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History of the Sons of Spanish American War Veterans

Most major wars are fought by the young, this was especially true of the American Wars of the nineteenth century. A majority of the soldiers in the American Civil War (1861 to 1865) were under 20 years of age. The same is true of the Spanish American War, the Philippine Insurrection, and the China Relief Expedition. After these wars, the young men returned home to marry, have children and form fraternal societies. Many of the children of members of the “United Spanish War Veterans” were born in the first two decades of the Twentieth Century. Auxiliaries of most veteran societies usually begin with the wives and mothers of these men. Auxiliaries containing children of veterans usually begin about 15 years after the end of a conflict. The Sons of Veterans, an auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic, did not begin to organize until 1878, thirteen years after the conflict ended. The sons of Civil War veterans had one major advantage over the sons of Spanish American War Veterans. There were no major wars for thirty-three years after the end of the Civil War.

The Sons of the veterans of the Wars fought from 1898 to 1902 began forming drum corps for the USWV camps around 1914. In 1914, the April 14th issue of the ‘Spanish War Review,’ the national newsletter of the USWV, announced that Camp McKinley No. 1, Sons of the United Spanish War Veterans, of San Francisco, California, had been organized. The camp was limited to sons of the USWV five years of age and over. Fifty-three members were listed on their charter. Unfortunately, all camp officers listed turned out to be members of a local USWV camp and fathers of some of the boys. It was touted as the first organization of its kind. “The Veterans intend uniforming and drilling the young hopefuls and have them organize their own band.” The Scott Young Post, USWV, of Portland, Oregon, organized a similar band. While attending the 1914 National Encampment in Louisville, Kentucky, the Oregon camp handed out postcards depicting their band marching at a local parade. Sons’ bands became very popular for the next twenty years, marching with their fathers in local parades.

The Drum Corps of the Sons of United Spanish War Veterans of Portland, Oregon, ca. 1914.

The onset of the First World War (1917 to 1918) brought a wave of enlistments of America’s young men, many of whom were the sons of Spanish American War veterans. When they returned home these soldiers joined organizations like the American Legion or the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The VFW had begun as a Spanish American War Veterans society, but decided to open its membership to World War I Veterans following that conflict. The USWV did not follow suit, but doomed itself to a finite existence. By doing so, the men of ’98 lost the chance to incorporate their own sons into their organization and perpetuate their organization long after the last veteran’s death.

The momentum of creating a Sons organization was lost and little is heard of a Sons’ auxiliary until the 1922 National Encampment in Los Angeles, California. By resolution of the Encampment it “recommended that the matter be referred to the incoming administration.” Regrettably, the incoming Commander-in-Chief, Antonio P. Entenza, did not form a committee until May 20th, 1923, near the end of his term. General Order No. 6 of that date stated: “To carry out the expressed wish of enactment No. 4, as submitted to the last national encampment and referred to the incoming administration, the following committee is appointed to outline the auxiliary organization to be known as the Junior Order of the USWV, or other suitable name, to report same to the 25th National Encampment for consideration…”

The committee reported back to the Commander-in-Chief, who then referred it to the National Legislative Committee. After all of this, the Commander-in-Chief’s statement to the 1923 National Encampment was that the USWV “was favorable to the proposition in substance.” During the period between these national encampments, it was reported that several applications had been received to charter Sons’ camps, however, those fees and applications were held by the National Headquarters for “future action.” After much favorable consideration, the encampment approved resolution No. 91 that directed the Commander-in-Chief to create yet another committee to “effect and put into operation the Sons of Spanish American War Veterans theretofore legally authorized.” The resolution directed the committee to create by-laws and rules & regulations to govern the new organization. Soon after their appointment, two of the three committee members resigned, leaving the entire project to be carried on by a single member, Committee Chairman Edward M. White of Illinois.

At the 1924 National Encampment, Chairman White reported “the work to be undertaken, by the said committee, was of such greater import and required much more time and labor than was afforded.” As such, the committee’s work was extended until the next encampment in 1925 and new members were added.

