Veterans of Foreign Wars — A Brotherhood of Veterans
One of the original Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) posts in the country is located on 4638 Richmond St. The American Veterans of Philippine and China Wars was founded in 1902 by Robert S. Hansbury in Philadelphia who served in those wars. This post combined in 1905 with other Pennsylvania posts in Pittsburgh and Altoona to form the AVFS (American Veterans of Foreign Service) and later with the Ohio AVFS (also called the American Veterans of Foreign Service). The VFW itself, along with the Women’s Auxiliary (the women’s branch of the VFW), was formally born in 1914. During this convention, the AVFS merged with the Army of the Philippines, a group based in Denver. Other VFW posts now stand close by this one in Philadelphia.
The VFW is one of the largest veteran organizations in the United States. Originally the VFW was meant to give veterans support and a community after their service at a time in the early 1900s when the government did not give any. Now it is also an advocate for veterans’ rights and a provider of volunteer hours for the communities where veterans live. It assists veterans’ families and children in times of need. Along with these duties, the VFW helps immigrants become citizens with its Americanization committee and gives scholarship money to veterans who want to go to school.
During World War I, the VFW advocated for immediate payment to compensate WWI veterans for the low wages during WWI. Pennsylvania VFW posts helped lessen the problem of post-war unemployment with the manufacture and sale of “buddy poppy” pins. These pins were made to remember the human cost of WWI.
During World War II, the VFW began a hospital visitation program. The Military Order of the Cooties, a group of VFW leaders who use military humor in its work, went to hospitals to provide entertainment for wounded veterans. They called it “Keep ‘Em Smiling in Beds of White.” The VFW also worked with the American Legion to help pass the GI bill of 1944, to help veterans resume civilian life after their service has ended.
When American involvement in the Vietnam War was drawing to a close, the VFW wanted to ensure that people recognize the soldiers’ deeds. It became one of the critics regarding the Veterans Administration’s handling of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the lingering effects of Agent Orange.
Ever since its founding, the VFW held an annual National Encampment, or a convention. The 1941 National Encampment was held in Pennsylvania where it included a drum and bugle corps contest. One of Pennsylvania’s own groups, the color guard of Lansdale, participated in the competition, and Pennsylvania’s Archer Epler Post won 1st in the Junior Division. The Women’s Auxiliary also had its own march under flags and banners. The event was so popular that some people had to stand on peach baskets to get a good view.
Other activities included a songfest hosted by The Military Order of Lady Bugs, the women’s version of the Cooties. The VFW’s youth organizations did their part in this convention by being hosts and hostesses for the children that came along. The VFW noted that the 1941 was the largest encampment that it has held to that date, with over 150,000 people arriving for the event. Another encampment was held in Philadelphia in 1954, with very similar events.
Pennsylvania has always been one of the most important places for the VFW. It has over 90,000 members and 400 local posts, the largest of any state as of 2014. The VFW, in turn, has helped people realize what a historic and important city Philadelphia is in the history of the United States. The relationship is mutual; Philadelphia supports one of the original veterans’ groups that led to the creation of the VFW while the VFW gives back to the city and the state that created it.
- "About Us." VFW. Web. 25 May 2016. Available at: http://www.vfw.org/Common/About-Us/
- "History of the Military Order of the Cootie." Supreme Headquarters :United States Military Order of the Cootie. Web. Available at: http://www.lotcs.org/pdfs/cootieHistory.pdf
- "VFW History." VFW Department of California District 2. Web. Available at: http://www.vfwcadistrict2.org/VFW_History.pdf
- Philadelphia Record. Veterans of Foreign Wars. 1941-1946.
- Schoon, Lisa. "The Centennial Celebration of the Unifying Convention of The Veterans of Foreign Wars of The United States." VFW Pennsylvania State HQ. Web. Available at: http://www.vfwpahq.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/35/2014/09/VFWCentennialProgram.pdf