By Jay Turner for PCGS ……
At 1:30 p.m. on September 19, 1927, some 20,000 Americans marched down the streets in Paris, as some million spectators watched the parade. With American flags waving, marching bands and those who had once served in the war, the American Legion had returned to Paris, where it had been founded, for its ninth convention and it was a moment where France and its citizens could welcome back some of the people who had sacrificed at its time of need.
Over four million American people had served overseas in the Great War. With fighting over in 1918, hundreds of thousands of American soldiers found themselves now stuck in France and unable to get home. In order to improve morale, a committee of officers founded The American Legion in Paris in 1919. While this wasn’t the first war veteran organization set up by veterans to organize and advocate for veterans, it was the first group to be universal, include both officers and enlisted men, and serve as a non-political group. The American Legion was chartered by the United States Congress and remains an active organization.
In 1927, the American Legion, with the invitation of the President of France Gaston Doumergue, held their convention again in Paris. The planning and execution of such an event was no small feat – it took years. This was no normal legion convention; it marked the return of the people who fought for France and served as a way to show them the land and people for whom they had sacrificed so much. Many planned and saved for years to be able to make the return trip to Europe and attend the convention in Paris.
Some 20,000 Legionnaires and Auxiliary made the voyage across the ocean to attend this convention requiring 19 liners to be reserved for the voyage. There were dinners and delegations, receptions, and tours. For most, it had been the first return to Europe since the Great War and was an opportunity to see the battlefields they had fought on and visit cemeteries where their friends and fellow soldiers were laid to rest. It was written that the legionnaires were treated like royalty by everyone.
In 1928, the French Government sent each Legionnaire who attended the convention a note of thanks and a medal with help from the American Legion Headquarters. The medal measures 44.5 millimeters in diameter, was struck in bronze, and was designed by Pierre-Victor Dautel (1873-1951). Wonderful in its artistic representation, the obverse features a faint Statue of Liberty in the foreground with three giant ships navigating ocean waves. Superimposed onto the ocean is the inscription “VISITE DE L’AMERICAN LEGION EN FRANCE SEPTEMBRE MCMXXVII, or “Visit of The American Legion in France in September 1927.” On the bottom of the obverse of the medal is the Arc de Triomphe with the flame of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Besides the Arc de Triomphe is a city view outline of Paris.
The reverse of the medal features a French soldier and an American soldier shaking each other’s hands and saluting each other. The soldiers stand on an agrarian landscape with a plow set into earth and two small plants growing beside the men. Trenches can be seen in the faint distance. Above the men “POVR TOVJOVRS” (pour toujours) is inscribed, meaning “For All Time.”
The American Legion Convention in Paris was a major event in 1927 and was covered by American and international media. Yet today the event is largely forgotten. However, the medal is a lasting testament to the festive occasion. Almost 100 years later, these medals appear every so often for sale or in collections or estates passed down to heirs. Those who take a moment to look at the design can see the story of a journey across the ocean and the gratitude of a people for whom the sacrifice was understood and forever appreciated.
* * *