Blue caps, blue and white caps, white caps, and red caps are familiar headgear worn by members of The American Legion that signify hierarchy within the organization.
But what’s with those purple berets and garrison caps Legionnaires sport during Washington Legislative Conferences and national conventions? And who is authorized to wear them?
The select few Legionnaires donning the colorful chapeau are members of ANAVICUS, – Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada, United States – an offshoot of ANAVIC, a Canadian veterans organization first authorized by Queen Victoria in 1840. It was Queen Victoria who granted permission for the members to wear berets of Royal purple.
ANAVIC members were originally recruited from veterans of the War of 1812-14, Wellington’s Army and the Royal Navy of the Napoleonic Wars. Veterans of the Indiana Mutiny and other engagements filled the ranks until those of the South African War, World Wars I and II and Korea swelled the ranks to its present total.
In 1917, the Canadian Parliament chartered the Army and Navy Veterans in Canada and in 1946 amended the Act to include the Air Force. In 1948, Sir Jack Wickens, Dominion President of ANAVIC, visited the Legion’s National Convention in Miami. At the behest of National Chaplain Frank L. Harrington, Wickens presented an honorary life membership to National Commander James F. O’Neill. During the ensuing five years, 59 Legionnaires were presented Honorary Life memberships in ANIVIC, including President Harry S. Truman, a charter member of Legion Post 8 in Kansas City, Mo., and life member of Post 21 in Independence, Mo.
The honorary U.S. members began to meet informally, and during a dinner meeting at the 1952 Legion National Convention in New York, they asked the Canadian officers for permission to found a U.S. unit. Under power of the Canadian Parliament, ANAVIC presented a charter to ANAVICUS during the 1953 National Convention in Saint Louis where the first ANAVICUS convention meeting was held. Lt. Gen. Lewis B. Hershey was elected president, a post he served until his death in 1977. The first annual Washington Conference breakfast meeting was organized by then-National Commander Charles L. Bacon.
In the following years, most American Legion founders, past national commanders and other distinguished Legionnaires were inducted into ANAVICUS – a tradition that continues annually at the national convention and Washington Conference. New members are installed by the Dominion President. Today, more than 1,200 Legionnaires wear the ANAVICUS Royal purple beret or cap.
In 1982, the ANAVICUS executive committee voted to establish and fund a memorial to Past National Commander Harry W. Colmery, who authored the original GI Bill. The memorial is located at American Legion National Headquarters in Indianapolis. At that meeting, the committee also established its first scholarship, a cash award to a cadet at the Royal Canadian Military College.
In addition to the RCMC award, ANAVICUS presents nine other scholarships. The cash awards are based on compassion, athletics, leadership and scholarship. Each scholarship is presented in memory of prominent ANAVICUS members.
The scholarships are:
- The Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada, United States Unit Scholarship presented to a cadet at the Royal Canadian Military College, Kingston, Ontario.
- The Father Edward J. Carney Scholarship given to a sophomore or junior at Merrimack College, North Andover, Mass. Carney was Past National Chaplain and long-time chaplain of ANAVICUS.
- The Rev. Frank L. Harrington Scholarship given to a sophomore or junior at Carroll College, Helena, Mont. Harrington was a past national chaplain.
- Gen. Lewis B. Hershey Scholarship presented to a sophomore or junior at Tri State University, Angola, Ind. Hershey was a leading force in establishing ANAVICUS and its first president.
- The James F. O’Neil Scholarship is given to a sophomore or junior at Saint Anselm College, Manchester, N.H. O’Neil was a Past National Commander and Past President of ANAVICUS
- The Gen. Frank R. Schwengel Scholarship is given to a sophomore or junior at Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y. Schwengel was a leading force in the formation of ANAVICUS and a member of its executive committee.
- E. Roy Stone, Jr. Scholarship is given to an ROTC Cadet student at Furman University, Greenville, S.C. Stone was past national commander and longtime distinguished member of ANAVICUS. He was an alumnus of Furman University.
- The Daniel F. Foley Scholarship is given to an outstanding student in Canada who is a direct descendent of a member of Army, Navy and Air Force veterans in Canada. Applications are reviewed by ANAVIC. Foley was American Legion national commander and a longtime ANAVICUS president.
During its 55-year history, ANAVICUS has had four presidents. Gen. Hershey served for 24 years from 1953 to 1977. American Legion Past National Commander O’Neil (1947-48) presided from 1978 through 1980. Past National Commander Daniel F. Foley (1963-64) was president from 1981 to 2002. Past National Commander John P. Jake Comer (1987-88) has served since 2002.