Supporting Those Who Serve and Those Who Have Served
For more than a century, from the founding members of our Order who were Civil War Veterans Civil War Veterans to the recent “Haitian Inspiration Tour” through which veterans with disabilities had the chance to experience amputee soccer, the Knights of Columbus has walked hand in hand with the men and women of the armed forces of the countries in which the Order exists. Since before World War I, the Knights have provided for the spiritual and temporal well-being of our military personnel, and that work has continued into the 21st century.
Today, there are 52 active military councils, 10 naval carrier roundtables, and war zone roundtables.
A number of the founding members of the Knights of Columbus were veterans, and the Order has always had a close relationship with both active-duty personnel and veterans of military service. Overseas military councils are located in countries where the United States has a long-established military presence, including Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Japan and South Korea. During the past year, new military councils were established at Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fort Carson, Colo. In each location, the Knights of Columbus works in close cooperation with the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA.
Our history of working with the military and veterans began in 1916 during the Mexican campaign commanded by General John J. Pershing, when the Knights established recreation centers for enlisted men.
The program was so successful that it was greatly expanded in World War I with the “hut program.” The motto of these huts was “Everybody welcome. Everything free.” The Knights ― first at home and later abroad ― established huts near the front, at or near military bases and in cities frequented by our soldiers and sailors. In November 1917, General Pershing signed General Order No. 63, allowing the Knights to provide services to the men in Europe. At the end of the war, Pershing said that, “of all the organizations that took part in the winning of the war, with the exception of the military itself, there was none so efficiently and ably administered as the Knights of Columbus.”
Catholic troops in Afghanistan display Armed With the Faith, a Catholic handbook for military personnel distributed by the Order. in conjunction with the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA.
The Order also provided Knights of Columbus chaplains to supplement the work of the military’s Catholic chaplains in ministering to the spiritual needs of the servicemen. The huts served all branches of the military and were places that provided recreation and freely dispensed “personal items” to the members of the A.E.F. The Knights also used the huts to provide entertainment in a manner later emulated by the U.S.O. In addition to establishing the huts, the Knights of Columbus raised more than $14,000,000 (in 1917 dollars) in the United States for war relief.
The work for our troops did not end there. Following the war, the Knights established both a tuition-free education program for veterans and a job bank that placed more than 300,000 veterans with employers throughout the country.
During World War II, the United Service Organizations – in which the Knights of Columbus represented the Catholic Church – largely provided for the entertainment of U.S. troops. In addition to working with the U.S.O., Knights in the Philippines ran a program very similar to the World War I hut program for American servicemen before the fall of Manila and again after its liberation. Canadian Knights operated KC Huts once again for Commonwealth soldiers.
Fourth Degree Knights raised more than $500,000 for the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. And since 2003, more than 400,000 Catholic prayer books, titled Armed with the Faith and printed on rugged paper to withstand the rigors of combat, have been produced for members of the armed forces. The concept for this prayer book originated with an individual Knight and Air Force veteran, and was developed in conjunction with the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA. All costs for this program, including printing and distribution, have been borne by the Knights of Columbus. In 2009, a Canadian edition of the military prayer book titled Armour of Faith/Armure de Foi was released. This booklet includes prayers in both English and French.
In 2005, the Order pledged $1 million in support of a new program for the catechesis and spiritual support of servicemen and women, sponsored by the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS), U.S.A. The Knights of Columbus also provided major support to the Military Archdiocese for the purchase and refurbishment of a building in Washington, D.C., that now houses the headquarters, offices and residence of the archdiocese. Some of the financial support for the project ($1.1 million) came from earnings produced by the Knights of Columbus Military Vicariate Fund, established in 1985.
Since 2003 the Order has worked closely with the Global Wheechair Mission, including distributions of wheelchairs to veterans in hospitals located in major cities throughout the Order.
The Order’s Fourth Degree, has embraced programs serving our veterans, especially the Veterans Affairs Voluntary Services program of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The Knights of Columbus has more than 1,100 volunteers regularly serving at more than 135 VA medical centers through this program. Last year, these volunteers donated more than 98,000 hours undertaking a variety of programs for veterans in these facilities ranging in scope from providing social events for veterans, to donating wheelchair-lift equipped vans to taking time to visit with a hospitalized veterans. At the 129th Supreme Convention in Denver, Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson announced the establishment of a new scholarship program to help fund the education of seminarians preparing to become Catholic chaplains in the U.S. Armed Forces. The program will distribute $1 million in scholarship money to the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, over a period of five years at a rate of $200,000 per year. These funds, in turn, will help produce a new generation of much-needed Catholic chaplains to minister to U.S. military personnel and their families. Fundraising for the Orderwide project will be led by the Fourth Degree.
Most recently, the Order sponsored the “Haitian Inspiration Tour” with Team Zaryen, composed of amputee athletes from Haiti. During this U.S. tour, the athletes of Team Zaryen gave back to the American military that was quick to step in and provide emergency relief and security following the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The team conducted soccer clinics for wounded American soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and DC United soccer practice fields at RFK Stadium to share with them their enthusiasm for amputee soccer along with lessons they’ve learned in dealing with some of the same newfound challenges.