by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In the aftermath of America’s crucial role in the conclusion of the First World War, the nation basked in its elevated role of world power while it also moved into the Red Scare, a postwar period of reactionary repression of leftist organizations and individuals, ostensibly because of a rising tide of Communism and Socialism in Europe, that crystallized in late 1919 and early 1920.
As United States Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer began the process that launched the investigations and raids that bore his name, including appointing a young J. Edgar Hoover to a key investigative role in what, five years later became the F.B.I. with him as first and long-time director, the rising tide of patriotism that consumed the country was manifested in a variety of ways.
One of these is represented in the highlighted artifact from the Museum’s collection for this post, a program for a “Roosevelt Mass Meeting” hosted by the Los Angeles Post of the American Legion at the Shrine Auditorium on 13 September 1919. The Legion was born with a meeting by members of the American Expeditionary Force who were still in France in March, though it was at a May gathering in St. Louis that the name was selected.
Not surprisingly, the organization grew rapidly throughout the nation, including in the Angel City, and Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., son of the late 26th president who died at the beginning of the year, was one of the founders of the Legion, though he shied away from being appointed its national commander as he preferred the comradeship of fellow soldiers and his service in the Army.
Roosevelt, however, agreed to travel the country to give speeches and work on a membership drive for the fledgling organization. This included his stop in Los Angeles and appearance at the original Shrine, where a tribute to another World War hero Eddie Rickenbacker was held in June but which burned in January 1920.
Born in 1887, Roosevelt was a boy when his father achieved fame in the Spanish-American War and which led him to the vice-presidency under William McKinley and then the office of the chief executive when McKinley was assassinated in 1901. HIs father was completing his second term as president when Roosevelt graduated from Harvard in 1908 and went into business, earning financial security.
As was the case with his three brothers, Roosevelt attended an adult military training camp, which proved to a forerunner to the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) and the Army Reserve. When American entered the world war in spring 1917, the four Roosevelt sons enlisted with the A.E.F. and their sister became a nurse in the European battle zone.
The youngest Roosevelt brother, Quentin, died in action, another brother Archie was wounded on the field and Theodore, Jr., who commanded a battalion, also suffered serious injuries, which plagued him the remainder of his life and forced him to use a cane. For his bravery, he was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross and the French bestowed the Chevalier Légion d’Honneur on him, as well.
His famous name, especially with his father’s recent death, his crucial role in establishing the American Legion, and his wartime service made Roosevelt a hero to Angelenos when it was announced he would be in town for the Shrine event and the 7 September edition of the Los Angeles Times noted
The coming of Lieut.-Col. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., to Los Angeles next Saturday has created such a demand from the public for admittance to the big mass meeting at the Shrine Auditorium, where he will speak, that announcement was made that no persons, other than returned service men and patriotic women’s organizations will be invited.
It was added that, while there were many admirers of the late president clamoring to see the younger Roosevelt, 30,000 veterans of the recent war were given priority for the 7,000 seats at the venue. About 1,200 women associated with organizations that helped with the war effort were also placed in a position to be eligible for admission.
Roosevelt spoke recently or was to lecture in such places as St. Paul, Omaha, Des Moines, Wichita and Denver before coming to California. The expectation was that, when his national tour was completed in time for the Legion’s inaugural national confab at Minneapolis during the first anniversary of the signing of the Armistice on 11 November, membership in the organization would top 1 million.
The article recorded Roosevelt’s bravery as he was gassed in May 1917 and then shot by a machine gun in July 1918. Starting as a captain when he arrived overseas, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and commanded a regiment in the decisive engagement of the Meuse-Argonne (where Joseph Kauffman, brother of Milton, Walter P. Temple’s business manager was killed just prior to Germany’s capitulation.)
In addition to his oration for the local Legion post at the Shrine, Roosevelt had a typically packed itinerary during his short visit in the Angel City, including a lunch in his honor at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, an excursion to the beach and the seemingly obligatory tour of film studios, and a testimonial dinner at the elite and exclusive California Club—this latter immediately preceding his appearance at the event.
While it was first reported that Roosevelt would arrive in town the day of his talk, he wound up coming in two days ahead because he was to leave Saturday night for San Francisco, which change threatened to derail the Shrine event. To keep his appearance intact, Roosevelt was to be taken immediately after his talk to DeMille Field, near Fairfax High School and where film impresario Cecil B. DeMille ran his Mercury Airlines, and ferried to Santa Barbara, from where he would catch a train to the Bay Area or, if he preferred, to have champion race-car driver Cannonball Baker chauffeur him to the north. The trips to the beach and studios were cancelled and Roosevelt instead was to attend meetings of the City and University clubs as well as the local Legion post.
