Kansas City veterans' WWI fight shows democracy is durable — and a work in progress
By Luke X. Martin
via the KCUR National Public Radio station (MO) web site
World War I was cast as an effort to make the world safe for democracy. A photography exhibit at Kansas City's World War I Memorial and Museum shows that was a complicated prospect for the African Americans who served.
Even before the current war in Europe was cast as an effort to make the world safe for self-determination, Americans of all political stripes worried about the health of democracy at home.
A collection of World War I photos housed in Kansas City shows, in beautiful black-and-white detail, another time democracy's durability and promise came into question.
For some of the African Americans in the military during what is sometimes referred to as "the war to end all wars," time serving in France prompted a curious revelation.
“That was the only time I ever felt like that I was a full-fledged American citizen,” Army veteran Robert L. Sweeney said in 1980, decades after the war. “Because (the French) treated the Black soldiers just like they treated the white soldiers — no difference whatever.”
Sweeney was born in Highland, Kansas, and moved to Kansas City after serving in the Army’s 92nd Division, one of two segregated divisions during WWI. Like many other Black service members at the time, Sweeney faced discrimination from white American troops.
But, as is depicted in the National WWI Museum and Memorial’s “Make Way for Democracy!” exhibit, the Black experience of WWI was complex and multifaceted.
How Basic Healthcare Became Big Business in America after World War I
By Alexander Zaitchik
via the Literary Hub web site
The Great War was a short one for the United States. But in sixteen months of fighting alongside the Entente powers, 116,000 American soldiers were killed. Contemporaries grasped that a break had occurred, forming two distinct periods in the political and cultural life of the country. The defining novel of the prewar decade was Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, a work of social protest and journalism that captured the tone and preoccupations of the Progressive Era. Sinclair’s depiction of the Chicago meatpacking industry will forever be paired with the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, signed by Teddy Roosevelt six months after the novel’s publication.
In the postwar decade, the shrunken public imagination and concerns of the Harding Era were indelibly recorded by the other Sinclair of American literature. Sinclair Lewis’s 1922 novel Babbitt depicted America’s stultifying embrace of the idea, expressed with pith by Calvin Coolidge in 1925, that the country’s natural concern is not civic duty or social improvement, but “the business of business.”
The celebration of commerce and its values colored the drug patent debate when it resumed shortly after the war. But the main theater of this debate shifted from the drug companies to the American university, where a collision of science and commerce spurred development of institutions and mores to manage and rationalize the new business of “ethical” academic patenting. Together, the worlds of academic science, organized medicine, and drug companies initiated the process of revising and shaking off the honor codes that had long buffered them from the crass commercialism of other industries and their own worst natures.
The context for this shift was the maturation of scientific medicine. New research fields were extending the vistas of medical science in every direction, but conducting this research cost money and required expertise. This reality drew academic researchers, medical gatekeepers, and drug companies closer together by necessity. The only guidebooks on hand for ordering these new relationships, however, amounted to a long list of restrictions and negative commandments dating to Hippocrates. The process of formulating and establishing new rules and codes would occur in fits and starts during the interwar decades, eventually supplanting the “ethical” system that had provided medicine and drug making with identity and purpose since Benjamin Rush collected leeches in the swamps outside Philadelphia.
Fargo woman finds 100-year-old letter to her great-uncle from the King of England
By Tracy Briggs
via the Dickinson Press newspaper (ND) web site
FARGO — When 20-year-old Jens Olaf Kittlesrud arrived in England with a few thousand other American troops to fight in World War I, he was handed a letter from the King of England.
Heady stuff for the son of a Norwegian immigrant from Barnesville, Minn.
The letter on ivory stationery topped with the red crest of Windsor Castle was written in script:
“Soldiers of the United States, the people of the British Isles welcome you on your way to take your stand beside the armies of many nations now fighting in the Old World the great battle for human freedom. The Allies will gain new heart and spirit in your company. I wish that I could shake the hand of each one of you and bid you Godspeed on your mission.”
