St. Augustine and The Fraternal Orders
Part four of a series
The Navy League, the Marine Corps League and the Coast Guard Auxiliary
By Geoff Dobson
May 15 passed almost unnoticed. There are numerous organizations in St. Augustine that are supportive of the Armed Forces. These include the American Legion, The DAV, the Marine Corps League, the Navy League, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Military Officers Association of America and the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
There are some 20,000 veterans of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps,, and Merchant Marine in St. Johns County. Recently, the Elks hosted Army of Hope, supportive of the families of the active military. Attendance was somewhat disappointing.
The Third Saturday of May, which this year fell on May 15, is a day designated in 1950 by President Truman to honor our servicemen. On Armed Forces Day, 2001, a writer for the St. Augustine Record complained, “Nothing is planned — not a parade, ceremony or recognition of any sort — to honor this nation’s military personnel today.” The article noted that there was a promise that something would be done the following year.
Three years later, the same writer, a marine “Once a Marine, always a Marine” as the saying goes, again complained. No celebration was held. It was not always thus. In 2008, one local organization conducted an anti-war demonstration on Armed Forces Day.
In a previous article, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion were recognized. In addition to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, one other organization, the Navy League, traces its beginnings to the Spanish-American War. In 1902 with the end of the War with Spain, the need for a larger and stronger Navy became obvious.
During the war, because of inadequate naval transport, the Rough Riders, led by Col. Leonard Wood and Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt had to leave their animals behind in Tampa. Thus, the Rough Riders, a cavalry unit, had to fight the famous charge on foot.
Roosevelt had previously served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Following the Civil War, the American Navy had been allowed to deteriorate. In 1902, Roosevelt, realizing the need for a modern navy, enthusiastically supported the formation of the Navy League. The Navy League is accordingly one of the older service-related fraternal organizations.
The League is open to all other than those on active duty who support the Navy. It is not necessary to be a veteran. Its mission is unabashedly the support of American Naval Power. In 1922, the League supported the designation of October 27 of each year as “Navy Day.” October 27 was the birthday of Theodore Roosevelt. Unlike some other organizations, a postage stamp was not issued in celebration of the organization.
Instead, the Navy League and Navy Day were celebrated by the imposition of cachets on envelopes mailed from American Ships on Navy Day. The League, however, promoted postage stamps which recognized the Navy. In 1945, on Navy Day, the United States Postal Service with the support of the Navy League issues a stamp honoring the Navy. Other stamps were issued honoring the Coast Guard, the Marines, the Army, and in 1946, the Merchant Marine.
In 1950, the Defense Department directed that the Navy celebrate Armed Forces Day in lieu of Navy Day. Armed Forces Day is celebrated on the third Saturday of May in each year.
Unfortunately, as it was this past Saturday, Armed Forces Day in St. Augustine is generally ignored.
The Navy League, however, is a civilian organization over which the Navy has no authority. The League continued to celebrate on Roosevelt’s birthday until in the 1970’s it was discovered that the Continental Navy was organized on October 13, 1775 and, thus, the normal day of celebration was moved to the 13th.
In St. Augustine, Council 469 of the Navy League was chartered on October 19, 1974. Its normal monthly meetings, other than dinner meetings, are held in the South County Library. It currently has about 200 members.
In addition to the Navy League, the armed forces are represented by Detachment 383 of Marine Corps League. Creation of the Marine Corps league is credited to then Marine Corps Commandant Major General John A. Lejeune. It is open to officer and enlisted, active duty, Reserve Marines, honorably discharged Marine Veterans and qualified Navy FMF Corpsmen. An auxiliary organization to the Marine Corps League is the Military Order of the Devil Dogs founded on October 19, 1939. A meeting of the Devil Dogs is called the “growling of the pound” and the national meeting is the “Kennel.”
In the Park in front of the Lightner Museum-City Hall Building is a small monument dedicated the memory of four Coast Guardsmen stationed in St. Augustine who were killed in the line of duty. It also serves as a reminder that in a sense the Coast Guard Reserves were formed across the street in the old Ponce de Leon Hotel where they trained during World War II. The present day Reserves were established by Congress in 1941. Previously what is now the Coast Guard Auxiliary were known as the Reserves and consisted of unpaid, volunteer U.S. citizens who owned motorboats or yachts.
February 19, 1941, is formally recognized as the birth of the Coast Guard Reserve while June 23, 1939, is recognized as birthday of the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Flotilla 14-7 of the Auxiliary meets at the St. Augustine Yacht Club.
Next Article, Secret Societies, the Masons.
Geoff Dobson, a St Augustine resident for the past 33 years, is a western and Florida history writer and was former General Counsel for the Florida Department of Transportation. He is a former president of the St. Augustine Historical Society and a regular contributor of nostalgic memories to Historic City News. Before his parents moved to Florida, his father was a Black Angus cattleman. Geoff has written extensively on Wyoming history (“Wyoming Tales and Trails”). When Geoff was in high school, his family lived in the cattle country of eastern Sarasota County. The family spread, which his parents called “Wild Cat Slough,” was reachable only by a pair of ruts over the sand hills and through a snake and gator infested slough. Now, it is an area of four-lane roads, expensive subdivisions, shopping centers, and office parks. . His undergraduate degree is in history. Geoff received his post-graduate degree from the University of Florida. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org