In May of 1919, a group of men who had served in the American Expeditionary Forces in the Great War had returned from France and met in St. Louis to create an advocacy organization for returning vets such as themselves. They called it the American Legion. There were some heavy hitters among those organizers, such as Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of President Teddy Roosevelt, who was chosen to serve as Chairman, Medal of Honor winner Sgt. Alvin York, the most decorated soldier in WWI, and Col. Luke Lea, a former senator from Tennessee. Little did they realize that in the next century, the American Legion would become one of the most important and influential institutions ever created in this country.
It is almost impossible to summarize the magnitude of the American Legion’s work in the past 100 years.
In 1921, it was the Legion’s efforts that resulted in the creation of the U.S. Veterans Bureau, forerunning of the Veterans Administration. They have been an advocate nationally for Veterans Benefits, Veteran Affairs, and the VA Hospitals.
In 1925, the Legion recreated the American Legion Baseball program. About 82,000 youths play on Legion-sponsored teams each year, and some 50 percent of Major League Baseball players are graduates of the program. In 1946, the Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary presented a small struggling organization with a $50,000 grant. That organization was the American Heart Association, and it inaugurated a nationwide program for the study, prevention, and treatment of rheumatic heart disease.
In 1982, they presented a $1 million check to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund for construction of the Wall in Washington, becoming the largest single contributor to the project.
The American Legion members donate more 80,000 pints of blood annually, the single biggest blood donor in the country. They provide $4 Million in scholarships to graduating high school students and award more than 8,000 medals to Jr. ROTC students annually.
The American Legion is particularly noted for honoring the fallen. They provide Military Honors Guard to any family that so requests for a veteran of a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. Nationally the 13,000 American Legion manages thousands of Memorial Day Celebrations across the country every year. In preparation for the Memorial Day Honors, Americans Legions place millions of American flags at their local cemeteries. And what is so amazing about this organization is that everyone is a volunteer. No officer in the American Legion is paid, from the local Post Historian to the State and National Commander, their salary is ZERO.
The story of how Williamsport acquired the distinction of having the first American Legion in the state of Pennsylvania happened in a rather unusual way. All posts are named after a veteran who fell in battle and given numbers in the order that they have been chartered by the state they are in. After that original caucus held in St Louis in May of 1919, Chairman Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was conferring with two Pennsylvania veterans while on a train together. The three men debated whether Philadelphia and Pittsburgh should receive the honor of receiving the honor of #1. Lyell S. Spangle had been appointed by the mayor of Williamsport to attend the caucus, and happened to overhear the conversation between the men and noted that they were at an impasse. He offered as a compromise a distinguished city located between the two in central Pennsylvania — and so it was Williamsport got to be #1.
The full name is American Legion Garrett Cochran, Inc. PA Post #1. No one is exactly sure how Garrett Cochran’s name was chosen, but he was certainly a great man. Cochran served in France as a Lieutenant in the field artillery, but developed pneumonia and died on a ship returning to the United States on July 8, 1918. What he was better known for were his football skills. He was a two-time All-American playing for Princeton, serving as captain during 1896-1897. He went on to coach at the University of California at Berkeley, Navy, and Princeton, and was recognized for his achievements by being named into the College Hall of Fame in 1971. His connection to Williamsport was that he was heavily invested in the city and was the general manager and president of the Williamsport Wire Rope Company as well as a director of multiple organizations.
Congratulations to Williamsport’s Garrett Cochran, Inc., PA Post 1, Hughesville’s Glenn Sharrow, PA Post 35, Jersey Shore’s George Webster Pepperman, PA Post 36, Montoursville’s Eugene Grafius, PA Post 104, Montgomery’s Bower-Decker, PA Post 251, Muncy’s Roland Ritter, PA Post 268, and S. Williamsport’s Royal P. Steinbacher, Inc., PA Post 617. We salute YOU!