VFW History




History of the Veterans of Foreign Wars

In 1899, U.S. veterans began forming several organizations designed to serve the needs of foreign service veterans. These organizations organized separately and without knowledge of one another, yet they all served generally the same purpose and had similar requirements for membership. These organizations were, specifically, the:

  • American Veterans for Foreign Service, organized in September 1899 by James Romanis.
  • Colorado Society of the Army of the Philippines organized in December 1899 by General Irving Hale. Later renamed to the National Society of the Army of the Philippines, then renamed again to the Army of the Philippines.
  • Philippine War Veterans, organized July 7th, 1901 by H.O. Kelley in Altoona, PA.
  • Another organization also named the Philippines War Veterans was organized several months later in October 1901 by G.H. Smith in Pittsburgh, PA.
  • American Veterans of Philippine and China Wars, organized July 24th, 1902 by Captain Robert S. Hansbury in Philadelphia, PA.

These organizations eventually discovered one another and, thru a series of mergers, organized in August 0f 1913 an “The Army of the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico. One year later they change the name and officially became the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States on August 1st, 1914, just days after World War 1 started in Europe. The VFW established the first Veteran service office in Washington DC in 1919.

By 1915, membership in the VFW had grown to 5,000 and by 1936 that number had swelled to nearly 200,000. Today, the VFW has 1.9 million veterans as members. Throughout its’ history, VFW has been a tireless champion of veterans and their cause. VFW was instrumental in the establishment of the Veterans Administration, the creation of the GI Bill, the development of the national cemetery system, and in 2008, expanding the GI Bill to provide improved benefits to members of the Reserve and National Guard, who were spending more time on active duty and in harms way than ever before.

VFW provides more than $3 million in college scholarships and savings bonds and over 8.6 million hours of volunteerism in the community every year.

Video history of the VFW: Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5 

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Cross of Malta

The Cross of Malta has its origin in the Knights of St. John, a strict order of crusaders, originally founded to maintain a hospital for pilgrims journeying to the Holy Land. From this order evolved two divisions, the Knights of Templar, famed for their ability to fight, and the Knights Hospitller, humanitarians who provided for the sick and distressed. The Knights established branches throughout Europe and moved their headquarters to Cyprus. From Cyprus the headquarters was eventually moved to Rhodes in the 14th century and was transferred from there to the island of Malta in the 16th century. There they became known as the Knights of Malta. The insignia of the Knights of Malta is basically the same as the one used today by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. It is an 8-point cross formed by four arrowheads meeting at the points. Each represents one of the Beatitudes taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The arrowheads indicate the knights were willing to fight for the principles of justice and truth although their order was basically a peaceful one.

As the official insignia of the VFW, the Cross of Malta represents the VFW members continued devotion to duty, to their comrades, and to the families of their fallen brethren. Upon entering the VFW, all members take an oath to continue upholding the high ideals they swore to defend while in active military service.


History of the “Buddy Poppy”

In Flander’s Field
by John McCrae
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow,
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead.
Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved and now we lie,
In Flanders Fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw,
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us, who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow,
In Flanders Fields.

Read the full history of the “Buddy Poppy” Here

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Origins of the VFW Cap

Military members of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) first wore the overseas cap in February of 1918. American forces deployed to the trenches of France quickly realized that their issued service hats were not suitable for the wartime environment, and they “liberated” French caps for use in the trenches. These French caps could be worn under a helmet, kept a soldiers head warm, and could be easily stuffed into a pocket. Eventually, entire units had adopted this unofficial headgear and made it their own – U.S. Marines affixed their “sacred emblem” – the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor – to the hat, and U.S. Army troops began affixing their rank.

While unconfirmed, military lore holds that a general officer was walking with a colonel on a stateside base and saw several soldiers wearing their overseas cap. The story holds that the general instructed the colonel to place the soldiers on report and order them to remove their overseas cap. Allegedly, the colonel responded, “General you tell them, the unit crest in those caps tell me those boys served in the trenches at Chateau Thierry and thank God for them.” When the general did not insist further, the overseas cap became a de facto decoration for wartime service.

Today, VFW members continue to wear the overseas cap as their official headgear. Each members cap denotes their Post affiliation and highest VFW office held. Many members also choose to adorn their cap with their final military rank, campaign ribbons, and other significant awards from their military service.

An article about the VFW cap: VFW Overseas Cap

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