In March of 1920, Joseph W. Breen, a member of the newly formed American Legion and an officer of Breen-McCracken Legion Post 297, met in Philadelphia with fifteen other prominent Legionnaires where they originated the idea of The Forty & Eight. They envisioned a new and different level of elite membership and camaraderie for leaders of the American Legion. The box car of the French Railways, so familiar to American ground troops of the First World War, was chosen as the symbolic heart of the new organization. The French/Railroad theme was applied to officer titles and organizational functions.
The organization was named La Societe des Quarente Hommes et Huit Chevaux (the Society of Forty Men and Eight Horses). Its members were called Voyageurs Militaire (military travelers) and candidates for membership were called Prisonniers de Guerre (Prisoners of War). The “40/8” cargo capacity sign emblazoned on each French boxcar that had carried American doughboys to the front, and also the “French horizon blue” color, became symbols of the new society. An initiation ceremony was developed based on the common wartime experiences of American soldiers, sailors and marines, incorporating fun making with patriotic bonding.
The first statewide Forty & Eight Promenade (meeting) was held in June, 1920, following the 2nd Annual Convention of the American Legion’s Department of Pennsylvania. Several prominent Legionnaires were wrecked (initiated) and Joseph W. Breen was unanimously elected Chef de Chemin de Fer (President of the Railroad).
The new Forty & Eight organization agreed to send a delegation to the Legion’s national convention in Cleveland, Ohio, with as much fanfare as possible in order to introduce the Forty & Eight to the nation and to other Legionnaires. A railroad box car was rented and in it the Forty & Eight delegation rode the rails to the Cleveland Legion convention. This publicity stunt gained substantial news coverage for the energetic new elite organization. In Cleveland more than 700 Legionnaires became members of the Forty & Eight.
During the Forty & Eight’s Promenade Nationale (national convention) in Kansas City, a national constitution was adopted and a national headquarters was established in Seattle, Washington.
During the Promenade Nationale in New Orleans, a Children’s Welfare project was established, with monies to be raised via an annual assessment of 50 cents from dues collections, to be used for the care of orphaned children.
The National Headquarters of the Forty & Eight was moved to Indianapolis. The Forty & Eight was integrated as an equal partner with The American Legion and The American Legion Auxiliary, all with common interests in Child Welfare. Forty & Eight Child Welfare Program funds ($24,823.91) were safely invested to grow to meet future needs. A joint policy committee of members from all three organizations was established.
During the 6th Promenade Nationale, in Omaha, Nebraska, $25,000.00 was set aside to establish a Child Welfare Fund. (This was a precursor to today’s Charles Ardery Child Welfare Trust).
At Promenade Nationale in Philadelphia, Forty & Eight membership was reported to be 32,449.
A major focus of discussion was the growth of American Legion membership, which had previously been declining annually since the Legion’s inception. Much of the Legion’s new growth was attributed to extraordinary recruiting efforts by Forty & Eight’s Voyageurs who had brought in more than 17,000 new members for the American Legion. Voyageur William Mundt of Voiture 24, Bloomington, Illinois, was recognized for having signed up 509 new Legion members.
Forty & Eight programs expanded in concert with The American Legion. Membership, Child Welfare, Junior Baseball, Americanism and Emergency Relief became key Forty & Eight programs. Annual donations continued to the Child Welfare Fund, with $18,960 earmarked for 1928. Additionally, Voiture Locales devised their own charitable programs, such as Voiture 220 of Chicago sponsoring a youth summer camp.
During the depression years, the Forty & Eight and The American Legion grew steadily. Forty & Eight Voyageurs enrolled 27,000 new members in the Legion during 1928-1929, and were instrumental in helping The American Legion to pass the one million members mark.
The Forty & Eight declared War on Childhood Diphtheria. Vaccination toxin was distributed via Voiture Nationale to children whose parents could not afford it. Physicians donated their services, and educational campaigns were carried out to combat the disease.
From 1932 through 1936, the Forty & Eight sought to influence Congress regarding veteran’s benefits. These were the “Bonus March” Depression years when WWI veterans and the federal government were at times in open conflict. The Forty & Eight sponsored national radio programs, featuring well know political figures, to bring equitable treatment of war veterans to the national forefront. Realizing that power came with numbers, the Forty & Eight brought in 111,159 new American Legion members. The efforts of the Forty & Eight ultimately helped convince Congress to pass, over a presidential veto, the compensation act for America’s war veterans.
The 17th Promenade Nationale was held in Cleveland with a huge parade lasting nearly three hours. Membership reached 34,809.
The Forty & Eight began sponsoring Boys State in 20 states. Charitable efforts increased as Voitures provided iron lungs, sponsored anti-juvenile delinquency programs, and supported Legion Baseball and Scouting. Many Legion leaders are members of the Forty & Eight.
