Early history of the VFW in Etowah County Part 1

By Danny 'The Vagabond' CrownoverBy Danny 'The Vagabond' Crownover

The Etowah Historical Society recently received a book from Tom Robertson that he had picked up in a local yard sale. The book was titled Veterans of Foreign Wars, Alabama 50th year anniversary, 1899-1949. It contains the history of the VFW, in Alabama especially here in Etowah County. The Vagabond wishes to share this article and rare photos to our reader:

The VFW traces its roots back to 1899, when veterans of the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902) founded local organizations to secure rights and benefits for their service. Many soldiers arrived home wounded or sick. There was no medical care or veterans’ pension, and many were left to care for themselves.

In their misery, some of these veterans banded to-gether and formed organizations with what would become known as the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. After chapters were formed in Ohio, Colorado and Pennsylvania, the movement quickly gained momentum. By 1915, membership grew to 5,000; by 1936, membership was almost 200,000.

Since then, the VFW’s voice had been instrumental in establishing the Veterans Administration, creating a GI bill for the 20th century, the development of the national cemetery system and the fight for compensation for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange and for veterans diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome.

In 2008, the VFW won a long-fought victory with the passing of a GI Bill for the 21st Century, giving expanded educational benefits to America’s active-duty service members, and members of the National Guard and Reserves, fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When the Districts in the Department of Alabama were organized, Riley L. Hamby of Gadsden was elected as Commander for District No. 2. He was very instrumental in aiding in the work of the District. At Hamby’s resignation, Thomas B. Dean was elected district commander. Dean was very instrumental in helping the VFW Post in Centre win state awards for increasing its membership over the previous year. During his term of office as district commander, Comrade Dean was appointed Aide-de-Camp to the Commander-in-Chief.

The organizing of the Whorton-Dykes Post No. 2760 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Gadsden was begun under the distinct leadership of the late John P. (Shorty) Reynolds. Upon his foresight and other 46 recommendations, Reynolds contacted John T. Cunningham in an effort to have someone locally to aid him in the groundwork of organizing a new VFW Post. Commander Cunningham was by no means alone in his efforts. He was ably assisted by Robert Erwin, Wallace Barton, Ernest E. Parker, Riley L. Hamby, E. G. Smith, Thomas Alford, Carl Martin, Carl H. Griffin and Julius R. Turner.

After much deliberation of approximately a month and a half, a date was set for June 4, 1945, at which time the instituting officers from the Anniston Post would meet to institute the officers and the post.

At this meeting, Gordon B. Moore and W. G. Mange from Anniston met in the Etowah County Courthouse for their first formal meeting. A name was selected for the post, at which time it was decided that it would take the name of Whorton-Dykes. This name was devised from two of the local service men made the supreme sacrifice. These men had been killed in action in the European and Asiatic Theater of operations, respectively.

Each man having served in different branches of the service made the name even more appropriate, as the soldiers had served in the Army and Marines respectively. Their given names being James made this post’s name still more appropriate.

The first commander of the post was John T. Cunningham. The post progressed under his leadership, and after three months it was found that the charter included sixty members, a good start for any post.

In September 1945, the post was visited by Department Senior Vice-Commander Henry C. Wood and Department Junior Vice-Commander George D. Kelley, which was a shot in the arm. In November 1945, little booklets issued by National Headquarters, “How Sleep the Brave,” were presented to each Gold Star Mother. During the first year of the post, the membership ran to almost five hundred.

At the March election, Riley L. Hamby was elected commander for 1946-47.

Installation was held by Department Junior Vice-Commander George D. Kelley. During Commander Hamby’s administration, the post purchased a Memorial Home at a cost of more than ten thousand dollars.

At the election in 1947, C. D. Tommie was elected commander, who shortly after his installation secured a portable iron lung through public subscription. This iron lung was placed with the fire department of the city for the use of the general public in case of emergency.

Commander Tommie retired the debt of over five thousand dollars on the post’s home and equipped the home with furniture, radio, office supplies and other equipment. The next project carried out under Commander Tommie’s leadership was the V. F. W. welcome sign on the highway leading to Gadsden.

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