Monk Watson and American Legion
From the Sturgis Journal April 2, 1969:
March 15, 1919, World War I, officers and enlisted men swarmed into Paris, France, to help organize an American servicemen’s club. This organization later became known as the American Legion.
The Paris caucus was “a very disorganized organizational meeting” and only a fraction of those attending the gathering actually registered. One man who was present and became friends with the “founding father” of the Legion was Monk Watson, Colon, who later became a great vaudeville star and now tours the country as a quick-witted magician.
Mr. Watson, who prefers to be called “Monk” well remembers the day when his colonel asked him to take a trip to Paris with several of his comrades to represent the 32nd Division at a special meeting. “We had no idea that it would later be known as the American Legion,” he said.
Monk arrived in Paris on March 14, 1919, and met men from almost every American division in France and Germany. Most of the men who traveled to Paris had seen much fighting during the “Great War,” and Monk himself hsd been on five active fronts.
Rather See Sights
“I had only been in Paris for a few hours Enroute to an active front, so I was anxious to return and see some of the sights.” Monk recalls, “I wasn’t too anxious to find myself tied down at several days of meetings, so I didn’t register at the door, but I did attend the first day of the caucus.”
Records show that the Paris caucus was a “raucous” affair, and Monk’s memory attests to the fact. “I listened to a lot of haranguing my men of all rank. A general didn’t mean any more than a buck private. I’ll never when Sgt. Alexander Woollcott was put down when he started to talk,” he says.
During the first day in Paris, Monk met a great man he has never forgotten. The man was Col. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., so of the 26th President of the United States. Col. Roosevelt was the man chiefly responsible for calling the Paris caucus and has since become known as the “Father of the American Legion.”
Monk had held funeral services over the graves of Quentin Roosevelt, Col. Roosevelt’s brother, and he presented the colonel with a picture of the funeral services and another German photo which showed Quentin Roosevelt lying beside the plane in which he had met his death.
“I mentioned to the colonel that I had been on five fronts with my divisions and I wasn’t about to stay in any meeting while there was so much to see on the outside. He just laughed and told me to get out and have fun. I did just that.”: Monk remembers fondly.
Passed Hours With Comedy
Monk wasn’t unlike hundreds of other soldiers who didn’t register at the fist caucus because they didn’t like the disrespectful “no-rank rule” which prevailed. However, the young Colon soldier did have an unusual way to pass the hours during the Paris stay.
Monk didn’t have to know a foreign language to communicate with the natives. His means of communication was comedy and it has stuck with him throughout his entire life. “I felt that I should do my bit to help make Paris gay,” he intimates.
The king of clowning learned that by falling into water fountains he could meet friends. “It usually got me into a nice house where I could dry my clothes,” Monk recalls.
It wasn’t long before Monk was known as “La Clown.”
“Sure, I missed most of the big talk at the caucus, but I had a meeting of my own,” he points out.
Monk returned to the Paris Caucus on March 16, but then left on leave for lower France, where he again became involved in show business. He soon became the toast of the Grant Hotel in Aix-Les-Bains, where he performed in the musical, “The Good Ship Splash.”
Monk’s only regret about his stay in Paris is that he didn’t register at the caucus. “I had no idea at the time that those meetings in Paris would mean so much in years to come,” he says with a touch of sadness.
Active In Legion Today
Since that time Monk has been extremely active in a number of American Legion posts in Michigan, and he is very proud of his 50-year membership card. He still has a letter from his colonel,
Frank Schneller, which states: “Indeed I do recall you being sent to Paris to organize the American Legion, then unnamed.”
The Colon American Legion Post 454, where Monk is now a member, held a 50th anniversary meeting last Saturday, and the “Prince of Clowns” served as master of ceremonies for the event. He also performed a magic-comedy act, which was received with a standing ovation. Among those attending the celebration was Wayne E. Squire, Michigan’s American Legion commander.
Only a handful of soldiers who attended the Paris Caucus “registered at the door” and have their names etched in history. For himself and the many others who did not make their attendance official, monk says, “All we have is the memory”
Monk appeared in Abbott’s Get-Together in 1942. 1944, 1946, 1957, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1974, and 1979. He wrote a long running column in Tops called “The Professional Touch”. He died in 1981.