THE COLORFUL V.F.W. STORY
This is the story of how the Veterans of Foreign Wars began, how it has grown and how it is shaping the future. Here we describe activities by men who refused to be forgotten. They were spurred into action by necessity and they developed the VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS OF THE UNITED STATES, a national organization whose more than Two Million members employ two powerful principles - comradeship and service.
Our story begins in 1899. That was the year of gas lights, five cent beer and the first horseless carriage. We find the main action in two cities... Columbus, Ohio and Denver, Colorado. The characters in our drama were Spanish American War Veterans who had just returned home from the Cuban and Philippine battlefronts.
Those were young fellows, but they were prematurely aged by the ravages of tropical fever, bad food and medical neglect. They were fighting men who had been victorious against foreign enemies. They received their discharge pay, $15.60 per man. Then they were turned loose as civilians...free to do as they pleased. They should have been happy, but they couldn’t be. Some of the men were desperately ill, too sick to work steadily. Most of them quickly became penniless. There were no governmental hospitals to which the disabled could go for medical aid. There were no helping hands, no such thing as financial assistance. The plain fact was that no one seemed to care what happened to them. They were truly Forgotten Men. It was a picture of deplorable neglect.
VETERANS ORGANIZE THEMSELVES
James Romanis, a young Veteran of the Cuban campaign, lived in Columbus, Ohio. He was disturbed when he saw his suffering comrades going to the poorhouse and dying in squalor. He decided to make the first move. So, on the night of September 29, 1899, Romanis called together about 12 of his Veteran friends. They met in the back room of a tailoring shop in Columbus. There they discussed the plight of the returned men. They organized a club and called it the American Veterans of Foreign Service. Membership in that club was limited to overseas Veterans. All members were pledged "to help one another and to work together for the benefit of our country and for the men who fight for this nation."
That was the first of several units, which later merged into what is today the VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS OF THE UNITED STATES.
On December 1 of the same year - 1899 - another group of Spanish-American War Veterans held a similar meeting in Denver, Colorado. They rallied around General Irving Hale who had served with them in the Philippines. Those men organized the Colorado Society of the Army of the Philippines. They adopted as their principles...comradeship, perpetuation of the memory of departed comrades and assistance to their widows. They pledged "loyalty to the United States, fostering of true patriotism and to extend the institutions of American freedom". The Colorado group joined with others to later become the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Today that original western unit is the John S. Stewart Post of Denver...Post Number One of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. It is the oldest V.F.W. Post in the point of continuous service.
Those were the first foundation stones of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Others were units organized in Altoona and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1901 and Philadelphia in 1902. Other Posts followed....M.M. Carleton Post #5 of St. Paul and A.R. Patterson Post #7 of Minneapolis. All of the groups comprising the Veterans of Foreign Wars agreed from the very beginning that their job was to represent the men who had fought in the defense of American democracy. The V.F.W. overseas Veterans have stressed patriotism, comradeship and service ever since. That describes the character of our organization today... as set forth in the charter granted the Veterans of Foreign Wars by the 74th Congress of the United States.
The Charter says:
"The purpose of this corporation shall be fraternal, patriotic, historical and educational; to preserve and strengthen comradeship among it’s members; to assist worthy comrades; to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead and to assist their widows and orphans; to maintain true allegiance to the Government of the United States of America and extend the institutions of American freedom and to preserve and defend the United States from all her enemies, whomsoever."
CROSS OF MALTA
What the Veterans of Foreign Wars is and what it’s members believe is symbolized by the official V.F.W. emblem, the Cross of Malta. The colorful insignia displayed and worn by overseas Veterans is more than just a badge of membership. It expresses men’s highest ideals, courage and constancy and service.
The Cross of Malta is 1,000 years old. It was the emblem of the Knights of St. john, the world’s first great brotherhood of men who fought to free the oppressed and administer to the sick and needy. Men of the V.F.W. selected the Cross of Malta as their emblem because, like the original Crusaders, they have pledged themselves to defend human rights in time of peace and war.
When a Veteran joins the Veterans of Foreign Wars there is a vow to maintain loyalty to the government, to the V.F.W. and to the other comrades. The Cross of Malta emblem pledges that Veteran to always crusade for the freedom of mankind and to administer to the sick and needy. Like the original Knights of St. John, the V.F.W. member fulfills vows by giving aid to worthy comrades, a helping hand to their widows and orphans and eternal defense to everyone’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those Veterans qualified to wear the V.F.W. Cross of Malta, do so with a sense of pride. They earned the Cross of Malta the hard way and they wear it proudly.
ALL COMBAT VETERANS
The Veterans of Foreign Wars Congressional Charter limits V.F.W. membership to Officers and Enlisted personnel honorably discharged, who have served in the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard, in any foreign war, insurrection or expedition for which our government has issued a campaign badge or occupation medal. V.F.W. members include Veterans of the Spanish-American War, First and Second World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and Persian Gulf. Also campaign medal service in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Philippine Islands, China, Mexico, Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Japan, Grenada, Lebanon and other theatres of military operations recognized by our government as being foreign combat or occupation service.
