Nationals train in Calistoga in 1913 for WWI dutyIn 1913 the Nationals set up Camp John Klein in Calistoga, California to train for World War I.

The Nationals train in Calistoga in 1913 for WWI duty 

By Kathy Bazzoli, Sharpsteen Museum
via The Weekly Calistogan/Napa Valley Register newspaper (CA) web site

It was Calistoga, 1913, and the Nationals of Camp John E. Klein were stationed in a field near the original Springs grounds between July 3 and 13.

The Nationals (not affiliated with the National Guard) claim to have been originally organized in 1855 as a private military cadet corps based in San Francisco. They modeled themselves after an early San Francisco militia unit, practicing military drilling in preparation for being called to war. Even though the claim was they dated back to pre-Civil War, research tells us they had only been in existence since circa 1910 although many members of a previous incarnation of The Nationals enlisted in the Spanish-American War.

 It's safe to say they were a paramilitary group, all volunteer, young men possibly eager for the glory of war. These types of private military organizations became a fad of sorts during the period. Although the reality of World War I must have removed much of the romance, when the U.S. entered the war in 1917, many of these members enlisted individually and served honorably.

Captain John E. Klein, for which this chapter was named, served as an officer in the California National Guard in San Francisco in the 1880s and 1890s. He may have distinguished himself in the Spanish-American War. This is unknown, but for whatever the reason, his name is proudly recorded for the group of Nationals that visited Calistoga in 1913 as Camp John E. Klein.

 

DAR celebrates Women’s History Month, WWI Hello Girls 

via the Dothan Eagle newspaper (AL) web site 

DAR exhibit Hello Girls

ell Gilmer, Immediate Past Regent of the John Coffee Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, showcased Women's History Month by displaying the book "The Hello Girls", printed information about their accomplishments and a doll dressed as an operator at the Elba Public Library during the month of March.

These Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators were WWI American female switchboard operators which were formed in 1917.

What began in the 1980s as Women's History Week eventually became a monthlong celebration through a series of Congressional resolutions and Presidential proclamations.

Since 1995, presidents have issued annual proclamations designating the month of March as "Women's History Month." The proclamations are meant to celebrate the specific achievements and contributions of women over the course of American history in every field.

Read the entire article on the Dothan Eagle web site.

 

 

 

 

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Jari Villanueva Leads Daily Taps at the National WWI Memorial 

By Kathy Abbott
Staff Writer

The Daily Taps program at the National World War I Memorial, in Washington, DC was launched November 11, 2021 by the Doughboy Foundation as part of its ongoing commitment to Honor All Those Who Served in WWI.

Jari Villanueva Leads Daily Taps at the National WWI MemorialJari Villanueva Leads Daily Taps at the National WWI MemorialTo ensure this commitment would be steadfast, Jari Villanueva, lifelong bugler, considered to be the country’s foremost expert on military bugle calls, and Director of Taps for Veterans, was chosen to lead this effort. Jari sounded the first Daily Taps at the WWI Memorial, DC, and continues to play, as well as organize many other dedicated buglers who have stepped forward to honor all our Veterans and active-duty military, rain or shine.

Jari shared some of his thoughts with us this month…

I was born in Karhula, Finland and moved to the US when I was about one. I grew up in Baltimore attending Baltimore Public Schools and attended Peabody Conservatory where I received my bachelor's degree in Music Education. I taught music in the school system for three years before going to Kent State University where I received my master’s in music.

After I returned to Washington, DC, I joined the US Air Force Band where I spent 23 years as a ceremonial trumpeter and bugler. After I retired, I served as director of the Maryland National Guard Honor Guard overseeing military funeral honors for the State of Maryland. I retired from that position in 2017.

I am now Director of Taps For Veterans and work with over 1,000 volunteers to help provide buglers for military funerals. I also work on special projects with Taps For Veterans like 100 Nights of Taps Gettysburg and Taps Across America in conjunction with CBS News.

I started sounding Taps as a Boy Scout to close each troop meeting and at weekend campouts. I've sounded the call all my life and worked at Arlington Cemetery doing countless funerals and ceremonies. Played trumpet in school, and played at many church services and funerals.

