• U.S.

ORGANIZATIONS: Cold Comfort

3 minute read
TIME

Legionnaires were subdued. Suddenly and forcibly, they had been made to realize that their hooligan antics had ceased to amuse. The clincher was the problem of next year’s convention. Wailed a committeeman: “For the first time in our history, we have no bid from any city.” Nobody seemed to want the American Legion.

All week long, at their Miami convention, the Legion’s aging delegates were on their best behavior. Some 700 Legionnaires had been assigned to police duty to help keep order. If water pistols were flourished too carelessly, they were seized. Electric canes were appropriated on sight. Fat and fiftyish, the average delegate spent his time forlornly window-shopping with his wife, listening to assorted oratory. He perked up enough to review the lissome candidates for “Miss Majorette of America for 1948,” voted Illinois’ Mary Jean Peterson fairest of them all. But the big, 5½-hour parade was marred by a drenching rain.

Long Live the King. There were few World War II veterans among the 3,400 delegates, fewer still among the 30,000 other Legionnaires who came along for the fun—although they outnumber World War I veterans two to one among the Legion’s 3,000,000 members. In the battle to elect next year’s commander, the old-guard “king makers” squelched a rebellion by the younger veterans, steamrolled serenely on to victory with stocky, bespectacled S. Perry Brown, 56, veteran of both wars and general manager of a Beaumont, Tex. building-materials company. It wasn’t even close.

But if the Legion’s unofficial comportment was sober, its official conduct was the most irresponsible in years. After voting resolutions favoring U.M.T. a veto-less U.N., and public housing for veterans, the delegates kicked over the traces.

Over the committee leadership’s protests, they directed members of their Americanism committee to appoint themselves as educational vigilantes, to keep close watch on the nation’s teachers. In teaching the differences between U.S. democracy and “the Communist dictatorship,” the resolution stated firmly, “our system must not suffer but be exalted.*

Pie in the Sky. Next day the aging warriors voted themselves a bonanza. They whipped through a resolution which called for pensions to all World War I veterans and their dependents equivalent to those paid Spanish-American War veterans ($90 a month after 65). Then they passed another asking pensions for veterans of both wars—$60 a month at 55, $75 a month after 65. Such laws would add more than $1 billion to the federal budget right away; by 1985, when the average World War II veteran is 55 or older, it would cost more than $8 billion a year.

But the Legionnaires’ outward sobriety had paid off. Philadelphia sent along a belated bid for next year’s convention. And at week’s end, a surprised, pleased and unscratched Miami extended a warm invitation to return again next year—in fact, every year, if they liked.

*Said Harvard’s Dr. James B. Conant last week: “Those who worry about radicalism in our schools and colleges are often either reactionaries who themselves do not bear allegiance to the traditional American principles or defeatists who despair of the success of our own philosophy in an open competition. The first group are consciously or unconsciously aiming at a transformation of this society, perhaps initially not as revolutionary or violent as that which the Soviet agents envisage, but one eventually equally divergent from our historic goals. The others are unduly timid about the outcome of a battle of ideas.”

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