It was signed by King George V and dated April 1918.
Basically, the king was giving an enthusiastic shoutout and thank you to the Americans joining the fight.
The letter had apparently been tucked away for years when Jens Kittlesrud's great-niece, Betty Hoff, found it among her parents' possessions. She was curious about the story behind the letter and wondered if other soldiers had received it.
There were few clues, except that the letter was folded in an envelope and addressed to Miss Lillie I. Hoff, 814 3rd St. N., in Fargo. (There was no ZIP code on the envelope. They wouldn't be around until 1963.)
“He sent it to his future wife with a note on the back that he had arrived there safely,” Hoff said.
WWI veteran considered for Medal of Honor receives recognition in Texas
By Rose L. Thayer
va the Stars and Stripes newspaper web site
Army Pvt. Marcelino Serna came back to Texas from World War I as the state’s most decorated veteran of the war.
Gen. John J. Pershing pinned the Distinguished Service Cross on the soldier for heroic actions that included single-handedly killing and capturing 50 enemy soldiers during the Meuse-Argonne offensive in France.
But to his great-grandchildren, who referred to Serna by the nickname Tata, he was a quiet man who gardened at his home in El Paso.
When his family would visit for a week or two each summer, Serna would wake all seven great-grandkids at 6 a.m. and take them on a long walk, said Genny Stopani, one of the great-grandchildren.
When Serna died in 1992 at age 95, many veterans and members of the military showed up for the funeral, giving Stopani, then 22, the first clue into her Tata’s legacy.
“The internet wasn’t around back then,” she said. “We started doing some digging and then we really learned all that he did as a young man and we were just blown away.”
Del Mar author releases book based on WWI-era letters
By Luke Harold
via the Del Mar Times newspaper (CA) web site
More than 100 years ago, Don Martin was a war correspondent for the New York Herald when the United States entered World War I.
About a month ago, his grandson, James Larrimore, published a book centered around letters Martin exchanged with his daughter (the author’s mother), who was 11 years old at the time.
“This book gives you a day-by-day description of what he was doing as a primary war correspondent in France in 1918,” said Larrimore, who lives in Del Mar. “He covered all things, all the battles and that stuff.”
Titled “In Their Own Words,” Larrimore described the book as a “very touching story about separation of a father and daughter” based on century-old letters. It provides insight into the life of Martin, whose wife had already died years before he left New York City to cover the war for the New York Herald.
The book also includes diary entries and other writings by Martin that shed light on the trials and tribulations of life as a war correspondent.
Martin died in Paris in 1918 from pneumonia and Spanish influenza, according to a New York Times obituary that called him “one of America’s foremost newspaper men.”
“For one who braved so many dangers at the front to get news, it seemed a cruel fate to die as he did,” the obituary said.
Larrimore said the book was years in the making.
“I had to retype all of these letters, I had to put them together, I had to get them into shape so the editor could work with them,” he said.
One of the biggest lessons that readers can expect from the book? “War is hell,” Larrimore said.
“Inevitably with war, you have losses,” he added.
“In Their Own Words, Writings of war correspondent Don Martin and his 11-year-old daughter Dorothy. An intimate view of WWI” is available on Amazon and at the Del Mar Library.
Who was the first woman to receive a Purple Heart? 7 things to know about WWI nurse Beatrice Mary MacDonald
By News 12 Staff
via the News 12 Network television (NY) web site
Beatrice Mary MacDonald, a World War I nurse, was the first woman to be awarded the Purple Heart.