In 1925, the committee submitted by-laws and rules & regulations for the government of the “Sons of Spanish American War Veterans.” The report listed ten articles, many of which mirrored the rules & regulations of the parent organization. One potential problem was that 20 departments of at least 10 camps would be needed to form a national organization. Another point had the initiation fee be $5 for a camp charter member and $7.50 for members mustering after the camp charter period. These fees would be considered steep for the period. The committee’s report was adopted unanimously without discussion.

No mention of the Sons’ organization is mentioned in the 1926 National Encampment proceedings. The Commander-in-Chief, Carmi A. Thompson, was selected by President Calvin Coolidge to make a fact-finding tour of the Philippines as his personal representative. He left in June and was still on tour during the 1926 encampment.

Col. Rice W. Means

Finally, in 1927, a camp of the Sons of Spanish American War Veterans was formed. On June 16th, 1927, the Rice W. Means Camp No. 1 of New York City, New York, was formerly installed. Unfortunately, this would be the last camp installed until September of 1929. In 1923 the USWV had announced a number of applications with fees were received for Sons’ camps charters. Why had only one camp been chartered between 1927 and the fall of 1929. Was the 1923 statement a ruse? During the 1928 National Encampment in Cuba, a telegram wishing success was received from the “Sergeant Joseph Reuttger Camp of the Sons of Spanish War Veterans,” which ended with the haunting “Remember us to convention.” No such camp was ever chartered and no mention of its location was ever given. Cash Receipts for that year showed $10 for Charter Fees for Sons of Veterans. A second mystery Sons’ camp appears in resolution No. 24. The by-laws of the USWV only permitted one Sons’ camp to a city. This resolution proposed that five such camps be allowed for New York City. The resolution specifically names the General Nelson A. Miles Camp of the Sons of Spanish War Veterans in the Bronx. The camp is mentioned twice in the resolution and both times is followed by “(Inc)”. The camp was never chartered although an unnamed Bronx Camp (No. 67) was chartered a few years later. Had it incorporated itself as an independent body?

In the fall of 1929 two more camps were chartered in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Los Angeles, California. Unfortunately between the births of these two camps, the United States stock market crashed, initiating a worldwide depression. The 1929 National Encampment “Proceedings” made no mention of the Sons, except for charter receipts.

By the 1930 encampment, two more New York camps had formed. The parent organization expressed optimism, but it was probably not happy with the progress of the junior order. The USWV did create and had copyrighted a Sons’ membership badge and lapel button. The copyright was in the name of the United Spanish War Veterans, but this was done to protect these designs until the Sons could form a national organization. At that point, the copyrights would be assigned to the Sons. An enactment was presented by the Department of Ohio on behalf of the Cleveland Camp of Sons of Spanish War Veterans. The enactment proposed that all fees be dropped to a minimum. The enactment would reduce Sons’ charter fees from $20 to $10; initiation fees from $5 and $7.50 to $1.50; and department charter fees from $50 to $25. The camp complained that the “fees were placed so high as to make it prohibitive to many.” The committee disagreed stating “that not sufficient time has elapsed to warrant any change in the charter fees selected at that time.” The committee further stated, “our sons should have money enough when they start an order that they will be able to pay their bills and go along without becoming dependent on us.”

Six more camps were chartered in 1931 bringing the total to twelve including the aforementioned Cleveland camp. There was yet another enactment proposed, this time by the Department of Florida, which would reduce not only the fees but dues as well. The committee again denied the enactment with the following reply: “Most of the boys of Spanish War Veterans are not now children, but grown men. If such organizations are desired, they should not be cheapened by reducing the fees as now fixed.” It’s interesting that the committee addressed the Sons as “boys” but judged them “grown men.”

By the Milwaukee encampment of 1932, the report of the Quartermaster General showed that the number of Sons’ camps had swelled to sixteen in ten states. He suggested that USWV camps should be motivated to help create new Sons’ camps. He was disappointed that no Sons’ departments had been organized, but he hoped for “developments along this line in the near future.” He also suggested that the incoming administration create a committee to draft rituals and a book of ceremonies for the junior organization. During the opening speeches, a member of the newest Sons’ camp from Minneapolis addressed the encampment. Brother Wallace Schubert pleaded with the veterans for their support by “causing your sons to enroll and form … camps.” He predicted that the Sons would reach 100 camps by Christmas. He was off by 5 years.

