During his official visit to The American Legion Department of Georgia, National Commander Brett Reistad helped open the new department history room during a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
In an address before the ceremony, Reistad told Georgia Legionnaires he was eager to see the work that had been done. “Having spent a good portion of my Legion career as a historian, I know how much work goes into something like this,” Reistad said.
The idea for the project began more than a decade ago, but busy schedules and other obligations meant the project never really got off the ground. The room began to truly take shape over the past 18 months after renovations at department headquarters in Stockbridge, Ga., refreshed the exhibit space, and when the department began to make plans to celebrate the 100th anniversary of The American Legion.
Stanley P. Franklin, 100th Georgia department commander, wanted to make sure the project was underway so the national commander could be a part of the dedication during his visit.
“I thought it was fitting that the centennial commander should do the honors and help us christen the room," Franklin said. But Franklin noted that there is still work to be done. “This is just the beginning. This project continues to evolve.”
While the history room has display cubicles ready to be filled with new exhibits, there is still plenty to see with the current exhibits. The room opens to a gallery wall of past department commanders, a centennial wall and displays for honorary department commanders. Larger exhibits feature each of Georgia’s past national commanders: Dale Barnett (2015-2016); Robert S. Turner (1990-1991); James E. Powers (1962-1963); and Earl Cocke Jr. (1950-1951), who at age 29 was the youngest man to ever serve in the position.
Another exhibit celebrates Georgia Rep. John S. Gibson and the dramatic role he played in launching the original GI Bill legislation out of committee and eventually into law.
A tour of the history room concludes with a memorial wall dedicated to the 27 Georgia servicemembers who have received the Medal of Honor.
Department Historian Tommy Hatton, who has spent thousands of hours curating the exhibits since he began working on the project in 2016, says there’s still more work ahead. “The project is in its infancy. I’ve still got work to do,” he said. Hatton hopes that others in the department will help him find the information and materials he needs to continue to build more exhibits.
Past Department Commander Carmen Streit-Smith originally brought Hatton into the project in 2016, during her time as department commander. She stressed how important it is to share the stories of the organization. “This is our history,” she said, “and people need to know it.”
The dedication ceremony also marked the closing of “The Greatest Legislation: An American Legion Centennial Salute to the GI Bill,” which had been on display at the department headquarters since March. The GI Bill exhibit will open on Friday, May 3 at the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum in St. Louis as part of a series of events celebrating the 100th anniversary of the St. Louis Caucus.