During the Second World War, the Forty & Eight rolled up its sleeves. While continuing to support its existing charitable and patriotic programs, the Forty & Eight expanded its efforts to meet wartime needs. Individual Forty & Eight members volunteered for military service, served as air raid wardens and in other civil defense capacities, aided in salvage drives, bond drives, blood drives, visited hospitals, and helped recruiting efforts for the Armed Services.
The Forty & Eight made a special effort to insure every serviceman on transport ships overseas had a deck of cards. Over 60,000 decks were initially distributed, 610,498 decks in the second year, and a million decks in 1943-1944. Ultimately, over 4 million decks of card were distributed.
The Forty & Eight also began issuing Nursing Scholarships. By September of 1942, over 100 nurses had been received education grants.
Increasing Legion membership was deemed vital to organizing veterans to help the war effort. The Forty & Eight exceeded its goals by gaining 211,301 new Legion members, thereby helping to bringing the Legion to an all time high in membership.
The 25th Anniversary of the Forty and Eight coincided with the end of World War II.
The organization began a new program to provide free telephone calls home for returning wounded servicemen. This successful program was seeded by Grande du Kentucky contributing $50,000 and Grande du Indiana providing $39,000. With the end of rationing and travel restrictions, Forty and Eight members were able to meet more frequently.
Over two hundred veteran organizations sprouted up across the country. Veterancy was booming. The Forty and Eight brought more than half a million new members to The American Legion. The Forty & Eight continued to bring influential Legionnaires together from various posts, thus strengthening unity within the Legion. Forty & Eight membership exceeded 70,000.
The Forty & Eight’s annual contribution to the Legion’s Child Welfare Fund continued throughout the war. Due to an increase in numbers of World War II veteran’s children, the Forty & Eight increased its annual Child Welfare contribution to $30,000 in 1945 and to $50,000 in 1946.
The Forty & Eight began its long association with the Hanson’s Disease (leprosy) research hospital in Carville, Louisiana, by funding all publication costs for the hospital’s patient-published magazine “The Star”. The Forty & Eight purchased a printing press and other equipment to help the patients carry on “their fight against the ignorance which surrounds this disease.”
Forty & Eight membership rose to 95,000.
The Forty & Eight welcomed the French Gratitude Train. French railroad boxcar were sent to each American state, filled with gifts from the French people who wished to say “merci” for America freeing the French from Nazi tyranny. The Forty & Eight, being an elite corps of American veterans with its symbol being the WWI French boxcar, was instrumental in welcoming these WWII boxcars. Voyageurs in each state participated in ceremonies, and in many states took responsibility for maintaining the boxcar in museum or display settings.
The Forty & Eight formally established its Nurses Training program.
The Forty & Eight severed ties with the Legion and became an independent organization.
There had been ripples of discontent for several years. The organizations were fundamentally different. The Legion was large, easy to join and non-fraternal. The Forty & Eight was elite, by-invitation and racially restrictive. The Forty & Eight had monetary resources many in the Legion deemed theirs. Conversely, the Forty & Eight objected to funding Legion programs with large amounts of money, without adequate recognition in return. The Legion pressed the Forty & Eight to change its constitution to be racially inclusive. These differences brought the two organizations to logger heads. Eventually, the American Legion refused to allow the Forty and Eight to hold its Promenade Nationale in the same city with the Legion’s National Convention.
The Forty & Eight thus became independent, but with many vestiges of its parent organization remaining intact, including the Forty & Eight continuing to only accept Legion members.
The Nurses Training Program sponsored 2,129 nurses for a total of $248,047 in scholarships.
Female relatives of Forty & Eight members organized the auxiliary, La Societe de Femme. Cabanes (units) were formed in 15 states with over 1,000 initial members. The purpose of the affiliate organization was to, “further the programs of the Forty and Eight”.
Recognizing that its previous donations to the Legion’s Child Welfare Fund had amounted to over 1.2 million dollars, the Forty & Eight established the new Charles W. Ardery Child Welfare Fund as an irrevocable trust, seeded it with $300,000 and drew up rules governing the dispersal of its funds as reimbursements to Voitures for local instances of rendering aid/assistance.
Other programs listed for the year were; Flag Education, Memorial Day Programs, Boys State, Girls State, Scouting and the Christmas Tree of Lights program.
At the Promenade Nationale in Baltimore, Maryland, it was announced that 51 Voitures had aided 770,086 children with a total Child Welfare expenditure value of $2,690,296.
The Charles W. Ardery Child Welfare Trust Fund granted over $400,000. The trust’s growth was attributed in part to a 50 cent assessment for Child Welfare in members’ annual dues.
The Ardery Trust Fund presented a $10,000 grant to the University of Kentucky for research into Cystic Fibrosis. A $4,363 grant was made to the University of Illinois for research into the causes of Childhood Diabetes. Total Ardery trust expenditures for the year were over $37,000.
The Forty & Eight, by a vote of 1,280 to 467, amended its constitution to prohibit any Voiture from restricting its membership by race.
