Selected excerpts from the book, “Military Order of Foreign Wars – History of the First Hundred Years, 1894-1994” by Captain Ronald E. Fischer, AUS, that is available for purchase through our Quartermaster.
The Military Order of Foreign Wars (MOFW) is one of the oldest quasi-military organizations in the United States of America. It has a distinguished history that dates from its institution on 27 December 1894. The Order is known for its patriotic and social objectives. Its hereditary line of descent spans the period of American history since national independence. The membership of the Order has included presidents, members of the cabinet and the Congress, and distinguished military leaders including some of their lineal descendants. Companionship is conferred only upon commissioned and warrant officers of the Armed Forces of the United States, its allies, and their lineal descendants who have served in or during foreign wars of the United States.
Purpose — The Order has been instituted to honor and perpetuate the names of brave and loyal men and women; to keep in mind the memory of their martial deeds and the victories which they helped to gain; to strengthen the ties of fellowship among the Companions of the Order; to foster the cultivation of military and naval science; to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, based upon a paramount respect for, and fidelity to, the National Constitution and laws; and to aid in maintaining national honor, union, and independence.
It is also a prime purpose of the Order to foster and encourage the study of American military history to the end that the memory of brave men and women may freely be enshrined and that we and our children may learn from the past to formulate sound policies for the present and future. This provides the Order with a concrete and tangible objective that will afford each Commandery a unique opportunity of bringing the significant features of our national military experiences to the attention of the thoughtful portions of their own communities.
Companionship — Companionship in the Order is conferred only on qualified, duly sponsored officers. Active military service in or during any of our foreign wars, campaigns, or military expeditions dating from the Revolutionary War to the Persian Gulf Conflict and any subsequent military expeditions will qualify an officer as a Veteran Companion, as will honorable service as a commissioned officer in the armed forces of our allies. Descent in the direct line from such an officer may also qualify an applicant for hereditary or junior companionship. All candidates for Companionship must be of good moral character and reputation and be so certified by the sponsoring Companion.
Qualified officers and descendants are invited to submit applications for Companionship to their State Commandery Registrar or the Registrar-General of the Order. As the oldest existing Order of commissioned officers, the Order is interested in outstanding officers who have served our nation well.
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 from the ravages of the Moslem hoards. The knights of each of these orders—the Knights Hospitallers, Knights Templars, and Teutonic Knights—dressed in common and wore a distinctive white, red, or black cross as a badge of rank while they 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. These were bestowed in various classes or degrees to reward distinctive civilian and military service to King and country.
In 1783, the American and French officers who served in the American Revolution created the Society of the Cincinnati. Membership in the society was recognized with a membership badge and diploma. As the original veterans died off it was perpetuated through hereditary membership. During the Mexican War, a group of United States Army and Navy officers occupying Mexico City founded an eating club. After they left Mexico, they formed the Aztec Club Society that would perpetuate the comradeship they started and it too became a hereditary society. The day after Lincoln was assassinated a group of Union officers in Philadelphia formed the Society of the Loyal legion to respond to any further attempt by the Confederacy to rise again. After the Civil War, a host of veteran and patriotic societies were created by the veterans of both sides. In the early 1890s, it was perceived that there was a need for a military order composed of veteran/hereditary members, with patriotic objects 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 30 distinguished patriots assembled in the office of the Honorable Frank M. Avery, in the Tribune Building, New York City, on December 27, 1894. An informal discussion as to the objects and purpose of the Order and the institution was duly read and considered. After due consideration, the group met again at the same location on January 10, 1895 where the institution was read and approved, retroactive to the original date, officially organizing the “Military and Naval Order of the United States.” The Constitution and By-Laws were ratified on January 19, 1895 in a similar manner. Efforts were to be made to later incorporate it under that name. Special election and mention was made of making Moses Cleveland of Dubuque, Iowa, Ensign Dyer Price of Belvedire, Boone County, Illinois, and Lieutenant Michael Moore, all, then living veterans of the War of 1812, who were declared Honorary Veteran Companions as part of its institution exempt from all fees and dues. 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.
On April 15, 1895, it was proposed and passed on 29 April 1895 that the name of the Order be officially changed to the “Military Order of Foreign Wars of the United States.” This was done in a spirit of cooperation and deference to the Order in the State of Massachusetts known as the Naval Order of the United States to prevent confusion. References to “The State of New York” were changed to “The New York Commandery.”
The first insignia of the Order was modeled from the Military Order of the Tower and Sword of Portugal, founded in 1459 by King Alfonso V after his conquest of Fez in Morocco. It was awarded through the Napoleonic Wars and revived in 1832 as an order in five classes for Civil and Military Merit. The first design of the society’s badge was described as a badge pendent suspended from a laurel wreath (moved to the top and eliminating the tower) and ring of gold suspended from a ribbon. The obverse: A red (representing war— changed from white) enameled star of eight points (instead of 5), each star point edged and divided by a line of gold; and between each two star points—rays of burnished gold, joined, and ending in a point; and in the center an (American) eagle of raised bearing in gold, the motto: “Deus et Libertas,” (God and Liberty) (changed from “Pelo Rei E Pela Lei” [For King and Law]) an anchor and crossed swords (representing the officers of the Navy and Army) upon a field of red. In 1898, the current badge for the Military Order of the United States was enlarged by suggestion of the Pennsylvania Commandery and the design slightly modified by increasing its size, removing the line of gold from each star point and changing the pointed effect of the 5 rays between each point of the star to individually pointed rays. The new badge was executed by Joseph T. Bailey of the Philadelphia firm of Bailey Banks & Biddle who applied for a patent of the design for a badge on January 27, 1899. The patent was approved as a specification forming part of Design No. 30,260 dated February 28, 1899 for a term of patent 14 years.
The original Ribbon of the Order was of watered silk, edge ribbed, 1 1/2 inches in width, the center color of buff, bordered on each side with blue and edged with red each respectively 1/8 of an inch. Veteran Companions could wear the Order on a neck ribbon while Hereditary Companions would wear the Order on a breast ribbon. In 1905, the Constitution was modified to provide for two Ribbons—Veterans with the addition of fifty-four one-hundredths red stripe in the center while the Hereditary members ribbon stayed the original ribbon. The veteran ribbon was illustrated in the Bailey Banks & Biddle advertisement in 1921 9th Triennial Convention Proceedings, but no badges have ever been encountered with this ribbon ether in museum displays or in photos of Veteran Companions wearing the badge of the Order. The concept of wearing the Order around the neck, was proposed to be limited to officers of the National and State Commanderies, but the Constitution was never changed. As a mark of distinction and honor, the original signers of the Constitution of the Order, December 27, 1894, could also wear the ribbon and rosette of a Veteran Companion.
By 1917, rectangular ribbon slide bars become available for Veterans to wear for the “WAR WITH SPAIN,” “CHINA RELIEF EXPEDITION,” “MEXICAN CAMPAIGN 1916,” “VERA CRUZ 1917,” “WAR WITH GERMANY” and later “WORLD WAR.” After World War II bars for “WORLD WAR I” and “WORLD WAR II” were created for wear by Veteran Companions.
In 1932, it was proposed that a red enamel and gold slide bar for “Past Commander-General,” and a gold slide bar for “Past Commander” for each of the state commanderies, be created. There was to be a space on the bottom for the engraving of the State, and a space in the middle for engraving the date of holding office. The “Past Commander” bar is still in use by State Commanderies but has been modified to be pierced in the center with the State and date engraved on the bottom part of the oval.