VFW Turns 118

September 29 marks 118 years since 13 Spanish-American War veterans gathered in a small tailor shop in Columbus, Ohio, to discuss how they could assist their fellow veterans and the dependents of their fallen comrades.

Soon joined by American veterans from the Philippine Insurrection, their selfless desire to care for those who share a common bond forged by war laid the foundation for the multifaceted, powerhouse organization that is known worldwide as the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. 

Want to know more about the multifaceted organization the VFW has become? Here are 118 little-known facts about America's oldest major combat veterans organization. 

 

 

VFW First Troops

1. On September 29, 1899, the American Veterans of Foreign Service was formed by 13 veterans of the Spanish-American War. 

2. We have been known as the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States since August 1, 1914. 

3. The purposes of our organization as defined by our Congressional Charter are fraternal, patriotic, historical, charitable and educational. 

4. The mission of the organization is to foster camaraderie among United States veterans of overseas conflicts. To serve our veterans, the military and our communities, and to advocate on behalf of all veterans.

5. The 13 co-founders of the VFW were: George Beekman, David Brown, Oscar Brookins, John Clark, Charles Click, Bert DuRant, Andrew Grant, George Kelly, John Malloy, James Putnam, James Romanis, Walter Waddington and Simon Heiman.

6. There are three qualifiers for membership in the VFW, as set out in our by-laws. An individual must meet all three in order to become a member. They are as follows:

a. Citizenship – must be a U.S. citizen or U.S. National.
b. Honorable Service – must have served in the Armed Forces of the United States and either received a discharge of Honorable or General (Under Honorable Conditions) or be currently serving.
c. Service in a war, campaign, or expedition on foreign soil or in hostile waters.

7. Our official tagline is: No One Does More For Veterans. 

8. In 1949, we celebrated our 50th birthday with an appearance by President Harry S. Truman. 

9. We became congressionally chartered during the 74th Congress on May 28, 1936. 

10. Just last year, our VFW Service Officers helped 116,791 veterans submit new VA claims, totaling $1.2 billion in benefits. 

11. The Cross of Malta, the insignia of our organization, is over 1,000 years old, with origins dating back to the Crusades. The ideals for which the crusaders fought for are identical to the present-day principles of democracy – freedom, justice and tolerance. 

12. Together, the Cross of Malta’s rays and seal symbolize the character, vows and purposes distinguishing the VFW as a vigorous order of men and women who have traveled far from home to fight for the principles to which they are pledged. 

D Day VFW Poppy

13. Bob Hope has won two of the VFW’s most prestigious awards, the VFW James E. Van Zandt Citizenship Award in 1946 and the VFW Dwight D. Eisenhower Distinguished Service Award in 1972. 

14. The VFW first established its headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pa., in 1914. 

15. Following WWI in 1918, the VFW National Headquarters relocated to New York. 

16. The VFW National Memorial Building is located a few blocks from Capitol Hill and houses both our National Legislative Service and National Veterans Service departments. 

17. By 1930, VFW National Headquarters had relocated to its current home in Kansas City, Mo. 

18. Our VFW leaders chose Kansas City because it was in America’s heartland and was close to Union Station, a hub for 32 railroad lines, making it easily accessible. 

19. We were located in Kansas City, Kan., until moving to our present location in 1930.

20. There are 207 people that work for VFW National Headquarters including the Washington Office and Pre-Discharge offices. 

21. In 1950, Doris Day was a “Buddy”® Poppy Girl. 

22. In addition to being the first major veterans organization to contribute to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, we also gave $50,000 to the Memorial Fund to create and distribute a curriculum guide, Echoes from The Wall, to 25,000 public and private high schools in 1999.

23. In 2016, we helped recoup $7 billion in earned benefits from VA. 

24. VFW National Conventions used to be called encampments. 

25. VFW National Conventions have been hosted in 39 cities across the country. 

26. The VFW supports the annual “Run for the Wall,” a cross country motorcycle ride to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. The VFW sponsors refueling for all participating riders during a scheduled stop near the VFW National Headquarters.

