In times of war and international conflict, the Elks have made considerable contributions to the nation’s armed forces. The Elks consider their work done to aid in the defense of the nation as one of their proudest and most lasting achievements. That Elks hold veterans and active military in high esteem is evident by their actions.
World War I
In 1917 the world was at war. Through the Elks' patriotism and generosity, $2 million was raised to assist U.S. soldiers. The Elks organized and equipped the first two base hospitals in France, and to accommodate the maimed and wounded, they built a 700 bed Reconstruction Hospital and gave it to the War Department in 1918. This hospital was the forerunner of today’s VA Medical Centers.
Following the war’s end, the Elks made 40,000 rehabilitation, vocational, and educational loans to disabled veterans who were ineligible for government help or who were waiting approval of their applications. This service was so effective that the government followed the Elks’ example and established a revolving fund that was the precursor of the G.I. bill.
More than 70,000 Elks served in the armed forces during World War I. More than 1,000 made the supreme sacrifice.
World War II
In 1940, it was becoming quite apparent that war was quickly approaching our shores. Right after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Grand Lodge sent a telegram to President Roosevelt placing the Order of Elks at the nation’s disposal.
The Elks War Commission was formed in 1942 with an initial war chest of $35,000. The United States Army asked the War Commission to help recruit 45,000 young men for the ground crews of the Army Air Corps. The commission, with the help of the local Lodges, recruited 97,000 men. By the time hostilities ceased, the Grand Lodge had spent more than $1.5 million and local Lodges spent hundreds of thousands of dollars providing assistance to our men and women in uniform.
When thousands of wounded and disabled members of the Armed Forces were returned to the States for recuperation at government hospitals, the Elks again stepped forward offering their services. It was through this work with hospitalized veterans that today’s pledge had its genesis: “So long as there are veterans, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks will never forget them.”
For returning servicemen still stationed far from home, the Elks sponsored 155 Elks fraternal centers across the country where GIs were invited to relax, socialize, and enjoy the hospitality of the Elks. For those serving overseas, the Elks prepared and sent care packages containing candy, personal grooming supplies, and other comforting items.
Korea and Vietnam
When war broke out in Korea in 1950, the Elks responded by sending gift packs to those serving their country as they had done in World War II. In 1951, the Secretary of Defense appealed to the Elks for help in procuring blood for the wounded. Within a few months, Elks Lodges obtained more than half a million pints.
During the Vietnam War, the Defense Department was concerned with the morale of our 400,000 troops because of the anti-American sentiments being reported on the home front. The Elks answered the call and flooded our troops with letters expressing our gratitude for the sacrifices they were making for our country.
When the Elks National Service Commission learned that wounded veterans from Vietnam were sweltering in Tripler Army Medical Center that lacked air conditioning, they provided air conditioning units so that these military personnel might recover in relative comfort.
Operation Desert Storm and Beyond
As in previous conflicts, the Elks stood ready to aid men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces when the Gulf War commenced. Once again, the Elks mounted a letter writing campaign to thank our troops for their dedicated service, and gift packs were provided as they had been in the past.
At the close of the Gulf War, many Elks Lodges made arrangements to host ceremonies honoring our returning military from the conflict in the Middle East, making the Elks one of the first organizations to formally welcome them home.
During the 2003 war with Iraq, the Elks once again stepped forward. In addition to helping families of deceased and disabled military, Our Army of Hope assisted families suffering financial distress caused by their primary Military Reserve and National Guard breadwinner being deployed to active duty.