VETERANS' 'FUN-AND-HONOR' ORDERS

Many of the American veterans' organizations have what can be called their "fun-and-honor" orders, that serve as a way to give recognition to loyal and active members who have provided long and faithful service to their post and the general organization that they belong to. These often involve secret ritual, some hazing, and generally a fun-filled night of induction for the candidates; some even utilize a three-degree ritual in their ceremonies.

This addition to the Phoenixmasonry site will describe some of America's best-known veterans' "fun-and-honor" orders, their history, terminology and structure.



THE FORTY AND EIGHT

"La Societe des Quarante Hommes at Huit Chevaux," or translated from the French as "The Society of Forty Men and Eight Horses," is an independent fraternal organization of veterans, popularly known as The Forty and Eight. It was organized in 1920 by American Legionnaires as a fun and honor society.

The FORTY AND EIGHT is composed of veterans of both World Wars, the Korean, Vietnam and Desert Storm conflicts, and draws its origin from World War I when young Americans were sent to France to fight "a war to end all wars." The narrow gauge railroads of France had boxcars (Voitures) that carried little more than half the capacity of American boxcars and these voitures were used to transport the men and horses to and from the fighting fronts. On the side of these little boxcars was stenciled the capacity of each, holding either forty men or eight horses, and these voitures became the trademark of our organization. If one could laugh at the train ride from the coast of France to the trenches crowded in these little boxcars only recently vacated by eight horses, one could surely adapt to the changes in his life when he returned home.

Membership in The Forty and Eight is by invitation only for recognition of service to the American Legion and/or its programs.

HISTORY OF THE FORTY AND EIGHT

In March 1920, Joseph W. Breen, an officer in the American Legion's Breen-McCracken Post 297, and fifteen other American Legionnaires met in Philadelphia to develop the concept of The Forty and Eight. Behind the idea of the "Society of Forty Men and Eight Horses" was the thought that American Legionnaires needed an opportunity to have some fun and blow off some steam. The very familiar box car of French Railways became the launching platform for the organization, and the French theme parlayed into the titles of officers and functions.

Members of The Forty and Eight would be known in the future as "Voyageurs Militaire" (Military Travelers) and candidates for membership would be called "Prisonniers de Guerre" (or "Poor Goofs") who would be initiated by a degree team called the "Wrecking Crew." The numerals 40 and 8 on a "French horizon blue" triangle was devised as the emblem of the new society. Based upon the common experiences of soldiers, sailors and marines, a secret initiation ceremony was developed which incorporated fun making and interesting ceremonial aspects. The first statewide meeting of The Forty and Eight, or "Promenade" was held in June of 1920 immediately following the 2nd Annual Convention of the American Legion's Department of Pennsylvania. A number of prominent American Legionnaires were "wrecked." Joseph W. Breen was unanimously elected "Premier Chef de Chemin de Fer" or "First Chief of the Railroad." The plans for the Society had been so popular, it was decided to travel to Cleveland, Ohio and introduce the thought to American Legionnaires gathering for the national convention. A box car was rented, and a delegation set out via the rails for Cleveland. The stunt provided instant notoriety for the organization. More than 700 American Legionnaires became "Hommes" and the Cleveland Promenade reelected their officers for another term. T
he Society grew over the years into the "Playground of the American Legion," with 95,000 members by 1948.

However, a schism began between the Forty and Eight and the American Legion over several issues.

First, the Forty and Eight had been refused authority to have a separate parade function at National Legion Conventions for several years. Secondly, the Forty and Eight felt the National Executive Committee of the Legion had been attempting to usurp the independence of the Forty and Eight. Thirdly, certain allegations had been made by the Forty and Eight regarding the power of seven individuals within the Legion, which was interpreted by the National Executive Committee of the Legion as demeaning to that organization. Fourth, The Forty and Eight was "snubbed" by the American Legion after it had donated $50,000 to the Child Welfare Fund, and no mention of gratitude was made. Fifth, The American Legion had refused the Forty and Eight the opportunity to hold its Promenade Nationale in the same city with the National Convention of the American Legion. Lastly, The American Legion demanded changing of the Constitution of the Forty and Eight, an action which did not pass in two previous Promenades Nationale. The bickering, over years, had finally brought the organizations to sever their long term relationship as a parent and subsidiary organizations. The Forty and Eight still exists with 44,834 members as of May 2003 in local units called "Voitures Locales," and still only awards membership to American Legion members who have served the Legion and/or its programs.

 


THE MILITARY ORDER OF THE COOTIES

Just as members of the United Spanish American War Veterans (USAWV) had much to do with the foundation of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), they also had a prime part in the start of the Military Order of the Cooties. In late 1919, several USAWV, members of the Imperial Order of the Dragon or IOD (a higher degree of the USAWV), conceived the idea of a similar order for the VFW. Fred C. Madden, a Past Grand Viceroy of the Dragons, was assisted by another Past Grand Viceroy, F. L. Gransbury and several other IOD members.

The VFW was nearly as old as the USAWV and grew due to the influx of members from World War I, which they thought could be helped with the formation of an Honor Degree with fun as one of its objectives. The rolls were opened for membership at the Oxford Hotel in Washington, D.C. on September 17, 1920, when nearly 300 VFW members signed up to join the new "Military Order of the Cooties."  Fred C. Madden became the first Supreme Seam Squirrel; and a complete list of Officers was ratified at a special meeting held in the Calvary Baptist Church in New York City. Madden developed the constitution and by-laws. F. L. Gransbury authored the rituals and became editor of the "Cootie Tickle," six issues of which were printed prior to the VFW National Encampment in Detroit.

