly.

I am happy to have this opportunity to address a word of greeting and comradeship to the men who have served in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps and are now handing themselves together to preserve the splendid traditions of that service. I have had a chance to see these men on land and on see, at home and abroad. The spirit of their service was as splendid as its success, and the continuation of that spirit in The American Legion will make it always an inspiration to the full performance of high and difficult duties.

President Warren G. Harding (March 4, 1921 – August 2, 1923)  [Note: pictured above with Legionnaires in the East Room of the White House.]

October 15, 1923, American Legion Convention, San Francisco, California.

War brought us the lesson that we had not been so American in spirit as we had honestly pretended. Some of our adopted citizenship wore the habiliments of America, but were not consecrated in soul. Some to whom we have given all the advantages of American citizenship would destroy the very institutions under which they have accepted our hospitality. Hence our commitment to the necessary Americanization which we too long neglected.

The American Legion, baptized anew in the supreme test on foreign battle fields, is playing its splendid part. Those who bore war's burdens at home have joined, and all America must fully participate. It is not enough to enlist the sincere allegiance of those who come to accept our citizenship; we must make sure for ourselves, for all of us, that we cling to the fundamentals, to the practices which enabled us to build so successfully, and avoid the errors which tend to impair our vigor and becloud our future.

President Calvin Coolidge (August 2, 1923 – March 4, 1929)

October 6, 1925, Toleration and Liberalism: Speech before the American Legion Convention, Omaha, Nebraska.

It is a high privilege to sit as a member of this convention. Those who exercise it have been raised to the rank of a true nobility. It is a mark of personal merit which did not come by right of birth but by right of conquest. No one can ever question your title as patriots. No one can ever doubt the place of affection and honor which you hold forevermore in the heart of the Nation. Your right to be here results from what you dared and what you did and the sacrifices which you made for our common country. It is all a glorious story of American enterprise and American valor.

The magnitude of the service which you rendered to your country and to humanity is beyond estimation. Sharp out lines here and there we know, but the whole account of the World War would be on a scale so stupendous that it could never be recorded. In the victory which was finally gained by you and your foreign comrades, you represented on the battle field the united efforts of our whole people. You were there as the result of a great resurgence of the old American spirit, which manifested itself in a thousand ways, by the pouring out of vast sums of money in credits and charities, by the organization and quickening of every hand in our extended industries, by the expansion of agriculture until it met the demands of famishing continents, by the manufacture of an unending stream of munitions and supplies, by the creation of vast fleets of war and transport ships, and, finally, when the tide of battle was turning against our associates, by bringing into action a great armed force on sea and land of a character that the world had never seen before, which, when it finally took its place in the line, never ceased to advance, carrying the cause of liberty to a triumphant conclusion. You reaffirmed the position of this Nation in the estimation of mankind. You saved civilization from a gigantic reverse. Nobody says now that Americans can not fight.

President Herbert Hoover (March 4, 1929 – March 4, 1933)

November 11, 1929, Armistice Day Address at American Legion Exercises, Washington DC.

My Fellow Countrymen:

Eleven years have gone by since the day of the armistice, when the guns ceased firing.  It was a day of thanksgiving that marked the ending of the shambles of the trenches.  For us it will be remembered always as a day of pride; pride in the memory of those who suffered and of those who made the last sacrifice of life in that great cause; pride in the proven valour of our Army and Navy; pride in the greatness of our national strength; pride in the high purpose for which we entered the war, and pride that we neither wanted nor got it anything of profit for ourselves. Those stirring memories will always remain, and on each Armistice Day will flow again.

From the war we have two paramount obligations.  We owe to those who suffered and yet lived an obligation of national assistance, each according to his need.  We owe it to the dead that we redeem our promise that their sacrifice would help bring peace to the world.  The National will discharge its obligations.

The men who fought know the real meaning and dreadfulness of war.  No man came from that furnace a swash-bucking militarist.  Those who saw its realities and its backwash in the sacrifice of women and children are not the men who glorify war.  They are the men who pray for peace for their children.  But they rightly demand that peace be had without the sacrifice of our independence or of those principles of justice without which civilization must fail.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (March 4, 1933 – April 12, 1945)

October 2, 1933, American Legion Convention, Chicago. 

