Less Than One Month After Pearl Harbor, President and Commander in Chief Franklin D. Roosevelt Enlists Veterans in Defending the Homeland From Another Attack

“I count on the continued cooperation of you and the men who constitute the membership of the American Legion for the kind of intelligent and disciplined support which will insure the ultimate success of our efforts.”.

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After World War I, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. and others campaigned for the formation of an organization that would provide services to veterans, active service members, and their communities. Responding to this groundswell of interest, in 1919 Congress chartered the American Legion. Membership swiftly grew to over one million, and local posts sprang...

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Less Than One Month After Pearl Harbor, President and Commander in Chief Franklin D. Roosevelt Enlists Veterans in Defending the Homeland From Another Attack

“I count on the continued cooperation of you and the men who constitute the membership of the American Legion for the kind of intelligent and disciplined support which will insure the ultimate success of our efforts.”.

After World War I, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. and others campaigned for the formation of an organization that would provide services to veterans, active service members, and their communities. Responding to this groundswell of interest, in 1919 Congress chartered the American Legion. Membership swiftly grew to over one million, and local posts sprang up across the country. The Legion successfully sponsored the creation of the U.S. Veterans Administration in 1930. By the outbreak of World War II, it was one of the most influential nonprofit groups in the United States, and considered the spokesman for, and representative of, American veterans as a whole. In 1941, just before the U.S. entered World War II, Lynn Stambaugh became the National Commander of the Legion, and he would be its head in the coming war effort and civilian defense activities. It was in this latter area that veterans could take a leading part.

In the immediate aftermath of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor (which took place on December 7, 1941), civilian defense became a matter of urgent importance. In the outpouring of grief, anger and nationalistic fervor, every level of government was flooded with queries about local defense, as many Americans worried about potential German or Japanese attacks. Fears that civilian defense measures and systems were inadequate was widespread. On December 16, noted columnist Walter Lippman reflected this, writing, “The realities of civilian defense have never been clearly grasped, nor has the business been organized in a way that is remotely adequate.”

About a week before Lippman wrote, on December 10, Stambaugh messaged all departments of the American Legion that America must “win the victory, whatever the cost in blood and treasure,” and urged that all controversy as to why “we are in the present situation be forgotten… We face powerful enemies, well-armed and fearless…This may be a long war. We have no illusion that it can be won in a few days or weeks. We recognize that war is won only through costly sacrifices, tears and blood.”

It was in this atmosphere that the American Legion, through Stambaugh, wrote to President Roosevelt on December 13, asking the President how the Legion and its members could contribute to the war effort and defense measures.

FDR responded in this Typed letter signed, on White House letterhead, two pages, Washington, January 5, 1942, to Stambaugh, outlining civil defense plans, making suggestions on how the Legion and veterans generally would participate, and saying that their support would further victory. “Thank you for your letter of December 13 so generously placing at my disposal as Commander in Chief the vast organization and facilities represented by the American Legion. I know that before the Office of Civilian Defense was created your organization was working on civilian defense measures and had in preparation an important series of pamphlets dealing with specific protection services. You are aware of that soon after it’s establishments, the Office of Civilian Defense created a Veteran’s Division, drafting as its director Henry H. Dudley, the Director of National Defense and the person responsible for the preparation of your civil defense pamphlets. It is my understanding that the Office of Civilian Defense has a fixed policy regarding its relationships with national organizations. In order to establish unity of command through the Federal, through the regional, to the state and local levels, ultimate responsibility and command must remain with the councils of defense. The Office of Civilian Defense has, however, urged that all organizations encourage their members to enroll for specific services available locally, (accepting responsibility under the direction of the local defense counsel for carrying them out).

“The American Legion has contributed immeasurably to the civilian defense program. The National Director and his deputy are Legionnaires; seven of nine Regional Directors are Legionnaires, including two past National Commanders. A number of States have asked the Legion, under the direction of State and local defense councils, to assume full responsibility for the training and operation of various protective services. These include the aircraft warning service, the air-raid wardens service, and the operation of control centers. The military discipline of Legionnaires has proven a vital contribution to the work of the auxiliary fire-fighting service, the auxiliary police service, and every branch of the protective services. I know that Legionnaires have been useful not only in the protective services but also in particular programs, particularly those related activities which your organization has pursued since its inception. The American Legion has an established reputation for studies made in services rendered to this country and volunteer activities, in welfare services and in community organization for effective social action.

“In answer to your question “What can we do?”, I respond that you are already doing a great deal; that you can intensify your efforts to get local Legion posts and their members to enroll with their local defense councils and to assume even greater leadership under direction of State and local defense councils in the protective services, and that you can be prepared for even heavier demands as the war progresses and the processes of the national defense programs become clearer. The fact that your position necessitates your close touch with conditions enables you to appreciate the tremendous amount of work which still remains to be done.

“I count on the continued cooperation of you and the men who constitute the membership of the American Legion for the kind of intelligent and disciplined support which will insure the ultimate success of our efforts.”

The Legion and its members did their part, in civil defense and otherwise, during the war. Augmenting this, the Legion actually wrote the original draft of the Veterans Readjustment Act, which became known as the G.I. Bill, the most important veterans measure in the history of United States. This law enabled untold numbers of veterans to receive a free education, low-cost mortgages, and low-interest loans to start a business. The original draft of the bill is preserved at the Legion’s National Headquarters. President Roosevelt signed it into law in June 1944.

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