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A moment in time

What real-life hero (and Legion founder) is the ancestor of a big-screen hero?

Franklin D’Olier, The American Legion’s first national commander.

Born in New Jersey in 1877, D’Olier graduated from Princeton University and was heading up his father’s textile operation when World War I started. He arrived in France in April 1917, and was placed in charge of the salvage service of the American Expeditionary Force, a captain in the Army’s Quartermaster Corps.

D’Olier was a vital link in the Legion from the beginning, helping to organize both the St. Louis Caucus in May 1919 and the first national convention in Minneapolis in November 1919, and working tirelessly to recruit volunteers and members in between. In Minneapolis, he was elected the first national commander on Nov. 12; and a year later, had re-election by delegates in Cleveland.

After his year in office, he went back to work for the family firm. He joined Prudential Insurance in 1926, and became its president in 1938. Toward the end of World War II, D’Olier was called on by the government to coordinate the United States Strategic Bombing Survey, analyzing the war’s effects on enemy economies, completing the task in 1946. He died in 1953.

D’Olier’s legacy of hard work for the betterment of his country continued in his family – in a manner of speaking. His oldest daughter, Anne D’Olier Reeve, was the grandmother of actor Christopher D’Olier Reeve, best known for playing "Superman" in the 1980s-era movie franchise. Reeve went from fighting for people on the big screen to doing the same in real life, lobbying hard for research into spinal cord injuries and stem cell treatments after a 1995 horse-riding accident left him a quadriplegic. Reeve died in 2004.

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