[Editor’s note:  FDR was an honorary member of The American Legion, and his references below were to his service as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy in World War I.]

I am glad to come here as your guest and I am glad to have the right to come here as your comrade . I have come because I have faith in the American Legion and in all other veterans of our wars . The right which I have to come here works both ways, because as long as I am in the White House you have the right to come and see me there.

But my relationship with you is not a matter of the past six months,  it dates back to the war days when I

participated with you, not only in this country but also on the North Sea , and in the Channel, and on the actual fighting front in France.

I want to talk with you about the problem of government, the difficulties which you and I as Americans have faced and solved, and those which we still face. I recognize and appreciate, and the Nation recognizes and appreciates , the patience, the loyalty and the willingness to make sacrifices, shown by the over whelming majority of the veterans of our country during the trying period from which we are beginning successfully to emerge.

President Harry S. Truman (April 12, 1945 – January 20, 1953)

March 7, 1938, then- Senator Truman, Speech Delivered at George Washington Post #1, The American Legion, Washington, D.C.

The Congress is considering a plan for industrial mobilization which, I think, has merit. It is proposed to draft Industry and Labor, in time of emergency, on the same basis as the men who are to be shot at are drafted. It is thought that this would leave no loophole for profiteers, or chance for exploitation by any group or class. This proposal still requires a lot of study to make it effective and workable.

I believe in an adequate national defense program. I think that the old Puritan who prayed regularly for protection against the Indians was much safer when, at the same time, he prudently kept his powder dry. Andrew Jackson, the fighting old President from Tennessee, said, “We shall more certainly preserve peace when it is understood that we are prepared for war.”

The world knows that we can mobilize; that we can and will fight for our rights, in spite of a small and vociferous pacifist group.

The world knows our honorable record in the World War, and it was honorable, regardless of munitions barons and international bankers. We fought for liberty and honor, just as we always have and just as we always shall when occasion demands it. I hope we shall never have to fight again, and the best way to keep from it is to be adequately prepared for all contingencies.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower (January 20, 1953 – January 20, 1961)

President Dwight Eisenhower broadcast from the White House for the American Legion's Back-to-God Program, February 7, 1954:

As a former soldier, I am delighted that our VETERANS are sponsoring a movement to increase our awareness of God in our daily lives.

In battle, they learned a great truth-that there are no atheists in the foxholes. They know that in time of test and trial, we instinctively turn to God for new courage and peace of mind.

All the history of America bears witness to this truth. Out of faith in God, and through faith in themselves as His children, our forefathers designed and built this Republic ...

We remember the picture of the Father of our Country, on his knees at Valley Forge seeking divine guidance in the cold gloom of a bitter winter.

Thus Washington gained strength to lead to independence a nation dedicated to the belief that each of us is divinely endowed with indestructible rights.

We remember, too, that three-fourths of a century later, on the battle-torn field of Gettysburg, and in the silence of many a wartime night, Abraham Lincoln recognized that only under God could this Nation win a new birth of freedom ...

President John F. Kennedy (January 20, 1961 – November 22, 1963)

October 16, 1953, Address to the National Executive Committee, Indianapolis, Indiana.

One of the articles of the Legion’s oath is “to make right the master of might.” But the Legion has never believed that “right” should march unescorted and unarmed in a difficult and dangerous world and therefore since its earliest days the American Legion has made one of its foremost aims the battle for strong and adequate national defense, and in so doing it has fought against the successive waves of drift and slide of the last years that have cost us so heavily.

This meeting is therefore I believe the proper place in which to argue the need for a defense effort more in keeping with the perils of the time than the one that is at present our national policy.

The American Legion will have many opportunities for important public service in the coming months, but already it is becoming apparent that it may again be in the field of national security that this service will have its most enduring significance.

There is, of course, good reason to believe that the ultimate reliance of the Soviet Union will be on the weapons of subversion, economic disintegration and guerilla warfare to accomplish our destruction, rather than upon the direct assault of all-out war.