I have served in the military for 23 years. My father served in the Merchant Marines during WWII. He was on a Liberty Ship. He was torpedoed twice. My Sister served as a nurse in the Navy, and my niece is following her mother's footsteps by serving in the Air Force as a nurse at Ramstein AFB.

 

Rogers presents war medals to family of WWI hero 

By Mark White
via The News Journal newspaper (KY) web site

Private First Class Abraham Smith was part of the U.S. Army’s WWI American Expeditionary Force, known as the “Polar Bears.” On Oct. 27, 1918, PFC Smith carried wounded soldiers to the dressing station and delivered a message under artillery fire in north Russia.

Congressman Hal Rogers presents the Silver Star to the family of WWI PFC. Abraham Smith. From left, Rev. Raymond Parks, Alice Parks, Rogers, Jacob Losekamp, and Butch Parks.Congressman Hal Rogers presents the Silver Star to the family of WWI PFC. Abraham Smith. From left, Rev. Raymond Parks, Alice Parks, Rogers, Jacob Losekamp, and Butch Parks.Unfortunately, he was never awarded the military medals that he valiantly earned, Rogers noted.

“Southern and Eastern Kentucky is full of heroic war stories from the sons and daughters of this region who bravely served this nation on the front lines. Mr. Smith never expected to receive any medals and never boasted to his family about his heroic actions in Russia during World War I. It wasn’t until family members started researching military records that they realized their father and grandfather was one of the Army’s storied ‘Polar Bears,'” said Rogers. “I count it a great honor to help families secure war medals that were never awarded to our men and women in uniform. It’s the least that I can do for their incredible sacrifice for this great nation.”

Rogers presented the Silver Star, the WWI Victory Medal and the WWI Bronze Victory Pin to Smith’s daughter, Alice Parks; Rev. Raymond Parks, his son-in-law; Butch Parks, his grandson; and Jacob Losekamp his great-great-great-grandson.

“We had no idea what my father had done. He never talked about what happened during the war,” said Alice Parks. “We are so proud of him and we could never explain what these medals mean to us after all these years.”

“My grandfather was an incredible, hard-working man. It was difficult to get his military records, but when I called Congressman Rogers for help, he and his staff helped us track down the records we needed,” said Butch Parks. “We are so grateful to Congressman Rogers and his staff for making this a matter of importance and getting these medals for our family.”

 

 Hello GirlsThe Hello Girls were the telephone operators who responded to a call from their country to provide bi-lingual telephone services in the theatre of war. It is estimated that they connected 26 million calls and were a significant factor in turning the tide of the war. They were denied veteran status from the end of the war until 1977. The U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, pre-COVID, recommended to Congress that the Hello Girls be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Honoring the “Hello Girls” of World War I 

By Nicole Kunze
via the Lehi Free Press newspaper (UT) web site 

More than 100 years ago, women from every state in the U.S. volunteered to serve as switchboard operators and real-time translators on the front lines of World War I. They served under commissioned officers, wore dog tags, rank insignia and uniforms and swore the Army Oath, but the 223 women and 2 men of the Signal Corps Telephone Operator Unit were told when they came home that they had served as “civilian contractors” instead of soldiers. Lehi’s John Hutchings Museum Director Daniela Larsen is doing her part to get the “Hello Girls” recognition they’ve long deserved.

Daniela LarsenDaniela Larsen“At first, they had men operating the phone lines, but they were slow. General Pershing requested women who were already trained as switchboard operators instead,” explained Daniela Larsen. The women were six times faster at connecting calls than the men they replaced. “A few minutes made the difference between life and death on the front lines in France.”

Two of the “Hello Girls” were from Utah, Emelia Katharine Lumpert and Mary Marshall.

For almost 60 years, the surviving members of the Signal Corps Telephone Operator Unit petitioned Congress for the same veterans’ recognition afforded to their male colleagues and female Army nurses. In 1977 Congress passed a law paving the way for the “Hello Girls” and the WASP pilots from WW2 to be recognized as full veterans of the US Armed Forces. In 2009 the WASPs received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest medal bestowed by civilians in the United States.

