In 1945, the VFW decided to increase its commitment to the youth of this country. That year the National Encampment directed the organization to take the lead in providing a constructive outlet for teenagers' energies. After the encampment, the VFW released the following statement about its proposed plan for a youth program:
"The VFW is face to face with an opportunity. It is an opportunity to render real and vital service to our nation.... It is not a call to face an enemy from without, but to overcome an enemy within our own nation that is presenting a more serious threat to the continuance of our Democracy than any alien power.... "The enemy has always been with us, but in the last few years the forces have multiplied to the point where they are now an immediate and definite threat to the continuance of our form of government. The weak spot in our American system is that we have never paid any attention to the older boy and girl.... We give the youngsters free schools and force them to obtain a minimum of education - and then we turn them loose.... Worse, most of our splendid youth organizations, the things upon which we depended to implant the fundamentals of democracy - organizations such as Boy Scouts, the 4-H Clubs, the junior church societies, and other organizations - are all set up for the younger boy and girl...."
A former colonel, Lawrence A. "Buck" Rogers was selected to direct the Department of Youth Activities (originally called the Department of Athletics and Recreation). Rogers had extensive experience in managing recreation programs, having been responsible for the athletic programs of forty-three separate Air Transport Command bases during World War II.
Rogers moved rapidly to get the VFW's youth program up and running. He notified the posts that the VFW would sponsor national tournaments in seven different sports: bowling, basketball, marbles, swimming, softball, rifle shooting, and boxing. Most of these tournaments were for teenagers only. The softball tournament, however, was open to juniors aged nine to seventeen and was sanctioned by the National Amateur Softball Association. In 1979, the rifle shooting program was changed and placed under the auspices of the National Rifle Association (NRA). It, too, was then opened to anybody eighteen years old or younger who belonged to a sanctioned rifle club or a Sons of the VFW Unit. Currently, NRA youth shooting groups are sponsored by 306 posts in 45 states.
Today, the national organization no longer sponsors any sports tournaments, but many departments maintain statewide programs and offer their own tournaments and prizes. The Department of Minnesota, for example, sponsors an annual hockey program. In addition, over 8,000 posts sponsor one or more sports.
Other youth activities instituted over the years have included "Take a Kid Fishing" clubs, horseshoe tournaments, hockey leagues, model aviation clubs, swimming, golf, boating, camping, fund raising for the Special Olympics, Junior and Senior ROTC Programs, musical groups, American Youth Soccer Teams, Boys Clubs, Cub Scout packs, and Boy and Girl Scout troops. At present, VFW posts sponsor over 1,200 Boy Scout Troops, making the VFW one of the country's largest sponsors of Boy Scout programs.
A final youth activity worth a special mention is the Lite a Bike program. This program, begun in 1962, is aimed at reducing the number of bicyclists struck by motor vehicles during the hours of darkness. Participating VFW posts around the world purchase and apply reflective tape to children's bicycles to make them more visible at night. More than 30 million bicycles have been provided with this reflective tape since the program's inception. The program has been especially welcome in Taiwan, where bicycles are more commonly used for transportation than in the United States. Although better reflective devices on bicycles are making this program less necessary, many posts still continue it. Others have expanded the program by offering to apply the tape to the costumes of trick-or-treaters on Halloween.
© VFW 1998 . Created by Lynn - Last Updated 29 Dec 2001