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'My own Warren’s organization'

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Warren Grimm’s wife continued the family tradition of helping build up The American Legion – but not in Washington state. Instead, she and her child made their way to American Legion National Headquarters in Indianapolis, where she developed the now-famous collection of war posters – during World War II, as they were being released – and more.

The American Legion Library has in its archives a biography of Verna B. Grimm written by her (and Warren’s) grandson, Bruce Landeck. She was born Anna Verna Barstad in Aurelia, Iowa, on Sept. 12, 1892, but grew up in Spokane, Wash. After high school, she attended the University of Washington College of Arts, graduating in 1915. The university is located in Seattle, about 85 miles from Centralia, and after graduating she accepted a job as librarian of the Centralia library. She met Warren Grimm via his sister, a friend of hers. Warren and Verna were married on April 15, 1918, and the next spring she gave birth to their daughter Shirley.

Verna saw her husband shot and killed during the Armistice Day 1919 parade. She attended the trial (and brought little Shirley). The Daily Review of Bisbee, Ariz., reported on March 11, 1920, that she testified on the final day about trying to recover his overcoat from Spokane; she was confident it wouldn’t have bullet holes that might have come from a Legion raid on the Wobblies.

Her next stop was Columbia University in New York City, where she earned a master’s degree in library science in 1923. She then accepted an offer to come with Shirley to Indianapolis to be national librarian at The American Legion’s National Headquarters. She stayed until her retirement in 1957, and in the 34 years between set the foundation for the history the Legion keeps on the fourth floor today. Discussed most often are the war posters. During World War II, according to an American Legion News Service article in 1945, the library was “gathering posters of (war) activities from government agencies, the armed forces, defense plants, civilian defense, shipbuilding, transportation, and countless public and private organizations.”

"Everybody used posters in World War II," Verna said at the time. The collection, which today numbers in the thousands, can be seen at www.legion.org/posters. But she built up more than posters; an emphasis that was going strong in the late 1930s was collecting badges used at department and national conventions. Rarest of all were those with ribbons pinned on delegates to the St. Louis Caucus in 1919.

A 1940 article in an Indianapolis newspaper about the American Legion Library cast Verna as a sort of answer bank for Legionnaires – fielding queries on everything from the flag to George Washington’s law career (or lack thereof). She invoked her husband in describing her work: "That is why I have such a continuous interest in The American Legion …. It is my own Warren's organization. He gave his own blood for it. I feel I am carrying on his own work.”

Soon after her 1957 retirement, Verna fell ill. At the Fall Meetings that November, the NEC sent its condolences; she had also served as secretary of the Resolutions Committee. In fact, Past National Commander Roane Waring offered in seconding the resolution: “There was a time when the question came up as to what the Legion had done at some previous or past convention, or National Executive Committee meeting, and we could go to Mrs. Grimm – and she could put you straight on what the record was. A wonderful woman; she still is, and I certainly hope she has a speedy recovery.”

But Verna died on Feb. 13, 1958, while living with Shirley and her husband in northern Indiana. That fall, the NEC approved a resolution renaming the library’s books the Verna B. Grimm Memorial Book Collection. When the next national librarian, Tom Hull, retired in 1987, Department of South Carolina NECman E. Roy Stone Jr. took the opportunity to also remember Verna: “He took the place of a very fine lady, Verna Grimm …. Verna Grimm is a Centralia Ambassador."


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Washington Legion post marks 100th anniversary of Centralia tragedy

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Gunshots that killed four members of The American Legion a century ago still echo through the memories of the southwest Washington town of Centralia. But people who gathered to mark Veterans Day near the monument to the fallen Legionnaires are determined not to allow the events of Nov. 11, 1919, to define their community.

“One hundred years ago today, on what was then called Armistice Day, there was bloodshed in these streets as conflict erupted between members of the Industrial Workers of the World and American Legion,” said William Anholt, commander of Grant Hodge American Legion Post 17, as he opened the ceremony in George Washington Park in Centralia’s town center. “Historians will debate the causes of this conflict and assign blame, but that is not why we are here today. Today, we honor all veterans of the armed services, these countless men and women who swore a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against enemies foreign and domestic.”

Keynote speaker Ron Averill laid out the history of Veterans Day and noted its special significance for Centralia, where one of the state’s first American Legion posts was chartered in March 1919. He also touched on the events that permanently marred the community’s first Armistice Day celebration. As the last of the participants in that day’s parade drew close to the IWW Hall in downtown Centralia on Nov. 11, 1919, a group of unarmed Legionnaires broke ranks and rushed the Wobbly office. Gunfire erupted. Legionnaires Warren O. Grimm, Ben Casangranda and Arthur McElfresh were killed. Another Legionnaire, Dale Hubbard, was fatally shot a short while later as he pursued Wesley Everest, a member of the IWW – also known as the Wobblies. Everest, who also was a veteran, was captured. Later that evening, he was pulled from the jail and lynched by vigilantes who have never been identified.