The World War One Centennial Commission is working to honor the “Hello Girls” with the same honor. Congressional Gold Medal bill, S.206 currently has 24 cosponsors and bipartisan support.

“World War I was so long ago; we’re losing our connections to it and the lessons from it. The John Hutchings Museum was built as a monument to World War I. We really want to take up this cause and properly memorialize the ‘Hello Girls,” Larsen explained. 

On Monday, March 21, Larsen met with staff members in Utah Senator Mike Lee’s office to ask them to support S. 206. Both Utah senators’ offices are busy fielding calls about helping Ukraine, but Senator Lee’s staff listened attentively to Larsen. “We will always take time to hear from constituents. This is a great cause,” said Nate Jackson, Northern Utah Director and Military Affairs Advisor for Senator Lee.

 

 Wings bParamount Pictures’ Wings is the 1927 film that won the very first Best Picture Oscar at the initial Academy Award ceremony, held at the Hotel Roosevelt on May 16, 1929. Wings is a silent film packed with romance, action, and drama. Set during World War I, the plot follows the adventures of two fighter pilots who come from different social standings but find themselves vying for the affections of the same woman.

The 14 Best World War I Movies Ever Made 

By Fiona Underhill
via the slashfilm.com web site

World War One is underrepresented on the big screen, certainly in comparison to the Second World War. Although fought from 1914, the late entry of the U.S. in 1917 and their relatively small losses could be a factor in this. The bleak tragedy and hollow futility of the First World War compared to the second, which had a much clearer motive and offered more chances for gung-ho heroism, is another reason why it's not exactly Hollywood movie material.

For understandable reasons, most of the films on this list are British and several have literary origins, being based on novels and plays. With the centenary of the end of the First World War in 2018, it is starting to fade into the background and does not appear in media and culture so much. This is why preservation projects such as Peter Jackson's "They Shall Not Grow Old" are so important, as this war should remain alive and fresh in the collective memory, especially because there are so many lessons to be learned from it. These WWI films stretch from the 1920s to the 2010s, and each one reflects the time in which it was made. The layering of history through the prism of the decade viewing it is an important consideration here. Join us on a tour of almost a hundred years of World War I movies.

Wings (1927)

The first-ever winner of the best picture Oscar is an epic involving hundreds of extras and spectacular air battles, bringing the burgeoning popularity and excitement surrounding both airplanes and moving pictures to mass audiences. Charles Lindbergh's transatlantic flight happened in May 1927, the same year as the premiere of "Wings," and movie attendance soared during the decade. The focus of the story is a love triangle in small-town America between Jack (Charles Rogers), David (Richard Arlen), and Mary (Clara Bow, a huge star at the time). Yet it actually becomes much more about the friendship between Jack and David. It also features an early Gary Cooper role, in not much more than a cameo, but it would be a star-making turn for him.

If you're not overly familiar with early cinema, "Wings" features many elements that might surprise you, including brief nudity (this was before the Hays Code), as well as deep affection and even kissing shown between men. It also displays some jaw-dropping technical achievements, such as the establishing tracking shot in the Parisian café which swoops over tables and through partying couples. The fact that a film as important as this was almost lost makes one think about what else out there has not been preserved. The ending is melodramatic but also genuinely tender. "Wings" is an important film for many reasons, not least that it was made by William Wellman (who had actual WWI combat experience), and is still hugely entertaining almost a century later.

 

 Women WorkersAlthough women were not allowed to fight during this war, many women at RIA put their lives on the line by working one of the most dangerous jobs at the arsenal, filling the 155mm shells and setting fuses in building 250.

World War I opens opportunity for women workers at RIA 

By Sarah Patterson, U.S. Army Sustainment Command
via the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service web site

ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. — During Women’s History Month, inspirational women such as Harriet Tubman or Susan B. Anthony are often remembered, but it is also important to recognize women closer to home who helped pave the way for future female employees here at RIA.

During World War I, women from Rock Island and Moline, Illinois, Davenport, Iowa, and the surrounding areas, were hired in large numbers at RIA for the first time, in order to support the war efforts. As men were deploying to fight the war, women stepped in to take their place at the arsenal, reaching a peak of 1,400 female employees.

