After the end of World War I, groups of disabled veterans were getting together in various places across America. Some of these were social clubs for veterans who were still happy about winning the war. Others raised money and created work to help their brothers in arms who had no way to support themselves.
At Cincinnati’s Ohio Mechanics Institute (OMI), a group of disabled veterans formed the OMI Disabled Soldiers (OMIDS). To make their voices heard, they reached out to better-known disabled soldiers for help.
These included Colonel Peter Traub, Commander of Fort Thomas across the river in Kentucky, and Judge-Elect Captain Robert S. Marx of Cincinnati.
Captain Marx was an infantry officer who captured the furthest point taken by the American Army prior to the Armistice. When he arrived at this point, he found all the other officers dead or severely wounded. So he took command himself. On November 10, 1918, just hours before the last shot was fired in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, a German shell exploded over battalion headquarters, killing three American soldiers and wounding four. Captain Marx was among those injured.
After months in a French hospital, Captain Marx finally became strong enough to go home. Once he returned to his law practice in Cincinnati, he won an appointment to the Superior Court of Cincinnati. A man of exceptional ability, he was subsequently elected to that office. Judge Marx was popular enough to be the only Democrat elected to office in Ohio in 1919.
On Christmas Day, 1919, something important happened for veterans. A party was hosted by Judge Marx at the request of the local community service agency. This party was for disabled veterans who were spending the holidays away from home. They were recovering from war wounds and receiving vocational training.
Judge Marx may have directed conversation at the party to the topic of doing something about the mess the government had made of its programs for veterans. This has always been the belief among the earliest members of Disabled American Veterans, several of whom attended that party.
Whether or not Judge Marx was the first to bring up the topic, all the talk soon turned to the need for a new organization through which disabled veterans could make themselves heard in the halls of government.
Before the evening was out, plans were made for a serious meeting to explore how many people would be interested in joining this new organization and what its goals would be. During the first months of 1920, that Christmas dream became reality when a new organization began to take shape: The Disabled American Veterans of World War I—the DAVWW.
Two organized groups helped get the project started. The OMIDS were a self-help group that was already active. They had more than 400 veterans who were receiving vocational training at Ohio Mechanics Institute. As the DAVWW came together, these veterans were represented by Institute President B.M. Treu, Raymond A. Lasance, and F. Sample. There was also a group of disabled veterans at the University of Cincinnati who were led by their newspaper editor, Charles C. Quintman, and their war-blinded chaplain, Rabbi Michael Aaronsohn.
In 1920, Judge Marx held several meetings in his office at the Court House to discuss forming a group for disabled veterans. He had been in touch with the War Department and learned that 741,000 veterans were eligible for membership. This was the beginning of the DAVWW.
The DAV was created in a national body in Cincinnati, Ohio’s Hamilton County Memorial Hall. The caucus decided to have a National Convention the following June in Detroit. The DAV still maintains this today.
On June 27, 1921, the new organization opened its first National Convention at Detroit’s Tuller Hotel. More than one thousand disabled veterans had traveled from every State and territory of the United States, and they were ready to take part in the Convention.
Friends who had shared the same trenches arrived early to see each other for the first time since the war. After catching up on old times, the delegates were ready to begin their new battles to achieve justice as the Convention opened for business on Monday morning.
The delegates elected Judge Marx as their first National Commander. They adopted a permanent organization, a National Constitution, and a national ritual. They fixed the national dues and established a permanent headquarters. They agreed on a national program of legislation and set dates for the next Convention.
The press coverage of the Convention was a huge boost. Letters and telegrams came in from all over. They included greetings from President Warren Harding and Vice President Calvin Coolidge, as well as General John J. Pershing, who had commanded American forces in Europe during the war. On Tuesday, the delegates formed up for a parade and marched through the rainy streets of Detroit with pride. This was a truly momentous event for DAVWW.
They marched through Detroit proudly. War had been cruel to each of these veterans, but they were not victims. They were victors, triumphant heroes in the cause of freedom. As they passed, they removed their hats in respect for their flag. Tears mixed with the rain as all remembered those who had not returned from the war, those whose remains were at rest in Europe.
Veterans have always worked to improve the lives of disabled veterans and their families. This goal still holds true today.
For a more detailed list of events and the history of the DAV, please visit the Disabled American Veteran site.
If you missed it, our previous article talks about the history of the VFW and the American Legion. Check it out to learn more.