But we cannot count on it. So long as the Soviet Union and her satellites continue to dedicate the large percentage of their national production to the preparation for war – so long must the United State recognize the peril to which we are now subjected in increasing quantities.

President Lyndon B. Johnson (November 22, 1963 – January 20, 1969)

President Johnson before the American Legion National Convention in Washington, D.C. on August 30, 1966, "The True Meaning of Patriotism"

"Make no mistake about the character of this war. Our adversaries have done us at least one great service: They have described this war for what it is--in unmistakable terms. It is meant to be the opening salvo in a series of bombardments, or, as they are called in Peking, 'wars of liberation.'

"And if it succeeds in South Viet-Nam, then, as Marshal Lin Piao says, 'The people in other parts of the world will see . . . that what the Vietnamese people can do, they can do, too.'"

President Richard M. Nixon (January 20, 1969 – August 9, 1974)

October 18, 1960, Speech by the Vice President at the American Legion Convention, Miami, FL.

As you have heard over and over again, the battle for the world will be decided probably in the non military area. It will be decided in the minds and the hearts and the souls of men. It will be decided certainly by what our President and our Vice President and our Secretary of State say in the world councils, but it will be decided in our favor only if a President is able to speak for a nation that is strong morally an spiritually - and that kind of strength must come from the homes, it must come from the schools, it must come from the churches of America. America must be an example for all the world to see, and that's why I say you, the American Legion, as leaders of your community, can render tremendous service. See that our young people realize what a privilege it is to be a citizen of this country. See that they realize what freedom means. See that they realize certainly that in America we have some other destinies than simply to keep what we have, that America came into the world 180 years ago not just to preserve freedom for ourselves, but we came into the world to extend it to all mankind. That was true then; at the time of the American Revolution. It is even truer today, when America has the power morally, spiritually, economically, and militarily to be heard and seen and felt in world councils. But again that comes back to you. See that the President of the United States can represent a united America. See, for example, in a very difficult field - and I mention it because it is difficult and because the Legion has been very forthright in meeting difficult problems - that we make progress in the difficult area of human rights so that a man like Khrushchev, who has enslaved millions and who slaughtered thousands in the streets of Budapest, cannot again come to this country and point a finger at us and say "You deny human rights." Let's see that we make the progress that will deny this to him. My friends, if you develop this kind of strength in America, we will win. We will win the struggle for freedom, and we will win it because we are on the right side. How do I know? I have seen what moral strength means. Oh, I know you will hear people say, "What does this matter with a man like Khrushchev or Mao Tse-tung?" The tyrants have always underestimated it, and when my wife and I visited Poland a year ago we saw that they did. A quarter of a million Poles were on the streets of Warsaw on a Sunday afternoon, cheering - "Niech Zyje America", "Long Live America" - shouting at the tops of their voices - and, when the cars stopped in the middle of the streets, throwing hundreds of bouquets into our cars, I looked into their faces, and over half of them, grown men and women, were crying, tears streaming down their cheeks.

Now, why? Not because we were strong militarily - they knew that - or rich economically - they knew that - Khrushchev had bragged of that kind of strength; he had been there 2 weeks before - but because they knew what you know and what I know - that America stands for more than that - that we stand for the freedom of all men; that we stand for faith in God, for belief that the rights that men have come from God and not from men and cannot be taken away by men.

These are the things that America stands for, and the next President of the United States, whoever he is, with a united America, confident of its strength, confident of its faith, will be able to lead the forces of freedom to victory without war.

President Gerald R. Ford (August 9, 1974 – January 20, 1977)

Mar. 6, 1974 – VP Gerald Ford,  Accepting the American Legion Distinguished Public Service Award, Washington, DC.

This is a distinguished group of outstanding Americans who represent all of the best in the Congress in my time. They cut across the political spectrum. They were men who fought for what was right in their opinion, and their identity with the purposes and the programs of The American Legion was close, if not unanimous.

But this is the point that I would like to make. The American Legion recognized those men because they stood for the things that you have stood for, which include, for example, going back historically, going back to the days in the interim between 1920 and 1940, The American Legion was one of the few, if not the only organization, that had the courage and foresight to say that we were pursuing the wrong policies as far as national security was concerned. That was the period or the era when it was common practice and popular policy to slash the military, to scuttle our Navy, to not look far enough in advance to see that the Air Force or the aircraft had a future. It was the period when our manpower strength in the Army and the Navy was cut very substantially.

