The American Legion is America’s largest wartime veterans service organization consisting of 2 million members in more than 12,000 posts, carrying on the tradition that began when the organization was founded in Paris in 1919 by U.S. service personnel associated with the American Expeditionary Forces at the end of World War I.
Following on the heels of the national founding in March of 1919, the American Legion Department of Pennsylvania was founded on June 12 of the same year, as was the Auxiliary of the organization.
There are many purposes fulfilled by the American Legion, including support and advocacy for veterans, active military and their families, fostering patriotism and responsible citizenship and a host of other causes that benefit local communities. Strong emphasis is placed on sponsoring activities for youth, such as the Legion baseball program thas has 5,400 teams in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. The organization also sponsors essay writing contests leading up to the national level, with substantial monetary rewards.
On the local level, the Walter W. Craig Post 354 of New Bethlehem was founded in late 1919 and was named in honor of the first local man to volunteer for service in World War I, just five days after President Woodrow Wilson had Congress declare war against the Axis powers, led by Germany. Walter Craig was not only the first local man to volunteer for military duty, but he was also the first local man to die in that war, being killed in France near the end of the “war to end all wars.” The American Legion post bearing his name was founded in November 1919, and has served this community since that time.
Locally, the Post is responsible for seeing that about 1,100 flags are placed before Memorial Day each year on about a dozen area cemeteries, and the Post annually provides the community’s observance of that holiday. The organization supports many other projects like promoting the
“Hometown Heroes” banner program now in its third year. In late 2018 the Post purchased a parcel of property in New Bethlehem for the establishment of a veterans memorial park. The organization is also spearheading a fund-raising campaign to underwrite the development and maintenance of that park.