The Department of North Dakota American Legion History Committee
Members: Vernon Useldinger (Deceased), Harry Moore (Deceased), Truman C. Wold (Deceased) Carleton J. Likness (Deceased) – Rev. Jerry Salveson (Deceased) Chet Gebert, Advisor (Deceased) Jim Deremo, Robert Greene, Bob Jansen, David Schmidt, Don Herrly
Special thanks to Amy Wieser Willson for her help in setting up the online version of this history book and guiding us through the intricacies involved. A special thanks also to Teri Bryant from the Department Headquarters staff for her help in researching articles for this project.
Through hundreds of hours of research and meetings, the committee gathered the information for this compilation, organized it, and assembled it into this history.
The story of The American Legion consists of more than the date of events and occasions of its history. While that history bespeaks the dedication to “God and Country” that is the heart and soul of the organization, the “rest of the story” is inherent in the actions, reactions and performance of many common men and women of uncommon characteristics who have guided, influenced and promoted the aims and goals of The American Legion.
There are many such. A few have been recognized in the following pages. To those overlooked, the fruit of their deeds has already recognized their contribution, and those who have been touched by their efforts give lasting testimony to their deeds.
This history is an ongoing project. Items will be added as additional information becomes available.
The compilation of this history would not have been possible without the leadership and dedication of Vern Useldinger. Vern served as chairman of the committee throughout the majority of its existence. Vern and the History Committee originally published a hard cover 75-year history book covering the years from 1919 to 1994. The committee has now published the entire 100-year history online with the hope that all Legionnaires in North Dakota will avail themselves of this history.
Vern passed away on Monday, June, 24, 2019. Vern was dedicated to serving veterans. He began his 43 year career on the North Dakota American Legion State Headquarters staff, serving the latter 24 years as Department Adjutant prior to his retirement in 1991. In appreciation for his devoted service to the North Dakota American Legion, Vern was elected Honorary Past Department Commander at the 1981 Department Convention in Bismarck, ND. He received the North Dakota’s Department Commander Award in 1991 and the Public Relations Award in 1993. Vern served two years (1976-1978) as President of the North Dakota Veterans Coordinating Council. Vern was a 71 consecutive year Go-Getter. The Gilbert C. Grafton Post 2 in Fargo awarded Vern an Honorary Gold Life Membership. Vern was also recognized and well respected in the National American Legion circles for his length of service, his meticulous attention for detail and his knowledge of all the facets of the American Legion activities.
Tribute to “Mr. American Legion” Jack Williams
From its birth through almost the first half century of its existence, The American Legion was his life. There was no facet of the function, programs or activities of The American Legion that his influence, initiative and concern did not reach: locally, statewide, nationally and internationally.
Not unlike the two sides of a coin, there were two personalities comprising “Mr. American Legion.” The more exposed was Jack Williams. The lesser exposed was “Hans” Williams. To attempt to separate Jack from Hans – or Hans from Jack was unthinkable. To determine who made decisions for whom was impossible. In the finest sense of meaning, these two were one.
The ruddy-faced Irishman with the leprechaun grin, recently known as Private John Patrick Williams of the United States Army, was named temporary secretary by the North Dakota delegation to the St. Louis Caucus at which The American Legion was formed. Elected Department Adjutant at the first North Dakota convention in October 1919, he was reelected consistently to become the oldest Department Adjutant in length of service serving until his death on Flag Day, June 14, 1967.
The comely young lady – recently arrived in Fargo from Sweden, via St. Cloud, Minnesota, and known to her family as Hannah I. Peterson, was-employed by the organizing chairman of The American Legion in June 1919.
The man “Jack” and the lady “Hans” were thus joined in organizing The American Legion in North Dakota. Marriage of Jack and Hans was solemnized on December 21, 1921. Hans continued to serve The American Legion on Department Headquarters staff until her death on November 23, 1958. The guidance and the direction of Jack Williams are chronicled throughout the pages of this history.
Observer and lobbyist at almost every session of the North Dakota Legislature, he was – on at least two occasions – officially recognized, honored and memorialized by that body.
The North Dakota National Guard named him an honorary Lieutenant at a special awards banquet.
Jack was the recipient of numerous awards, testimonials and recognitions from fraternal organizations, civic bodies and individuals as well as posts, departments and the national American Legion.
Perhaps ranking above them all was in 1966 when Fargo’s beautiful new baseball facility was named Jack Williams Stadium. The veteran adjutant, who was among key spokesmen gaining 1925 national convention endorsement of the American Legion Baseball program, organized and conducted the initial 1928 Legion Baseball season in North Dakota.
All such honors Jack received with appreciation and humility and never paused in his labors for The American Legion!
The Early History Book Committee
As a team, The American Legion History Committee has researched, studied and completed stories of good news, as well as sadness, to produce a complete column of the of The American Legion in North Dakota.
A committee of five, with the professional assistance of retired Fargo Forum writer Chet Gebert, set the goals and parameters. Co-chairs of the committee were Vern Useldinger and Harry W. Moore with members Truman C. Wold, Reverend Jerry Salveson and Carleton J. Likness.
Early in the progress of the history, Truman Wold was diagnosed with cancer, and he and his wife moved to Alexandria, Louisiana, to be near their son, who is an oncologist. In spite of his illness, Wold wrote his assigned stories and mailed them to North Dakota.
In November 1997, Reverend Jerry Salveson was diagnosed with cancer and, with family and friends, waged a valiant fight and seemed to be on the mend. However, the cancer activated once again as he attended the 1998 Winter Conference. He was transferred to the Post Everlasting on March 25, 1998.