VFW Buddy Poppy

27. In 2018, the VFW National Convention will be back in our hometown of Kansas City, Mo.! 

28. On Feb. 1, 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed a crowd of more than 2,000 during the dedication of the VFW Memorial Building in Washington, D.C.

29. Since being established in 2015, the VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship has allowed for 30 fellows to come to D.C. to advocate for veterans’ rights. We’re currently accepting applications for the 2018 fellowship class now! 

30. Together with the VFW Auxiliary, we boast nearly 1.7 million members across the globe. 

31. VFW Posts were called camps until 1913. 

32. In 2001, the VFW’s Benefits Delivery at Discharge program was established to help service members preparing to separate from the military. Today, it’s called the VFW Pre-Discharge Program. 

33. There are nearly 6,500 VFW Posts worldwide. 

34. VFW Posts are divided up into 52 Departments.

35. Each VFW Department is represented with a seat on the National Council of Administration which serves as the VFW’s board of directors.

36. The VFW “Buddy”® Poppy is a symbol of remembrance that dates back to WWI. 

37. Today, our “Buddy”® Poppies are still assembled by disabled and needy veterans in VA hospitals.

38. In 2015, the VFW was the first veterans’ service organization to pledge financial support of the National Desert Storm War Memorial Foundation. We presented a check for $100,000 toward our $500,000 pledge. 

VFW Presidents Members

39. There were eight U.S. presidents who were members of the VFW. They are: Theodore Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford and George H. W. Bush.  

40. Robert B. Handy was “Mr. VFW” because he carried the titles of Adjutant General and Quartermaster General from 1923-1950. He also helped organize the first “Buddy”® Poppy drive. 

41. The VFW’s very first website launched on February 29, 1996.

42. The first all-women VFW Post was inaugurated in Topeka, Kan., in 1995.  

43. In 1950, the VFW Life membership was instituted. Today, we also have three tiers of Legacy Life membership: Bronze, Silver and Gold.

44. Billy Ray Cameron was the first Vietnam veteran to serve as Commander-in-Chief. He was elected in 1984. 

45. The VFW has strongly advocated on behalf of America’s student veterans for more than a half a century. Its efforts have led to the 1944 GI Bill of Rights, the 1984 Montgomery GI Bill, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and now, most recently, the Forever GI Bill.

46. Representative James Van Zandt was also a three-term VFW Commander-in-Chief. During his tenure as a VFW leader, he took part in the establishment of our congressional charter, oversaw the VFW National Memorial Building project, and helped establish Loyalty Day. 

47. Every year, the VFW establishes its top legislative priority goals for the year and they continue to guide our legislative efforts.

48. We have an impressive 1,945 VA-accredited VFW Service Officers located nationwide who help veterans fight for the VA benefits they have earned. 

49. In 1981, the VFW won the first-ever case for PTSD disability compensation for a Vietnam veteran.

50. The VFW Pre-Discharge program has 24 offices across the country. 

HAH Scholarship Check

51. The museum at VFW National Headquarters is named after past VFW Commander-in-Chief James Van Zandt. 

52. Every year, we award over $3 million in scholarships, monetary awards and other incentives through our two major patriotic essay competitions. 

53. Since it was established in in 2014, the VFW’s “Sport Clips Help A Hero Scholarship” program has distributed more than $3 million in scholarships. 

54. Our Help A Hero scholarships have been awarded to more than 800 deserving veterans and service members! 

55. While female World War I nurses began qualifying for membership in 1921 following the war, it wasn’t until 1978 that women were formally admitted to the VFW. 

56. The only Commander-in-Chief to have died in office was T. C. Selman. He was from Texas and was elected Commander-in-Chief in 1980. 

57. Carl Sandburg, a famous poet, writer and editor, was a VFW member. His many awards include three Pulitzer Prizes and a Grammy.

58. Gene Tunney, nicknamed "The Fighting Marine," was a VFW member. He held the world heavyweight title from 1926-1928, and retired undefeated as a heavyweight with 65 wins, 48 being by knockout.

