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History of the VFW

The Cross of Malta


The Veterans of Foreign Wars Mission - Honor the Dead by Helping the Living

The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, with its Auxiliaries, includes 2.3 million members in approximately 8,400 Posts worldwide both stateside and overseas.

Its mission is to "Honor The Dead By Helping The Living" through veterans' service, community service, national security and a strong national defense.

The VFW traces its roots back to 1899 with veterans of the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Philippine Insurrection (Philippine-American War) (1899-1902).  Many arrived home from these two wars wounded or sick.  There was no medical care or veterans' pension for them, and they were left to care for themselves.  Benefits were nothing like they are today.

In their misery, some of these veterans banded together and formed organizations with what would become known as the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.  In 1899, the American Veterans of Foreign Service in Columbus, OH (known today as VFW Post 1598, or "The Founder's Post") and the National Society of the Army of the Philippines in Denver, CO (known today as VFW Post 1) were organized to secure rights and benefits for these veterans of the Spanish-American war and the Philippine-American war.  These two organizations merged in 1914 which created the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.

The VFW was chartered by Congress in 1936 BUT, the birth of the Order dates from 29 Sep 1899 when the first national officers were elected and the eligibility clause was adopted.  The original charter was granted 11 Oct 1899.  After chapters were formed in Ohio, Colorado and Pennsylvania, the movement quickly gained momentum. By 1915, membership grew to 5,000; by 1936, membership was almost 200,000.

The VFW's voice had been instrumental in establishing the Veterans Administration, creating a GI bill for the 21st Century, the development of the national cemetery system, the fight for compensation for Vietnam vets exposed to Agent Orange, those diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome, and many other disabilities for which the recognized ailments are steadily increasing due to the pressure and expertise of organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The VFW also has continually fought for improving VA medical centers’ services for women veterans and those issues specific to female veterans.  

Besides helping fund the creation of the Vietnam, Korean War, World War II and Women in Military Service memorials, the VFW in 2005 became the first veterans' organization to contribute to building the new Disabled Veterans for Life Memorial, which is being constructed in Washington, D.C., and is expected to open in 2010.  In 2001, VFW unveiled its tribute to service and country with its dedication of Centennial Plaza.

Annually, VFW members and its Auxiliary contribute more than 13 million hours of volunteerism in the community, including participation in Make A Difference Day and National Volunteer Week.

From providing over $3.4 million in college scholarships to high school students every year to encouraging elevation of the Veterans Administration to the president's cabinet, the VFW is there--honoring the dead by helping the living and continually fighting for the rights and benefits of veterans.  


DID YOU KNOW:

  • VFW was first to Demand Congressional Recognition of "THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER" as the NATIONAL ANTHEM.
  • VFW was first to establish a National Home for Orphans of Veterans.
  • VFW was first to Demand Pensions for Widows and Dependents of World War Veterans.
  • VFW was first to Demand Legislation to Abolish War-Time Profiteering.
  • VFW was the first Veterans organization to launch a nationwide educational campaign in Defense of Democracy.
  • VFW was first to Demand "JOBS or PENSIONS" for all World War Veterans.
  • VFW was first to Demand Legislation of Armistice (Veterans Day) day by Congress as a legal holiday.
  • VFW was first to offer overseas Veterans exclusive gold chevron order.
  • VFW was first to Demand cash payment of the called war "BONUS."
  • VFW was first to advocate and introduce pension legislation for the Spanish American War Veterans.
  • The Veterans of Foreign Wars was founded in Columbus, Ohio at 286 East Main Street in the Tailor shop of Francis Dubiel.

