History: In 1936, two Princeton students, Urban Joseph Peters Rushton and Lewis Jefferson Gorin, in response to the authorization of government payments to WWI veterans (Adjusted Service Compensation Act), drafted a manifesto demanding war bonuses before participation in future wars. "It is but a common right that this bonus be paid now, for many will be killed or wounded in the next war, and hence they, the most deserving, will not otherwise get the full benefit of their country's gratitude."1 This demand, which started as a joke, was published in the March 14, 1936 issue of the Daily Princetonian. It was then picked up by other news outlets, resulting in an outcry from numerous individuals including James E. Van Zandt, National Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who declared, "They're too yellow to go to war...They'll never be veterans of a future war."2 This publicity brought the organization to the attention of college students throughout the United States, bringing an avalanche of inquiries about establishing posts at their own institutions. The VFW grew to encompass the Chaplains of Future Wars and the Home Fire Divisions (for female college students). At its height, over 30,000 students belonged to the VFW. With the graduation of the VFW leadership, the organization quickly dissolved. Though it started as a joke and lasted less than one year, the VFW really struck a chord with students concerned about the possibility of another armed conflict.
VFW at Duke: On April 3, 1936, Roosevelt Der Tatevasian wrote to Robert Barnes, VFW Public Relations Officer, to inquire about establishing a chapter at Duke. Soon after, Duke became the home of the 272nd Post of the VFW. In addition, the Duke School of Religion had a chapter of the Chaplains of Future Wars whose mission was "to preach funeral sermons to the future veterans who might not be able to hear them when preached on the battlefield."3 The VFW members also discussed creating units that focused on chemistry, nursing, engineering, diplomacy as well as a Home Fires division. Like the posts at other colleges and universities, the VFW at Duke did not last past the spring semester of 1936.
Activities: One of the main activities of the VFW was the nomination of Robert Bean, a Duke junior from Kentucky, as a candidate for the 1952 US presidential election. Der Tatevasian, Duke's Post Commander, stated, "We will obtain the bonus that is due us even if we have to elect a whole administration."4 Bean even travelled to Washington DC to meet with Congressman Maury Maverick of Texas and others in favor of the pre-paid bonus. The VFW also published an organizational newsletter, The Bonus Bill, which ended its publication run after one issue.
Notable Members: Roosevelt Der Tatevasian was very active at Duke especially in the area of student publications, working with the Duke 'n' Duchess, the Chanticleer, and the Chronicle. In his senior year, he served as the editor of the Chronicle.
1.Gorin, Lewis. Patriotism Prepaid, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1936, p.99.
2. Deasy, Alice Rita, "300 Posts Now Boast Over 30,000 Members," Washington Post, April 19, 1936, B9.
3. Duke Chronicle, April 21, 1936, p. 1.
4. Patrick, Ben Moore, The Front Line: Materials for a Study of Leadership in College and After, Durham, NC: Duke University, 1942, p. 153.