The VFW Has Cooties

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The Sheffield VFW Post 8755 Color Guard stands while the national anthem is played during the Veterans Day ceremony at Soldiers and Sailors Park, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021. Photo by Brian Hagberg.

Noun plural coot·ies.Informal.
a child’s term for an imaginary germ or disease that one can catch by touching a person who is disliked or socially avoided.

Cooties were a valid concern for a youngster navigating his way through social interactions. Some people had them. You could get them from those people so we avoided them with varying levels of concern. I didn’t know how you got them, only that you must not.

To an older youngster, with a better understanding of social etiquette, and a sense of humor, cooties are nod/winks to earlier times. Avoid spoiling them for youngers who ‘still believe’. Like many other things, you learn in childhood that later lose their place in grown-up reality. Sometimes, though, things come ‘round again by surprise. Turns out Cooties exist. And have another meaning Merrian-Webster does not report.

I have told you in the past I used to be a Quality Assurance person. I notice stuff! At the VFW testimonial dinner I mentioned in my previous two articles, stuff happened. One of the people who sat at my table was wearing a shirt with a curious design/logo. Sometimes stuff jumps out. The gentleman’s name was on his shirt. Upside down. I happen to be a qualified reader of upside-down. (I don’t speak it. Just read it fluently. Self-taught.) I did what I do. I asked questions.

It turns out that the VFW has Cooties. Cooties are real after all. And my table mate with the upside down name was a Cootie official. I think he might have been a Supreme Seam Squirrel. Cooties have Supreme Seam Squirrels. Who knew? Merriam-Webster tells me a ‘seam squirrel’ is a body louse. Curiouser and Curiouser.

Cooties are a support organization branch of the VFW. “Supreme Headquarters Military Order Of The Cootie” (MOC). The “Honor Degree of the VFW”. Founded in 1920 in New York City. (The name originated in WWI.) Based on the principles of good humor and fun. My kind of organization!

The Cooties recognize a need to entertain veterans in hospitals and rehabilitation. And meet it. Sacrifice bits of self to bring smiles and cheer to veterans and their families in times and matters of stress. Of distress. Of anxiety. As a longtime enjoyer of Readers’ Digest ‘Humor in Uniform’ and ‘Laughter is the Best Medicine,’ I am a firm believer in humor’s healing power. So are the Cooties. Cooties have distinctive hats and uniforms. And a honed sense-of-humor skill set.

Example from their website:
ALERT! If the total order is not at least $10.00 the price will be adjusted automatically to make the order $10.00.

I’m not sure if the above is serious or ironic humor. It made me smile when I read it. Mission Accomplished. They have a newsletter, the Cootie Courier. The headline on page 1 tells the story:

“Cootie Courier…100 Years of Crummy News that’s Unfit to Print”

I read in an archived issue that there is a line of progression to be followed to become a full-fledged Cootie.

“…once you have completed your 3rd-degree initiation, you now will have proof of your journey from Atom to Nit to Grayback and finally to a Cootie. What about if you’ve already completed your 3rd-degree initiation? Not to worry, the degree is retroactive. So, have the present Seam Squirrel (the issuing authority) print your degree.”

They have things called Supreme Scratch, Grands, and Pup Tents. What are those? The Supreme Scratch is an official meeting. I believe a Pup Tent is a local division of Cooties. Why is the commander called a ‘Supreme Seam Squirrel?’ I have no idea, other than that Cooties seem to take the mission seriously but terminology is lighthearted and non-political. In search of joy, not anger. Mission serious. Self, not so much. Respect for all is expected. Demanded.

The VFW is the parent organization of the Cooties. Cooties are active VFW members. There is warmth and purpose to their mission. Especially purpose. Mission is bigger than person. Cooties are strongly encouraged to keep ‘person’ in proper perspective. Mission is BIGGER than person. Cooties get things done. Big things.

• Entertainment for hospitalized veterans at VA and other hospitals in the US, started at the outbreak of WWII
• National Home
◦ “What would ultimately become known as the VFW National Home for Children, a sprawling campus of homes located in Eaton Rapids, Michigan, started out as the brainchild of the MOC. We firmly believe in caring for the widows and children of our Armed Forces.”
◦ Athletic Field for National Home
◦ Swimming Pool for National Home
◦ Fire Department for National Home
◦ Annual Scholarships
▪ $2500.00/year for one boy and one girl until graduated
▪ Lesser amounts for students attending vocational schools
• Annual Tomb Trek to the Tomb of The Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery

If I have misstated anything, the error is mine alone. I have certainly understated things. I don’t have space or time to do Cooties justice. I only just discovered them and I know how little I know. Many things get a hog’s share of attention in this world; Things unworthy or less-worthy than many things that get far less attention. There are people who have far bigger concerns in life than what spatters today’s headlines.

People living in aftermath of solemn choice to answer the call of duty. Veterans. Hope is a precious thing in this world. Stress and anxiety over health and welfare can cast dark shadows on hope. On future. On present. For those who gave any measure of devotion in service of country, there should be light shining in those dark corners; Affirmation of the meaning of that choice to serve a larger cause; A higher purpose. That someone recognizes and appreciates that choice; That service. For some such light for those who served, the VFW has Cooties.

Editor’s note: This is the third in a three-part series examining the VFW. Parts One and Two were originally published in the Forest Press. To contact the author about this or other Forest County-related topics, email here.