Without Firing a Shot

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Occupation duty has a long and storied history as qualifying service for VFW eligibility. Here is a glimpse of the places that conferred membership on veterans who wore these little-known medals. BY ROBERT WIDENER

American military personnel who served on occupation duty in foreign lands have always been eligible for VFW membership. For 92 years, between 1898 and 1990, recipients of seven Army, Navy and Marine Corps occupation service medals were entitled to claim the Cross of Malta. And they did so by never seeing combat.


Soon after the Spanish-American War ended, U.S. forces began a new function on Cuba. The U.S. flag was hoisted over the island on Jan. 1, 1899, signifying the nation's first official overseas military occupation.

Troop strength on Cuba peaked at 45,000 that March. Soldiers disarmed insurgent forces and maintained law and order. Pacification was completed by the summer, and thereafter U.S. troops were gradually withdrawn until May 20, 1902, when the last men departed.

But American soldiers were back four years later. In the fall of 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt dispatched an expeditionary force to Havana. This Army of Cuban Pacification, consisting of 5,000 soldiers and 1,000 Marines, was restricted to garrison duty. At no time did U.S. servicemen engage in fighting.

With the revolt quelled, the last personnel left in the spring of 1909. They received the Cuban Pacification Medal. Perhaps the best-known recipient was "Colonel" Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame.

The Army of Puerto Rico Occupation Medal went to troops stationed there between Aug. 14-Dec. 10, 1898. Some 16,253 regulars and volunteers (including poet-author Carl Sandberg, an active VFW member) served on that island.


In the wake of World War I, 240,000 Doughboys mounted a "watch on the Rhine." The newly created Third Army, made up of three corps comprising nine infantry divisions- 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 32nd, 42nd, 89th and 90th-was stationed in a dozen different cities. The 4th Marine Brigade- 5th and 6th Marines- also was part of the American Army of Occupation.

By mid-1919, however, the Third Army was reduced to a mere 6,800 men and redesignated American Forces in Germany. The U.S. watch formally ended on Jan. 24, 1923, when the Stars and Stripes was lowered at Fort Ehrenbreitstein in Coblenz.

Three VFW commanders-in-chiefEugene P. Carver (1928-29), Otis N. Brown (1939-40) and Joseph N. Stack (1945-46)- took part in the occupation of Germany after fighting in France in 1918.


After World War II, GIs saw service on two continents. In Asia, soldiers were posted to defeated Japan (including the RyuKyu Islands and Bonin- Volcano Islands), as well as its former colony, Korea. The Army's 6th, 7th and 40th Infantry divisions as part of the 24th Corps were stationed on the peninsula.

Troop strength there peaked at 72,360. One GI, Pvt. Charles Labita of E Co., 32nd IR, 7th ID, was KIA at an outpost near Kaesong on the Ongjin Peninsula on July 14, 1948.

The divisions were sent home, but the newly formed 5th Regimental Combat Team maintained a symbolic presence. The last GIs left on June 29, 1949 (the 5th went to Hawaii)- one year before the Korean War erupted. Only a 472man Korean Military Advisory Group remained behind.

Japan was occupied by GIs beginning Aug. 30, 1945. Ultimately, 15 Army divisions, as well as the V Amphibious Corps (2nd and 5th Marine divisions), served on occupation duty there. U.S. Army troop strength in Japan peaked at 385,649 in December 1945.

By the time of South Korea's invasion in 1950, only the 1st Cavalry, 7th, 24th and 25th Infantry divisions were stationed in Japan. Also present was the 5th Air Force along with Naval Forces Far East.

When the occupation ended on April 27, 1952, with the restoration of Japanese sovereignty, Army forces there totaled 106,108. …