This was the first time that women held prominent roles at RIA. They initially held positions such as office workers, typists, and stenographers. As the war effort grew and needs increased though, women began taking on more technical jobs in the artillery, ammunition and clothing shops.

“Rock Island Arsenal was one of many arsenals that experimented early in the war with expanding the female workforce outside of clerical jobs,” explained Kevin Braafladt, U.S. Army Sustainment Command historian. “This was due to a fear of a shortage of male workers as a cause of the expanding war.”

Although women were not allowed to fight during this war, many women at RIA put their lives on the line by working one of the most dangerous jobs at the arsenal, filling the 155mm shells and setting fuses in building 250.

These were considered highly dangerous positions, so women were required to adhere to the safety dress code.

“All girls working in shop buildings, whether skilled laborers or skilled office laborers, must provide themselves with uniforms within 30 days after date of employment. Girls working at machines or near dangerous machinery will wear the bloomer uniform,” stated RIA Commanding Officer Col. Leroy T. Hillman, as reported in a 1918 issue of The Arsenal Record, the installation newspaper, accessed through the RIA archive.

Cora De Wilfond is an example of a particularly influential woman, a trailblazer for female employees working in previously male-only jobs.

 

 LaRue WestmorlandPaul LaRue and Carl Westmoreland walk through Beech Grove Cemetery in 2017.

Cincinnati Icon passes; championed for Black World War I Soldiers

By Howard Wilkinson
via the WVXU radio station (OH) web site 

Carl Westmoreland, who was the senior historian at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center for the past 20 years, died March 10, two days after his 85th birthday.

I had known Westmoreland, who grew up in Lincoln Heights, since his days as a neighborhood activist in Mount Auburn in the 1980s. I have never encountered anyone with the breadth and depth of knowledge of African American history — both in this region and nationally — than this man.

A funeral service for Westmoreland will take place at noon Saturday, March 26, at New Jerusalem Baptist Church, 26 W. North Bend Rd., in Carthage. Visitation will be at the church from 10 a.m. until the time of services.

Below is a column about the extraordinary friendship between Westmoreland and Paul LaRue, a retired social sciences teacher at Washington Court House High School in Fayette County, about 70 miles north of Cincinnati.

—Howard Wilkinson

Carl Westmoreland and Paul LaRue had one of the most unlikely friendships I have ever seen.

Westmoreland, who died March 10 at the age of 85, was a tall, stately Black man of a dignified demeanor, a man steeped in the rough-and-tumble of urban politics who devoted the final 20 years of his life to studying and preserving Black history.

 LaRue, a hard-working social sciences teacher in Washington Court House, Ohio, a middle-aged white man, now retired, taught his small town and rural students to look beyond their own experiences and appreciate the culture and history of people from other times, other places.

They came together because of a passion they shared for making sure the Black men who took up arms to fight oppression in the Civil War and World War I were never forgotten.

And their passion brought them together in 2012 and 2013 at Beech Grove Cemetery, a plot of land on Fleming Road in Springfield Township, about halfway between Wyoming and Finneytown, where a number of Black veterans of World War I have been laid to rest.

LaRue had inspired his students, mostly white, to take part in an extensive search for the final resting places of Ohio's African American soldiers who served in the Civil War and World War I.

 

 Todd S Gernes History Putins War WWI 1140x526

Waking Up to History: Putin’s War and the Historical Precedent of WWI 

By Todd S. Gernes
via the EVN Report web site 

He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

W.B. Yeats, 1916

On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson addressed Congress, requesting a declaration of war against Germany. Germany’s use of unrestricted submarine warfare against commercial and civilian targets, he claimed, was “a challenge to all mankind.” “We have no quarrel with the German people,” Wilson famously said. “We have no feeling for them but one of sympathy and friendship.” After excoriating “Prussian autocracy,” Wilson pointed to Russia as a beacon of hope: “Does not every American feel that assurance has been added to our hope for the future peace of the world by the wonderful and heartening things that have been happening in Russia?” The most enduring sentences in one of the most important American presidential speeches in US history have echoed—at times sincerely and at times hollowly—for more than a century: “The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty.” 1917, the height of the Great War, was also the year in which Ukraine briefly became a republic, independent of Russia. A headline in the New York Sun of Sunday, July 22, 1917, shouted, “Ukraine Reborn as a Nation after 263 Years in Serfdom.” Historical hindsight is so often tinged with irony.

