Opinion

VFW assures promises kept

Today, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, with its Auxiliaries, includes over 2.4 million members in approximately 9,000 Posts, worldwide.

You get an idea how long a Post has been around due to their Post number. Post 7392 means that there were 7,391 posts before us when we stood up in 1946. Some are still around, some are not. Thank God we are.

Our mission is to “honor the dead by helping the living” through veterans’ services, community service, national security and a strong national defense. Our membership oath is almost synonymous with that of the military oath of obligation.

The VFW traces its roots back to 1899 when veterans of the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902) founded local organizations to secure rights and benefits for their service: Many arrived home wounded or sick. There was no medical care or veteran’s pension for them, and they were left to care for themselves. They were shipped home and left to fend for themselves. Hop a train or hitch a ride, that was their plight. This was the by-product of a nation that was quick to rush to war for honor and conquest, but ignored the needs of those who bore the burdens of battle.

In their misery, some of these veterans banded together and formed organizations that would become known as the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. Chapters were formed in Ohio, Colorado and Pennsylvania, and the movement quickly gained momentum. By 1915, membership grew to 5,000; by 1936, membership was almost 200,000.

Who today knows of “The Bonus Army War?” In 1924, a grateful Congress voted to give a bonus to veterans who served during World War I. It was to be $1 a day and $1.25 a day for service overseas. The catch was that it wasn’t payable until 1945.

In May 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, hundreds and then thousands of unemployed World War I veterans, some with their families, started to converge on Washington, D.C., coming from all over the nation. They were demanding the immediate payment of their bonus.

By June 1932 there was 20,000 veterans living in ramshackle “Hoovervilles” throughout the city. With much public support the situation looked promising when the House passed a bill authorizing early payment, even though President Hoover said he would veto it. However, days later it was defeated in the Senate 62-18. But the veterans didn’t leave, since most of them had no other place to go.

The situation remained tense until early on the day of July 28, 1932 when police tried to remove veterans from a construction site. The veterans clashed with the police and two veterans were killed by gunfire. The veterans began massing and the police retreated. When President Hoover was told the police could not maintain order, he ordered Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur to drive the veterans from the immediate area.

At about 4:30 p.m. on July 28, 1932, military troops rode against over 20,000 needy veterans in the streets of our nation’s capital, led by General MacArthur, along with then Major George Patton commanding a cavalry unit. A young Major Dwight D. Eisenhower was on the general’s staff and served as liaison with the city police. At first the veterans thought the military display was in their honor. They quickly learned different. Tear gas was the preferred weapon against the veterans as they were forced back and their tents and shanties were burned. The rout lasted throughout the night into the next day and the veterans were ultimately driven out. Although hundreds were wounded, the only fatalities were two infants asphyxiated by gas.

The nation was shocked that our veterans could be treated like this but little was done, at the time. However, it did strongly influence the way veterans were treated after World War II and arguably lead to the creation of the GI Bill.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars is now a recognized legitimate voice of those deserving souls. Let’s pray that we never have to take to the streets again.

During the immediate need it is easy to make promises to those that endure the burdens of hardship, who answer the country’s call to arms, for there is no burden greater on human nature than that of those suffered in war with man against man. But it is also easy to forget, or to rationalize away, the obligation once the storm has passed. The quick promises and easy answers are often what we call “lip service.” But some promises and commitments must be kept. Beyond the moral obligation of a promise to those that served, it signifies to those that follow that the promise will be kept. This is what ensures that others will step up when the need arises

The VFW is here to ensure that the promise is kept.

Today, we have troops in harms way in Iraq, Afghanistan, and places people never ever even hear about. God willing, they come home. We are here to ensure that the promise is kept.

Oak Harbor resident Doug Tyler is VFW Department of Washington District 15 Commander.

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