The World War Veterans organization officially claimed to have been organized just 9 days after the armistice, on Nov. 20, 1918 in Bois, France. Be that as it may, the group did file a formal certificate of incorporation in New York state on Feb. 13, 1919. The purposes of the corporation stated at that time included (1) To band together veterans of the World War who have served in any branch of the United States service; (2) To preserve the ideals for which these veterans served; and (3) To aid such veterans to secure adequate employment and to facilitate their return to civilian life.
The group sought sought "live wire, red blooded returned servicemen" in its ranks.
The WWV established a "Northwestern Division" prior to January 1919 at a meeting held in Minneapolis. Anyone having an honorable discharge from the US or Allied powers was eligible for membership.
Further articles of incorporation were filed in New York on Dec. 12, 1919 by merging the original World War Veterans with the Rank and File Association and the Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines Protective Association of New York into one organization.
The WWV does not seem to have had a constitution in its earliest phase, but was based around an organizational "preamble":
The World War Veterans are strictly non-partisan.
For the love of our country and humanity, we, returned Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines who served in the Entente Allies during the World War, 1914-1919, are uniting ourselves into one great fraternal organization for the mutual protection of our rights, advancements of interests, promotion of our welfare, for the fostering and aiding of our cordial, social, and fraternal relationship among our members. To secure forever the blessings of Liberty, equality, justice, and peace to ourselves and all our fellow citizens in the United States of America.
The slogan of the World War Veterans was: "The enforcement of the Constitution of the United States of America as it is written, and in the spirit of its founders."
The primary unit of the WWV was known as a "Post," consisting of 10 or more ex-service men. Charters were obtained from state headquarters for $5, and the Post was responsible for sending per capita dues of 10 cents each month to state headquarters. Individual ex-servicemen could join as "members at large" by sending in $1 to national headquarters, including a 25 cent initiation fee and 3 months dues at 25 cents per month.
From about January 1920, the group also had an Auxiliary which was open to the general public, open to anyone wishing to become a member who believed in "Enforcement of the Constitution of the United States as it is written."
The auxiliaries of the World War Veterans had three basic organizational rules: (1) No religious subjects must be discussed at meetings. (2) No political party will receive the endorsement of the group. (3) All speakers must confine their utterances within the limits as guaranteed by the constitution of the United States as it is written. All members of the regular WWV organization were to automatically be enrolled as members of the WWV Auxiliary, and the Auxiliaries were to meet on different nights than the regular WWV Post. Dues in the WWV Auxiliary were $1 per year.
[fn. "World War Veterans," summary memorandum of the Bureau of Investigation, March 10, 1921. In DoJ/BoI Investigative Files, NARA M-1085, reel 943, file 207238. And ibid. Agent reports, passim.]
1. Organizational Convention --- Minneapolis, MN --- March 31-April 1, 1921.
The March-April 1921 convention was attended by delegates representing 22 states.
In the first half of 1921, the national office of the World War Veterans was maintained at 505 Temple Court, Minneapolis, MN. Officers of the World War Veterans organization included:
National Chairman: Carl Calvin, Minneapolis.
National Secretary-Treasurer: Winfred G. Hedenberg, Minneapolis.
The World War Veterans also had an "Eastern Division Organizer," John M. Levitt of the Bridgeport Central labor Union, Bridgeport, CT.
2. First National Convention --- Chicago, IL --- July 1-4, 1921.
The July 1921 convention of the World War Veterans was attended by 48 delegates. The gathering was addressed by Raefel Mallen.
The convention elected the following officers of the organization:
National Chairman: Andrew J. Cooper, Minneapolis.
National Secretary-Treasurer: Emil Holmes, Minneapolis.
National Executive Committee: Carl Calvin (St. Paul, MN), Andrew J. Cooper (Minneapolis, MN), Emil Holmes, (Minneapolis, MN), J.M. Levitt (New York), J.H. McIntyre (Quincy, IL).
Delegates to International Convention of Former Combatants of the Great War: Emil Holmes, J.H. McIntyre.
The platform of the organization was reaffirmed by the convention.
The convention drew up plans for an active campaign of organization around all parts of the US and for working with labor unions to do away with future wars.
A number of resolutions were passed by the gathering. The "Open Shop" campaign was denounced, judges issuing anti-labor injunctions were condemned, the Ku Klux Klan and racist violence was condemned. The civil war against West Virginia miners was denounced and the Non-Partisan League's industrial program for North Dakota was endorsed. Resolutions were passed calling for freedom for Ireland and for the reopening of trade relations with Soviet Russia.