But the American Legion, despite the tendency in the popular support for reduction of our national security forces, stood strong, shoulder to shoulder, and fought a good fight, and when our problems arose in the late 1930’s and culminated in Pearl Harbor, The American Legion was proven right. And The American Legion can look back upon those two decades as a period, in many respects, of its greatest hour.

And then, of course, we have had other periods where The American Legion did things that weren’t necessarily popular and stood for causes that weren’t always agreed to by some of the cynics and skeptics.

In the 1950’s, The American Legion was in the forefront and took the leadership in again saying, we can’t ignore research and development, we can’t afford to by shy in seeking funds for our missile systems and the like. It wasn’t the most popular position, but the Legion again did the right thing, despite the attitude of some of the cynics and some of the skeptics.

President Jimmy Carter (January 20, 1977 – January 20, 1981)

August 24, 1976, American Legion National Convention, Seattle

I do not favor a blanket amnesty, but for those who violated Selective Service laws, I intend to grant a blanket pardon.

Our defense must come not only from our fighting forces but from our people's trust in their leaders. Only then can we, in Theodore Roosevelt's phrase, ‘speak softly but carry a big stick.

Many of [those who went] thought it was a bad war, but they went anyway. A lot of them came back with scarred minds or bodies or with missing limbs. Fifty thousand didn't come back at all.

I could never equate what they have done with those who left this country to avoid the draft. But I think it is time for the damage, hatred and divisiveness of the Vietnam War to be over.

President Ronald Reagan (January 20, 1981 – January 20, 1989)

February 29, 1988, President Reagan, Remarks at the Annual Leadership Conference of the American Legion

I'll be traveling to Brussels tomorrow to attend a summit with the leaders of the North Atlantic alliance, but I wanted to stop by here first to talk about our hopes and plans for the alliance, because it is, after all, many of you and the servicemen the Legion represents who made that alliance possible, who with their courage and sacrifice brought 40 years of peace to Europe and security to the United States.

A pattern so firm and so fair -- before Ernie Pyle, friend of the GI, was laid to rest on Okinawa, the United States and the war-ravaged democracies of Europe set about that great enterprise. We embraced our old enemies and made them friends. We set about reconstructing a continent, replacing hurt and harm with a helping hand. Soon would follow the Marshall plan, an example of national charity and generosity unparalleled in history.

I've often said that there is something unique about the American form of patriotism, the kind so gloriously on display here at the Legion. It is not an exclusive attachment; it is not jealous or chauvinistic: It's the affirmation of man's deepest desires for the rights and liberties given him by his Creator. American patriotism is, quite simply, the call to freedom, everywhere, for all peoples. And that's why the American flag is more than a national flag. It has been, throughout our history, the hope and encouragement of freedom-loving peoples everywhere.

 

President William J. Clinton (January 20, 1993 – January 20, 2001)

August 25, 1992, then Governor Bill Clinton, American Legion Convention, Chicago, Illinois,

Just three months before a lot of America's innocence died, when President Kennedy was assassinated, those warm and hopeful summer days, the American Legion taught me lessons I have tried to live by all my life. Lessons about the greatness of America, and the responsibility to stand up for what you believe.

The strength of our people and the durability of our Bill of Rights.  The nobility of public service.  That summer I learned from the American Legion that being a citizen involves responsibilities as well as rights -- including the responsibility to love your country even enough to right its wrongs; the responsibility to get involved, to make a difference, to serve.

I am not the only American whose life has been made better by your continuing service here at home.  From baseball to the Boy Scouts; from keeping veterans hospitals open to keeping kids off drugs; from addressing homelessness to preventing child abuse to instilling a deep sense of patriotism into still another generation of Americans, a grateful nation owes you a debt of gratitude.

Like any adult I have to take full responsibility for the mistakes I've made in my life.  But the American Legion deserves a large measure of credit for whatever successes I have enjoyed. 