Ukraine

Media commentators, analysts, pundits and historians have all scrambled to draw historical parallels to make sense of Putin’s most recent aggression toward Ukraine, but there have been relatively few nuanced references to World War I. At times, viewing Putin’s war in Ukraine is like glimpsing history through a postmodern kaleidoscope: early Ukrainian tribal origins, Tartar and Mongol invasions, Prince Vladimir accepting Orthodox Christianity, the Russian Empire, the birth of the Soviet Union, the rise of fascism, World War II, the creation of NATO, the Cold War, the fall of the Soviet Union, the horrific battles in Chechnya, and the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula—historical reference points employed, somewhat randomly, to explain cause and effect or to assign blame. Putin went so far as to compare events in separatist-controlled Donbas with genocide and he justified his war in Ukraine as “denazification,” even as Russia proceeds to flatten entire cities, damage hospitals, a maternity ward, schools, town halls, apartment buildings, a nuclear power plant and even a Holocaust memorial site, marshaling crushingly asymmetrical firepower against a much weaker but more passionate volunteer army of born-again nationalists. And the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Nuclear Armageddon, seems always to lurk in the shadows.

Ukraine gained a short-lived independence from the Russian Empire between 1917 and 1920 before it was absorbed into the Soviet Union. Novelist and scholar George Raffalovich (1880-1958), writing in the New York Sun in 1917, pinned his hopes for the Ukrainian future on an emergent internationalism, the foundation of which was peaceful coexistence, cooperation and individual state sovereignty. Raffalovich was a British national born in France of German-Jewish-Ukrainian extraction who was fiercely committed to Ukrainian independence. Because of his internationalism, political engagement and forthright advocacy in lectures and print, he was accused of having German sympathies and was exiled from Britain during the war.[1] “There is now in Kiev a Ukrainian Parliament with a responsible Government which has complete executive power within Ukraine,” he wrote in the New York Sun in July 1918. “Ukraine elects her own representatives and controls her own Cabinet. The Ukrainian Ministry will discuss with Russia all points that need to be discussed. The peace, amity and cooperation will be strong. It is, in short, a partnership, but henceforth, Ukraine is to be a partner, not a subject.” Raffalovich argued idealistically that, although people (and empires) were resistant to change, Ukrainian independence from Russia represented a change for the better, not for the worse. “It means that, [in] having her liberty, Ukraine will take her part in the fight for worldwide liberty. The Allies should welcome this new proof of Europe’s liberation from a great nightmare.” Raffalovich went on to discuss the history, geographic features and ethnic composition of his homeland.

 

INTREPID HEROINES: Members of the cast of the Lewis Center for the Arts’ production of the musical “The Hello Girls.”INTREPID HEROINES: Members of the cast of the Lewis Center for the Arts’ production of the musical “The Hello Girls.” 

Musical from Princeton's Lewis Center About Women in WWI 

via the Princeton University Town Topics web site 

Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theatre presents the musical The Hello Girls at the Berlind Theatre at McCarter Theatre Center, 91 University Place, Friday and Saturday, March 25 and 26 at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, March 27 at 2 p.m.

From New York to Paris, from ragtime to jazz, The Hello Girls chronicles the story of America’s first women soldiers. These heroines served as bilingual telephone operators on the front lines, helping turn the tide of World War I. They then returned home to fight a decades-long battle for equality and recognition, paving the way for future generations.

Music and lyrics for the show is by Peter Mills, and the book is by Mills and Cara Reichel, both Princeton alumni. Princeton senior Kate Semmens directs. Seniors Molly Bremer and Violet Gautreau, alongside a company of 12 student actor-musicians, are in the cast. Funding for this production has been provided in part by Princeton University’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center.