In 1933 the National Encampment was held in Los Angeles, California. The Sons’ camps had doubled to thirty-two and three departments had been organized in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. The eligibility for a national charter had been dropped to ten departments of five camps each. Probably as a reaction to the heavy-handed attempt of the enactment committees of the previous two years to enforce high fees on the Sons, Judge Advocate General A.F.W. Siebel rendered two opinions directly affecting the relationship between the USWV and the SSAWV.

The first opinion stated that the USWV “has no authority to legislate and adopting rules and regulations for them (SSAWV) is an act of courtesy and of no binding force.” The second opinion echoes much of the rhetoric of the first opinion. The “USWV has no constitutional authority to legislate for, and their act in submitting a constitution to us for approval is an act of courtesy and they are not obligated to abide by the provisions thereof.” In effect, the SSAWV is a separate entity and the USWV cannot force the SSAWV or any other organization to accept governmental tools that the USWV had enacted for the SSAWV. In the rest of the second opinion, the Judge Advocate General criticizes the constitution of the SSAWV, pointing out flaws in logic and common law errors and finishes with “are not recommended.”

By the 1934 encampment in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, nineteen new Sons’ camps had been chartered, but no new departments had been created. The Quartermaster General in his annual report urged the USWV camps with Sons’ camps attached should council their sons “to keep active and not become delinquent.” Evidently, financial concerns had become a concern. During the period between encampments, a USWV committee had created a ritual for the Sons, printing and distributing these books to the Sons’ camps. It was also suggested by the Commander-in-Chief that USWV camps could lead Sons’ camps “to take an interest in patriotic and civic activities.” His opening speech went on to say, “We want our sons and grandsons to be as loyal, as patriotic, and as interested in those things which will devolve to the public welfare, as we have been.” Another enactment presented by the Sons requested that half of the per capita tax of fifty cents per member, which was currently being sent directly to the USWV National Headquarters, be retained by the department. They also asked that there be no increase in the tax. The Auxiliary announced that a junior auxiliary named the “Daughters of ‘98” had begun to organize and ten forts had been chartered. One of their objects was to cooperate with the Sons of Spanish American War Veterans.

The Sons again chartered nineteen new camps before the 1935 encampment at San Antonio, Texas. The number of camps now numbered 70. There were a number of messages of encouragement, but not much more of any substance at this encampment. An enactment was adopted that encouraged and supported the Sons’ organization. It also urged, “That rules and regulations and rituals for its government be prepared and promulgated without delay.” The enactment did not specify who would create these regulations.

The 1936 encampment would be a pivotal period in the history of the Sons. Three sons addressed the encampment during the first business session and a number of Sons were allowed to parade through the encampment so the veterans could see them up close. During the year, another Department (Wisconsin) had formed and Camp No. 90 was installed just before the encampment. Unfortunately, ten camps had disbanded and thirty were delinquent. It was announced that a number of states were close to forming a department. The number of departments needed to charter a national organization had dropped to five.

At this time, the USWV decided that their constitution had to be amended to allow “affiliated membership.” To amend the USWV constitution, an enactment had to be presented before two consecutive encampments and approved on both votes. Even if the Sons had raised five departments, there would be no charter for the SSAWV in 1936. During the first business session of the encampment, Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief Scott Leavitt of Montana rose to present a resolution provisionally recognizing the Sons. The resolution would also present for approval the rules and regulations for the new junior organization. As SVCIC Leavitt began to read the Sons’ new regulations, he was interrupted and asked to summarize the document, which was eight pages long. Another comrade, Past Department Commander Siegel of Illinois rose and asked that the motion be adopted without reading, as the resolution committee had already approved of the document. The motion was carried unanimously. A copy of the resolution with the new rules and regulations was printed in its entirety in the encampment “Proceedings.”

