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 worlds 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, and (5) the peacemakers, (6) blessed are they that mourn, and (7) seek righteousness, and (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 mans way of living. Between the four arms of the Cross, the Veterans of Foreign Wars has added the suns 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 objects of the VFW shall be fraternal, patriotic, historical and educational; that its members shall preserve and strengthen comradeship; that they shall maintain allegiance to the government of the United States and fidelity to its laws; that VFW members shall foster true patriotism, extend American freedom and defend this nation from all enemies.
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 Ladies 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.
Nothing symbolizes the VFW's pledge to "Honor the Dead by Helping the Living" like the Buddy Poppy. Millions of these blood-red artificial flowers are made in this country each year by disabled veterans--disabled on the same battlefields on which their buddies were killed.
Many veterans will spend the rest of their lives bedridden in Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals. Others have adjusted to the challenges of the civilian world--regaining their health and earning power diminished by service-related disabilities.
More than 80 years ago the poppy first gained fame as a symbol of hope amid the carnage of war. In 1915, a World War I Canadian veteran, Colonel John McCrae, wrote a poem entitled "In Flanders Fields." It presented a striking image of the bright red flowers booming among rows or white crosses marking the graves of the war dead in Belgium.
Colonel McCrae, who died of pneumonia and meningitis in a British officers hospital in 1918, wrote that soldiers must carry on the fight against the enemy after their comrades had fallen in battle. In a figurative sense, most readers recognized a plea for succeeding generations to build upon the sacrifices made by the courageous veterans. He believed the ideals and causes for which these men were fighting and dying must always be remembered.
Colonel McCrae wrote, "If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep."
The poem had a profound impact on a woman personally affected by the Great War (WWI). Anna E. Guerin, the "Poppy Lady" from France," conceived the idea to sell artificial poppies to help orphans and others left destitute in war-ravaged France.
By the time of this first sale in 1920, the poppy was well-known in the Allied countries (United States, Great Britain, Canada, France, Australia, and New Zealand) as the "Flower of Remembrance" celebrated in Colonel McCrea's poem.
The VFW's first poppy distribution was in May of 1922. French made poppies were purchased through Guerin's organization and profits contributed to helping French Citizens.
At the VFW's National Encampment in 1922, the VFW adopted the poppy as the official VFW flower.
In 1923, at the VFW National Encampment, a plan was formulated to have disabled veterans make the poppies themselves, and in February 1924 the VFW registered the name "Buddy Poppy" with the U.S. Patent Office. The term "Buddy" was coined by the poppy makers themselves as a tribute to the veterans who didn't come home and those crippled or scarred for life. Since that time the Buddy Poppies have been constructed in VA medical facilities and veterans homes throughout the nation.
Buddy Poppy Sale in the 1920's (VFW Magazine)
Section 704 of the VFW's Official Bylaws requires that the "net proceeds of all sales of the Buddy Poppy" be credited to a Post's Relief Fund. It also stipulates this money may only be used for five purposes:
For the Buddy Poppy's 75th anniversary a special label will adorn every flower. Since 1922, this label has been a guarantee from the VFW that each Buddy Poppy is assembled by a disabled or need veteran. It also guarantees that all proceeds will benefit veterans--through Posts' or Departments' service funds-- or their widows and orphans at the National Home or other Veterans Homes. This couldn't happen without hardworking legions of VFW volunteers. The Post and Auxiliary members who distribute the poppies, the Post Quartermasters who place the orders for the poppies, and the Post Commanders who organizes the distribution programs. We do it because we know we are perpetuating the memories of thousands of selfless military service members who died so all United States citizens could live free. All volunteers also know that the disabled veterans who assembles the poppies is paid for his services, and they know this assistance is the final element in fulfilling the VFW Pledge: "Honor the Dead by Helping the Living"
1 June 2007 marked the 85th year of the Buddy Poppy. If you are a VFW member, please volunteer your time and services for this worth while cause. If you are not a veteran, please honor those that gave the ultimate sacrifice to keep our country free by purchasing a Buddy Poppy when given the opportunity to do so.