On the 13th, it was announced that Roosevelt chose to have Baker race him to Santa Barbara and the Los Angeles Express added that Mayor Meredith P. Snyder, whose only child, Ross, was killed at the Battle of Chateau-Thierry in mid-July 1918 and for whom the Ross Snyder Recreation Center in South Los Angeles is named, was to welcome the guest of honor “and assure the American Legion of the loyal support of the city.” General Hunter Liggett, for whom a fort in central California is named and under whom Roosevelt served while in Europe during the war, was one of the guests of honor.
In another tweak to his schedule, Roosevelt, after addressing members of the Los Angeles Athletic Club, went to Long Beach to address the Legion post in that rapidly growing metropolis and then returned to the Angel City for the club meetings and the Legion confab, with the paper noting that the organization was to be the “G.A.R. [Grand Army of the Republic, formed for veterans of the Civil War] of the future. A visit to Hollywood and the studios was put back into his busy day, as well.
In its editorial page that day, the Express, which proclaimed itself “100 per cent American,” reiterated the importance of the Legion as being the next iteration of sorts of the G.A.R. “and by precept and example teach devotion to the country and the flag.” It repeated that Roosevelt fought in the late war “with gallantry” and “lived in practice his father’s teachings,” while noting that he and his brothers “sought service at the front in preference to safe and honorary employment in the rear.” In so doing, the siblings “gave new luster to a name that already had won distinction as being symbolic with militant Americanism.”
It was added that, while Angelenos would have welcomed Roosevelt just for being the scion of his beloved father “that son has richly earned such welcome in his own right and it is in recognition of that personal desert [that] Los Angeles welcomes him.” The piece ended:
It is a worthy errand upon which Colonel Roosevelt comes. The American Legion now organizing has in it possibilities of immense advantage not only to its members, but to the state. Whatever makes for it prosperous growth makes for the benefit of the nation., as must be the case in respect of every organization that is grounded upon the cardinal principles of devotion to the Union and love for the flag.
In its coverage of Roosevelt’s address, the Times employed the headline “Roosevelt Scores Reds” and began by reporting that “Bolshevists, the radical Reds and Boston’s striking policemen [these latter were on a par with the others?] received a jab on the jaw . . . [by] the fighting son of the late ex-President Roosevelt.” Although it was stated that his expressed purpose was to advocate for Legion membership, the account continued that “the two-fisted, red-blooded, fighting son of the fighting President” unleashed some “wallops” at American traitors and to discuss the challenges of Europe’s rebuilding.
The three chief Legion themes of Democratization, Sense of Service and Americanization were emphasized, while the speaker excoriated “Bolshevists, I.W.W.s [International Worker of the World union members,] red flag Socialists and kindred anarchists, alien slackers, riots and the Boston striking policemen, whom he branded as traitors.
It was reported that Roosevelt’s “electrifying personality” was such that there were comments made like, “he’s sure a chip off the old block” and “yep, just look at that grin! It’s got his daddy’s smile beat by a mile.” The orator was quoted as saying that, while he was on the battlefield in France, he warned by his father about American “fool reaction or fool radicalism” that was infecting the nation.
The only remedies he asserted were “a ruthless determination to enforce all law and a constructive programme of liberalism,” with one idea to have business continue to offer more profit-sharing for workers as a way to ensure productivity and the claim that the laborer “will begin to take an interest in his government.” Adherence to the law and order principles of the Constitution, which were not spelled out, would guarantee “we will be 100 per cent Americans, and nothing else.”
He then turned to the issue that would very soon galvanize the Palmer Raids:
We have riots in Boston and Chicago. There must be no disorders such as these and it is the duty of every citizen to put them down. We have our Bolshevists and I.W.W. and red-flag Socialists, but we should smash them. It is your duty and the duty of every red-blooded American to go out and help smash them.
With respect to the American Legion, the orator told his “buddies and buddyettes” that service in the military during the war meant “we have bought a share of stock in our country and now we must have a personal interest in it.” Moreover, instead of hyphenated Americans (German, Irish, Italian, etc.) “after the war, we find we have not got them” as people were saying they were of a given “extraction.”