The next day, Past Commander-in-Chief William H. Armstrong spoke to the encampment giving a synopsis of the Sons’ rules and regulations that had been approved the previous day. It was not until he spoke of the financial changes that he started to receive negative feedback. The Sons had changed the camp charter fee to $5; the muster-in fee to $2; the department charter fee to $10; and $25 for a national organization charter. Fees that had been collected by the USWV would go into a special fund to be used only by the SSAWV. A delegate from New York queried PCIC Armstrong if any funds for the Sons would come from the USWV. Armstrong replied, “… during this temporary period … if the receipts are not sufficient … the commander in chief shall have the right … to appropriate … and carry any deficit that may exist.” The New York delegate, Paul Stobbe became quite irritated by the answer and launched into a heated reply that the sons had been organizing for 14 years “and we are still organizing the sons, and we are asked to support them….I do not think that we should be asked continually to support the sons.” Comrade Stobbe went on for some time venting against supporting the sons before Commander-in-Chief Cain interrupted him. Soon after his installation, CIC Scott Leavitt appointed PCIC William H. Armstrong, the Sons’ Administrator. The position would be to advise the Sons on their final steps toward organization.

Although the Sons failed to charter a National Organization at the time, the junior affiliate of the Auxiliary had no such problems. The Auxiliary chartered a National Organization for the Daughters of ’98. By 1936, the Daughters had only chartered 25 Forts (D’98 local unit designation) in 14 states. The Auxiliary did not hold the Daughters to the high standard that the USWV had given the Sons. In 1936, the Auxiliary granted a National Charter to the Daughters of ’98. The 1936 USWV National Encampment was the first for the Daughters of ’98.

Melvin R. Benisch, 1st National President of the SSAWV

In the fall of 1937 the SSAWV formed the Department of California; thereby reaching the goal of five departments that was needed to create a national organization. Camp No. 99 was instituted before the encampment, but one more camp was disbanded and twenty-five camps were delinquent. During the morning business session of the 39th National Encampment of the USWV, PCIC Armstrong spoke of the achievements of the Sons in the past year and their reaching of their goal of five functioning state departments. He introduced the newly elected National Officers of the SSAWV to the encampment. He then made a motion that the delegates of the encampment approve the enactment that would allow “affiliated members” in the USWV. This was the last obstacle needed to the formation of a self-governing, Sons of Spanish-American War Veterans. The motion was approved, although not unanimously. After the vote, the Sons first National President, Brother Melvin R. Benisch, addressed the encampment. It had taken fifteen years, but the dream of a male auxiliary made up of sons, grandsons, etc., had been achieved. An attempt was made to pass a resolution to allow Sons to attend meetings of camps of the USWV. It was disapproved at the committee level. The final resolution (No. 15) of the encampment read, “That an affiliate organization, composed of affiliate membership, to be known as the Sons of Spanish-American War Veterans…is authorized and created.… The present organization of the Sons of Spanish-American War … is hereby recognized, approved and ratified as such affiliate organization.”

The SSAWV met in Portland, Oregon for its second National Convention in 1938. The Sons’ delegates registered and held their meetings on the USS Oregon, which had been turned over to the State of Oregon and had been made into a museum. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a telegram to the encampment that ended, “As your patriotic endeavors have been greatly aided in the past by your excellent Women’s Auxiliary, so may you take comfort in believing that they will be perpetuated by the Sons of Spanish-American War Veterans.” Even the President had acknowledged the Sons as the heirs of the USWV. Seventeen new camps and three new departments (Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) had been formed during the previous year. Sons’ President M.R. Benisch gave a speech at the opening of the encampment where he offered the aid and assistance of the Sons to the officers and members of the USWV. The new national officers had already been elected and where announced by President Benisch. Brother William C. Stieger of Brooklyn, New York, had been elected as the new National President of the Sons.

1939 Dept. of NY Sons of USWV Convention

At the next National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in September of 1939, the Sons elected Brother Edward J. Kilmartin of Oakland, California, the third National President. Sixteen new camps and one department (Connecticut) had formed. Fifteen camps were in the process of reorganizing. For the first time, the reports of Sons’ National Officers were published in the “Proceedings” of the USWV. Some years before, the USWV had given the Sons, office supplies, which were to be reimbursed. The $857 debt was forgiven by the USWV in 1939. Much of the reports dealt with the process of creating a new national organization. Regalia (buttons, cap hat pins, membership badges, lapel buttons, watch fobs, ritual books, etc.) seemed to be the biggest problem. The USWV had yet to assign the design copyrights to the SSAWV membership badge and lapel button. The outgoing president, William Stieger, suggested many changes to the by-laws and rules and regulations in his report.