Here are a few things to know about McDonald:
1. Although serving in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, MacDonald was a native of Canada, where she grew up in a large family on Prince Edward Island. She had come to New York to get her nursing training in 1905 and chose to live there afterward to pursue her career. When war came, she volunteered for the American war effort. She was part of a unit organized by Presbyterian Hospital, now part of New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
2. One night in August 1917 during World War I, a German aerial bomb exploded at a military field hospital in Belgium. It was about four miles behind trenches where hundreds of thousands of British, French, Belgian and German troops were fighting the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as Passchendaele. Metal shrapnel ripped through a tent at Casualty Clearing Station #61, where the 36-year-old was rising from her cot to start her shift caring for wounded Allied soldiers. Jagged shards struck her face, damaging her right eye so badly that it later had to removed by doctors.
3. After a six-week recovery from her injury, Macdonald returned to duty serving in military hospitals in France and Belgium.
4. After the war ended in 1918, MacDonald served with Allied forces in Germany until returning to the U.S. There, she resumed living in New York City to continue her profession, and later served as director of the Pennsylvania Hospital School of Nursing for 23 years until her retirement in 1956.
5. The war had been over for years when MacDonald received her Purple Heart in 1936, four years after the award had been reestablished under an order by President Herbert Hoover.
6. MacDonald received numerous awards in recognition of her bravery, and is perhaps one of the most highly decorated women of World War I.
Meet the very good boy who brought smokes to soldiers in the trenches of WWI
By Miranda Summers Lowe
via the Task and Purpose web site
Have you ever gotten exactly what you wanted? It’s hard to imagine that any PlayStation 5 on Christmas morning could beat a pack of cigarettes showing up when you’re stuck in the trenches, but add to it that it’s delivered by an adorable dog. That’s what the soldiers of the 11th Engineers were treated to when Mutt, a YMCA trench runner loaded with ciggies, visited them in 1918 in the Aisne-Marne operation during World War I.
Mutt knew the uniform of the day and wore it with pride, as the photos clearly show his jaunty cravat proudly displaying the YMCA logo. And while it’s mission first, he takes time to get some well-earned trench scritches while the doughboys pass out a carton of cigarettes, no doubt providing a morale boost.
If it seems odd that the Young Men’s Christian Association was running smokes to the troops in 1918, it’s fair to say that just a few years prior, the YMCA would have thought the same. In fact, at the start of World War I, cigarettes were considered immoral, and trashy, if not necessarily unhealthy. Pipe smoking was the preferred method of nicotine hit for the refined set. However, the multi-step process of preparing a pipe required time and equipment that were not ideal during combat.
In many ways, World War I was the first American war where morale was taken seriously. The old guard disliked the “molly-coddling,” and “pink tea parties” and left relief work to civilians. The YMCA was the largest, which provided 90% of aid work through uniformed combat civilians, ranging from essential services like feeding and nursing the troops to hosting singalongs, passing out baseball gear, and soon, delivering cigarettes.
There were no smoke pits in World War I, or more accurately, everything was a smoke pit. Tobacco addressed a number of needs. It alleviated boredom and gave a psychological lift, much as it is used now, but also more dire concerns. The buzz was thought to steady the hands and create wakefulness and alertness. The smell helped to cover the grotesque stench of war: human waste, decaying bodies, and intense body odor. And, dulling taste buds were an advantage when rations were repetitive and boring and best and rancid or molding at worst. As a top staff aide to General Pershing described it, “A cigarette may make the difference between a hero and a shirker.”
How one telegram helped to lead America toward war
By Scott Bomboy
via the National Constitution Center web site
On this day in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson learned of a shocking piece of paper that made America’s entry into World War I inevitable. And current research shows the Americans didn’t know everything German diplomats intended.
The Zimmermann Telegram was a message sent on January 12, 1917, from the German foreign minister Arthur Zimmerman to the country’s embassy in Washington, D.C., to be relayed to German representatives in Mexico.
In the message, Zimmermann instructed the German diplomats to approach the Mexican government, if United States entered the war in Europe, to offer an alliance between Germany and Mexico. The Germans would offer “generous financial support” to Mexico as an ally, with the following proposal, “an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.” Zimmermann also said Germany planned to start unrestricted submarine warfare on February 1, an act that could force the Americans toward a conflict with Germany.
