Cross of Malta
The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States adopted for its symbol the Cross of Malta, which
has a heritage of honor, duty sacrifice and courage that dates back to the 11th century.
The Cross has its origin in the Knights of St. John, a strict order of crusaders originally founded to
maintain a hospital for pilgrims journeying to the Holy Land. From this order evolved two divisions,
the knights Templar, famed for their ability to fight, and the Knights Hospitaler, humanitarians who
provided for the sick and distressed.
The Knights established branches throughout Europe and moved their headquarters to Cyprus. From
Cyprus the headquarters was eventually moved to Rhodes in the 14th century and was transferred
from there to the island of Malta in the 16th century. There it became known as the Knights of Malta.
The insignia of the Knights of Malta is basically the same as the one used today by the
Veterans of Foreign Wars. It is an 8-pointed cross formed by four arrow heads meeting at the points.
Each represents one of the Beatitudes taken from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. The arrowheads
indicated the knights were willing to fight for the principles of Justice and truth, although their order
was basically a peaceful one.
This outlook is similar to that of the VFW, devoted to peace, but comprised of men and women who
have fought and are willing to fight again, for those principles which embody the individual liberties and
dignities of men. The fundamental objectives of the organization are set forth in a charter granted
it by the Congress of the United States in 1936.
History shows that the Cross of Malta, the emblem of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the
United States, is 1,000 years old. Nearly ten centuries ago the Maltese Cross was made the symbol
of fighting men who were united by a solemn pledge of comradeship to fight for freedom and to aid
the sick and the needy. Those ancient obligations are still symbolized by the Cross of Malta today,
for the more than two million former servicemen who are the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The Cross of Malta is the symbol of their battles in time of war and of their campaign to defend the
God given rights of human beings in time of peace. The Cross of Malta symbolizes the
compassion, or sympathy, of those men and women for the needy. It is the sign of
services which our contemporary veterans render to help make living a little better for everyone.
To appreciate fully the original meaning of the Cross of Malta we must look back a thousand years,
to the Crusaders serving in the Middle East. There we find the Knights of St. John, the worlds
first great brotherhood of warriors pledged to chivalry. The Knights of St. John represented all walks
of life. They were noblemen and priests, artisans and laborers. Regardless of those differences,
however, they were united by a solemn pledge of unwavering courage and compassion. Together
they fought against oppression. They carried their crusades far from home across deserts and
seas, into the Holy Land, Cyprus, Rhodes and Malta. At the same time they administered to the sick,
the needy and to the poor. The Crusaders adopted the Cross of Malta as their insignia because its
eight points represented the eight Beatitudes prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount.
Those, in effect, declare
(1) blessed are the poor in spirit
(2) the meek
(3) the pure
(4) the merciful
(5) the peacemakers
(6) blessed are they that mourn
(7) seek righteousness
(8) blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness sake.
The Cross of Malta had a religious origin but the Knights of St. John also made it their battle standard
for the liberation of all men, women and children who suffered oppression. The ideals for which the
original Crusaders fought parallel the principles of democracy today, freedom and justice.
Centuries passed to the year 1899. Again fighting men banded together. Again they pledged
themselves to campaign for the rights of mankind and to administer to the sick, the needy and to the
poor. That was the birth of a new organization, known today as the Veterans of Foreign Wars
of the United States.
Why did the Veterans of Foreign Wars select the Cross of Malta emblem?
What has been added to the Cross and what does the symbol mean?
Let us look at the VFW ensign closely. We see the eight-pointed Maltese Cross. Upon the
Cross is superimposed the Great Seal of the United States, encircled by the name, Veterans of
Foreign Wars of the United States. Within the circle is the American eagle, the emblem of a proud
nation whose warriors of many generations have fought and sacrificed to preserve the free mans
way of living. Between the four arms of the Cross, the Veterans of Foreign Wars has added the
suns rays to emphasize the vigor and warmth with which the present day brotherhood defends our
ideals. Every detail in the VFW emblem has definite meaning. The Cross, the rays and the
seal together symbolize the vows, purpose and character of men and women who have traveled
far from home to defend humanity.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars is the worlds oldest and largest overseas war veterans organization.
It is chartered by the Congress of the United States. That charter states specifically that The purpose
of this corporation shall be: Fraternal, Patriotic, Historical and Educational,To preserve and
Strengthen Comradeship among its members, To assist worthy comrades, to perpetuate the
memory and history of our dead, and to assist their widows and orphans. To maintain true allegiance
to the government of the United States of America and fidelity to its constitution and laws, to
foster true patriotism, to maintain and extend the institutions of American freedom, and to preserve
and defend the United States from all her enemies whomsoever.
Upon joining the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a person vows in the presence of Almighty God and the
members of this order to maintain loyalty to the government, to the VFW, and to his fellow comrades.
When the Cross of Malta is bestowed upon a new VFW member, he or she is pledged to advance the
principles of the organization. Like the original Crusaders 1,000 years ago, the 2.1 million members
of the Veterans of Foreign Wars today fulfill their vows through a wide variety of vigorously executed services.
The VFW is also joined by 750,000 members of our Ladies Auxiliary in our efforts. They foster true
patriotism, and strengthen the institutions of freedom by word and deed. They improve their cities,
towns and neighborhoods through community service. They give aid to worthy comrades and to the
widows and orphans. They extend helping hands to the needy and the sick. Like the original Knights
of St. John, those who wear the VFW Maltese Cross express their comradeship in terms of service.
These are the reasons why the Veterans of Foreign Wars chose the Cross of Malta as its emblem.
The Cross of Malta symbolizes truly the character and objectives of the Veterans of Foreign Wars
of the United States. People qualified through military service to wear the VFW Cross of Malta do
so with pride because that emblem represents the highest of ideals.
Every member has earned the Cross of Malta proudly - and he or she wears it proudly.
Updated 18 Dec. 12