The Wobblies who were captured and tried argued they were acting in self-defense. Eight men were convicted of second-degree murder in connection with the shootings. One of them, however, was determined to be insane.

A former Lewis County commissioner and university professor, Averill served two tours in Vietnam during his 30-year military career. During his remarks, he also spoke about the challenges of recruiting people to join America’s all-volunteer military when the economy is strong and jobs are plentiful. “We have a duty to make sure our young people learn about what the armed forces do and the role they play in securing our freedom,” Averill said.

Monday’s event drew local residents, Legionnaires from throughout Western Washington – including Commander Steve West and Adjutant Dan Halverson from the recently revived American Legion Post 25 in Kelso – and a cross-section of veteran motorcyclists, including Legion Riders, the Combat Veterans Association and the Christian Motorcycle Association. The Centralia High School band performed and representatives from several organizations, including the Moose, American Legion Auxiliary and Knights of Columbus, laid wreaths near the bronze statue of a World War I soldier called The Sentinel that is dedicated to the four slain Legionnaires.

Peter Lahmann, president of the Lewis County Historical Society and a lifelong Centralia resident, says the tragedy still haunts his hometown. “It’s left a cloud over the community for 100 years,” Lahmann says. “The families of the Legionnaires were devastated. The wives and children of the IWW who were jailed were devastated. It’s a terrible thing all the way around.”

Yet, the topic was never discussed when Lahmann was growing up. He thought he’d get answers when he took his first job, at 16, working for a glass shop formerly owned by Bernie Eubanks, a Legionnaire who took a bullet in the leg while marching in the Armistice Day parade, and his partner Carl Dickey, who also was a veteran. “I asked Dickey about it,” Lahmann says. “He said, ‘We don’t talk about it.’”

Louis Stoffer, who has been a member of Centralia Post 17 since 1945, encountered similar silence. “I knew a lot of the guys who were involved in it,” says Stoffer, who flew 35 missions as a B-17 flight engineer in World War II and then came home to join his father in the heating and cooling business. “They sure didn’t want to talk about it. It was a blot on Centralia.”

The Centralia conflict unfolded while The American Legion was holding its first national convention in Minneapolis. It erupted against the backdrop of the Red Scare – sparked by the Russian Revolution as well as labor strife that invariably involved the IWW. By 1919, Centralia was home to a flourishing timber industry, with six lumber mills and other wood-products manufacturing. Tensions between the IWW and mill owners were high long before that first Armistice Day parade began. “The local community did a raid on the IWW local in 1918,” Lahmann says. “The Legion was not involved.”

The friction with the IWW ultimately took six lives in 1919. A woodsman named John Haney was shot a few days after the Armistice Day parade by one of the groups hunting for IWW members who escaped. Haney, who was helping one posse, was supposedly accidentally killed by members of a second posse, Lahmann says. Haney’s grandson – a World War II veteran – told Lahmann no one was charged with his grandfather’s death because the men who shot him mistakenly thought he was a Wobbly and so it was considered justifiable homicide. Haney left a widow and 10 children.

Even today, there are distinctly different versions of how the Armistice Day altercation transpired. “Everybody who’s put pen to paper on this has a different take,” Lahmann says. What is the truth? “I personally believe we’re never going to know,” Lahmann says. “The people who were there are gone.”

Until recently, Lahmann believed the Legionnaires were gunned down in the street. New information, including trial transcripts that were given to the Lewis County Historical Society by an anonymous donor about a year ago, have him doubting that narrative. For example, there is evidence members of The American Legion kicked in the door of the IWW Hall, he says. However, Lahmann doesn’t fault the Legion for the tragic events of Nov. 11, 1919. “The Legionnaires involved were pawns of the big business community who thought, ‘We’ve got to run these dirty unions out of town,’” Lahmann says.

Army veteran Bob Guenther, president of the Thurston-Lewis-Mason County Labor Council, drives that last point home. “The American Legion was not responsible for the tragedy that took place,” Guenther said while touring a pop-up museum Lahmann set up in a historic building much like the long-since demolished hotel that housed the IWW Hall. “As president of the Labor Council, I want to heal as many of these wounds as I can.” That effort dates back 20 years, when he helped organize the first Centralia Labor Day picnic since the 1919 tragedy. And Guenther invited members of American Legion Post 17 to open that picnic.

