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A Short History of the Military Order of Foreign Wars of the United States



An Order is defined as: "a society of persons united by some common rule of obligation or honorary distinction."  The term originated from the monastic military religious orders that were founded in the Holy Land to protect traveling Christian pilgrims.  The Knights Hospitallers, Knights Templars, and Teutonic Knights served with great bravery during the second and third Crusades.  During the Middle Ages, the kings of Europe created royal orders, of limited membership, which were given by virtue of birth to members of the immediate royal family and as a highly valued special distinction to members of the court nobility for many years of loyal, devoted service. By the eighteenth century, additional orders were created by royal rulers of the emerging nation-states. 


In the early 1890s, it was perceived that there was a need for a military order composed of veteran/hereditary members with patriotic objectives that would preserve the history and deeds of those Army and Navy officers who participated in each of the foreign wars since national independence.


A group of distinguished patriots assembled in the office of the Honorable Frank M. Avery, in the Tribune Building, New York City, on December 27, 1894 and organized the "Military and Naval Order of the United States."  The 20 Charter Members who signed the institution were a mixture of Veteran and Hereditary (Representative) descendants of officers who fought in the War of the Revolution, War of 1812, War with Tripoli, and Mexican War. Until 1896 membership categories were limited to Veteran and Hereditary Companions.


On April 15, 1895, the name of the Order was officially changed to the "Military Order of Foreign Wars of the United States."  In 1896 the membership category of Honorary Companion was created and President William McKinley, ADM George Dewey, then LT John Pershing and ADM John Wooten (of Monitor fame) were among the first of them.


The War and Navy Departments and later the Department of Defense, under various resolutions of Congress, gave recognition to the Order and permitted the wearing of insignia on uniforms.


Over time other Commanderies were established in many states and a National Commandery was founded in March 1896 to centralize and coordinate activities. In 1928 a fourth membership category was created, that of Junior Companion.


The Rhode Island Commandery was instituted on 28 February 1900 in Providence. The first Commander was RADM Steven Luce USN, a veteran of the Civil War and founder of the U.S. Naval War College. Many of the original members were veterans of the Spanish American War and, as time marched on, of every war since. In 1969 Companionship was extended to Veterans and their descendants who served during a foreign war or expedition.