World War I veteran American Legion founder remembered in Reno
By Jeff Stoffer
American Legion Media & Communication Director, and Editor of American Legion Magazine
Lt. Col. Thomas W. Miller did not have a gavel when he assumed chairmanship of the Paris Caucus on March 17, 1919. So the former congressman from Delaware pulled from his pocket an 1873 silver dollar that he always carried and rapped it on the table. The final day of the first gathering of what would become The American Legion was under his command.
100th Anniversary Observance Committee Chairman and Past National Commander David Rehbein trims the grass and scours the bronze marker of American Legion Founder Thomas W. Miller. (Photo by Holly K. Soria/The American Legion)Ninety-eight years later, at the Masonic Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Reno, Nev., Miller’s grave was trimmed, cleaned and presented a U.S. flag, an American Legion flag, a United States World War I Centennial Commission coin and an American Legion 100th Anniversary coin.
“I think this is something that needs to be a regular tradition,” American Legion Department of Nevada Commander Yvette Weigold said at a Saturday graveside ceremony to remember Miller. “We need to pay him that honor.”
“This should be a place of pilgrimage for The American Legion and the Department of Nevada,” agreed Jack Monahan of Connecticut, a member of the United States World War I Centennial Commission. “This is one of the most historically significant American Legion sites in the state.”
Monahan, American Legion 100th Anniversary Observance Committee Chairman and Past National Commander David K. Rehbein of Iowa and Denise Rohan of Wisconsin, leading candidate to serve as the next national commander of The American Legion, were among many dignitaries of the organization who participated in the commemoration.
“I met Thomas Miller and knew who he was,” said G. Michael Schlee, chairman of The American Legion’s National Security Commission. “I remember that he was a presence, every time he entered a room.”
Lt. Col. Miller was no ordinary doughboy.
A Yale graduate who took his military training at the Plattsburgh, N.Y., camp for college-educated men during the Preparedness Movement at the same time he was serving in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1915, Miller was the son of a Delaware governor and had served as secretary of state there. Defeated in 1916 by 153 votes in his bid for a second term in Congress, Miller enlisted in the Army after the United States declared war in April 1917. Miller started out as a private in an infantry company but was swiftly made a corporal thanks to his earlier training. Initially passed up for combat service due to his eyesight, Miller persisted and was later commissioned as a signal corps captain. He made his way to France with the 79th Division in 1918 and fought in the Meuse-Argonne battle where he a received a Purple Heart and was promoted to lieutenant colonel.
In March 1919, Miller was among the American Expeditionary Forces personnel still occupying Europe after the armistice that ended the Great War four months earlier. He heard about a gathering of troops in Paris who were talking about a new veterans organization and decided to check it out.
Read more: World War I veteran American Legion founder remembered in Reno
An interview with Samantha Marie Ensenat
My internship with the World War One Centennial Commission
By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, U.S. World War One Centennial Commission
At the World War I Centennial Commission, we have an amazing team of volunteers. Among them are the college- and graduate-level interns. They come to us every semester, and during the summer, as well, from all over the Unites States, and even places beyond -- China, South Korea, and Northern Ireland, to name a few. They spend their workdays with us, getting hands-on experience with our public affairs, fundraising, legislative affairs, operations, and administrative efforts. Our professional staff is very small, so the contributions that these remarkable people make toward our mission has a major impact on our success. Find out more about being a Commission intern here. Find out more about becoming a volunteer here.
One of our outstanding interns was Samantha Marie Ensenat, who came to us from Florida International University, in Miami, FL. She was a Fundraising intern, and worked as part of the team of interns that led a legislative outreach on Capitol Hill before Congress adjourned for the summer. Samantha recently wrote a story about her experience for the web site at FIU, which we re-publish below.
"It’s the best job I’ve ever had."
Name: Samantha Marie Ensenat
Major: Interdisciplinary Studies
Where were you interning? World War One Centennial Commission
What was your title? Fundraising Intern – Development Team
How did you get your internship? I was referred to it as an option to apply to through The Washington Center, which is how I was housed for the summer and was also part of a professional development program withSamantha Marie Ensenat.
What projects have you worked on? I was part of the team of interns that led a legislative outreach on Capitol Hill before they adjourned for the summer. We compiled facts surrounding each states’ involvement in the first world war and wrote letters for each representative using those facts to generate interest and support for the commission and our push for funding a national memorial in Pershing Park by 2019.
It resulted in us getting language supporting donations for the commission in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018. I also tracked down the genealogical history of several VIP’s key to getting donations in the $50,000 to $4 million range.
How does your internship connect to your current coursework? As a recent graduate, I have a background in education. Preservation of national history and aggregation of knowledge for educational purposes is a pretty natural fit, although I had never heard of the commission prior to my Washington Center acceptance. I hadn’t considered an internship like this at any time in my search.
What was the coolest thing that has happened thus far in your internship? The freedom I had to follow my ideas to fruition. Interns outnumbered staffers by more than double so essentially we were running the show independently a lot of the time. Anytime I came up with something to check out as a possible lead, I was given time to pursue that idea.
I went to the Library of Congress and worked with a genealogy librarian to help move along the process of finding draft cards of our potential supporters’ ancestors. We were all privy to important meetings in addition to the daily staff meeting and encouraged to voice our thoughts and developments in our assignments. We got exclusive presentations about how airplanes shaped the war and all wars that followed. It was amazing.
Read more: An interview with Samantha Marie Ensenat