"The American Expeditionary Forces came together as Americans and achieved something as Americans...a system of values and awareness and consciousness that they then brought to bear in a thing they called The American Legion."
Jack Monahan has a strong understanding and appreciation for the history of U.S. involvement in the Great War. Walking through the New Britain Museum of American Art in Connecticut, he relishes explaining an exhibition of illustrations by Harry Everett Townsend, an Army combat artist during World War I.
Last year, then-National Commander Charles E. Schmidt appointed Monahan The American Legion's representative on the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, a responsibility of which he is proud.
"World War I is the hinge on which all of 20th-century history pivots," says Monahan, a 20-year Army veteran and commander of La Place-Champlin American Legion Post 18 in Essex, Conn. "It's important from a sociological and historical perspective. But more than that, it's important to keep alive the memories of what we achieved by that generation."
That generation, the doughboys and bluejackets, left a country to fight overseas for people they never met against people who hadn't attacked Americans. It was, in my mind, a means of bringing our values and our culture to bear on a crisis in Europe. It changed history."
Monahan, who has an undergraduate degree from the University of Rhode Island and a master's degree in European studies from Cornell University, said the Legion's youth programs are what initially piqued his interest in joining the organization. But when he learned about the Connecticut Soldiers, Sailors and Marines Fund - which assists needy wartime veterans and their families and is administered by the Legion's Department of Connecticut - he was sold.
"It was a way to continue serving veterans," Monahan says. "I eventually became the administrator of that fund. It was transformative. When I left the Army, I felt I wanted to do work worth doing. It was exactly the kind of work I hoped to do."
About Jack Monahan
By Steve B. Brooks, writer for The American Legion Magazine