Saturday, March 14, 2009


The American Legion was formally organized on the occasion of the now famous Paris Caucus on March 15, 1919, almost four months after the signing of the armistice with Germany at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of nineteen-hundred and eighteen. Attended by one thousand stalwarts and most recent veterans of the “The Great War”, (WWI), those souls included senior officers to privates who in the spirit of a true democracy would work, cajole, debate/argue and rub shoulders with each other in an admirable egalitarian spirit. That commitment and demeanor would be set in stone and become the hallmark and legacy of the organization and forever amaze the French, English and other Allies (and former adversaries) who drew much sterner, almost unapproachable class lines. This would become an organization of equals born of Pericles and the best ideals of the day.

That demeanor and spirit of fellowship was facilitated from within the officer ranks for shortly after the caucus was called to order it was unanimously approved that during the meeting and while in the convention hall, “the after-war status as fellow civilians be forecast and that the stations of rank would there cease to exist. It was agreed that they would be resumed with full force and full discipline as soon as the delegates crossed the threshold of the convention hall and regained the street.” Some have speculated that Colonel G. Edward Buxton’s hand, among others, was stirring the pot…

One of the real untold stories about the formation of the American Legion was how those officers who laid the framework for The Legion insisted that enlisted men from each branch of the service represent their constituencies and be in Paris for the caucus. The administrative, bureaucratic protocols (and Dollars) to accomplish that goal were not in place so officers attached more “orderlies” and "aides" to their staffs, cut fake orders and travel permits for others while many more enlisted men miraculously acquired rare diseases and ailments that could only be treated in Paris. Really, there should be a movie how the officers of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) guaranteed perhaps not an equal but a significant cadre of enlisted men for The Legion’s first full meeting. Appropriately, The Legion went on to become an organization primarily for the enlisted person. That meeting could not have been held were it not for the complete support of the officer ranks from General Pershing down.

So the formation of the American Legion was accomplished not only by a seemingly divine inspiration, but with a wink and a nod, also by trickery and intrigue that easily circumvented what was then a complicit and cooperative military bureaucracy.

In the tradition of the only other existing veterans groups at that time - Great Army of the Republic (GAR) and the United Confederate Veterans (UCV) - the American Legion was born, similar in some respects to though better than the GAR and the UCV, “composed of all parties, all creeds, and all ranks, who wished to perpetuate American ideals and the relationships formed while in the military and national service.” We thank the late George Seay Wheat for his contemporary (1919) chronology, The Story of The American Legion which documents much of the effort and perspectives of the founding members of the American Legion. We have quoted some of his passages in this post. Well done, George and God Bless.

No doubt that part of the motivation to organize The Legion was a sentiment born out of concern about Veterans rights and the state of the union. Such was their commitment and sense of duty the veterans of that ultimate conflict felt they had a moral obligation to engage concerns over the future of our Republic.

One such man was Colonel G. Edward Buxton, Jr. who like George Patton, Bill Donovan and Douglas MacArthur had already distinguished himself as an “out of the trenches and over the top” commander of the second Battalion of the 328th Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Division. He would later be promoted to Inspector-General of the 82nd and receive several medals and citations (including the Purple Heart), one presented by General George Pershing on April 19, 1919 for “exceptionally meritorious and conspicuous service in the field.” The record lacks detail on the nature of the service which was believed to be related to his previous distinguished record as well as some clandestine post-war intelligence gathering
of the Donovan ilk. Not surprising for a War Correspondent for the Providence Journal (8-14 to 1-15) who had been previously arrested by the Germans for his "journalistic" activities behind their lines.

Colonel Buxton was well known as the commanding officer of one Corporal Alvin York who had indicated his concerns about the morality of war. Then Major Buxton and his Company Commander Captain Edward Danforth, Jr. while in training at Camp Gordon had several chats with York where they discussed the issue. Buxton was an engaged and very accessible commanding officer: the template for the consummate, modern “people person.” He didn’t hesitate to gather his Battalion together to discuss items of mutual interest from the fine art of saluting to history. The US Army emulated that management style later incorporating that in their officer training manuals. As Alvin York later stated, “He had a kinder habit of getting us soldiers together and talking to us, something like a father talks to his sons. I’m a telling you he sorter looked upon us as his sons, too.”

After their meetings Buxton sent York back home to Tennessee to ponder his moral dilemma. York returned refreshed, confident and as history records was elevated to hero status after demonstrating exemplary service and bravery in the field.

Buxton went on to compile a distinguished record as a captain of industry and outstanding public servant to our nation. Colonel Buxton’s biography, Sergeant York’s Major, can be found at

For this last week the American Legion Kirby Stewart Post 24 of Bradenton, Florida has been celebrating the 90th anniversary of the founding of The Legion, hence the topic of this posting. Under the very capable leadership of well known educator and Korean Veteran, Commander Len Sirotzki, their post has organized a celebration of heroic proportions with participation and representation of the military and by the descendents of the Stewart, York and Buxton Families.

