A number of United States War Veterans (veterans) were attending the July, 1980 Grandfather Mountain Highland Games (GMHG) in North Carolina, USA. These veterans had been friends for a number of years, and had over the years attended various highland games as members of Scottish Clans. When not participating in clan activities, these veterans (along with other veterans they would meet) would discuss things of mutual interest including military history, current military affairs, and individual war stories. Among this group of veterans were Randy Downey, Jim Kilpatrick, Pat Little, Hal Morrison, and Doug Talley.
The meeting of veterans at the 1980, GMHG was special in that some of the veterans noted left the games for the day and met again that evening at the home of Alvera Morrison in Pineola, North Carolina not far from where the games were being held. The meeting that evening included Hal Morrison's mother Alvera was also a war veteran.
As these veterans talked, they discussed their long held view that there needed to be some type of formal group, or organization to represent veterans who were attending highland games. They felt such a group would provide an ongoing "clan" type arrangement for veterans to meet at games and exchange military information and stories. This would also provide a focus or location at games to have educational material on Scottish and American military history for the general public.
All agreed they needed to form such a group. Randy Downey proposed that the group be called The Scottish-American Military Society or as it was to become known as SAMS or SAMS-OWN (referring of course to Uncle Sam from the famous poster "I Want You for the U.S. Army"). Over the next nine months, the organizers developed the organizational structure of the group including formal Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws, membership structure, and its purposes.
On April 12, 1981, SAMS was incorporated as a voluntary, non-political, non-sectarian and non-profit, war veterans' organization under the laws of the State of North Carolina, dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Scottish and American Armed Forces customs, traditions, and heritage. Subsequently, SAMS filed for and received U.S. Government Internal Revenue Service recognition as a IRS Code Section 501 (c) 19 Organization of War Veterans of the United States (see Background on SAMS for additional information). Randy Downey served as National Commander on the corporate organizational papers.
The first official membership meeting of SAMS was held on July 11, 1981, at the GMHG just one year from the meeting in Pineola. Charter Life (CL) and Charter Regular (CR) membership were accepted and officers were introduced. William Wright (CL-2) served as the first elected National Commander.
Over the years, SAMS has expanded in its membership and has become a nationwide organization. In 1982, The Patriot, SAMS' newsletter was started. In 1986, the Bylaws were changed to permit the establishment of local SAMS Posts or Chapters. In 1987, The Patriot was awarded "First Place" for Service to Special Audiences in the 2nd Annual Newsletter Competition held by The Scottish American (newspaper) and the Council of Scottish Clans and Associations. Also in 1987, SAMS (perhaps the nations smallest war veterans organization) joined the Joint Veterans Committee (including the American Legion, VFW, and other large national groups) for the Bicentennial for the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia, PA. Not only did SAMS participate, SAMS was chosen by the Committee to lead the Parade of Americans section of the parade supported by our guests The Black Watch Pipes and Drums of Canada.
In 1988, SAMS achieved its membership goal set in 1981 by surpassing the 1000 member mark. Also in 1988, SAMS was participating in 36 games in 22 states out of a total of 74 games in the annual calendar for that year, and establishing Regional Commanders to assist Posts and Post Development. By 1989, SAMS was providing scholarships for piping students, had designed and released to SAMS Posts its National SAMS Flag, and was accepting U.S. Medal of Honor and U.K Victoria Cross awardees as Honored Life Members (HLM). By 1995, SAMS had organized 10 Regions, and 22 Posts in 16 states.
Through the later 1990s, SAMS continued to expand. Membership applications continued to be issued, and member ID numbers had been issued through #2500. Sadly, many of our WWII members had passed on, but current membership had been maintained at the 900 level by the end of 1999 and the number of posts remained at 22. SAMS through The Patriot continued its early relationship with the Scots-at-War Trust in the UK.
The years between 2000 and 2005 saw not only an expansion of SAMS in both its number of members and posts, but also in its influence in the Scottish-American community. In 2000, The Patriot was expanded to a 50 page quarterly magazine. In 2000, SAMS provided the Color Guard and Color Party, and coordinated the participation of the USAFRCB Pipes and Drums for the National Tartan Day (NTD) ceremonies on the U.S. Capitol steps and participated in the related The Scottish Gathering on the Mall in Washington, D.C. In 2000, SAMS established its website www.S-A-M-S.org
In 2001, SAMS would again organize the NTD Colors and the Pipes and Drums on the Capitol Steps, and this time SAMS would organize the Gathering on the Mall. Honorary Memberships were accepted by Members of the Scottish Parliament Ben Wallace, Kay Ullrich, and Andrew Wilson. Honorary memberships were also accepted by a number of Members of the U.S. Senate who were active the establishment of NTD or have supported the U.S. military in various ways.
In 2002, SAMS was invited to join in The Scottish Coalition (TSC). TSC is a group of eight nationally recognized Scottish-American organizations. TSC was instrumental in bringing about NTD and developing other national programs. By 2004, SAMS was participating in most of the Scottish games in the U.S. This participation included Color Parties and Post tents providing educational information.
Now in 2005, SAMS posts are meeting throughout the country and awarding SAMS achievement medals to JROTC students as well as issuing financial grants to local non-profit or military organizations. National SAMS continues to issue awards to university ROTC students for exceptional performance, and is currently developing an associated not-for-profit organization to accept scholarship donations. Membership now approximates 1100 and 34 posts have been established across the United States with new posts being developed at a rate of four to five each year.
SAMS owes a debt of gratitude to its National Commanders and other officers who have served it through the years. National Commanders listed 1981 to 2005 are:
- Randy Downey
- William Wright
- Pat Little
- Jack Moore
- Al Ankrum
- Donald McDowell
- James Kilpatrick
- David Rutherford
- James Shearer
- Al Ankrum
- Tim Lally
A special debt of gratitude is owed to Merritt Powell who has served as National Adjutant General (1985 to1992) and (1997 to 2005). SAMS has recognized the long service of Merritt Powell by designating him as SAMS' Honorary Command Sergeant Major, and the services of Randy Downey and Al Ankrum by designating them National Commander's Emeritus. Special thanks are also recognized for late General Raymond G. Davis, MOH, USMC (Ret.) who served on the SAMS Board of Councilors for many years.