FORTY AND EIGHT Voiture Locale 735 give winter coats to elementary school counselors Wednesday at American Legion Post 81 in Cleveland. In the photo are Penny Alawat, Riceville Elementary School; left, Mitch Montgomery, Etowah City Schools; Elise Languedoc, Mountain View Elementary School; back row, left to right, Conductor Gary Cox, Child Welfare Committee Chairman Michael Dickey, Jone Curry and Secretary-Treasurer Rick Williams. Banner photo, DAVID DAVIS
Gary Cox, left, and Rick Williams sort through bags of coats as Forty and Eight Child Welfare Committee Director Michael Dickey and special education teacher Elise Languedoc of Mountain View watches. Forty and Eight Voiture Locale 735 distributed 35 coats Wednesday to needy children in McMinn County elementary schools. Banner photo, DAVID DAVIS
This year marked the 41st anniversary of the Forty & Eight Society’s child welfare program to provide thousands of coats and shoes to area needy children in Bradley, Polk, Meigs and McMinn counties to provide coats and shoes for children in need. Voiture 735 Child Welfare Program Director Michael Dickey , who is in his third year as chairman of the child welfare program, views it as a way to contribute to the community. “This is motto of mine, personally: So no child will have an excuse not to go to school because they don’t have a coat to wear,” he said. “We try to provide for children who are really in need.” The military veterans recently distributed coats to Black Fox, Waterville Community and Park View elementary schools. “This is just our second year so it’s the first time Park View has been a part of the coat drive,” Deb Bailey, Park View principal, said. “It means so much to the children. Sometimes they’ll come in with coats on a couple of sizes too small or too large. To give them a new coat that fits them just lights up their faces.” The Voyageurs Militaire (Military Travelers) founded the child welfare program in 1923 to ease the pain and suffering of those children whose fathers never returned or who were unable to care for their needs after the “Big War.” Today, this program has grown to include all children with emergency needs. “On the other end of it,” Bailey said. “We appreciate them setting an example, for being a model to have to give back to the community because that’s one of the things we want to teach our children, to be leaders in the community. This time they are on the receiving end, but next time, maybe they will be on the giving end.” Waterville Community School counselor Linda Whitmire said some children do not have coats to wear when it is very cold. Not only are the children thankful, but parents are as well for the things the community is doing. “We really appreciate what the Forty and Eight is doing,” she said. “This is our first time also. I think it’s because we have several children from Blue Springs who have been affected by the tornadoes. Some of the children are still not back in their homes. Some children’s homes are still being worked on and we have some who are permanently displaced from their homes and living with relatives.” Black Fox Elementary School Principal Kim Fisher said the veterans are appreciated for more than coats in the winter. “It’s special to get a gift from a veteran who not only gave in their youth,” she said. “They are aging and continuing to give back to the community so that’s pretty awesome.” Fisher said so many students have hand-me-down coats so it’s really special to get a new coat with the tag still attached. “We cut the tag on it. It’s there’s and it the first time the coat has been worn so we appreciate them getting something brand new,” she said. Dickey thanked other members of the chapter’s child welfare program, Vietnam Veterans of America and Disable American Veterans. Dickey served five years — 1969 to 1974 — in the Air Force in security police in Southeast Asia in Okinawa, Philippines and Taiwan. Although he was trained, qualified and ready for orders to Vietnam, “I was never chosen. I wasn’t one of the chosen few.” Dickey , a native of Etowah in McMinn County, has lived in Cleveland 34 years. He said he was more fortunate than some and less fortunate than others. It was his parents, the late Vernon L. and Willie Mae Dickey , who instilled in him the spirit of giving “and try to help someone less fortunate.”
The Forty & Eight is committed to charitable and patriotic aims. Its purpose is to uphold and defend the United States Constitution, to promote the well being of veterans and their widows and orphans, and to actively participate in selected charitable endeavors, which include programs that promote child welfare and nurse’s training.
The titles and symbols of the Forty & Eight reflect its First World War origins. Americans were transported to the battle front on French trains within boxcars stenciled with a “40/8,” denoting its capacity to hold either 40 men or eight horses. The uncomfortable mode of transportation was familiar to all who fought in the trenches; a common small misery among American soldiers who thereafter found “40/8” a lighthearted symbol of the deeper service, sacrifice and unspoken horrors of war that bind all who have borne the battle.
American veterans returning home from France founded the Forty & Eight in 1920 as an arm of the American Legion. The Forty & Eight became an independent and separately incorporated veteran’s organization in 1960. Membership is by invitation of honorably discharged veterans and serving members of the Armed Forces.