Finding His Purpose: Edward O’Connor and the American Legion

            Today marks the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the American Legion.[1] However, many are unaware of what the Legion is and what it does. As troops returned home shaken and in desperate need of help from the Great War, known today as World War I, the Legion sprang from a demand for veteran support systems. Officially chartered on September 16th, 1919, the American Legion grew from a small group of WWI veterans to eventually become one of the largest non-profit community-centered organizations.[2]

            Programs established in the 1920s by the Legion have created a strong legacy which continues to raise money for the support of veterans and their families, as well as funding for a multitude of projects to benefit the community as a whole.[3] Programs range from the American Legion Baseball program to a “first of its kind” Halloween safety program.[4] The organization also fights for veteran rights and support through both monetary and legislative means. One of the Legion’s most notable legislative achievements is the GI Bill which was signed into law by Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 22, 1944. This program provides federal funding to members of the armed services to attend college post-service, which provides them a chance to receive an education.[5]

Edward O’Connor: Flannery O’Connor Papers, Special Collections, Georgia College.

            Flannery O’Connor was not part of the American Legion, but her father Edward Francis O’Connor, Jr. was.  During WWI, Ed served as the second lieutenant of the 325th infantry, 82nd division.[6] After returning home, Ed supported his small family with a career as a realtor; yet his business fluctuated significantly in the 1930s. He found his true passion working with the American Legion.[7] Ed served as commander of Chatham Post No. 36 which eventually led to his role as Commander of the American Legion for the entire state of Georgia.[8] Ed’s ability to make profound and almost poetic speeches defending the men who served and praising their ability to overcome post-war difficulties often made newspaper headlines. More than twenty years later, in a letter written from Andalusia, Flannery would make a connection between her love of writing and her father’s. She was impressed by his unending patriotism, versus the lack of it she witnessed in the late 1950s.[9]

            As part of a generous donation of clothing, Andalusia received Ed’s American Legion uniform. The three-piece ensemble includes the hat, jackets, and slacks. While each uniform is standard in make (navy blue wool, gold piping, and American Legion buttons), it is custom fit for the individual wearer.  Ed’s has his home state of Georgia embroidered on the hat just below the embroidered American Legion emblem. The jacket’s left sleeve features the Georgia State Seal embroidered on the shoulder and a No. 36 pin on the cuff. The slacks, while ordinary in issue, have Ed O’Connor’s name written in pen on the inside waistband.

            The uniform, while not directly connected to Flannery, was a part of her father and an essential piece of her history. We are privileged to continue to care for and interpret these hidden gems in our collection. To all the past and current members of the American Legion, we thank you for your dedication and Happy Centennial!


[1] “History of The American Legion,” The American Legion Centennial Celebration, accessed September 5, 2019, https://centennial.legion.org/history.

[2] “History,” The American Legion, accessed August 29, 2019, https://www.legion.org/history.

[3] “Mission,” The American Legion, accessed August 29, 2019, https://www.legion.org/mission.

[4] “History.”

[5] “History of The American Legion.”

[6] “2LT Edward Francis O’Connor, Jr (1896-1941) -…” Find A Grave, accessed August 30, 2019, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/17238836/edward-francis-o_connor.

[7] Brad Gooch, Flannery: a Life of Flannery O’Connor, (New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2010), p. 42.

[8] Sarah Gordon, Craig Amason, and Marcelina Martin. A Literary Guide to Flannery O’Connor’s Georgia, (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008), p. 4.

[9] Gooch, p.43-44.


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