President George W. Bush {January 20, 2001 – January 20, 2009)

August 31, 2006, National Convention, Salt Lake City, UT.

For almost 90 years, Legionnaires have stood proudly "for God and country." From big cities to small towns, the American Legion name brings to mind the best of our nation -- decency, generosity, and character. I thank you for a lifetime of service. I thank you for the positive contributions you make to our nation, and I'm proud to join you today.

At this hour, a new generation of Americans in uniform is showing great courage in defending our freedom in the first war of the 21st century. I know that Legionnaires are following this war closely, especially those of you with family and friends who wear our uniform. The images that come back from the front lines are striking, and sometimes unsettling. When you see innocent civilians ripped apart by suicide bombs, or families buried inside their homes, the world can seem engulfed in purposeless violence. The truth is there is violence, but those who cause it have a clear purpose. When terrorists murder at the World Trade Center, or car bombers strike in Baghdad, or hijackers plot to blow up planes over the Atlantic, or terrorist militias shoot rockets at Israeli towns, they are all pursuing the same objective -- to turn back the advance of freedom, and impose a dark vision of tyranny and terror across the world.

The enemies of liberty come from different parts of the world, and they take inspiration from different sources. Some are radicalized followers of the Sunni tradition, who swear allegiance to terrorist organizations like al Qaeda. Others are radicalized followers of the Shia tradition, who join groups like Hezbollah and take guidance from state sponsors like Syria and Iran. Still others are "homegrown" terrorists -- fanatics who live quietly in free societies they dream to destroy. Despite their differences, these groups from -- form the outlines of a single movement, a worldwide network of radicals that use terror to kill those who stand in the way of their totalitarian ideology. And the unifying feature of this movement, the link that spans sectarian divisions and local grievances, is the rigid conviction that free societies are a threat to their twisted view of Islam.

The war we fight today is more than a military conflict; it is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century.

President Barack Obama (January 20, 2009 – January 20, 2017)

Aug. 30, 2011, to the 93rd National Convention of The American Legion, Minneapolis, MN.

It is wonderful to be back with The American Legion. You know, back in Illinois, my home state, we worked together to make sure veterans across the state were getting the benefits they had earned. When I was in the U.S. Senate, we worked together to spotlight the tragedy of homelessness among veterans and the need to end it. As president, I have welcomed (National Commander) Jimmie (Foster) and your leadership to the Oval Office to hear directly from you. And I have been honored to have you by my side when I signed advance appropriations to protect veterans health care from the budget battles in Washington when I signed legislation to give new support to veterans and their caregivers, and most recently when I proposed new initiatives to make sure the private sector is hiring our talented veterans. So, American Legion, I thank you for your partnership. And I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you about what we need to do to make sure America is taking care of our veterans as well as you have taken care of us. 

President Donald J. Trump (January 20, 2017 - Present)

09/01/2016,  Presidential Candidate Trump to National Convention, Cincinnati, Ohio.

The men and women of the American Legion represent the best of America. Strength, courage, selfless devotion. Your organization, and its members, have done so much to defend our country, our flag, and to advance the cause of Americanism – not Globalism.

We are in your debt.

I will never let you down.

Together, we are going to work on so many shared goals. But I want to begin by discussing one goal that I know is so important to all of you: promoting American pride and patriotism in America’s schools.

In A Trump Administration, I plan to work directly with the American Legion to uphold our common values and to help ensure they are taught to America’s children. We want our kids to learn the incredible achievements of America’s history, its institutions, and its heroes.

We will stop apologizing for America, and we will start celebrating America.

We will be united by our common culture, values and principles – becoming One American Nation.

 

 

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I was born at Walter Reed and was a military dependent for 18 years (Dad a 35 year vet, Army, AAF and USAF. I was active USAF for 12 years (56' thru 68"). I have been honored many times as a veteran and am thankful for that. It bothers me that we don't honor the wives at the same time who were our family (along with our children) and basically were married to us while we were on active duty. My wife of 58 years endured the hardships of maintaining the family for the last 8 years I was in while I was running around the world. Any woman who was married to an active should also be recognized and "stand up" when veterans are honored at any gathering.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.