A ‘unique and critical’ place in Legion history
Paris Post 1 members take part in Memorial Day 2021 observances at the American Legion Mausoleum in the New Cemetery of Neuilly. (Photo via Bryan Schell)

A ‘unique and critical’ place in Legion history

American Legion Post 1 in Paris will celebrate its 103rd birthday on Dec. 13, 2022. It has maintained a strong presence in the city where the organization was born in 1919. Post commander Bryan Schell and first vice commander Valérie Prehoda spoke with The American Legion about how the post is building its future by drawing on its past.

What activities are you planning specifically around the history of the post? Our research has uncovered Paris Post 1's origin story, and our founding of Pershing Hall. Therefore, the most important activity will be the actual commencement of our new Paris Post 1 Center for Research, which will encompass our work and research, and provide opportunities for non-American Legion professionals as well as Legion members to collaborate with us. We will also ramp up our efforts to save Pershing Hall from the current effort to de-memorialize it, as well as focus our efforts on the Pershing Hall Collection, which has mostly been sitting in storage for several decades. The Center for Research will help bring focus on the diaspora of the collection, identifying the disparate locations of the artifacts and ensuring they are properly restituted and preserved. In addition to creating a public database regarding our Post 1 history and that of Pershing Hall through the center, we will also be working with our Post 1 families to better preserve and research the history of their loved ones who came to France, such as past post commander George Aubrey, who was killed in action during World War II after serving in World War I.

How has the continuing pandemic impacted your planning? Will there be virtual options for events? The pandemic has encouraged us to do more social media sharing and video recording of our ceremonies and activities. We have also been motivating our Legionnaires and Auxiliary members to write about our activities, take photos and prepare articles so we can share our great work more effectively via our newsletters. We are happy to have brought Paris Post 1 almost 100% online over the course of the past two years, and we have plans to expand on this more in the future.

What is the current status of your post, membership- and family-wise? For the most part we are all doing well, but it has been challenging with the COVID confinements we have endured in France. Through careful planning and diligent efforts throughout, we were able to have a safe opening this past November for about 50 Tomb Guards, their families, and National Gold Star and Daughters of the American Revolution leadership to make the voyage to France for the Unknown Soldier centennial pilgrimage. We were thankful to experience a smooth pilgrimage with everyone.

Thanks to our great team at Paris Post 1, we have been able to keep membership numbers fairly steady throughout this difficult time and were honored to receive the Large Post of the Year Award for the Department of France last year. We continue to work with our friends and family to bring in more members for 2022 and are enjoying success in that critical mission.

Is the City of Paris assisting at all? The City of Paris has been a major supporter of The American Legion in Paris for many decades. During the pandemic, France definitely offered assistance to their citizens, businesses and associations. We were able to plan our ceremonies throughout the year, and we did not miss any! We are grateful to have the support of not only the City, but also local mayors, especially in the 16th Arrondissement of Paris, where America has many monuments and memorials located. The 16th Arrondissement and the Office National des Anciens Combattants et Victimes de Guerre (ONACVG) support us for our annual ceremonies, including this year's ravivage (rekindling) at the Arc de Triomphe for the centennial of the Unknown Soldier.

What do you want people to know about how Post 1 has contributed to the history of the Legion overall? Paris Post 1 has an extraordinary history, unique and critical to the founding of The American Legion. It is our honor to carry on the duties of Legionnaires who started our post over 100 years ago and, indeed, the duty and service in France that covers the entire nation of France. We move forward a deep American Legion legacy that was born out of the first world war and which was solidified in blood again during the second. We are the only Legion post in France, and we work hard to engage and connect with our American veterans and community throughout the country. Over the holidays, our Auxiliary went to Landstuhl, Germany, to bring holiday gifts and donations, and to spend time with our wounded soldiers and their hospital staff who work endless hours. This summer, we will be continuing our DPAA MIA recovery mission from August 2021 in a remote area of the Calais region. And in June 2022, we will also be co-hosting, with the U.S. group Irreverent Warriors, a veteran-suicide awareness hike from Utah Beach to Sainte-Marie-du-Mont. We are always happy when we hear from others who want to visit France or collaborate in an event with us. We welcome more opportunities in the future, and are excited to share what we are doing with our new Paris Post 1 Center for Research.