The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States traces its roots back to 1899. That year, Veterans of the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902) founded five separate foreign and local service organizations to secure rights and benefits for their service. In Columbus, Ohio, they founded the American Veterans of Foreign Service. In Denver Colorado, they organized the Colorado Society, Army of the Philippines. These organizations came into being entirely independent of one another and without the knowledge of one another at the time of their origin. A brief resume of these unites is as follows:
In September 1899, AMERICAN VETERANS OF FOREIGN SERVICE organized as a national body in Columbus, Ohio. Were chartered by the State of Ohio October 10, 1899 and elected J. C. Putnam as their first Commander-in-Chief. They were organized through the efforts of James Romanis.
In December 1899, COLORADO SOCIETY OF THE ARMY OF THE PHILIPPINES organized at Denver, Colorado by General Irving Hale became NATIONAL SOCIETY OF THE ARMY OF THE PHILIPPINES
On August 13, 1900 with Francis V. Greene as their first Commander-in-Chief.
On July 7, 1901, in Altoona and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, H.O. Kelley organized PHILIPPINE WAR VETERANS in Altoona, Pennsylvania.
In October 1901, G.H. Smith was elected Commander.
On April 27, 1902 reorganized as FOREIGN SERVICE VETERANS with Jacques La Belle as Commander.
On July 24, 1902, AMERICAN VETERANS OF PHILIPPINE AND CHINA WARS organized at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by Captain Robert S. Hansbury with C.O. Knighton as President became the home of the American Veterans of the Philippine and China Wars.
The PHILIPPINE WAR VETERANS-Altoona, PHILIPPINE WAR VETERANS - Pittsburgh, and AMERICAN VETERANS OF THE PHILIPPINE AND CHINA WARS-Philadelphia met together September 10-12, 1903 at Altoona, Pennsylvania and formed the Eastern society of the AMERICAN VETERANS OF THE PHILIPPINES, CUBAN, PUERTO RICAN & CHINA WARS organization. The name was changed by plebiscite to AMERICAN VETERANS OF FOREIGN SERVICE-Eastern Branch.
During the period of September 13-15, 1905, at Altoona, Pennsylvania, the Eastern Branch of the AMERICAN VETERANS OF FOREIGN SERVICE, which was formed in 1903 at Altoona, Pennsylvania, amalgamated with the original AMERICAN VETERANS OF FOREIGN SERVICE of Columbus, Ohio to become one society known as the AMERICAN VETERANS OF FOREIGN SERVICE. Herbert O. Kelley, of Altoona, was elected Commander.
At their Encampment in August 1909 they changed the name to ARMY OF THE PHILIPPINES.
In August, 1913, at Denver, Colorado, the ARMY OF THE PHILIPPINES and the AMERICAN VETERANS OF FOREIGN SERVICE united under the temporary name of ARMY OF THE PHILIPPINE-CUBA and PUERTO RICO, with Rice W. Means as the first Commander-in Chief. During the year the organization's name was changed by plebiscite and General Order No.1 to the present day VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS OF THE UNITED STATES.
At the Encampment in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1914, the name VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS OF THE UNITED STATES and a constitution were formally adopted.
The Ladies Auxiliary to the VFW was founded in 1914 by women relatives of the Spanish-American War veterans. Early members saw their first responsibility as service to the veteran and his family. In an era when the government did little to assist its veterans, Auxiliary members ministered to the wounded in hospital and raised funds for needy veterans and their dependents.
On May 28, 1936, Congressional Charter incorporated the VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS OF THE UNITED STATES.
Organization eligibility for VFW membership is available to all U.S. Citizens, honorably discharged from the U.S. armed forces and who have earned an overseas campaign medal (Note: A 1995 VFW Congressional Charter amendment makes eligible all those who have served 30 consecutive days or 60 non-consecutive days on the Korean peninsula or in its territorial waters from June 30, 1949 until the present day).
The National Convention is the VFW's supreme governing body. Each August, thousands of VFW members gather to elect new officers, adopt resolutions and handle important business affairs.
National officers, who serve one year, are elected by delegates to the National Convention. The officers include the Commander-in-Chief, Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief, Junior Vice Commander-in-Chief, Quartermaster General (similar to a corporate treasurer), Judge Advocate General (provides legal counsel), Surgeon General and the National Chaplain.
Traditionally, at each National Convention, the Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief becomes the Commander-in-Chief, while the Junior Vice Commander-in-Chief assumes the role of Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief. For this reason, interest and activity centers around election of the new Junior Vice Commander-in-Chief.
Appointed officials include the Adjutant General (similar to a corporate CEO), National Chief of Staff and the National Inspector General.
The National Council of Administration serves as the VFW's Board of Directors. It comprises elected national officers, the immediate past Commander-in-Chief, three appointed officials and elected members from each of 29 national districts comprising one or more Departments.
Approximately 10,000 Posts comprise 55 Departments in the 50 states plus Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands, Panama, the Pacific Areas, Europe and Washington, D.C.
The election, functions and titles of elected and appointed officers in Posts, Districts, County Councils and Departments parallel the national level.
The purpose of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Auxiliary shall be fraternal, patriotic, historical and educations; to preserve and strengthen comradeship among its members; to assist worthy comrades, to perpetuate the memory of our dead and assist their widows and orphans. To maintain true allegiance to the Government of the United States of America and defend it from all enemies whomsoever.
While the organization known as the Veterans of Foreign Wars officially came into existence in 1913, members trace their organization’s roots back to 1899 when veterans of the Spanish-American War began assembling on local levels to obtain rights and benefits.
History has witnessed the Veterans of Foreign Wars accomplish everything from establishing the Star Spangled Banner as the national anthem to advocating for the successful passage of numerous GI Bills. In 1999, the Veterans of Foreign Wars celebrated its centennial and entered the new millennium with 1.9 million members and 9,500 posts nationwide.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars built their organization on the four cornerstones of preserving veterans’ rights, advocating a strong national defense, promoting patriotism, and offering community service.