Tickets are $12 in advance, $17 purchased day of performances, and $10 for students at mccarter.org. All guests are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to the maximum extent, which now includes a COVID-19 booster shot for all eligible to receive it. Guests to McCarter Theater must wear a KN95 mask and are also required to show proof of vaccination and a photo ID at the door (Princeton students, faculty and staff only need to show their PU ID card). The actors will be unmasked while performing on stage.


 

 

 Austrian and Italian Troops Fighting WWIClockwise from left: Austrian troops haul a 24cm Mörser M 98 howitzer through a trench dug in the snow; Austrian soldiers fire on the enemy from a mountaintop; a unit of Italy’s Alpini march up Mount Adamello.

WWI in the Alps: An American Journalist on the Italian front lines

By E. Alexander Powell
via the Historynet.com web site  

Edward Alexander Powell was born in 1879 in Syracuse, New York. After studying at Syracuse University and Oberlin College, he began his journalism career at the Syracuse Journal. In 1903 he moved to London to work as an advertising manager for the Smith Premier Typewriter Company, which was based in Syracuse, but within a couple of years he returned to journalism as a correspondent for publications in Britain and the United States. In 1914, after a brief stint as a consular official in Lebanon and Egypt, he became a roving war correspondent, covering World War I from both sides of the battle lines for various newspapers and magazines. When the United States entered the war in 1917, Powell joined the U.S. Army and was commissioned as a captain in military intelligence. An injury took him out of action the following September, and after returning to the United States he left the army with the rank of major.

Powell then switched from journalism to a highly successful career as an adventurer, lecturer, and author. Traveling widely around the world, he published more than two dozen books from 1920 to 1954, pausing briefly during World War II to work as a senior political analyst for the Office of Naval Intelligence. When Powell died in Connecticut in 1957 at age 78, the Boston Globe summed up his career in one sentence: “Held up by bandits, challenged to a duel, poking into insurrection in Crete, witnessing the eruption of Vesuvius and hobnobbing with national leaders, Mr. Powell progressed steadily around the world, surviving all disasters and busily producing copy.”

The following narrative, which has been lightly edited, is excerpted from Italy at War, one of Alexander’s half-dozen books about World War I, which was published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1917.

The sun had scarcely shown itself above the snowy rampart of the Julian Alps when the hoarse throbbing of the big gray staff car awoke the echoes of the narrow street on which fronts the Hotel Croce di Malta in Udine. Despite a leather coat, a fur-lined cap, and a great fleecy muffler which swathed me to the eyes, I shivered in the damp chill of the winter dawn. We adjusted our goggles and settled down into the heavy rugs, the soldier-driver threw in his clutch, the sergeant sitting beside him let out a vicious snarl from the horn, the little group of curious onlookers scattered hastily, and the powerful car leaped forward like a racehorse that feels the spur. With the horn sounding its hoarse warning, we thundered through the narrow, tortuous, cobble-paved streets, between rows of old, old houses with faded frescoes on their plastered walls and with dim, echoing arcades.

And so into the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele—there is no more charming little square in Italy—with its fountain and its two stone giants and the pompous statue of an incredibly ugly king astride a prancing horse and a monument to Peace set up by Napoleon to commemorate a treaty which was the cause of many wars. At the back of the piazza, like the backdrop on a stage, rises a towering sugarloaf mound, thrown up, so they say, by Attila, that from it he might conveniently watch the siege and burning of Aquileia. Perched atop this mound, and looking for all the world like one of Maxfield Parrish’s painted castles, is the Castello, once the residence of the Venetian and Austrian governors, and, rising above it, a white and slender tower. If you will take the trouble to climb to the summit of this tower you will find that the earth you left behind is now laid out at your feet like one of those putty maps you used to make in school. Below you, like a vast tessellated floor, is the Friulian plain, dotted with red-roofed villages, checkerboarded with fields of green and brown, stretching away, away to where, beyond the blue Isonzo, the Julian and Carnic Alps leap skyward in a mighty, curving, mile-high wall.

You have the war before you, for amid those distant mountains snakes the Austro-Italian battle line. Just as Attila and his Hunnish warriors looked down from the summit of this very mound, fourteen hundred years ago, upon the destruction of the Italian plain-towns, so today, from the same vantage point, the Italians can see their artillery methodically pounding to pieces the defenses of the modern Huns. A strange reversal of history, is it not?