George Edward Buxton York, retired minister who at 86 is the eldest surviving son of Alvin York; Kirby Stewart, 78, retired University of Florida professor and nephew to Kirby Stewart and Ned Buxton, 65, grandson and namesake of Colonel G. Edward Buxton, Jr are participating in this grand affair. While this writer was available via the telephone, I, unfortunately, could not participate in person though York and Stewart are in Bradenton, Florida as of this writing. The Buxton Family wanted to participate and prepared the following message which was distributed to the assembled celebrants.

Commander Sirotzki, George York, Kirby Stewart, Lt. General John Allen, other distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen of the American Legion Kirby Stewart Post #24 and other guests of this historic celebration, congratulations on your benchmark and historic recognition of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the American Legion!

I bring warm greetings and good wishes from the Buxton Family with our only regret that we could not send a personal representative to share this glorious occasion with you. Unfortunately, a recent loss in our Family prevented our on site participation.

We are with you in spirit and thought, however, and salute this effort to recognize the formation of the American Legion with the acknowledgement of two of the original founders of the Legion - one Sergeant Alvin Cullum York of Tennessee and of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 328th Infantry Regiment, 82nd Division and Colonel G. Edward Buxton, Jr. of Rhode Island - and Second Lieutenant Kirby Stewart of Florida whose valiant sacrifice helped make victory in World War One possible.

History once again allows us the opportunity to recall and reference that famous engagement with the Germans at Hill 223 in the Meuse-Argonne near Chatel-Chehery on October 8, 1918 by Corporal Alvin York and his squad who rose to the occasion, renewed the Allied Offensive, broke the German line, allowed the capture of the Decauville Railroad and mightily facilitated the German retreat from the Argonne Forest.

While York bore the greater burden of the initiative and the achievement of the firefight, he never failed to give credit to his fellow soldiers for their heroics and participation in that engagement in the Meuse-Argonne contrary to the almost mythological aspects that time and ceaseless repetition of the story have generated. York specifically singled out Second Lieutenant Kirby Stewart who had initially led the advance on the machine gun nests, bravely attacked and drew the fire from that same band of one hundred and thirty-two German soldiers who York and his squad outflanked at Hill 223 and captured later that same day.

Buxton was York’s Battalion Commander who among other achievements would become known as, “Sergeant York’s Major” and was the Historian of the 82nd Division. Buxton with his now famous “Dutch Uncle” meetings with York helped Alvin make his decision to stay in the Army. That heroic decision would have long term affects on the history of our nation.

Colonel Buxton was one of the original twenty American Expeditionary Force (AEF) officers that met at the Allied Officers’ Club in Paris on the night of February 16th, 1919 to discuss the formation of what would become the American Legion. Others in that group included good Friends Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. and Col. William J. Donovan of the Rainbow Division who would later head up the OSS in WWII. Buxton would join him as Deputy Director and 2IC of the OSS.

It was Buxton who had long discussed the potential of a Veterans group and called for the immediate formation of such an organization rather than wait until their return to the States. This prompted the now famous Paris Caucus on March 15, 1919 attended by one thousand delegates from all ranks from private to brigadier general where every combat division and all noncombatants (S.O.S. units) were represented. Both Buxton and York were there with both contributing mightily to the proceedings. Colonel Buxton and his Constitution Committee wrote the American Legion Constitution and its now famous preamble.

Lt. Kirby Stewart’s spirit was also there in Paris and at every American Legion meeting since continuing to inspire and motivate all of us to be the best that we can be. The indomitable spirit of The American Legion and lifetime Friends Ned Buxton and Alvin York was summed up by Colonel Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who stated,

“The idea underlying the formation of the American Legion is the feeling among the great mass of the men who served in the forces of this country during the war, that the impulse of patriotism which prompted their efforts and sacrifices should be so preserved that it might become a strong force in the future for true Americanism and better citizenship.”

Indeed it has. As Colonel Buxton would have said, “Well done and carry on.”

Thank you,

G. Edward Buxton III
Dallas, Texas
March 13, 2009

Indeed, the congressionally chartered American Legion continues to thrive and be a force of positive change and empowerment, especially as it relates to Veterans Rights as well as the ever studious watchdog of our freedoms.

The original American Legion preamble reads as follows, “We, the members of the Military and Naval Service of the United States of America in the great war, desiring to perpetuate the principles of Justice, Freedom, and Democracy for which we have fought, to inculcate the duty and obligation of the citizen to the State; to preserve the history and incidents of our participation in the war; and to cement the ties of comradeship formed in service, do propose to found and establish an association…”


Ned Buxton

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