The Cross of Malta
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Cross of Malta

cross of malta

History shows that the Cross of Malta, the emblem of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, is 1,000 years old. Nearly ten centuries ago the Maltese Cross was made the symbol of fighting men who were united by a solemn pledge of comradeship to fight for freedom and to aid the sick and the needy. Those ancient obligations are still symbolized by the Cross of Malta today, for the more than two million former servicemen who are the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The Cross of Malta is the symbol of their battles in time of war and of their campaign to defend the God given rights of human beings in time of peace. The Cross of Malta symbolizes the compassion, or sympathy, of those men and women for the needy. It is the sign of services which our contemporary veterans render to help make living a little better for everyone.

To appreciate fully the original meaning of the Cross of Malta we must look back a thousand years, to the Crusaders serving in the Middle East. There we find the Knights of St. John, the world's first great brotherhood of warriors pledged to chivalry. The Knights of St. John represented all walks of life. They were noblemen and priests, artisans and laborers. Regardless of those differences, however, they were united by a solemn pledge of unwavering courage and compassion. Together they fought against oppression. They carried their crusades far from home across deserts and seas, into the Holy Land, Cyprus, Rhodes and Malta. At the same time they administered to the sick, the needy and to the poor. The Crusaders adopted the Cross of Malta as their insignia because its eight points represented the eight Beatitudes prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount. Those, in effect, declare

  1. blessed are the poor in spirit
  2. the meek
  3. the pure
  4. the merciful
  5. the peacemakers
  6. blessed are they that mourn
  7. seek righteousness
  8. blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness sake.

The Cross of Malta had a religious origin but the Knights of St. John also made it their battle standard for the liberation of all men, women and children who suffered oppression. The ideals for which the original Crusaders fought parallel the principles of democracy today, freedom and justice.

Centuries passed to the year 1899. Again fighting men banded together. Again they pledged themselves to campaign for the rights of mankind and to administer to the sick, the needy and to the poor. That was the birth of a new organization, known today as the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. Why did the Veterans of Foreign Wars select the Cross of Malta emblem? What has been added to the Cross and what does the symbol mean? Let us look at the VFW ensign closely. We see the eight-pointed Maltese Cross. Upon the Cross is superimposed the Great Seal of the United States, encircled by the name, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. Within the circle is the American eagle, the emblem of a proud nation whose warriors of many generations have fought and sacrificed to preserve the free man's way of living. Between the four arms of the Cross, the Veterans of Foreign Wars has added the sun's rays to emphasize the vigor and warmth with which the present day brotherhood defends our ideals. Every detail in the VFW emblem has definite meaning. The Cross, the rays and the seal together symbolize the vows, purpose and character of men and women who have traveled far from home to defend humanity. The Veterans of Foreign Wars is the world’s oldest and largest overseas war Veterans organization. It is chartered by the Congress of the United States. That charter states specifically that the purpose of this corporation shall be: Fraternal, Patriotic, Historical and Educational, to preserve and Strengthen Comradeship among its 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 fidelity to its constitution and laws, to foster true patriotism, to maintain and extend the institutions of American freedom, and to preserve and defend the United States from all her enemies whomsoever.

Upon joining the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a person vows in the presence of Almighty God and the members of this order to maintain loyalty to the government, to the VFW, and to his fellow comrades. When the Cross of Malta is bestowed upon a new VFW member, he or she is pledged to advance the principles of the organization. Like the original Crusaders 1,000 years ago, the 2.1 million members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars today fulfill their vows through a wide variety of vigorously executed services. The VFW is also joined by 750,000 members of our Auxiliary in our efforts. They foster true patriotism, and strengthen the institutions of freedom by word and deed. They improve their cities, towns and neighborhoods through community service. They give aid to worthy comrades and to the widows and orphans. They extend helping hands to the needy and the sick. Like the original Knights of St. John, those who wear the VFW Maltese Cross express their comradeship in terms of service.

These are the reasons why the Veterans of Foreign Wars chose the Cross of Malta as its emblem. The Cross of Malta symbolizes truly the character and objectives of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. People qualified through military service to wear the VFW Cross of Malta do so with pride because that emblem represents the highest of ideals. Every member has earned the Cross of Malta proudly - and he or she wears it proudly.   

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