The Bataan Relief Organization (BRO), originally conceived of by two mothers from New Mexico became a reality in 1942. The mothers were Mrs. Charles W. Bickford and Mrs. Fred E. Landon, whose sons, members of the 200th Coast Artillery (CA) were captured by the Japanese. On April 10th, these women spoke with the father of another 200th CA prisoner and asked him to preside over a meeting. The purpose of this meeting was to form an organization to send aid to the captured men on Bataan.
That historic meeting was held on April 14, 1942 and the Bataan Relief Organization was created with headquarters in Albuquerque, NM. The name Bataan Relief Organization was suggested by Dr. V. H. Spensley, the first chairman of the organization. Spensley pointed out that the initials BRO are a shortened form of the word â€œbrotherâ€ and that all the imprisoned men were their brothers. The group adopted as its motto: â€œWe will not let them down."
The Bataan Relief Organization was made up of the mothers, fathers, wives and sweethearts of the captured men who very actively worked to get relief to their loved ones. They gathered every bit of information about the men that they could find and exchanged this information with others prisoners' families. Mrs. M. I. Bradley of Albuquerque had a standard listening post set and received messaged daily from the Tokyo station. A group of volunteers worked with her to type and mail out these messages.
The BRO made financial contributions to the US government. Money was brought in by BRO-sponsored state-wide Bond and Stamp sales drives; other contributions included aid to the American Red Cross and the National Red Cross.
As word spread about what the New Mexico organization was accomplishing, chapters were quickly formed throughout the United States.
In 1945, the control of the Bataan Relief Organization was turned over to the liberated members of the New Mexico's 200th Coast Artillery Regiment at an annual meeting held in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 1946, the name was changed to Bataan Veteran's Organization.
The first National convention of the BVO was held May 14, 1948, in Albuquerque. The second National convention was held in Hollywood, California, in April 1949. At this convention, it was voted to change the name to American Ex-Prisoners of War. The reason for the change was so veterans from the European Theater would realize that they were eligible for membership. By changing the name to American Ex-Prisoners of War, it would welcome all former POWs, Civilian Internees and their families and descendents from any war. There were 800 at the 1949 convention.
The AXPOW emblem was designed as a lapel pin by former prisoner of war and National Director, Bryan T. Doughty of Denver, Colorado, in 1949. The heraldic symbols, representing Justice, are balanced on swords. The curves at the top of the shield portray the two massive military defeats suffered by the United States Armed Forces in World War II: Bataan and the Belgium Bulge. Later, the Ex-POW motto was adopted: NON SOLUM ARMIS, Latin for "Not by Arms Alone."