59. In early 1998, the number of VFW Life members surpassed the 1 million mark for the first time.

60. Founded in 1921 as a VFW auxiliary, the Military Order of the Cootie helps meet the needs of the children of the National Home, as well as hospitalized veterans through their “Keep ‘Em Smiling in Beds of White” program.

61. VFW co-founder Oscar Brookins was awarded the U.S. Army’s Medal of Honor for dragging a wounded comrade to safety under heavy fire during the battle for El Caney in Cuba in July 1898.

62. The first chairman of the House Committee on World War Veterans Affairs was Rep. Royal C. Johnson of South Dakota, a committed VFW member at Post 17 in Aberdeen, S.D. 

63. In 1999, the Smart/Maher National Citizenship Education Teacher Award was created to recognize instructors who promote patriotism and troop support in the classroom. Today, the tradition continues by honoring three teachers each year. Five additional teachers are also recognized with a gift of professional development with the Freedoms Foundation. 

VFW Testimony

64. In 2016, Debra Anderson was elected the first female Quartermaster General.

65. To support the efforts of World War II, VFW committees examined, selected, coached and recruited more than 100,000 men for the armed forces. Some 65,000 became Army Air Force pilots, bombardiers and navigators.

66. The VFW has been instrumental in every piece of veterans’ legislation in the 20th and 21st centuries.

67. In 2016, Brian Duffy was the first Gulf War-era veteran to be elected as National Commander.

68. The VFW testifies in front of Congress over 20 times every year. 

69. In 1949, the first VFW Legislative Conference was held by VFW national and state leaders to lobby directly on Capitol Hill. 

70. The VFW played a key role in making Veterans Day a national holiday. 

71. The VFW awarded its first scholarship to a Boy Scout in 1930 in the amount of $300. 

72. Since the Unmet Needs program was established in 2004, the VFW has distributed over $7.42 million in financial assistance to military families to help cover basic needs in times of crisis. 

73. We have distributed 4,609 grants to military families in need through our Unmet Needs program.  

74. In 1965, the VFW started a nationwide movement to “Support the Boys in Vietnam.” As veterans ourselves, we understood how important it was to forge a link with the troops through sending tons of relief parcels. During the course of the war, nine VFW Commanders-in-Chief visited fighting men in the field.

75. In November 1904, the first issue of American Veteran magazine was printed. 

76. In 1914, the magazine changed names to align with the organization’s name change: Foreign Service

77. In 1951, the magazine changed its name one final time to VFW

78. In 1929, the VFW recovery of U.S. remains from North Russia marked the organization’s entry in to the MIA accounting quest. This is something we remain committed to today.

VFW 75 US Stamp

79. One of our first legislative victories was in 1917 when the War Risk Insurance Act Amendments were passed. This expanded life insurance coverage from WWI soldiers to also include sailors in the United States Merchant Marine. 

80. In 2016, VFW Pre-Discharge offices filed 15,398 VA claims on behalf of transitioning service members. 

81. In 1974, to commemorate our 75th anniversary, the U.S. Postal Service recognized the VFW with a special postage stamp.

82. In 1988, the Department of Veterans Affairs Act was passed, a long-sought VFW goal. This established the Veterans Administration as a cabinet-level executive department. 

83. We have hosted over 2 million service members and family members at VFW Military Assistance Program (MAP) events since 2005. 

84. It was the VFW that waged a campaign to establish the Star-Spangled Banner as the official national anthem. The bill was enacted in March 1931. 

85. VFW members contribute 8.6 million hours of volunteer work every year. 

86. During World War II, VFW raised $150,000 to buy 15 training planes, actually prepared 44,300 pilots for combat duty, and was consulted on the creation of the United Nations. 

87. VFW members distributed over 9.5 million “Buddy”® Poppies last year. 

88. Proceeds from the “Buddy”® Poppy program exceeded $12.3 million last year! 

89. The VFW “Buddy”® Poppy program provides compensation to the veterans who assemble the poppies, provides financial assistance in maintaining state and national veterans' rehabilitation and service programs and partially supports the VFW National Home for Children.

