The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) celebrated its 100th anniversary on Sept. 25, 2020. Its motto is “Fulfilling our promises to the men and women who served.”
The DAV was created by the United States Congress for disabled military veterans of the United States Armed Forces that helps them and their families through various means. It currently has over one million members, is headquartered in Cold Spring, Kentucky, and was founded by Robert Marx on Sept. 25, 1920 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Historically, in the aftermath of World War 1, disabled veterans in the United States found themselves seriously disadvantaged with little government support. Many of these veterans were blind, deaf or mentally ill when they returned from the front lines. An astonishing 204,000 Americans in uniform were wounded during the war. The idea to form the DAV arose at a Christmas party in 1919 hosted by Cincinnati Superior Court Judge Robert Marx, a U.S. Army Captain and WW1 veteran, who had been injured in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in November 1918. The Disabled American Veterans of World War (DAVWW) was officially created on Sep. 25, 1920 at its first National Caucus in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1922, a women’s auxiliary organization was founded.
The DAVWW continued working through the Great Depression to secure the welfare of disabled veterans. In the midst of these troubled years, DAVWW was issued a federal chapter by Congress on June 17, 1932. The demands of WWII required the urgent expansion of the organization, which officially changed its name to Disabled American Veterans to recognize the impact of the new war. The number of disabled veterans increased in the 1950s due to the still-ongoing Korean War.
The DAV suffered a decline in the later 1950s and into the 1960s with diminishing leadership and funds, but it rallied around the veterans of the Vietnam War and also focused heavily on working for Prisoners of War (POWs) and Missing in Action (MIAs).
The DAV saw substantial change in 1993 when a watershed election turned over the administration to new hands. In 1998, there was a push for congressional authorization of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial. Dedication of the memorial took place on Oct. 5, 2014.
DAV is a nonprofit charity that provides a lifetime of support for veterans of all generations and their families, helping more than one million veterans in positive, life-changing ways each year. Annually, the organization provides more than 600,000 rides to veterans attending medical appointments and assists veterans with well over 200,000 benefit claims. In 2019, DAV helped veterans receive more than $21 billion in earned benefits. DAV services are offered at no cost to all generations of veterans, their families and survivors.
With nearly 1,300 chapters, the DAV empowers the nation’s heroes and their families by helping to provide the resources they need and ensuring the nation keeps the promises made to them. Minnesota currently lists 32 DAV chapters.
Authorization for Aitkin’s DAV Chapter No. 11 was issued on Feb. 3, 1941 and it was organized on March 12, 1941 with 42 members. Fred Bonneville was its first commander; Douglas Huspek currently serves as commander with 140 members from surrounding areas.
Major fundraising is through the DAV MN Clothing and Household Item Donation Program, which started in Aitkin in 2000. Gently-used clothing is deposited in specified bins located around the area, then collected and stored. Volunteer members load trucks and trailers, delivering to locations in the Twin Cities, St. Cloud and Duluth. The clothing is then sold to Savers stores.
Based on poundage, funds are issued to the chapter by the DAV Department of Minnesota and used to help local veterans and their families with assistance for rent, tires, utilities and other needs. Networking with Penny Harms and Josh Hughley in the Veterans Service Office, gift cards are also available to veterans in need for gasoline and food assistance. In 2019, the program provided $40,000 to be used within the community.
Aitkin’s chapter also supports the Veterans Home in Silver Bay, Veterans on the Lake Camp in Ely, Eagles Healing Nest in Sauk Centre, Warriors on Water, and the Department of DAV Minnesota Foundation. They also provide a scholarship to eligible veterans and families for college and vocational training. Application forms are available from chapter members.
The Aitkin DAV chapter is actively recruiting new members. Life membership is $300; some financial assistance may be available. Contact Dennis Lamke, membership chair, (218-845-2753), or Alan Jensen, treasurer (218-927-3055) for more information.