Challenge coin rules only apply to other individuals who also have a challenge coin. A holder of a challenge coin may "challenge" any individual who is known to have a coin. A challenge is made by withdrawing a coin and raising it in the air or by tapping it on a bar or table. The individual who is challenged is required to produce their coin within 60 seconds. If the individual produces the coin, the challenger is obligated to buy them a drink. If the challenged individual fails to produce the coin, they are obligated to buy the drink. The reward does NOT have to be an alcoholic beverage. It can be a soda or any other reward that the two individuals agree on. If a coin is dropped and it hits the floor, the owner is obligated to buy drinks for anyone who hears or sees the coin hit the floor (provided they have their coin on them). Coin challengers are known to strike anywhere at anytime. They insidiously stalk the challenge, waiting for just the right moment to attack. An innocent bystander may never hear the challenge - only the challenger's despairing cry, "... Ah ____! I forgot mine!
According to one story, challenge coins originated during World War I. American volunteers from all parts of the country filled the newly formed flying squadrons. Some were wealthy scions attending colleges such as Yale and Harvard who quit in mid-term to join the war. In one squadron, a wealthy lieutenant ordered medallions struck in solid bronze and presented them to his unit. One young pilot placed the medallion in a small leather pouch that he wore about his neck. Shortly after acquiring the medallions, the pilots’ aircraft was severely damaged by ground fire. He was forced to land behind enemy lines and was immediately captured by a German patrol. In order to discourage his escape, the Germans took all of his personal identification except for the small leather pouch around his neck. In the meantime, he was taken to a small French town near the front. Taking advantage of a bombardment that night, he escaped. However, he was without personal identification. He succeeded in avoiding German patrols by donning civilian attire and reached the front lines. With great difficulty, he crossed no-man's land. Eventually, he stumbled onto a French outpost. Unfortunately, saboteurs had plagued the French in the sector. They sometimes masqueraded as civilians and wore civilian clothes. Not recognizing the young pilot's American accent, the French thought him to be a saboteur and made ready to execute him. He had no identification to prove his allegiance, but he did have his leather pouch containing the medallion. He showed the medallion to his would-be executioners and one of his French captors recognized the squadron insignia on the medallion. They delayed his execution long enough for him to confirm his identity. Instead of shooting him they gave him a bottle of wine. Back at his squadron, it became tradition to ensure that all members carried their medallion or coin at all times. This was accomplished through challenge in the following manner - a challenger would ask to see the medallion. If the challenged could not produce a medallion, they were required to buy a drink of choice for the member who challenged them. If the challenged member produced a medallion, then the challenging member was required to pay for the drink. This tradition continued on throughout the war and for many years after the war while surviving members of the squadron were still alive.
According to another story, challenge coins originated during the Vietnam War. Leisure time in Vietnam was a commodity, but when it came, it was utilized to the max; catching up on sleep; writing letters home; letting off steam at the hooch bar. The latter provided to be most popular, but eventually it too could become boring and mundane. To heighten excitement and foster unit esprit de corps, Bullet Clubs were formed. These were comprised of small, elite, front-line fighters who each carried a personalized bullet from the weapons they carried in combat. The ultimate use of the bullet, usually carried in a hip pocket, was to deny the enemy personal capture. When an individual entered the Hooch Bar, he would be challenged by fellow team members to produce his bullet. If he did, the challengers would pay his bar tab for the rest of the evening. If he failed to produce his bullet, he bought the drinks for all the remainder of the night. Eventually, personalized bullets took on disbelieving proportions. Some "teamies" took to carrying 20-, 40-, or 105mm cannon shells. Clearly, these were not personalized coup de grace munitions but rather manifestations of perceived individual prowess in combat or - perhaps - on R & R. At the height of the Bullet Club's heyday, it was not an uncommon sight to see strewn across a barroom table a very respectful representation of the full range of bullets, rockets, cannon and artillery shells used in Southeast Asia. In order to gain control of the situation - and to avoid accidental discharge of the large, fully functional munitions - bullets were traded for coins which reflected the unit's symbol and pride. Each coin was personalized by a controlled number and/or the individual's name. The rules remained the same, although today they are greatly expanded. Loss of one's coins was and remains tantamount to eternal disgrace and banishment. To forget to carry one's coin in anticipation of a challenge results in a minor death.