Honor the Fallen, Support the Living

By Vivian Lawson Hogue

In these days of events of conflict around the world, we find many organizations that strive to help those who have served in our military services, be they man or beast. Only a few of these are the Disabled Veterans of America, the Gary Sinise Foundation and K9s for Warriors.

Included in a list of 46 veteran support organizations under the Department of Defense is the American Legion. It has been around long enough that most citizens have experienced in some way its efforts to promote its causes. One of the many roles it has played was in the establishment of the G.I. Bill and the Military Family Tax Relief Bill.

The American Legion has many national and local programs, such as baseball leagues, Boys State/Nation, Operation Comfort Warriors, oratorical contests, scholarships, women vets, Boy Scouts, disaster help, and Cadet Law Enforcement. The patriotic organization follows its mission statement “to enhance the well-being of America’s veterans, their families, our military and our communities by our devotion to mutual helpfulness.” Its motto is “For God and Country.”

Our city’s own Legion, the 0016 Theodore Campbell Post, once held meetings at the Legion “hut” near downtown. It had been a surplus building at Camp Robinson, where it had served as a prisoner of war workshop. The National Guard moved it to Conway and placed it at 1410 Caldwell St. in 1948. Longtime residents recall with great affection the many school dances, private parties and reunions held in that simple community building. It was razed in 2011 to become a parking lot.

The Legion has an illustrious and fascinating beginning with a large, diverse group of American military men of the American Expeditionary Forces after World War I ended. They gathered for a meeting in an old opera house known as the Cirque de Paris in Paris, France, in 1919. And surprisingly, we find there was a connection between the naming of this new American veterans’ organization created in a faraway land and a family in Conway, Arkansas! In about 1960, my mother was invited to speak at a meeting of our local Legion Post. I will let her words tell the story.

“The Armistice, or cease-fire between the Germans and the Allies, was declared on the 11th hour, the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. The men were very impatient while waiting for transportation back to the states. They had to make the crossing by surface vessels, which were slow and scarce. While trying to do something constructive during this period, it was suggested that they form an overseas organization. An old opera house was the chosen meeting place where they gathered March 15–17, 1919, during a caucus of representatives of various divisions of the AEF.

Maj. Maurice Kirby Gordon of Madisonville, Kentucky, who was my father’s first cousin, was inspector general of the 36th Division with which he was seated. It was he who rose and moved that the new organization be called The American Legion, with the idea that the name stemmed from the Latin word “legion,” which in its literal translation means “representatives from the whole people.” He felt that anyone who joins the Legion should pledge to remain a member for life.”

Maj. Gordon, who died in 1974, was a third-generation attorney before WWI and well into his advanced years, later becoming a judge. His nephew, also Maurice Kirby Gordon, is an attorney of the 4th generation who practices near Madisonville.

After World War I ended in 1919, a group of American military men of the American Expeditionary Forces gathered for a meeting in an old opera house known as the Cirque de Paris in Paris, France, and began what became the American Legion.

After World War I, there were fields of red poppies blooming rampantly along the Western Front of Europe. Scientists attributed this to soils becoming rich with lime from war rubble. The flower was first worn and promoted by an American woman, Moina Michael, after she read a WWI poem, “In Flanders Fields.” The poem was written in 1915 by a Canadian physician, Lt. Col. John McCrae, M.D., while serving on the front lines.

Each year, American Legion Auxiliaries sell red paper poppies to raise money for veterans, active-duty service members, and their families. The 2022 event will be held on May 27. The red poppy is a recognized symbol of sacrifice worn by Americans since World War I, but it also honors those who served or died for our country in all U.S. wars. Because of the massive destruction of cities and countrysides in the United Kingdom, it has its own occasions of recognition with many ceremonial events and poppy-wearing on their annual Remembrance Day.

Many of us in our own city recall selling poppies downtown as teenagers. Citizens donated a few cents or a few dollars and they proudly pinned their red bloom to their suits or dresses for the day. Millions of Americans since 1775 have suffered life changes or lost their lives so that we could keep our 246-year-old, hard-won freedoms. May the 102-year-old American Legion and its humble red bloom continue to help keep this uppermost in the minds of our grateful citizenry.

Vivian Lawson Hogue
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