For more than a century, a service organization has helped United States military veterans returning from overseas combat and their families.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States Auxiliary takes that task to heart. That’s why its national president for 2015-16, Francisca Guilford, came up with the theme “Our veterans — now and forever.”

“It’s more important now than ever that we stand together as one,” she said Friday during her visit to Seymour.

“I firmly believe it’s not only the Army, not only the Navy, not only today but from way back … (people) have come together to fight for our freedom, and we need to remember that,” she said. “In the future, we need to remember because we don’t want to have any more wars, but we may be, and we may have future veterans down the line. We need to be strong to be able to take care of them and our future to take care of them when we are no longer able to do that.”

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Ladies Auxiliary VFW, consisting of female spouses of veterans and family members of VFW members, was established in 1914 as a support organization to veterans. In July, the organization began accepting men and changed its name to VFW Auxiliary. Membership now tops 460,000.

Guilford, who lives in Anchorage, Alaska, was elected national president in July during the national convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has been involved with the auxiliary since 1989 in honor of her late husband, who served with the United States Army in Vietnam.

Since becoming president, she has been visiting with auxiliary members across the country. So far, she has visited half of the 50 states.

During her tenure with the auxiliary, she has been to Indiana four times, and this past weekend was her first time to Seymour.

On Friday, she toured the Freeman Army Airfield Museum with auxiliary members from around the state before attending a dinner at VFW Post 1925. Then Saturday, she visited Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh and VFW posts in Bloomington, Spencer and Columbus.

Barb Barger, president of the VFW Post 1925 Auxiliary in Seymour, said she was happy to host the national president.

“I think it’s an honor because we haven’t had the opportunity before,” Barger said. “For her to honor us and let us host this event down here in Seymour was awesome.”

Throughout the years, Guilford said she has met a lot of women involved in the auxiliary and become friends with them, and she appreciates their support of her and the organization.

“It’s like words that you can’t really express because it’s so heartwarming that you meet the ladies at the grassroots,” she said. “They really are the heart of the organization. Some of these ladies have been in here for 60, 70 years. I like to meet them to tell them thank-you that they have been working for our veterans, our active duty military and their families all these years.”

During the 2014-15 program year, VFW Auxiliary members provided $4.6 million in monetary aid to veterans, active-duty military and their families. They also volunteered at veterans medical facilities, made legislative contacts to help pass or block important bills, awarded scholarships and worked with youth.

In Indiana, the VFW state commander selects a special project each year, and the auxiliaries around the state can help with it by conducting fundraisers. This year, VFW State Commander Buzz Weberding said he has chosen to raise money for homeless veterans.

At a glance

Established in 1914, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States Auxiliary sets out to serve the nation’s veterans and communities in honor of the sacrifices and commitment of every man and woman who has served in uniform.

Under the former name Ladies Auxiliary VFW, membership within the organization was offered exclusively to female spouses and family members of any member of the VFW. The gender-specific eligibility requirement remained for more than 100 years until July 20, 2015, when delegates to the VFW’s 116th national convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, voted to amend the dated bylaw to extend the same membership opportunity to eligible males.

Women comprise nearly 20 percent of the nation’s military, and this change allows all spouses, fathers, grandfathers, sons, grandsons and brothers to serve others in honor of their veteran.

The nation’s oldest veterans service organization, now known as VFW Auxiliary, has more than 465,000 members representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia and several foreign locations, including Germany, Guam and Panama.

In the 2014-15 program year, its members worked to provide $4.6 million in monetary aid to veterans, active-duty military and their families; volunteered nearly 800,000 hours in VA Medical Centers, hospitals, nursing and veterans’ homes; made more than 131,000 legislative contacts to help pass or block important bills; awarded $146,000 in scholarships; worked with more than 285,000 youth; distributed more than 332,000 American flags; and contributed to cancer research, youth activities, civic patriotism and more.

Source: vfwauxiliary.org

At a glance

The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1925 Auxiliary meets at 6 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month at the post at 311 S. Jackson Park Drive in Seymour.

For information about joining the auxiliary, stop by the post or call  812-522-1207.

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.