AMVETS mission statement: To enhance and safeguard the entitlements for all American veterans who have served honorably and to improve the quality of life for them, their families, and the communities where they live through leadership, advocacy and services.
AMVETS was born in the midst of World War II. In August 1943, a new organization, which would later be known as the American Veterans of World War II, had its start. Overseas, the tide of the war was turning. The Allies had swept through North Africa and Sicily. In the Pacific, fighting raged in New Guinea. Thousands of Americans had made the ultimate sacrifice. Hundreds of others were being mustered out of service due to battle wounds and medical discharges. These men who fought in history’s greatest war found it natural to seek each other’s company. They were united by similar experiences in jungles, the Arctic, deserts, mountains, at sea and in the skies. Thus, out of such camaraderie, AMVETS came to be.
Formed in Washington, D.C., two independent veterans clubs, one on the campus of George Washington University, the other of veterans employed by the government, joined together to sponsor a servicemen’s party. By September 1944, eight other such veterans’ clubs organized throughout the United States. These were formed in California, Florida, Louisiana, New York, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Texas. On Nov. 11, 1944, an Armistice Day article entitled “12,000,000 in search of a Leader” appeared in Collier’s magazine. This article, by Walter Davenport, introduced the clubs and outlined their three mutual aims: to promote world peace, to preserve the American way of life, and to help the veteran help himself.
In December 1944, 18 leaders, representing these nine groups, met in Kansas City, Missouri. There, a national organization was formed and on Dec. 9, 1944, the name “American Veterans of World War II” was chosen. The word AMVETS, coined by newspaper headline writers, soon became the official name. The white clover, a flower that thrives in freedom throughout the world and is symbolic of the struggle during World War II, became the adopted flower of AMVETS. In October 1945, two months after the end of World War II, the first national convention was held in Chicago.
In 1946, AMVETS petitioned Congress for a federal charter. AMVETS, having displayed dignity and a sound approach to national problems, won the deep respect of Congress. On July 23, 1947, President Harry S. Truman signed the AMVETS charter. The words of the Senate Judiciary Committee echoed throughout the land, “The veterans of World War II are entitled to their own organization, and AMVETS, being organized along sound lines and for worthy purposes … having demonstrated its strength and stability is entitled to the standing and dignity which a national charter will afford.” President Truman also commented, “Were I a veteran of this war, I would prefer to have a veteran of World War II looking after my affairs, than a veteran of some other war.”
When war broke out in Korea and again in Vietnam, AMVETS requested Congress to amend the charter so that those serving in the U.S. Armed Forces would be eligible for membership. On Sept. 14, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill redefining the eligibility dates for AMVETS membership, stating “Any person who served in the Armed Forces of the United States of America, or any American citizen, as an American citizen, who served in the armed forces of an allied nation of the United States at any time after Sept. 15, 1940, and on or before the date of cessation of hostilities as determined by the government of the United States is eligible for regular membership in AMVETS, provided such service when terminated by discharge or release from active duty be by honorable discharge or separation.” On May 7, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Proclamation 4373, terminating the Vietnam era and announcing the cessation of hostilities. Effective May 8, 1975, the armed forces became a peacetime service.
For nearly 10 years, AMVETS did not accept into membership servicemen and women who served after May 7, 1975. On May 31, 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed Public Law 98-304, which amended AMVETS’ congressional charter to open membership to those who served honorably and actively after May 7, 1975.
AMVETS is now the only congressionally-chartered Veterans Service Organization that recognizes the sacrifices of these veterans and service persons by extending membership eligibility to them. At the 46th and 47th national conventions, the contributions made by the National Guard and Reserve forces were recognized and membership eligibility was extended to include all ready reserves. Membership in AMVETS is now open to any person who has served or is serving in the United States Armed Forces during and since World War II, including all National Guard and Reserve personnel. At the 49th National Convention in 1993, the eligibility of merchant marines who served this country in time of war was addressed and approved. Merchant Marines that are considered veterans and are eligible for VA benefits (those that received a DD-214 from either the Navy or the Coast Guard) are eligible for AMVETS membership.
Over the years, AMVETS has been at the forefront of public policy related to national defense, services for homeless veterans, adequate funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and concurrent receipt of retirement pay and disability compensation by disabled military retirees, veterans employment and training, POW/MIA accountability and flag protection.
Apart from these initiatives, the organization has monetarily supported national monuments such as the USS Arizona, the Statue of Liberty and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It also sponsors its own carillon program to honor America’s deceased servicemen and women. Since 1949, when President Truman dedicated the first carillon at Arlington National Cemetery, this program has grown to encompass more than 60 sites in the United States and overseas.
Another tribute unique to AMVETS is the Silver Helmet Award, often referred to as the Veterans Oscar. A replica of the World War II GI helmet, this prestigious award is presented annually to recognize excellence and achievement in Americanism, defense, rehabilitation, congressional service and other fields.
As a volunteer-led organization, AMVETS annually elects and/or appoints officers at the national, district, department and post levels. Each August, representatives from these levels attend the AMVETS national convention to make decisions on issues affecting veterans and the organization.
The AMVETS organization has grown and evolved over the years to best serve each new generation of veterans and their families. As the organization moves further into the 21st century, it does so with the conviction that its focus on preserving freedom, supporting America’s defenders, and serving her communities remains a clear blueprint for continued service to God and country.
Local AMVETS posts include:
• AMVETS Post #102 is located at 485 Park Ave. in Delaware. The post meets the second Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m.
Facilities are open Thursday and Friday from 3-10 p.m.; Saturday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday from 1-8 p.m.
For more information, call 740-363-8316 or visit www.amvets.org.
• AMVETS Post #104 is located at 419 London Road in Delaware. The posts meets the third Sunday of the month at 9 a.m.
Facilities are open seven days a week from 1-9 p.m.
For more information, call 740-990-0429 or visit www.amvets.org.
Harold B. Wolford is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095. He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1973. Wolford can be reached via email at [email protected]