The 1940 National Convention was held in Detroit, Michigan, from August 18th to 22nd. The Sons elected Brother Edward G. Siegrist as the National President. The Sons participated in the Memorial Service with President Kilmartin speaking and laying a wreath of flowers at the foot of the USWV cross. The National Officer reports were again included in the “Proceedings,” minus the National President’s report. The rest of the reports read like a travelogue, listing their visitations. The Senior Vice President listed visiting Lehigh Camp No. 137 for its installation, but no other camp additions or deletions are mentioned.

In 1941, the National Convention was held in Omaha, Nebraska. The Sons elected Brother John H. Ebbe as the National President. There were no officer reports in this year’s “Proceedings.” Other than greetings and endorsements, little of the Sons activities for the previous years are mentioned. The country was a few months away from entering the Second World War and the thoughts of young men were probably elsewhere.

At the 1942 encampment, President Ebbe addressed the Veterans of ’98. He mentioned that the Sons, at that time, had over 150 camps, but “due to the troubles in these times, over half are finding that they are unable to hold meetings.” Enlistments in the armed forces would devastate the Sons’ membership during World War II. Addressing this subject, Ebbe continued, “We are asking you comrades, in this time of war, to see that any camp material is kept intact by you or the Auxiliary…When the time comes that this war is over, we want to know where it is, so that there may once again be camps of Sons.” Ebbe’s successor, Brother William J. Cullinan of Dorchester, Massachusetts told the audience of a Sons’ resolution, voted and approved that day. “… if any comrade here has any sons whatsoever in the service who are not attached to any Sons’ camp, if he will forward their names…we will take them in as paid-up members during the course of the war and six months afterward.” President Cullinan then introduced the Sons’ National Officers.

Through the war years, the Sons tried desperately to hold onto their organization. The massive requirements for young men to fight this war left the few older Sons to hold the fort until after the war. The focus of the USWV had moved away from the Sons to resolutions on national defense and un-American activities. In 1945, due to the war regulations, the Sons weren’t even allowed to attend the USWV National Encampment. The Sons’ Convention for 1945 was held in Peoria, Illinois. The Sons did send a telegram to the 1945 USWV National Encampment with two resolutions. The first resolution asked that the USWV institute a companion organization to the Sons to be known as the “Daughters of the Spanish-American War Veterans.” The second resolution asked the USWV to petition Congress that “facilities be provided public hospital for Spanish-American War Veterans where veterans’ hospitals not available.” The USWV ignored both requests.

After the war, the boys came home but they did not rush to return to the Sons’ organization. Many joined the larger multi-war organizations, like the VFW and the American Legion. A few camps were instituted in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, but membership went into a steep decline.

National Charter of the SSAWV

Finally a charter was issued, at the 64th National Encampment, United Spanish War Veterans in convention assembled at Peoria, llinois, September 9-13, 1962 and by authority of same did mandate by Enactment No. 11, as follows: “Now Therefore Be It Enacted that the National Organization, United Spanish War Veterans issue a charter to the National Organization, Sons of Spanish-American War Veterans similiar to that issued to the National Auxiliary, United Spanish War Veterans in 1904”, signed and sealed January 26th, 1963 at National Headquarters, Washington, D.C. by Commander-in-Chief Morris G. Osterreich and attested by James McElroy, Adjutant General of the United Spanish War Veterans.

During the last few years of the United Spanish War Veterans’ existence, the Sons’ took “acting” officer positions in the USWV. The Sons’ ran the USWV National Encampments as well as their own. The last Comrade of the USWV died on September 10th, 1992 (Nathan E. Cook, United States Navy). The USWV National Encampments were held from 1992 to 1998 without any living members, the SSAWV “Acting” Officers assuming the roles of the veterans of ’98. In 1998, the Veterans Administration, owners of the USWV National Headquarters in DC, evicted the Sons. All Veteran records and memorabilia were shipped off to the National Archives or other locations throughout the country. At this time there were only two camps. The members were growing old. Many of the members were “Members at Large.” Renewed interest in the Sons has occurred in the last few years with a number of camps being instituted. An injection of younger members has once again brought the SSAWV back from the edge. Hopefully, this renewed interest in the Sons will lead to a brighter future for the organization.

History of the Sons of Spanish American War Veterans
By National Historian George G. Kane