This Veterans Day will be special for two San Mateo County American Legion Posts. Both Post 105 in Redwood City and San Mateo’s Post 82 marked their 100th anniversaries this year, milestones that will be recalled at Courthouse Square on Nov. 11, a date that at one time was known as Armistice Day, the day in 1918 when World War I, the hoped for “war to end all wars” came to a halt at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
Both were among the many American Legion posts that formed in 1919. In March of that year, war-weary American servicemen, including officers and enlisted men, met in Paris to form an organization that would represent them. Two months later a national caucus was held in St. Louis and “The American Legion” was adopted as the official name. Posts soon sprang up all over America. They included Post 82 in San Mateo, which was organized on Sept. 29, 1919, and bills itself as “the first continuously operating American Legion Post in San Mateo County.” Post 105 traces its lineage to Oct. 10, 1919, when 130 vets met at Sequoia High School and signed an organizing charter.
The two San Mateo County posts will join forces on Veterans Day at Courthouse Square in Redwood City to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their births. The festivities that start at 10 a.m. will be followed by a 1 p.m. barbecue at the Post 105 building at 651 El Camino Real.
Over the years, the Legion, now with more than 2 million members, became a powerful political force that watched out for the interests of veterans. A prime example was the Legion’s support for the GI Bill for World War II veterans. The former “doughboys” of World War I did not want to see World War II GIs end up as “forgotten men,” as many World War I soldiers were during the Great Depression.
Immediately after it formed, Post 82 became a major supporter of a servicemen’s dormitory that had operated on San Mateo’s Civic Center property since 1913. When the need for veteran housing diminished, Post 82 turned the building into a clubhouse, which remained so until 1954 when the post bought the property it currently occupies on South B Street. When it comes to honoring veterans, the city of San Mateo is famous for holding one of the few, if not the only, parade that celebrated soldiers returning from the Vietnam War. The event in 1972 drew thousands of spectators who lined the streets to see members of the famous “Screaming Eagles” division march to Central Park where soldiers gave away some of their equipment to admiring children.
Something the Redwood City post should be better known for is its fight against discrimination. Post 105 stood up to a Legion organization called 40 and 8, which is the English translation of the French notice on railroad box cars that stated the car could carry 40 soldiers or eight horses. Forty and 8 became known for trains, actually rubber-tired vehicles, that pulled a boxcar in parades. Sounds harmless enough, but the 40/8 banned “non-whites” from membership. In 1959, Post 105 backed the national American Legion ruling that declared 40/8 could not use the Legion name or emblem. At the time, the commander of Post 105 was Alan Jensen, who said the only requirement to join the Legion was an honorable discharge from the service.
A visible reminder of the Post’s ties to Redwood City is the World War II tank that stands guard at Mezes Park. Post 105 helped bring the light Stuart tank to the park, site of the now long-gone Mezes Hall where the legionaries met before the familiar hall on El Camino was built.
Post 105 has had many members since 1919. Its most illustrious was Mitchell Paige who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic action in the Solomon Islands in 1942. According to his citation, Paige, then a Marine Corps sergeant, single-handedly withstood a Japanese attack after his men were killed or wounded. In 1960, Paige, who lived in Redwood City for five years, was made a lifetime member of Post 105. He died in Southern California in 2003. His photo and a copy of his Medal of Honor citation hang on the wall at the Post 105 hall.
The Rear View Mirror by history columnist Jim Clifford appears in the Daily Journal every other Monday. Objects in The Mirror are closer than they appear.