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The American Legion in Iowa

An American Legion Banner The American Legion posts in Iowa have a long and illustrious history of helping soldiers returning home from the wars. The idea for such a legion originated with Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., while serving with the American Expeditionary Forces in France during World War I. The soldiers stationed there at the local hospitals were suffering from low morale and idleness, with nothing to do while they waited months before returning home. Roosevelt and a group of about 20 men gathered together to discuss the first tentative idea of a veterans' organization to devise methods of relief for the restless troops still stationed in France and after returning home. Roosevelt organized a Paris caucus held on March 15, 1919, to discuss formalizing such a "legion." Among the Iowa men who attended this caucus were G. C. Parsons of Perry from the 313th Engineers, Don Hunter of Des Moines from the 350th Infantry, Arthur Wallace of Des Moines from the 88th Division Headquarters, Dale Shaw of Des Moines from the 88th Division Headquarters Troop, William A. Graham of Des Moines, Judge Advocate of the 88th Division, and L. R. Fairall of Iowa City. Major Eric Fisher Wood opened the meeting on behalf of Roosevelt who had already returned to America. The committee recommended that a convention be held in America on November 11, 1919, and a constitution was adopted.

Roosevelt, while in America, notified Harry H. Polk of Des Moines to select someone to act as temporary secretary for Iowa, and John MacVicar of Des Moines was chosen. MacVicar sent out a call to announce the first meeting in St. Louis Missouri in May, and appointed a committee consisting of Harry H. Polk of Des Moines, James Norman Hall of Colfax, W. H. King of Hubbard, Karl LeCompte of Corydon, Daniel C. Newquist of Des Moines, Huber Everett of Des Moines, Fred M. Hudson of Pocahontas, DeWitt Sowers of Creston, Will H. Pattee of Perry, William R. Hart of Iowa City, Fred W. Hubbell of Des Moines, Richard M. Plaister of Dubuque, Charles E. Aiken of Winterset and Charles S. Doxsee of Monticello. This committee selected a list of 102 men to be delegates to the caucus.

All persons who were in the military or naval service of the United States during the period between April 6, 1917, and November 11, 1918, were to be eligible members of the organization, as were persons who served in a like capacity in any government associated with the United States during the World War, if they were citizens of the U.S. at the time of enlistment and at the time of applying for membership. Resolutions and more details of the organization were finalized at this original caucus, and state representatives were tasked with returning to their homes and organizing local Legion posts in their towns.

In Pottawattamie County and surrounding areas, within the period 1919 to 1929, several posts were organized, including the following (the number next to the post name indicates the order in which they were registered at Des Moines):

Atlantic, Atlantic Post, 43
Avoca, Fred Funston Post, 227
Carson, Carson Post, 556
Council Bluffs, Rainbow Post, 2
Dunlap, Dunlap Post, 224
Missouri Valley, Julius F. Muller Post, 337
Neola, Neola Post, 330
Oakland, Oakland Post, 187
Treynor, Bernie Scebold Post, 154
Walnut, Walnut Post, 422

In the early days of organization, Mathew A. Tinley of Council Bluffs was named Chairman of the Executive Committee of the State. Monday, May 12, 1919, was the earliest date on which charters could be asked for in Iowa, and it was determined that the Iowa delegation that first presented its petition to the State office in Des Moines would be entitled to rank as Post Number 1. The honor was worth striving for. On Sunday night, May 11th, at mid-night, fifteen veterans at Spencer and fifteen at Council Bluffs were ready to sign. It was reported that the Spencer boys had a large sheet of paper and following the stroke of twelve midnight, they gathered around the table and all signed at once. A notary was at hand to sweat to the signatures.

Within five minutes after the midnight hour, Maris DeWolf, E.T. Bjornstad, and Rush Smith, three of the veterans, in a Ford car had started with the signed document to Des Moines, in the hope that they might arrive there ahead of the early morning train from Council Bluffs. All was well for a time, and then they struck bad roads. The hope at first entertained by the Spencer boys faded in doubt, but not despair. They would continue the race! When they reached Carroll, the Northwestern train bearing the signed paper from Council Bluffs had just pulled in. The Spencer boys abandoned their car and boarded the train. By hiring a taxi at the station in Des Moines, they reached the office of the State organizer with their petition five minutes before the Council Bluffs petition arrived by special delivery mail. Thus Spencer received post No. 1 and Council Bluffs No. 2, with Ottumwa, Hubbard, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and Carroll following.

Pottawattamie County went on to have many Legion posts, and the 7th State Convention was held at Council Bluffs on October 5, 1925 (and simultaneously in Omaha). In the early years, several well-known citizens participated in Legion events, held offices, and their wives formed Auxiliaries. Some of those who helped organize the Iowa legions include:

Mathew A. Tinley, elected State Commander, September 4, 1919
Jackson R. Day, representative to original Caucus
Raymond A. Smith, elected Historian at 2nd Convention 1920, Commander, Rainbow Post, 1928
John R. DeWitt, elected Historian at 4th Convention, re-elected at 5th Convention
Charles A. Miller, Commander, Rainbow Post, Council Bluffs, 1925
Donald Macrae
Ralph H. Kastner, Grand Chef de Gare of the Forty and Eight

The Women's Auxiliary was formed and in operation by 1922, having as their mission to assist the Legion in caring for the disabled, to visit rehabilitation centers, develop a spirit of true Americanism in the schools, formulate recreational programs, such as Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls, and urge the observance of national holidays with patriotic programs. There was plentiful representation in the Auxiliary by Pottawattamie County in the form of the wives of Legion members of Council Bluffs and surrounding towns. Some of those who held office included:

Mrs. Donald Macrae, President, 1921, State President, 1922
Mrs. Clara Bonham, Chaplain, 1928

The Legion posts continue today to provide refuge and a place of comradship for those who served their Country in the many wars.


Some of the material in this article was printed in The American Legion In Iowa, 1919, by the State Historical Society of Iowa.

Copyright Mona Knight. All rights reserved except permission granted to reproduce or distribute to not-for-profit individuals or organizations.  Permission to publish this story was given by the writer, Mona Sarratt Knight.