When perusing lists of veterans’ organizations around the world, it’s interesting to note that most countries are limited to one or two societies. The United States on the other hand has more than eighty. Why such a plethora? Perhaps it is because we are such a diverse country, represented by so many nationalities and interest groups. The war in Vietnam, for example, spawned organizations such as Vietnam Veterans against the War, Vietnam Veterans of America, Vietnamese American Armed Forces Association and Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club.
Without a doubt the Society of the Cincinnati is the oldest military society in continuous existence in North America. Its first meeting was in May of 1783 and was chaired by Lt. Col. Alexander Hamilton. Membership was limited to officers who had served at least three years in the Continental Army or Navy and also included officers of the French Army and Navy. Originally, the participants of the first meeting simply agreed to stay in touch with one another once the Revolution was over and to observe three objectives: “To preserve the rights so dearly won; to promote the continuing union of the states; and to assist members in need, their widows and their orphans.”
Perhaps the most unusual society was the Military Order of the Serpent which was founded in 1904 as a society within the United Spanish War Veterans. Active membership was confined to all members in good standing in the USWV and the Sons of Spanish War Veterans. It is a secret society created to perpetuate the memories of the services of the veterans of the Spanish-American War era; to participate in the observance of patriotic holidays, especially “Remember the Maine Day”; to place flags on the graves of veterans of the war with Spain; to care for Spanish American war memorials; to uphold the principals of freedom, patriotism and humanity, and finally to encourage the study of American history in our schools. Reactivated just recently, the MOS published their constitution and by-laws for their Ohio branch in 1907. The Filson Library has this publication as well as publications of many other veterans’ groups.