Nov. 11, 2018, marked the centennial of the armistice of World War I — a remembrance of the moment the guns fell silent on the Western Front. It was a victory achieved in large part by the efforts of Missourians such as Gen. John J. Pershing, of Laclede, who helped lead the American Expeditionary Forces to triumph. Additionally, Maj. Gen. Enoch H. Crowder, of the north-central Missouri community of Edinburg, helped design the military draft that built Pershing's army.
The dedication of Missourians to their country did not end with the armistice as a group of individuals gathered in Paris, France, in March 1919 for what became the first step in establishing the American Legion. This historic event will be celebrated locally in an upcoming dinner hosted by American Legion Post 5 in Jefferson City.
"The American Legion itself was created in 1919 in two caucuses of veterans," noted "The United States in the First World War: An Encyclopedia." The book further explained, "The Paris meeting, which was held first (from March 15-17, 1919), set the tone for the new organization." "The Paris Caucus, as the meeting was called, opened at the American Club, an old French residence."
It was during this caucus that "five hundred officers and enlisted men of the American Expeditionary Forces took the first action toward the formation of an association of veterans of the world war similar to the Grand Army of the Republic," reported the March 17, 1919, edition of the Daily Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock).
During the proceedings, Lt. Col. Bennett Champ Clark, from Bowling Green, was elected temporary chairman of the new organization that would become the American Legion. Because of his election at the Paris Caucus, Clark is considered a co-founder and first national commander of the organization.
Clark was the son of John Beauchamp "Champ" Clark, who represented Missouri as a member of the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., from 1893-95 and again from 1897-1921. To date, the elder Clark is the only Missourian to have served as speaker of the House.
A 29-year-old Lt. Col. Clark, while still serving with a federalized National Guard regiment in France in April 1919, received promotion to the rank of full colonel, thus becoming the youngest member of the American Expeditionary Forces to achieve that distinction.
An article appearing on the American Legion website explains the "initial founding caucus had been held in Paris in March and was composed of World War I veterans still in Europe. It was decided that prior to the first national convention of the fledgling organization, a second caucus should be held in the United States to include the input of those who had already returned home."
The organizing caucus was May 8-10, 1919, in St. Louis, during which drafts of the Legion's Preamble and Constitution were approved, the structure of various state department and local posts outlined, various resolutions debated, and Minneapolis selected as the host city for the first national convention the following November.
Returning service members from the Jefferson City area did not hesitate in establishing their own local post. This small group of veterans received their official charter June 21, 1919, for American Legion Roscoe Enloe Post 5, named in honor of a 23-year-old local soldier killed in action while serving with a federalized National Guard unit during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
Foster McHenry, a local resident and U.S. Army sergeant wounded in combat, was elected to serve as the post's first commander in 1919. In 1928, nine years after the establishment of Post 5, Dr. L. David Enloe, the older brother of the post's namesake and renowned local physician, was elected post commander.
"I joined the American Legion in 1971 and have been a member now for 47 years," said Charley Goodin, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War. "We have a proud history not only at the national level but here in our post as well."
Dorothy Goodin, a long-time member of the auxiliary whose late husband, Ben, served with the U.S. Navy and National Guard, explained she and other members of the post auxiliary have worked diligently to organize a dinner celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the American Legion.
The birthday celebration will be March 16 at the post's home at 1423 Tanner Bridge Road, with a 6 p.m. social hour followed by dinner at 7 p.m. The cost is $10 per person, and tickets can be reserved by calling 573-680-7451 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Reservations must be made by March 5.
The guest speaker at the event will be Dale Barnett, of Douglasville, Georgia, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who served as national commander of the American Legion from 2015-16.
"This post has been an important part of the community for so many decades and our members have been actively involved in a number of important programs," Dorothy Goodin said. "That's why we are inviting members of the community and their special guests to come help us celebrate our proud legacy at both the national and local level."
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.