Who are the V.F.W. members? They are both military and civilians representing all walks of life. They include Presidents and former Presidents, members of Congress, Generals, Admirals, non-coms and all enlisted in the ranks. They include National, State and Civic leaders, people in all professions, arts and business. No matter who they were, or are, all are on equal footing in the V.F.W. and they are all Comrades.
HOW V.F.W. IS ORGANIZED
The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States is a national, non-partisan, no-secretarian organization composed exclusively of citizens who have seen "foreign service" in the United States Armed Forces. They are members of nearly 10,000 "Posts", located in all States, the District of Columbia, the Canal Zone, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Okinawa, Puerto Rico, Samoa, Taiwan and Thailand.
The V.F.W. is organized on four principal levels...the Post, District, Department (State) and National. The local unit is the Post. Communities have from one to several Posts. All Posts in one or more counties are in a District, these are under the direct supervision of Departments (State). Programs and activities of the National organization are coordinated in the V.F.W. National Headquarters, 406 W 34th St., Kansas City, Mo.
The supreme power of the Veterans of Foreign Wars is vested in the annual National Convention. Policy recommendations, most of them originating within the Posts and the Districts, are channeled through the State V.F.W. Conventions and on to the National V.F.W. Convention for consideration. A National Council of Administration (board of directors) directs the affairs of the organization, these are elected by States and approved by the National Convention.
The V.F.W. uses military titles for it’s Officers who are elected or appointed annually. On the National level are the Commander-in-Chief, Senior and Junior Commander-in-Chief, Adjutant General and Quartermaster General. The Quartermaster General is responsible for the fiscal or money matters and supplies. Similar titles apply to Department (State), District and Post Officers.
HOW V.F.W. OPERATES
Work of the V.F.W. is directed by the Commander-in-Chief through the organization’s National Headquarters staff in Kansas City, Missouri. Also at National Headquarters are the divisions of Americanism and Loyalty Day, Community Activities, Publicity, the Historical Archives, the Buddy Poppy section, supplies and offices of the monthly "V.F.W. Magazine". In the same building, owned by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, is the National Headquarters of the Ladies Auxiliary to the V.F.W. In Washington, D.C. the V.F.W. owned Memorial Building is staffed by members who handle Legislative, Rehabilitation and other Veterans’ interests in support of the Armed Forces and a strong National Defense.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars Legislative Bureau works for the benefit of all war veterans and to put into action certain V.F.W. National policies. Our Legislative Director represents the organization at Congressional hearings and keeps V.F.W. members advised on current issues most important to all ex-service personnel. For many years the V.F.W. Legislative Service has helped Congress enact laws aiding Veterans’ employment, education, medical care, pensions and certain benefits for widows and orphans. Outstanding among V.F.W. Legislative accomplishments were the major roles we played in behalf of the World War I bonus and the G.I. Bill of Rights for Veterans coming out of the Second World War and the Korean Conflict and the War in Vietnam. The V.F.W. Legislative Service also works constantly for the enactment of laws affecting Foreign Relations, National Security, Immigration, Taxation, Social Security, Military and Naval Justice, Armed Forces unification, Atomic Energy policies and many other issues of Veteran interest.
The V.F.W. Rehabilitation provides medical, legal and claims experts in Washington, also trained field representatives. V.F.W. spokesmen maintain active liaison with Veterans Administration offices. Post and their Ladies Auxiliaries provide many benefits for the hospitalized Veterans and for ex-service personnel and their dependents on a community level. The V.F.W. Rehabilitation section helps ex-service personnel gain government insurance pensions and other compensation, also hospitalization, educational and employment advantages provided by law. Government records show that far more Veterans’ claims have been referred to the V.F.W. for adjustment than to all other similar organizations combined. In Minnesota, the V.F.W. maintains Claims Service Offices at the Federal Building at Fort Snelling and at the VA Center in Fargo, North Dakota to serve Minnesota Veterans.
The record of the V.F.W. Posts in aiding the needy Veterans and their families on a community level is outstanding. No worthy man, woman or child suffers from want if the Veterans of Foreign Wars can be of help. When a Veteran or his family are in need the V.F.W. extends a helping hand that is warm and practicable. These things we do every day of the year, quietly, without ballyhoo or self praise.
The V.F.W. Service Officers work with and through the County Veterans Service Officers in all 87 Counties in Minnesota. Post Service Officers can assist in contacting either the County Veterans Service Officers or the V.F.W. Claims Service Offices.
The V.F.W. has one humanitarian project of which it is particularly proud. That is the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Home at Eaton Rapids, Michigan. The National Home, founded in 1925, is a refuge for surviving spouses and children of deceased V.F.W. and Auxiliary members.
The National Home occupies a 640-acre farm complete with orchard, gardens, poultry, pigs, a dairy herd and grazing lands for sheep, cattle and horses. There is a modern nursery, hospital and dental clinic, laundry, well-equipped community center, library, gymnasium and playgrounds. Families of boys and girls live in modern, two story residences, each in the charge of their natural parent or well-qualified house parents.
