To the Legionnaires who came before us

To the Legionnaires who came before us

Generations have come and gone. They were men and women who raised their right hands and swore to defend our nation in uniform. They followed and gave orders that could, at any moment, end their lives. For many, such was their destiny.

Millions more came home from wartime service, took off their uniforms, pulled on American Legion caps and devoted themselves to community, state and nation. They honored their brothers and sisters in arms who did not come home. They vowed to search for the missing. They cared for families who lost loved ones. They fought in Washington for men and women who became disabled, unable to advocate on their own behalf due to wartime wounds, some invisible. They instilled hope and pride among young people whose futures of liberty were purchased on distant battlefields, seas and skies. Their programs and services revolved not around the combat they endured but around citizenship, compassion, respect, fairness and unity. This was, and still is, the legacy of our American Legion forebears.

It is a fitting tribute to all Legionnaires who came before us that the U.S. Mint has struck a commemorative coin set to honor our organization and all it has meant to America. And it is a testament to the Legion’s identity that the congressional legislation necessary to authorize the centennial coin had more co-sponsors – 385 in the House and 75 in the Senate – than any commemorative coin bill in history.

I cannot imagine the challenge of trying to engrave onto one coin, or even a set of coins, The American Legion’s legacy. Our story began
in Paris over a century ago after a hard-won world war victory that sent more than 117,000 Americans to their graves and disabled hundreds of thousands more. It is a story that evolved in the years and decades that followed, to support innumerable young people who would come to appreciate U.S. military service, freedom and the flag to which they pledge allegiance. And so, on these coins, the legacy of our American Legion predecessors is etched into the faces of children honoring the flag, into the finely detailed wings of a bald eagle, the V for victory in the Great War, the Eiffel Tower in the city of our founding, and the emblem designed and patented by Lt. Col. Eric Fisher Wood, an author and engineer who volunteered to fight for his country and then served as first secretary of The American Legion. 

The founders are all gone now. The peace they fought to keep proved fleeting. Fisher Wood was recalled and commissioned a brigadier general in World War II, and was in theater when his son, a lieutenant, died during the Battle of the Bulge. Such was his destiny and the price we all know must occasionally be paid to protect the futures of generations yet to come.

Much less fleeting are the values and ideals of The American Legion, which have been immortalized in memorials, monuments and now a coin set that will outlive us all and, hopefully, remind future citizens not only what is done when the flag of our nation passes, but why and in whose honor.