Photo by John Raughter/The American Legion

Lincoln’s legacy remembered at pilgrimage

America’s most popular president was honored Monday during American Legion Post 32's 84th annual national pilgrimage to the tomb of President Abraham Lincoln.

“The annual pilgrimage is now an American Legion Family tradition and one that would please Mr. Lincoln were he to join us today,” said Bob Wesley, a Legionnaire from Post 32 in Springfield, Ill. “Our family is reunited here again today. With pride, we note the national officers of The American Legion, the American Legion Auxiliary and the Sons of The American Legion in attendance to honor Mr. Lincoln and this tradition. Post 32 is humbled that our leaders and members from states across the nation join us in Springfield to honor our state’s favorite son and our nation’s greatest president.”

National Commander Denise H. Rohan was among those honoring the 16th president on his 209th birthday. “Often underestimated by opponents as a country lawyer, whose political experience consisted only of a single term in the House of Representatives and service in the Illinois legislature, the importance of the Lincoln presidency cannot be overstated,” she said after placing a wreath at his tomb. “Freeing the slaves and preserving the Union paved the way for an industrial revolution which would ultimately make America the world’s leading superpower.”

His legacy also inspired another important movement, according to Rohan.

“One hundred years after Lincoln came another great American, Dr. Martin Luther Jr.,” she said. “Dr. King inspired us with a Civil Rights movement and dream that he perfectly annunciated in a most appropriate place, the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.”

Pilgrimage organizers believe it is the longest running celebration of Lincoln’s birthday in the nation. A number of dignitaries pointed out that Lincoln’s support for veterans is a value shared by The American Legion Family.

“As we follow in the steps of Lincoln, we want to make sure that our heroes need to be honored,” Auxiliary National President Diane Duscheck said at a luncheon that followed the ceremony at the tomb. “As Legion Family members, we wake up in the morning and gratefully sow seeds, we want to ask what we can do for others and want to let the veterans, the military and their families reap the harvest.”

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner told the American Legion Family at the luncheon that the day was a celebration. “Today we celebrate the birth of America’s greatest president. Today we celebrate the birth of America’s most inspirational leader. Today we celebrate the birth of Illinois’ favorite son,” he said.

While Lincoln promised in his second inaugural address to “care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan,” his life was famously cut short before the vision could be fulfilled. Rohan pointed out that The American Legion began to deliver on the promise more than half a century later.

“It really took another huge war to give us the Lincolnesque vision, this time from the ranks of the military itself, needed to deliver on his ambitious promises,” Rohan said. “Men like Theodore Roosevelt Junior, George White, Eric Fisher Wood, Bill Donovan and later, Harry Colmery, would never let America forget its debt to veterans.”