The origins of the Veterans of Foreign Wars began as a trio of large veterans’ societies separate from each other in 1899. The American Veterans of Foreign Service in Columbus, Ohio by Spanish-American War veteran James C. Putnam, the Colorado Society Army of the Philippines in Denver, Colorado, and the Foreign Service Veterans in Pennsylvania came together at a Colorado national encampment event and the three groups agreed to unify into the well-known organization.
Since its founding, the VFW has promoted policies that benefit the welfare and interests of ex-US military service members. Institutions and policies such as the Veterans Administration, the national cemetery system, and mental health care have been promoted by the VFW throughout its history. Accepting only honorably discharged servicemen who have served outside of the US in combat operations, though there are some exceptions, the group has a significant membership base across the country.
The families of veterans are just as involved in the VFW as ex-servicemen. Established in 1914, members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States Auxiliary set out to help the VFW in its activities and goals. Often families are the major source of volunteers for events held by the VFW. The VFW Auxiliary supports the VFW’s efforts to promote veterans’ interests nationally and locally.
The idea of founding a branch of the VFW in Potsdam wasn’t accomplished until August 1936, when a group of Potsdam Veterans announced their intention to establish a post in the town. Commander Charles Scott of the Clarkson R.O.T.C was one of the most important backers of the initiative, also helping to establish the posts in Massena and Canton. In a special meeting in September, the prospective members voted to name the post after Roy D. Graves, who died in the First World War. After gaining approval from the VFW’s national body, the Roy D. Graves Post 1194 was officially inaugurated at a dinner and dance celebration on November 4th of that year.
In the subsequent decades, Roy D. Graves Post #1194 hosted numerous activities in the community including banquets, lotteries, veterans’ awareness campaigns, contests, plays, blood drives, parades, and various fundraisers. Members of the VFW played as teams in the local Bowling, Basketball, Softball, and Baseball leagues against teams from other institutions or groups. In January 1937, the Potsdam VFW Auxiliary was formed by the families of Post #1194 and has assisted in their activities or undertaken their own since.
Moving around several times since 1936, Post #1194 occupied offices or a meeting house at 31 Main Street, the Corner of Market St and Munson St, Maynard Street, and at 95 Market St. The hall on Maynard Street burned down in 1962 and necessitated the move to 95 Market St. Most of the other moves were undertaken to increase available space or due to outside changes.
Roy D. Graves
Roy D. Graves was born July 14, 1897 to George and Hattie Graves of Pierrepont Avenue, Potsdam. Not much is known about his early years in Potsdam, though he likely attended the Normal School and that a short letter from a Roy Graves to Santa Claus appeared in The Potsdam Herald on December 21, 1906. The letter asked for a drum, a camera, and a football.
Though not drafted, Roy enlisted in the 7th New York National Guard Division as part of Company D from Ogdensburg, along with his brother, Albert, and over two dozen other Potsdam men. When the United States declared war on Germany, his unit was sent for training at Camp Wadsworth in North Carolina. While there, it was federalized into the 54th Infantry Brigade of the 107thInfantry of the Army’s 27th Infantry Division in November. Letters from the Potsdam men were regularly received until their deployment to France as part of the American Expeditionary Force in May 1918.
After further training under the supervision of British veterans, the division was placed into the 2ndCorps and saw action during the Fourth Battle of Ypres, the Battle of Saint Quentin Canal, and the Second Battle of the Somme of September 1918. Though the division took heavy losses, Graves passed through uninjured. His brother Albert wasn’t so fortunate and was the victim of a gas attack during the fighting. After a brief rest, the division was once more sent into combat against the German fortifications known as the Hindenburg Line. It was during one of these attacks that Roy D. Graves was killed on October 12, 1918.
Word of his death did not arrive until December, coming officially from the Army and unofficially from one of the men of his unit. In the intervening months, a letter arrived in November from Graves to his mother.
Initially buried in the Fort Jackson Cemetery, Graves and another Potsdam native, Lawrence Perkins, were exhumed in 1921 and returned to Potsdam for reburial. Roy D. Graves was reburied in the Garfield Cemetery amidst a large commemoration event held by Potsdam’s residents.