OPINION: World War I veterans group continues to serve

One of the oldest and least known national military veterans groups, the 40 & 8, survives to this day and continues to serve student nurses in nursing schools around the country. On March 15, the group celebrated its 103rd anniversary. Formally organized and known in French as La Societé des Quarante Hommes et Huit Chevaux, The Society of Forty Men and Eight Horses raises funds in support of scholarships for student nurses working toward their Registered Nurse degrees.

American citizens who joined the French Army prior to the United States officially entering World War I were trained and integrated into the French forces, then sent to the front to fight Germans. Because of the high casualty rates, these Americans became very familiar with the medical corps and its nurses, hence the priority of furthering nursing education once returning home. The name 40 & 8 was derived from the old French railroad box cars used to move troops and supplies to the front. Each boxcar would transport either 40 fully equipped combat soldiers or eight horses or mules used to pull wagons. When the organization was formed, these symbols were selected for the group’s identity.

The 40 & 8 is a nonprofit honor society, originally a branch of the American Legion. It was organized in 1920 and eventually established chapters throughout the United States wherever accredited nursing schools existed. With veterans of WWI now passed on, the organization continues with descendants of those veterans and any honorably discharged military veteran from any branch of service. Locally, a small chapter supports student nurses studying at the UAA School of Nursing. Over the past 15 years, local members have supported 31 students in attainment of their registered nurse degrees. Nearly all of those graduates have remained in Alaska and serve throughout our state’s medical establishment.

Over time, the 40 & 8 has expanded its programs. In addition to its chief priority of funding student nurse scholarships, it promotes child welfare activities, Americanism, scholarships for the families of personnel confirmed to be prisoners of war and/or missing in action, and it supports local Veterans’ Administration community service projects.

Combat military veterans of yesteryear manifested a vision of service to those in need. Today, we invite membership from among honorably discharged veterans who share that vision. We also welcome charitable donations in support of student nurse scholarships. We are a duly recognized IRS nonprofit. More information may be obtained by writing to The Society of 40 & 8, Box 241262, Anchorage, AK 99524.

John Cooper is a 75-year-old born and raised resident of Anchorage, a former airborne soldier, a 25-year member of the 40 & 8, and the current chief of the Anchorage chapter.

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