While the Legion was naturally to be concerned with issues of military power and soldiers’ legislation, Roosevelt insisted that broader matters mattered, as “riot is riot—arson is arson—and the duty of every citizen in the country is to put down such disorders.” He pleaded not to try to reason with radicals, because the only way to deal with them, he thundered, “it to to the bat with them and go to the bat strong,” this seeming to be his variation of his father’s “speak softly, and carry a big stick.” These left-wingers, he continued, were such a threat that “we should see that they are thrown out of every community.”
For someone born into the upper echelons of America’s Gilded Age elite, Roosevelt also claimed “we must not have class distinctions” because soldiers served in the military where these, allegedly, did not exist, though racial separation certainly was very much the rule. Moreover, in peacetime, one can presume that veterans very much found themselves segregated by class, especially as the Roaring Twenties led to a further widening in income and wealth gaps, the levels of which we have essentially returned to today.
As he concluded, Roosevelt emphasized the egalitarian ideas of the Legion, that is, ” for the private as well as the general,” welcoming to any veteran whether they served in the field of battle or not, and “that it should be nonpartisan, concerning policies and not politics.” When he finished, he was carried on the shoulders of some of his fellow “doughboys” to his car and Cannonball Baker sped off to Santa Barbara.
The Times reported that, amidst his very busy day, Roosevelt briefly spoke to a group affiliated with the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Replacement Bureau, cautioning that their reintroduction to civilian life would include dangers. Moreover, when touring the Famous Players-Lasky Studio in Hollywood, with DeMille as guide, Roosevelt was reunited with actor Robert Warwick, who was in the trenches in France with the guest of honor.
Roosevelt went on to seek the governorship of New York in 1924, but go into a conflict with his cousin, Franklin, who later won that office and then ascended to the presidency, becoming the only chief executive to win four elections before the two-term limit was imposed. During the Twenties, he was in the New York legislature, served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy and governor of Puerto Rico and governor-general of The Phillipines.
In spring 1941, after more than two decades in the reserve, he returned to active Army service as a colonel and then was promoted to brigadier general. In North Africa, he was known for preferring to be in the thick of the action, but he also clashed with generals Omar Bradley and George S. Patton, Jr. (the latter a native of the San Gabriel Valley) and was relieved of command of his infantry regiment and reassigned to a staff role.
In Italy, he saw combat and worked for General Dwight D. Eisenhower and asked him several times for a combat commander’s position, to which he was assigned for the naval landings at Normandy in France on D-Day. Remarkably, Roosevelt was the only general to actually participate directly in the landings on the beaches where so many Americans died heroically and he moved among the men encouraging, directing and leading. For this, he was given the Medal of Honor, but Roosevelt, who, by all odds, should have died during D-Day, passed away in his sleep of a heart attack just 12 days later at age 56. Patton wrote his wife that Roosevelt “was one of the bravest men I knew.”
The program is largely comprised of ads, along with the itinerary, including an open air concert by the Long Beach Municipal Band; a minstrel show produced by the manager of the Pantages Theater; Alberta and Lorene Davis, accounted “America’s Girl Buglers” and “Sammie’s Sisters;” a saxophonist and pianist duo denoted as “Legion Jazzers;” and, following Roosevelt’s speech, a bugle call and the playing of the national anthem.
A list of patrons included companies like banks, insurance companies, Coca-Cola, the Cudahy Packing Company, Secondo Guasti’s Italian Vineyard Company, Goodyear Rubber Company, and plenty of individuals such as future District Attorney Buron Fitts; Anita Baldwin (an honorary colonel for her wartime support); developer William Garland; capitalist John S. Cravens; commercial real estate agent William H. Daum; oil executive Max H. Whittier; Judge Walter Boardwell; and attorney Stuart O’Melveny
Chair of the Los Angeles post, Walter Brinkop, also contributed an essay, stating that “the American Legion is the organization of the men of the ranks” and emphasized the need for organization, learned from the military, to make the Legion a success. He implored veterans to join and support its work with “Soldier Settlement land plans,” government insurance, fighting prisoner abuse, job placement and more.
Moreover, the Legion had a War Risk Insurance program, a Medical Aid Committee, a Legal Aid Committee and was soon to have an Employment and Industrial Committee for help locating good-paying jobs, but, he continued, “you must come in and help!” Reiterating the egalitarian element, he observed, “if some of the former officers have the time to serve YOU on committees, and if they have the ability to serve you WELL, why not call it “Jake” [in good order]?” He ended by inviting everyone present to join at just $2 per year, while some veterans could have dues waived, and repeated, “this is YOUR Legion!”