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VFW Celebrates 100 Years In Pittsburgh

Marcus Charleston

In September of 1914, 250 veterans from across the U.S. and its territories gathered at the Schenley Hotel in Pittsburgh to form what would become the largest veterans’ advocacy group in the nation, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

The hotel is now the William Pitt Union, but former military members and public officials are assembling there once again to mark the organization's centennial.

“The people can feel that the community supports veterans around here,” Matt Hannan, president of Pitt-Vets, said, “but they don’t understand the legacy of what the veterans have committed to the community and contributed and that that legacy continues.”

Hannan, VFW Senior Vice Commander-In-Chief John Biedrzycki Jr. and former Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner will speak at the ceremony. The service will begin with a military processional through the University of Pittsburgh campus starting at the William Pitt Union.

Hannan said the VFW will also erect a plaque to the City of Pittsburgh and place a ceremonial wreath on the organization’s historical marker at the corner of Forbes in Bigelow in Oakland.

“Unfortunately the marker is easy to overlook because it’s by a bus stop,” he said, “but it’s not about where the marker is; it’s about what it means.”

The formation of the VFW began with the return of America’s first overseas troops following the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Philippine-American War (1899-1902). Combined, the wars involved nearly 500,000 American troops who came home to form local fraternal organizations advocating for veteran’s pensions and benefits.

By 1913, many of those groups merged, forming a nationwide organization named the Army of the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico. One year later, the group convened in Pittsburgh to re-christen the organization the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.

“They came together in 1914 and said, ‘Hey, why don’t we combine our efforts,’” Hannan said. “‘…Let’s come together. Let’s come in mass so we have a more representative voice not only within the veteran community, but throughout the United States.’”

Over the course of four days, the VFW created its seal, constitution, and formed the Ladies Auxiliary, a women’s group that works to raise money for veterans in need and their families. The group continues to operate and has nearly 500,000 members.

Since its founding, Hannan said the VFW has also worked with enlistees to prepare them for life during and after war.

“They just wanted to ensure that they gave the next generation all the tools that they could give them in order to succeed, in order to be ready for an environment that they don’t understand, they’ve never been in,” he said, “just by telling their stories and basically being a voice for these young men and women.”

The centennial ceremony begins at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at the William Pitt Union in Oakland.

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."
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