The first American Legion commemorative coins came off the press Thursday during a ceremonial striking at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.
"As we reflect on our legacy of support to our nation's veterans, servicemembers and their families in patriotic communities everywhere, these coins are lasting and timeless expressions of the service and values The American Legion holds dear," National Commander Brett Reistad said.
"I am proud that all surcharges received from sales of American Legion commemorative coins will help us continue to fulfill our mission. Whether it is delivering hope in a time of need, advocating for veterans benefits, giving college scholarships to our nation's youth or providing much-needed assistance to veterans, servicemembers and their families, The American Legion will be there."
Set to go on sale March 14, coinciding with The American Legion's 100th birthday, the silver dollar pays tribute to the organization's Paris founding. The coin's heads side, or obverse, is designed by Paul Balan and features the American Legion emblem surrounded by oak leaves and a lily. The reverse side is designed by Patricia Lucas-Morris and has crossed U.S. and American Legion flags under a fleur-de-lis, with the dates 1919-2019 and the inscription 100 YEARS OF SERVICE.
Following remarks by Reistad and David Croft, the Mint's associate director of manufacturing, the commander stepped up to a German-made Gräbener coinage press to feed in a 1-ounce pure silver blank, an inch and a half in diameter. It was struck three times by the coinage dies, with a striking pressure of roughly 190 tons per strike.
"Every day across America, the Mint connects Americans through coins, and it is our great privilege to connect America to the legacy of the nation's largest wartime veterans service organization," Croft said. "We hope you will be as pleased with these coins as we are."
Past National Commanders Denise Rohan and David Rehbein joined Reistad at the first strike, along with National Adjutant Daniel Wheeler, Marketing Commission Chairman James Rohan, Past Pennsylvania Department Commander Paul Kennedy and American Legion Auxiliary National President Kathy Dungan.
Also present were former House Veterans' Affairs Committee chairman Steve Buyer, R-Ind., and former U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, who in 2017 rallied their congressional colleagues to support H.R. 2519, known as the American Legion 100th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act.
"The overwhelming support for this legislation was an incredible testament to the respect that The American Legion has in our country, among Republicans, Democrats, independents, people from all walks of life," Edwards said. "To pass this bill was a way we could say 'thank you' to the Legion for the positive influence it's had on our nation."
"Today, in the same place where our country was founded, we get to honor an organization that has taken those values of our founding fathers and carried them forward into the 21st century."
In addition to the American Legion silver dollar, the Mint will sell a $5 gold piece and a clad half-dollar. The gold coin's obverse is designed by Chris Costello, and features the Eiffel Tower and a V for Victory in World War I, with LIBERTY and 1919-2019 encircled by the outer ring of the Legion's emblem. The reverse side, designed by Paul Balan, has a soaring bald eagle and the American Legion emblem.
The clad coin is designed by Richard Masters; the heads side depicts two children, one wearing her father's American Legion cap, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, while the reverse shows a billowing U.S. flag and American Legion emblem above the words ... OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Passed by Congress on Oct. 6, 2017, Public Law 115-65 allows the Mint to strike and issue 50,000 of the gold coins, 400,000 of the silver dollars and 750,000 of the half-dollars.
"We all want to leave a legacy," Rehbein said. "These coins are an outstanding symbol of an individual's legacy, as to what they accomplished as part of The American Legion. It's not just what The American Legion accomplished; it's what Legionnaires accomplished. We don't do things as a large mass. We do them as individuals. I'd like to see people buy a coin, maybe a set, to pass along to their families as a reminder of what we've achieved as Legionnaires."
The American Legion 100th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act had broad support on Capitol Hill. The House version of the bill had 385 cosponsors -- more than any other coin bill authorized in the past decade.
"The American Legion, I think, represents the fabric of America," Buyer said. "My grandfather was a charter member of a post in Francesville, Ind., when he returned from World War I, and my parents dedicated their lives to The American Legion. My mother was a past president of the Auxiliary in Indiana, and my father was a district commander.
"Having a coin to commemorate its 100th anniversary is an opportunity for the Legion to look back and say, 'What is the impact we've had on the nation? Have we served the ideals of the charter members?' I would say the Legion has done well, and it's the next 100 years everyone's looking forward to."
Holding an American Legion silver dollar left Buyer "glassy-eyed," he said. "I remember as a young boy, maybe 10 or 11 years old, every time I would walk into the Francesville post I would look up on the wall and see my grandfather's picture. He was a past commander." He felt that pride again today, he added.
The commemorative coins were designed through the Artist Infusion program and U.S. Mint sculptors and engravers, in consultation with The American Legion, the Citizens Coin Advisory Committee and the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts.
At the Legion's 100th National Convention in Minneapolis last August, U.S. Mint Director David Ryder said sales could raise up to $9.5 million for the organization's programs and services.