116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Twenty officers in the American Expeditionary Forces who wanted to improve troop morale started the American Legion in Paris in March 1919, four months after the end of World War I.
Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. proposed an organization of veterans, and a group of officers and enlisted men attended the Paris Caucus in February, adopting a temporary constitution and the name American Legion.
In May, another organizing caucus was held in St. Louis, completing the constitution. Congress granted the Legion a national charter in September 1919. The first national convention followed in November, where delegates voted to locate the Legion’s national headquarters in Indianapolis.
American Legion posts quickly popped up all over the country.
Iowa posts for Black vets
One of the posts formed in 1919 was in Des Moines, Lincoln Post 126, for the Black veterans of World War I.
Black veterans in Cedar Rapids formed a post in 1920, naming it the Crispus Attucks Post 451 after the Black Native American man who was the first casualty of the American Revolution. One of its first events was a dance. A couple of Des Moines men reported having a very enjoyable time with the “Parlor City folk.”
Post 451 struggled from the beginning after many of its members left Cedar Rapids. The Des Moines-based Iowa Bystander, a newspaper founded in 1894 for Black readers, reported in September “the post has been practically inactive for several months.”
What few members remained were expected to host the state convention Sept. 2-3, 1920. When the advance man from Des Moines’ Lincoln Post arrived in Cedar Rapids, he had difficulty finding anyone from the Crispus Attucks post.
“After making a search and after much inquiry, being a total stranger, he finally located the post adjutant in a pool hall,” the Bystander reported. “Informing him of his mission and making it known that there were five others to follow him, he was sent to a questionable place without the adjutant quitting his interesting pool game.”
Mrs. Fred Gresham came to the delegates’ rescue, opening her home to them and helping them make connections.
While the local post seemed dormant, the state convention was held, and more than 1,400 delegates — white and Black — made a point of nominating and electing Black delegate J.Q. Lindsey to the national convention.
Another try in ’25
In 1925, a group of Black veterans in Cedar Rapids sought to re-establish Legion Post 451.
They met March 6 at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Butler, 511 Ninth Ave. SE. Hanford Legion Post 5 Commander Charles Hedberg and Executive Committee Member Carl Hendrickson told those at the meeting about the Legion’s ideals and purposes
Alonzo F. Henry was elected commander of the newly formed post. O.G. Simmons was vice-commander; H.G. Price, adjutant; James Tibbs, chaplain; Jess Anderson, finance officer; and G. Dunlap, sergeant-at-arms.
The group met March 10 and named itself Pont-a-Mousson Post 451, after a city in northeast France that saw ferocious fighting during the war.
A week later, Henry was arrested and charged with embezzling money from the newly formed post.
Henry was captured at Iowa City five minutes after H.L. Ragland, one of the post leaders, “signed the information charging his superior with embezzlement of the post’s money,” The Gazette reported. “According to Ragland, the post commander had been busy since the post was organized March 6, soliciting contributions for the post.”
The new commander, Paul Terlington, was elected in April, but the organization petered out, becoming inactive again in 1927.
The post reorganized three years later and elected Frank J. Walker commander. Other officers were Ivory G. Steele, adjutant, and Dr. W.H. Beshears, finance officer. Post 451 began meeting in the office of the Hanford Post in the Linn County building.
The Pont-a-Mousson Post was among the veterans’ organizations participating in the dedication of the new Veterans Memorial Building on May’s Island on Sept. 12, 1928. The post began meeting there after the dedication.
The last surviving Black veteran of the Civil War in Cedar Rapids, Richard Bass, died in January 1929. Veterans from both the Hanford and Pont-a-Mousson posts attended the funeral.
The post’s drum and bugle corps became a focus of the organization in the 1930s. Benefit boxing tournaments were held in the armory of the Memorial Coliseum to raise funds for equipment for the musicians.
The corps also was in demand for Legion parades and other events.
Donkey baseball was introduced to Cedar Rapids in 1934, with proceeds from the games going to the Musketeers Drum Corps, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Band and the Pont-a-Mousson Drum Corps.
In 1937, the Pont-a-Mousson post formed an auxiliary.
Virgil Powell, a World War I veteran and a Cedar Rapids police officer who headed the department’s fingerprint bureau, was elected commander of Post 451 in 1939. He held the post until he retired in September 1946.
Not long after that, the Pont-a-Mousson was absorbed by the Hanford post, which disbanded in 2011.