"Letter to Frank B. O'Connell, Department Adjutant, The American Legion, in Lincoln, Nebraska, from Harrison Fuller, Commander, Department of Minnesota, American Legion, in St. Paul, Minnesota, March 15, 1920." This letter from the head of the Minnesota American Legion in Minnesota to his counterpart in Nebraska provides information about the Minneapolis-based World War Veterans, a Left Wing ex-servicemen's organization formed in opposition to the ultra-nationalist and anti-organized labor American Legion. Fuller notes the great dissimilarity of organizational size between the American Legion's 60,000 member base and the World War Vets, who "in their most enthusiastic moments have claimed a membership of 3,000." Fuller says that the WWV's attempt to form posts around Minnesota has been ineffectual, and that the organizational meetings had by and large been organized by and featured speakers of the Non-Partisan League rather than the World War Vets itself. "Non-Partisan League members in various parts of the state have attempted to cram the WWV organization down the throats of servicemen," Fuller states. Fuller provides short biographies of three of the leaders of the World War Veterans: Lester P. Barlow (who "as nearly as I can determine, was never in the service" and was an adherent of the NPL and organized labor rather than a true representative of veterans' issues); Carl O. Parsons (who "belongs to a labor union and is a man of no presence and less education... merely a weak-kneed mouthpiece for Barlow"); and George H. Mallon (a Congressional Medal of Honor winner who was "a really big man in every sense of the word and is the only force which has held the organization together and kept it from running wild or falling to pieces"). "Our policy now is simply to ignore the World War Veterans completely, being polite to their members when we meet them, although it is hard to do this in the case of Barlow," Fuller notes. "Their organization draws its life blood from the spirit of unrest now permeating the ranks of labor and will last only so long as there is unrest," Fuller asserts.
"Circular Letter to Trade Union Locals from the National Executive Committee of the World War Veterans, circa Jan. 25, 1921." This widely circulated fundraising letter from the Left Wing ex-soldiers organization, the World War Veterans, gives new meaning to the term "doughboys." The WWV's efforts at Fort Dodge, Iowa against the open shop and in a Minneapolis counterdemonstrating against the Right Wing American Legion are played up, as is their intervention in Clinton, Iowa on behalf of a progressive city government. During the latter enterprise the macho toughguy WWV purportedly met American Legion force with force ("5 Vets cleaned up 11 bullies and cleaned 'em right") and turned out 500 supporters to canvas door to door, effectively winning the election. The circular asks organized labor to "Give us your 5 million labor men of America, put $100,000 into our hands or at our disposal, and we will organize the ex-doughboys of America into a combat organization that will save America from the economic, industrial, financial, and political anarchy into which you know as well as we do that she is drifting." The bottom line: "Whip your Central body into line and shoot us 250 bucks, a range for our organizers, and enjoy life again."
"Letter to Henry J. Ryan, National Director, Americanism Commission, the American Legion in Indianapolis, IN, from J. Edgar Hoover, Special Assistant to the Attorney General in Washington, DC, January 31, 1921." This short letter from J. Edgar Hoover to the head of the American Legion's "Americanism Commission" emphasizes the way that the ultra-nationalist organization of former soldiers worked hand-in-glove with the anti-radical contingent of the Justice Department. Hoover passes along the text of a bill proposed to congress in Nov. 1919 by Attorney General Mitchell Palmer as a "proposal in order that there might be something concrete to work upon" in the way of anti-radical legislation. "Of course, legislation dealing with sedition and criminal anarchy must be carefully drafted so that it may not infringe upon the rights of free speech and freedom of the press. However, it should always be born in mind that while freedom of speech is a liberty it is not a license and that it must be exercised within reasonable bounds," Hoover notes.
"World War Veterans in Fight on Fascism: Seek to Organize Ex-Soldiers to Prevent Use Against Workers," by Herbert A. Suman [Feb. 24, 1923] One organization which has been largely forgotten by history was the World War Veterans, a Minneapolis-based society of men who served in the American armed forces in the European War. The World War Veterans was organized to advance the special interests of ex-soldiers while standing in opposition to the rampant jingoism and quasi-fascist mob activities of the Right Wing American Legion. This article from the pages of the official organ of the Farmer-Labor Party of the United States announces a new campaign to stop the efforts of the American Legion leadership to transform that organization into a full-blown fascist paramilitary. The article quotes the Commander of the American Legion, Col. Alvin Owsley, as ominously stating: "the Legion would not hesitate to take things into its own hands -- fight the reds as the Fascisti of Italy fought them. Do not forget that the Fascisti of Italy are to Italy what the American Legion is to the United States, and that Mussolini, the new premier, was commander of the Legion -- the ex-servicemen of Italy." In parallel, the "perhaps more notorious" Ku Klux Klan was gaining a strong foothold in the country. The press release of the World War Veterans declares that "There are 3 million unorganized ex-servicemen in America. Reactionary organizations, subsidized by bankers and Chambers of Commerce, are trying to inveigle them under their control. With strong financial backing they are enabled to spread their lying propaganda through numerous publications. Whoever practices free speech or questions the divine right of present industrial and political dictatorship is denounced as a 'red,' 'radical,' and 'un-American,' held up to an unthinking public as an immoral degenerate, and mobs of ex-servicemen are incited to believe that such a beast richly deserves tar and feathers or Judge Lynch's noose." Membership in the World War Veterans is depicted as a means for ex-servicemen to organize in opposition to this emerging menace to freedom and democracy.