A nationwide gas shortage made it difficult for many to travel to the proposed 55th Promenade National in Anaheim, California. The Promenade site was changed to St. Louis, Missouri.
A Child Welfare grant of $10,000 was made to the University of Wisconsin for Juvenile Diabetes research. The Nurses Training program reported 2,475 nurses received financial help, with $291,000 spent on nursing grants.
The Forty & Eight established the George Boland Nurses Training Trust Fund, with a $100,000 start up grant, in honor of Nebraska’s George B. Boland, who had served as Chef de Chemin de Fer in 1952 and as Avocat National (national attorney) for many years.
The Forty & Eight established the Outstanding Law Officer of the Year award program. John C. Wodetzki, Chief of Police of Lincoln, Illinois, was selected as the first recipient of the award.
1978 – 1979
The Charles W. Ardery Child Welfare Trust Fund grated $15,600 to the National Jewish Hospital in Denver to purchase special medical equipment. A second grant of $10,000 was made to Children’s Hospital of St. Petersburg, Florida for Newborn Intensive Care Unit equipment. $16,600 was granted to Saint Jude Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, to purchase a new spectrophotometer. $6,329,276 was reported expended in money, materials, mileage and man hours throughout the Forty & Eight for the Child Welfare program.
Voyageurs contributed a total of 6,481 pints of blood. The Carville Star program had 100 percent participation and contributions exceeded $93,000.
The Forty & Eight began its partnership in the Veterans Administration Voluntary Service program. By 1985, Voyageurs were participating in 230 medical facilities serving veterans.
The Forty & Eight adopted, as a Child Welfare subsidiary program, AAU/USA Junior Olympics.
The Forty & Eight revised its Preamble to reflect its charitable, non-profit nature. — ”For God and country we associate ourselves together for the following purposes: To create a charitable and non-profit veterans organization; to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America; to assist and promote the welfare and well-being of those who served in the Armed Forces of the United States, during all wars and conflicts, recognized the Congress of the United States, and their widows and orphans; to participate in all memorial services for and to be part in and to encourage others to participate in the proper observance of all days honoring veterans’ to preserve the memories of our Services in the Armed Forces of our Country; to actively participate within our membership in projects relating to (a) the welfare of the children of America; (b) the health of our Nation by fostering a nurses training program; and (c) selected charitable endeavors.”
In response to hurricanes in Florida, the Forty & Eight responded with donations of clothing, household goods and medical supplies. In Florida City alone, 255 children were provided food vouchers, clothing and household goods and $11,000 was granted to needy families. Relief teams of Voyageurs traveled into disaster areas to distribute clothing and supplies. In Hawaii, where a hurricane had come ashore on Kauai, the Ardery Trust assisted 80 children.
The Forty & Eight’s Flags for First Graders program is found to be popular among Voyageurs who conduct flag education programs in elementary schools. The program is responsible for educating thousands of American youth in the flag history, respect and protocol.
Additional to it conducting its many ongoing charitable program efforts, the Forty & Eight assisted victims of natural disasters in Michigan and Missouri. $30,000 in aid was given to families of children in flooded areas. A $3,070 grant was given to the Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Children’s Home. Voyageurs of Washington state were applauded for contributing in excess of $150,000 annually (since 1985) to charitable projects in their community.
This year marked both the 100th year founding of the Gillis W. Long Hanson’s Disease Center (leprosy research) in Carville, Louisiana, and the 50th anniversary of the Forty & Eight’s sponsorship of the patient-published Carville “Star” Magazine.
The Forty & Eight established a national Youth Sports program, to encompass and expand beyond the narrower scope of the existing Junior Olympics program.
The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon occurred one day before the Forty & Eight Promenade Nationale was scheduled to begin in Hagerstown, Maryland, not far from Camp David. Terrorists crashed a civilian airliner just north of town. Voyageurs already at Hagerstown were briefly isolated by security forces. Many Voyageurs and spouses were stranded at airports, some were mid-air during the attacks, and several found it impossible to reach Hagerstown. The organization voted total support for America in its war on terror.
The Forty & Eight immediately began around-the-clock delivery of relief goods to New York and Washington, D.C. 215 tons of relief goods valuing $881,000 were reported delivered in the aftermath of the attacks. 11 trips by truck we made over 24 days to “ground zero” in NYC.
Women veterans become eligible to join the Forty & Eight. Like their male counterparts, women too must be members of the American Legion and be invited to join the Forty & Eight.
The debate on this issue was between honoring the all-male battle past that created the founders of this organization and honoring today’s male-and-female battle veterans who are America’s modern military. It was decided that the best way to honor the past, is by honoring the male and female battle veterans who are American’s future.
The Promenade National brought a major change to the Constitution of La Societe. You no longer have to belong to the American Legion to join La Societe. With two-thirds of the members at the National Promenade in Orlando, Florida voting yes to remove the requirement it opens up our membership to any honorably discharged veteran or anyone on active duty. It is still by invitation only. How this will change La Societe only time will tell.