90. The VFW’s first student essay contest was hosted in 1916. 

91. Over 46,000 high school students competed in the 2016-17 Voice of Democracy audio essay competition. 

VFW Centennial Plaza

92. More than 122,000 students participated in the 2016-17 Patriot’s Pen competition. 

93. Babe Ruth, N.Y. Yankees slugger, presented President Warren Harding with the first official “Buddy”® Poppy in 1923. 

94. The VFW raised $6 million for the National WWII Memorial. 

95. The VFW Action Corps is the grassroots lobbying efforts of the VFW. Hundreds of thousands of VFW members and advocates write, call and visit lawmakers to discuss issues related to veterans each year.

96. The VFW gave the National WWI Memorial in Kansas City, Mo., $350,000 to help expand the Liberty Memorial Museum, which houses the nation's most comprehensive collection of World War I historical materials. We're also proud to be a commemorative partner in the WWI centennial festivities. 

97. We would be remiss if we didn’t brag about the VFW Auxiliary! The VFW Auxiliary of the VFW was founded 103 years ago. 

98. We were proud to sign on as a Vietnam War 50th Anniversary Commemorative Partner back in 2014.

99. The VFW National Home in Eaton Rapids, Michigan, was established in 1925 as a place where the families left behind by war could remain together, keeping the family circle intact even when their service member didn’t come home. Today, the VFW National Home for Children’s mission is to provide children and families of active-duty military, war veterans, and descendants of the VFW and its Auxiliary, opportunities for growth and development in a nurturing community, and by doing so serves as a living memorial to all veterans. 

100. In 1918, a letter writing campaign and ambulance drive is launched for Doughboys in France during WWI. Soldiers serving there were actively recruited to join the VFW. This was the beginning of a long-standing tradition of supporting our troops. 

101. Centennial Plaza, located just outside of VFW National Headquarters, was dedicated on October 5, 2001. 

102. Under the flagpoles of Centennial Plaza, located just outside the headquarters building, you’ll find samples of earth collected from more than 200 battlefields where American forces have fought since our country’s founding. 

103. Centennial Plaza contains 1,330 custom bricks in honor and in memory of VFW and Auxiliary members and their families. 

104. The Citizen Soldier statue located outside of our national headquarters honors our role in easing the transition between military and civilian life for millions of war veterans that have claimed VFW membership. 

VFW DC Torch of Freedom

105. Previously known as the VFW Ladies Auxiliary, in 2015 it officially changed their name to VFW Auxiliary which opened up eligibility to all military spouses.  

106. In 1952, our National Disaster Relief Fund was established. This fund continues to support veterans, service members and their families affected by natural disasters like this year’s Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. 

107. The VFW has a long history of supporting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and was, in fact, the first major veterans’ organization to support building The Wall by contributing more than $300,000 to the project. 

108. In 1991, the VFW’s Operation Hometown sent 100,000 care packages to troops in the Persian Gulf. 

109. Checkpoint, the VFW’s award-winning newsletter, highlights many local VFW efforts. It is published six times a year and is available exclusively online.

110. In 1990, the VFW contributed $650,000 to the Korean War Memorial. 

111. In front of our Washington, D.C., office stands a 36-foot-tall Torch of Freedom statue, honoring Americans who fought during a dozen wars since 1776. The piece was commissioned by Felix De Weldon, known for his massive Iwo Jima Memorial in Virginia.

112. One of the VFW’s most popular youth activities was its National Marble Tournament. The first marble tournament was hosted in 1947 in Boys Town, Neb. 

113. In 1950, the National Marble Tournament was even featured in the pages of Life magazine. 

114. By the mid-1950’s, approximately 150,000 boys were participating in the annual marble competition. 

115. In addition to publishing 10 times a year, VFW magazine has published 13 books. The most recent book, Brutal Battles of Vietnam, can be purchased in the VFW Store! 

116. Every year, the VFW’s Commander-in-Chief goes on a fact-finding mission to learn and then report back on the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. 

117. In 2017, the VFW Auxiliary reached nearly 500,000 members!  

118. Over the last decade, members of the VFW Auxiliary have raised more than $30 million to support cancer research.

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