 

 Woodrow Wilson addresses Congress seeking entry into the first world war, April 2, 1917Woodrow Wilson addresses Congress seeking entry into the first world war, April 2, 1917

Again, Russia is at the Center of an American-Backed War for Democracy 

By James D. Robenalt
via the History News Network web site 

The idea of America making the world safe for democracy is now just over a hundred years old. Then as now, Russia is at the heart of the controversy.

The United States joined the Great War in April 1917, after a long struggle by President Woodrow Wilson to keep the nation “neutral in thought as well as deed.” Wilson in fact ran for and won reelection in 1916 on the slogan “He kept us out of war!” But just months later, when Germany declared the resumption of its brutal and unrestricted submarine warfare, the pressure for America to take sides became insurmountable.

Yet there was one event, not well understood, that finally allowed the idealistic president to call Congress to a special session to ask for a declaration of war against Germany, and that event took place in Russia. On March 15, 1917, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated in the face of military defections and army mutinies, political unrest, bread riots, and labor strikes mainly in the Russian capital of Petrograd (today St. Petersburg), brought on by the privations and losses of a war that Russia helped to trigger in August 1914.

President Wilson’s low-key Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, had been pressing Wilson for months to react to Germany’s war on the seas by supporting the Allies, which included Great Britain, France, and Russia. And that was the problem—Wilson’s high-minded idea to make the war about something other than commercial disputes or territorial gains persistently ran into a conundrum. How could the Americans transform the war into one about making the world safe for democracy when one of the Allies included the autocratic Russia?

For over three-hundred years, the Romanov Tsars had ruled Russia, greatly expanding the empire. But as with any roll of the hereditary dice, the family had become increasingly weakened and corrupt. After early successes in the war, the Russian war machine faltered, and the nation’s backward economy began to collapse. During the truly pitiless winter of 1916-17, the Russian people wanted bread and peace—and revolution.

Secretary of State Lansing saw his opening to convince a vacillating Wilson that the sudden demise of the Russian ruler and his replacement with a provisional government that looked like a democracy, led by a nobleman and social reformer, Prince Georgy Lvoff, as its premier, was the opening for the U. S. to enter the war. Lansing spoke out on March 20, 1917, five days after the Tsar stepped down.

 

World War I nurses pose together at an American Red Cross canteen in Meuse, France, Dec. 23, 1918. Second from left is Gladys Cromwell, and her sister, Dorothy Cromwell, is at right. World War I nurses pose together at an American Red Cross canteen in Meuse, France, Dec. 23, 1918. Second from left is Gladys Cromwell, and her sister, Dorothy Cromwell, is at right.  

Together in life and death: The Cromwell sisters of WWI 

via the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) web site 

Buried side by side at Suresnes American Cemetery just outside Paris, lie the Cromwell sisters, who traded in a life of prominence in New York City to be frontline nurses during World War I.

The twin sisters survived the war, but overcome by what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), jumped to their deaths from the ship that was to take them home in January 1919.

The tragedy was covered extensively by the press in America, with multiple stories appearing on the cover of The New York Times, and ultimately exposed some of the trauma and anguish experienced by those who served in the Great War.

Dorothy and Gladys Cromwell were born in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1885.

They inherited a large fortune from their father, who served as the trustee of the Mutual Life Insurance Company, and were living on Park Avenue in February of 1918 when they volunteered with the American Red Cross, according to The New York Times archive. 

The “Misses Cromwell,” as they were sometimes referenced in newspapers, served food to soldiers at a canteen in then Chalons-sur-Marne and were never far from active warfare.

“For several months they were within range of the Germans guns and in the midst of constant airplane raids,” described one New York Times report from Jan. 25, 1919.

“They had been bombed at night by enemy planes, and heard the continuous firing day and night of the big guns while they served in the hospitals and saw our fine young American soldiers die,” explained Dr. C.L. Purnell of the American Red Cross, who accompanied the Cromwell sisters on the French steam ship, in another New York Times front page story from Jan. 29, 1919.