At the VFW National Encampment in Detroit, a committee was formed consisting of Commander-in-Chief Woodside, Past Commander-in-Chief Hartund and VFW Council Members Allen of New York, Jones of Oregon and Jones of Washington. They met with Supreme Cooties Gransbury #3 and E. S. Davis #12, to make the Military Order of the Cooties a part of the VFW. The favorable report of this committee was accepted by the VFW National Encampment on September 24, 1921, making the Order a part of the VFW. At midnight that same day, acting Assistant Supreme Seam Squirrel Davis called the first Supreme Scratch to order, reported the result of the committee conference and VFW endorsement and conducted the first Supreme Election. William E. Eighmey was the first Supreme Seam Squirrel to be elected.

In 1922, William Kime was elected Supreme Commander at Seattle, Washington and reelected in 1923, at Norfolk, Virginia. During his term of office, the first Cootie Uniform was approved and became the official uniform of the Order. A committee was appointed to prepare By-laws for the Order and to rewrite the Ritual covering the Third Degree. The new By-laws and change in Rituals were adopted at the Supreme Scratch in 1923. The Order grew over the years as a "Honor Degree of the VFW," utilizes a three-degree secret initiation ritual, and is presently composed of 37,000 members in 1,000 units called "Pup Tents."



THE NATIONAL ORDER OF TRENCH RATS

The National Order of Trench Rats (NOTR) was conceived by a group of disabled World War I veterans who were patients in the United States Public Health Service Hospital No. 54 located at Arrowhead Springs, California. Because of the shortage of beds following World War I, this hospital, like many others, had been converted out of a building formerly used for other purposes.

This particular building in which the hospital was housed had been a well known hotel located on the side of the mountain about seven miles from the city of San Bernardino. The name "Trench Rats" was adopted as it is symbolic of the rats which the World War I veterans encountered in the trenches in France.  Some of the patients were members of the Los Angeles Chapter of the DAV. The hospital was isolated and there were no activities for the patients to pass the time, the majority of whom were ambulatory.

A few members of this DAV Chapter conceived the idea of organizing a group of the most active members as a secret, fraternal society and devised an initiation ceremony for fun and amusement and invited for membership only those DAV members who were most active in the Chapter. As a result of this, most of the patients became members of the DAV and its delegates to the National Convention in Salt Lake City in 1924 were able to get the NOTR officially recognized as an Auxiliary of the DAV.  

The NOTR is a secret, fraternal and honor organization limiting its membership by selection only to those who show their devotion and meritorious service to the DAV and the welfare of the disabled veterans, his widow and orphans. As result of this limitation, non-members have been encouraged to become more active in their Chapters and sign up new members in the DAV, this being one of the qualifications for membership. The Order's members wear different colored fezzes similar to the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine and have 7,000 members in 170 local units called "Dugouts."



THE MILITARY ORDER OF THE DEVIL DOGS

This is the "fun-and-honor" Order of the United States Marine Corps League, and takes its name of "Devil Dogs" from the name that the German soldiers called the tough U.S. Marines during the battle of Belleau Wood in 1918, when the Germans called the Leathernecks "teufelhunden" or "devil dogs" on their ferocity, their courage and tenacity in combat.

Main purpose:  Promotes good fellowship amongst the members of different Marine Corps League Detachments. The Order provides amusement and entertainment at all gatherings of the League, when and where advisable, preserves and strengthens the principles and ideals of the League, and maintains true allegiance to the United States of America and its Constitution and laws. It fosters and extends American institutions of freedom and defends America against all enemies foreign and domestic. The Order is also active in raising funds for children's hospitals, and associated charities.

The Military Order of Devil Dogs is made up only of members of the Marine Corps League, which was established in 1937. The Order only accepts the most worthy of League Members. Prospective members must be paid-up members in good standing in the Marine Corps League. The applicant must be active in his/her Detachment in the League, and must request membership in the Order. He/She must be recommended by the Detachment Commandant and be sponsored by two Devil Dogs or Pedigreed Devil Dogs. The applicant is then interviewed by the members of the Pound at a Pound Growl (a meeting is called a Growl). If accepted, the applicant must undergo an initiation and swearing-in ceremony.

Organization: The Pound is on a local level and is usually made up of members of different Marine Corps League Detachments. On the State level there is the Pack, and on the National level there is a Kennel.

There are three different degrees in the Order. The lowest degree is that of a
Pup. The next degree is that of a Devil Dog. The highest degree is that of a Pedigreed Devil Dog. The Pup wears a black ribbon, the Devil Dog wears a red ribbon, and the Pedigreed Devil Dog wears a gold ribbon. The ribbon is worn around the neck and a Dog Tag is attached to it. The head of the Pound is called the Poundkeeper. The head of the pack is the Pack Leader.

The head of the Kennel is also the head of all Devil Dogs and is called
Chief Devil Dog. The Order's many charitable donations not only help people in need, but also build good public relations for the Order, the League, and the United States Marine Corps.  

A special "Thanks" to Brother Denis P. McGowan who provided the history of these Orders.  Brother Denis P. McGowan is a dedicated fraternalist and student of the history of American fraternal organizations.

 

         

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