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Catholic War Veterans place faith at forefront of service to country

National organization holds convention in St. Louis; hopes to start post in this area

For Catholic veterans who have dedicated their lives to the United States, service doesn't stop once active military duty is finished.

Service to others driven by faith has been the primary mission of Catholic War Veterans of the United States of America since its founding after World War I. Today, the organization has more than 7,000 members, mostly from the Vietnam War and Korean War eras, with a growing number of younger veterans from Desert Storm and beyond.

About 100 members of the Catholic War Veterans and auxiliary members convened at the Frontenac Hilton in St. Louis earlier this month for its 82nd annual national convention. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson celebrated the group's closing Mass Aug. 12.

The St. Louis area doesn't have a post, but national leaders hope the convention sparks interest in starting one here. Liberty, Mo., has the only post in Missouri.

"It is part of the Church and it's something beyond myself — something that I can give," said Ann Marie Roberts, service and welfare officer with the Father Vincent Capodanno Memorial Post 1974 in Liberty. She was an aviation storekeeper with the U.S. Navy from 1968-71. "It's being a servant of the servants. If I believe that I want to integrate my faith life and be a veteran and reconcile my life as a veteran with my faith, CWV helps me to do that."

Joseph Raimo, outgoing national director and national convention chairman, explained that the organization's service includes outreach to veterans and their families — such as bingos, birthday parties, or donuts and coffee at VA facilities and sending care packages to active military — regardless of faith denomination. The organization also has education programs for schoolchildren and a scholarship program for eighth graders entering Catholic high schools.

"We serve all veterans," said Raimo, who was a sergeant in the U.S. Army from 1964-67, stationed in Florida just after the Cuban Missile Crisis. "We do this because we're Catholic."

The Catholic War Veterans was founded in 1935 by Father Edward Higgins, who wanted to support World War I veterans. With the permission of his bishop, he gathered several veterans from his parish, the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Astoria, N.Y., and formed the first post.

Until that point, there wasn't a formal Catholic organization specifically for veterans who had served their country during wartime. The Knights of Columbus, founded more than 50 years prior, was the closest organization, but was focused as a lay organization to provide services to Catholics in the Armed Forces.

Pope Pius XI, who spoke against the grave dangers of "isms" such as atheism and communism, gave his blessing in 1935 to the Catholic War Veterans. The first auxiliary also was formed that same year. By 1940, the organization was officially recognized by the federal Veterans Administration. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation that granted CWV a federal congressional charter.

The charter lays out the organization's responsibilities, which includes fostering "love, honor, service to God and to our fellow man without regard to race, creed, color or national origin" and to "encourage morality in government, labor, management, economic, social, fraternal and all other phases of American life."

"It's a call to charity, an act of charity," said outgoing national commander Arminda Crawford, who served in the Women's Army Corps from 1966-68, based at Fort Gordon, Ga. "There's just a desire and an ability to help one another." 

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