Meanwhile, Lahmann’s efforts to help heal the divisions in the community included proposing a second monument in Washington Park giving an account of the IWW side of the story that would have been erected in time for Monday’s events. However, disagreements over wording on the proposed memorial derailed the project. Today, he tries to look at the Centralia Tragedy as an intellectual exercise. “Learn from the lessons of the past and don’t repeat them.”


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A Black Paratrooper’s First Veterans Day, and His Last

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A long struggle to remove the stigma of a questionable Army discharge comes to a close.

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Michigan Legion Family brings history to life on Veterans Day

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On the morning of Nov. 11, more than 160 elementary students, teachers and parents stood inside American Legion Post 179 in Walker, Mich., reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. It was the post’s fourth annual Veterans Day Student Education Program where students learn about military history characters and events through re-enactors portrayed by Legion Family members.

This year, the students spent time at five different stations during the hour and a half Veterans Day event: Rosie the Riveter, Matthew Brady (a Civil War photographer who brought the reality of war to the general public), Moina Michael (Poppy Lady), the Michigan Vietnam War Memorial that displays the names of 2,661 fallen Michigan servicemembers’ names, and the West Michigan Military Round Table Association that displayed military artifacts. Each station provided an opportunity for the students to hear stories about the characters, learn about the military uniforms and artifacts displayed, and ask questions.

Teaching youth about history “is important because it’s what shaped us and we have to remember that,” said Jena Wilmers, Post 179 adjutant and 5th District second vice commander.

The Veterans Day Student Education Program originated when Wilmers attended an event where a high school drama team shared about fires that changed history. In telling her mom, a U.S. history teacher, about what she saw, her mom suggested the idea of doing the same for U.S. military history, and to teach it to youth who are not always learning about it today in and outside of the classroom.

A session of the program is held in the morning and the afternoon, where in total nearly 350 elementary students participate. So the kids don’t see the same thing each year they return, new characters are brought to life. For example, the program has featured war dog Sgt. Stubby and the Tuskegee Airmen. Normally, a Black Hawk helicopter from the Michigan National Guard lands outside the post for the students, this year it was deployed. It’s the helicopter and military artifacts that the students often write about in their Christmas cards to troops that Post 179 places in care packages for those deployed over the holidays.

Christine Vezino, a fifth-grade teacher at South Elementary School in Grandville, has brought her students to the Veterans Day program from the start. Her nephew, a Marine veteran, was injured while serving in Afghanistan and asked Vezino to “make sure your kids understand what (war and service) is all about. I said I will. So as long as I teach, (bringing students to Post 179) is what we will do. It’s a lot of fun, and this is a way of helping them understand our history.”

Besides teachers and parents of the students, Wilmers said principals have attended the Veterans Day Student Education Program as well. “Their buy-in has helped because they see the value of the program.”

Once students arrived to the West Michigan Military Round Table Association, their excitement to try on basic field gear from the Vietnam War resulted in them lining up and patiently waiting.

“It’s history and you put it on a level that they can understand brings interests,” said Curt Lester, a Marine veteran and military artifact collector for about 45 years. The kids tried on a helmet, flat jacket and backpack to feel the weight of it all. “It actually gives them an idea of what they are seeing in the movies or in video games.”

Other artifacts on display for the kids to see included U.S. military uniforms; a medic aid bag; military chaplain's uniform and items; shrapnel from a German mine that the United States nicknamed the Bouncing Betty; war rations; Civil War swords, medals and bullets; and more.

The final history lesson delivered before the kids boarded the bus to head back to school was on Staff Sgt. Reckless, a decorated war horse that carried heavy ammunition to Marines during the Korean War. The kids sat quietly on the post floor in a semi-circle as a horse from the Grand Rapids Police Department Mounting Unit walked in with two officers. The children’s book, “Sergeant Reckless: Hero War Horse” was read to the students by 5th District Auxiliary President Deb Weatherbee.

“After serving in the Michigan Army National Guard I wanted to give back to the community,” Wilmers said. “I pray that each student is able to be inspired with their patriotism to uphold the Americanism and Children & Youth pillars of The American Legion.”


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The E.P.A. and a Threat to Clean Air and Water

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A reader decries a proposed rule that would limit the research used to determine environmental regulations. Also: Endless wars; electric scooters in New York; Elizabeth Warren’s corporate law experience.

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Did you know?

The issuance or replacement of military service medals, awards and decorations must be requested in writing.

Requests should be submitted in writing to the appropriate military service branch division of the NPRC. Standard form (SF 180), available through the VA, is recommended to submit your request. Generally, there is no charge for medal or award replacements. For more information, or for the mailing address of the military branch office to submit your request to, call 1-86-NARA-NARA (1-866-272-6272) or visit the NPRC website at www.archives.gov