The prime purpose at the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Home is to provide each child a normal, healthy, refined family environment in which to develop into a mature, useful citizen. The main consideration is the youngster’s own individuality. Hundreds of young folks have "graduated" from this V.F.W. care into college, the business world, the military and other careers. They are products of a "real home" provided by the V.F.W.
Community Activities is the term applied to the many things V.F.W. Posts and Auxiliaries do to: 1) improve living in a city, town or neighborhood; 2) assist needy families; 3) establish better recreational, education and patriotic opportunities for everyone; 4) cooperate with schools, churches and other organizations; 5) provide special benefits for youth; and 6) direct aid to needy individuals who are not members of our organization.
The V.F.W. had developed many types of projects. The V.F.W. has stimulated it’s Community Activities work through annual National contests since 1947. Each year the Posts and Auxiliaries performing the best community work during the preceding 12 months are given recognition awards at both the State and National Conventions.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars patriotic activities are identified as....AMERICANISM. Under the heading of Americanism, V.F.W. Posts, Auxiliaries, Districts and Departments sponsor many projects designed to broaden public appreciation of Democracy and to combat Communism and other subversive influences. The many types of activities include public observances of special holidays, promotion of patriotic programs for adults and children, cooperation with civic organizations, schools, colleges, universities and churches to raise the standards of American citizenship and Loyalty.
Veterans of Foreign Wars Youth Activities program provides a wide variety of special interests for young Americans of all ages. These projects sponsored by the V.F.W. in Posts, Districts, State and National organizations along with the units of the Ladies Auxiliary have been one of the major Community Activities programs.
V.F.W. Posts sponsor hundreds of Boy Scout Troops and Packs, Teen and Junior Baseball teams, Hockey, Soccer, Rifle Clubs and Junior Bowling teams. In addition, there are Sons of the V.F.W. units and a "Lite-a-bike" Safety program reflectorizing millions of bicycles each year. This is in cooperation with the 3M Company of Minnesota. The largest Youth Activity is the annual Voice of Democracy program in which more than 300,000 High School students prepare and read their own radio scripts dealing with patriotic subjects and with scholarships totaling over $32,500 to National winners, plus other gifts and prizes. Truly, the V.F.W. serves the youth across the Nation.
Each year, just before Memorial Day, we see many people offering V.F.W. Buddy Poppies on the streets. There is a very interesting story and purpose behind the Buddy Poppy. On Memorial Day, 1923, the V.F.W. took donations for it’s first replicas of the Flanders Field poppies. The Memorial flower proved popular. In 1924, disabled Veterans in Pittsburgh made V.F.W. flowers for that year’s program. Those men coined the name "Buddy Poppy" and our National Organization copyrighted it. Since the first "Buddy Poppy" offering, the V.F.W. slogan has been "Honor the Dead by Helping the Living". Funds from the annual offering of "Buddy Poppies" are devoted exclusively to extending V.F.W. rehabilitation and service work and to help maintain the V.F.W. National Home.
Every man likes to play and every V.F.W. Post offers it’s members many congenial social attractions. In the V.F.W. it is offered through the Military Order of the Cootie, the special fun-making branch of the V.F.W. However, that is not the whole story. The Cooties sponsor an extensive humanitarian program of their own. They contribute much in welfare work for Veterans and orphans. They maintain an active Hospital entertainment program. The V.F.W. National Home at Eaton Rapids has many recreation facilities provided by the Military Order of the Cootie.
There is a place for every Veteran’s mother, wife, sister, daughter or granddaughter in V.F.W. work. Women who have had Foreign service with the U.S. Armed Forces may join both the Ladies Auxiliary and the V.F.W. The National Auxiliary was formed officially at the 1914 National V.F.W. Convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, "to help Posts and members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars". The V.F.W. Ladies Auxiliary does that through it’s nearly million members. These women of the V.F.W. contribute immeasurably with their Community Service, Hospital work and many other valuable programs.
WHY JOIN THE V.F.W.
WHY DO VETERANS WANT TO JOIN THE VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS? Why has the V.F.W. membership increased annually over the years since 1951? Here are some reasons:
1. Because since 1899 our members have worked consistently and effectively for the welfare of ex-service personnel, for communities and for the nation.
2. Because the Veterans of Foreign Wars gives direct aid where needed.
3. Because the Veterans of Foreign Wars - a strongly democratic organization in which the rank and file members, or "the troops", determine V.F.W. policies and leadership. There are no "kingmakers" in the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Every member has a voice and a vote. Every member can gain an office through his own desires and abilities.
4. Because Veterans of Foreign Wars objectives are live action goals, not just smooth sounding platitudes.
5. The fifth...very personal...reason is that only Veterans who served in Combat Theatres of war can belong to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. That means sociability, cooperation and Comradeship among Veterans of similar experiences...between Veterans who "speak the same language".
V.F.W. AND THE FUTURE
The Veterans of Foreign Wars never stands still. Every member is given an active part toward helping our organization to keep pace with constantly changing problems. Every Veteran who joins the V.F.W. has an opportunity to advance.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars always plans and works for the future!
(For a comprehensive background history of the Veterans of Foreign Wars - click here)