Elks National Veterans Service Commission


elksbpoe804 - Posted on 13 June 2010

Veterans Services Our story is long, our work is humble, our history is proud. The Elks National Veterans Service Commission continues its commitment to this day serving our nation’s veterans.

Elks National Veterans Service Commission In 1917, the world was at war. The Order of the Elks was only 49 years old. In April of that year, Grand Exalted Ruler Edward Rightor appointed a committee to study what the Order of Elks should do in this crisis. The Committee was ordered to present its findings to the Grand Lodge Session in Boston that July. At the session, this committee, headed by Past Exalted Ruler John K. Tener, recommended to the membership that “the Elks give first consideration to the sick and wounded on the battlefields of France and equip base hospitals for their care,” and that “the Order create a fund for war relief work.” The membership enthusiastically and unanimously approved a resolution appropriating $1 million dollars for the War Relief Fund. Our Brothers at the subordinate Lodge level raised this money. The Grand Exalted Ruler at the Boston convention, appointed an Elks War Relief Commission that evolved into the organization we have today: the Elks National Veterans Service Commission.

During World War I, the Elks allocated $2 million to finance efforts and organized and equipped the first two base hospitals to reach France – Unit 41 staffed by the faculty and alumni from the University of Virginia, and Unit 46 with University of Oregon faculty and alumni. In 1918, to accommodate the maimed and wounded, the Elks built a 700-bed Reconstruction Hospital in Boston and gave it to the War Department. This was the only Veterans Hospital after World War I to be donated by a private entity. This was the first of what was to become the VA medical centers. Also in 1918, the Order built a 72-room Community House to take care of families visiting the 40,000 soldiers stationed at Camp Sherman, Ohio.

During the war, the Salvation Army was severely handicapped in it great work for the servicemen by lack of funds. To make sure the Salvation Army’s work continued, the Elks assumed the entire costs of many of their undertakings and at Christmastime in 1918, the Elks commission gave an additional $60,000 to the Salvation Army.

The Commission made 40,000 rehabilitation, vocational and education loans to disabled veterans who were ineligible for government help or were waiting approval of their applications for assistance. This service was so effective that the federal government followed the Order’s example; the GI bill, which makes funds available to veterans for education, had its genesis from this Elks program. More that 70,000 Elks served in the armed forces during World War 1.

The supreme sacrifice was made by more than 1,000. In 1940, at the Grand Lodge Session in Houston, the Elks unanimously voted to establish the Elks National Defense and Public Relations Commission. The primary focus was to establish a patriotic program. In 1942, the Elks War Commission was created. The United State Army asked the War Commission to recruit 45,000 young men for ground crews in the Army Air Corps. The commission recruited 97,000. Throughout World War II, the Elks fully contributed to the war effort by providing for members of the armed forces. More than $ 1.5 million was spent, while local Lodges spent hundreds of thousands of dollars more. Thousands of gift boxes and personal hygiene items were sent to our fighting military personnel, while thousands of slippers were distributed to hospitalized members. In addition, the Elks provided the hospitals with radios, phonographs, playing cards, books, magazines, games, musical instruments, craft supplies and personal items.

Elks volunteers spent hours listening to our heroes. It was through this work with hospitalized veterans during World War II that the Elks continued its evolution of “serving our nation’s veterans”. In July 1946, the Elks National Veterans Service Commission was created to replace the Elks War Commission. Its primary goals were to carry on the Hospital Program, the Peace Army Enlistment Campaign, and all uncompleted activities supervised by the Elks War Relief Commission. The Elks pledged that “So long as there are veterans in our hospitals, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks will never forget them.” Throughout history, the Elks Commission has continued to offer its help to the troops in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm and other international conflicts.

In 1999, the members of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks pledged support of the National World War II Memorial, to be built on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. This memorial will preserve the memory of the more than 16 million people who served in WWII, the more than 400,000 who died, and the millions more who made lesser but nonetheless important sacrifices to support those in combat overseas. Our story is long, our work is humble, our history is proud. The Elks National Veterans Service Commission continues its commitment to this day serving our nation’s veterans.