To be sure, the Zimmermann telegram by itself didn’t force the United States’ entry into World War I; that would come five weeks after the telegram was made public, when the Senate and the House passed war resolutions. But its existence became a turning point in the debate over intervention, and it did lead to solidarity between the President and Congress over “the war to end all wars.”
President Wilson broke off diplomatic relations on February 3, 1917, after German submarine attacks resumed. But without evidence of expanded German hostilities, Wilson and the Americans remained neutral, at least in the short-term.
Three months earlier, President Wilson won a narrow victory for a second term against Charles Evans Hughes, with the promise to keep America out of the European war. On February 26, 1917, he was dealing with a Republican Senate filibuster over arming merchant ships when shocking news arrived at the White House via the U.S. ambassador in Great Britain, Walter Hines Page.
British code breakers obtained two copies of the coded Zimmermann telegram, and they were able to break the cypher using a broken code and comparing the telegrams. Not only was Zimmermann willing to finance an adventure by the Mexican government to reclaim territory lost to the United States, it wanted Mexico to intercede with Japan to get Japan to switch sides in the war. (Japan played a limited role against Germany in World War I.)
1918 • A Post-Dispatch mailroom clerk becomes the first St. Louisan to die in WWI
via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper (MO) web site
David Hickey was 38 when he answered the patriotic drumbeat in April 1917 to fight in the Great War. He was assigned to a U.S. Army artillery battery in France at the village of Seicheprey, near the slaughterhouse known as Verdun.
Hickey had grown up just north of downtown and was a newsboy. He later worked in shoe factories and the Post-Dispatch mail room, where newspapers were bundled. He played on local amateur baseball teams and never married.
His distinction was posthumous: “First St. Louis Man Killed in France,” was the headline in the Feb. 27, 1918, Post-Dispatch, reporting that Hickey had died three days before of shrapnel wounds suffered on Feb. 12.
It was a big local story. The United States had entered World War I on April, 6, 1917, but still was forming its forces along the Western front when Hickey was fatally wounded. America’s first significant offensive didn’t take place until May 1918. Not until September did the Army begin its major push at Saint-Mihiel, near the village of Seicheprey.
Hickey probably was hit by some of daily shellfire that routinely tossed dirt along the shattered front for four numbing years. Only minor engagements were reported in France on Feb. 12, 1918. The headlines were about the Russian revolutionary government’s withdrawal from the war.
When word of Hickey’s death reached St. Louis, reporters interviewed state Sen. Michael Kinney, who knew him from the old Bates School north of today’s Laclede’s Landing. Kinney said Hickey had sent a letter in November asking the senator to notify his sister at 5872 Garfield Avenue about his service in France.
“Dave was a happy-go-lucky chap always ready to do a pal a good turn,” said Kinney.
But the senator couldn’t locate Hickey’s sister, Celia Ebeler, who had moved. Newspapers described Hickey and Ebeler as “estranged.”
Hickey was the first of 1,072 men from the St. Louis area who died in uniform during World War I. America’s total military deaths were 116,500, a small number compared to other combatants. France and Germany together lost at least 300,000 soldiers killed in the grinding battle for Verdun in 1916.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial on Digital Media
By Jenifer Van Vleck, Ph.D.
Contract Historian, Arlington National Cemetery
From November 9 through 11, 2021, thousands of people came to Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) to participate in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration. To supplement the in-person anniversary events, a comprehensive digital media campaign enabled millions more to participate in the centennial virtually. Throughout 2021, ANC featured blog and social media posts (identified with the hashtag #Tomb100) about a rich variety of topics related to the Tomb’s history, meanings, and global significance as a memorial site.
The ANC History Office and Public Affairs Office collaborated to create content that was historically accurate, engaging, and relevant to a broad and diverse public audience. Our successful #Tomb100 digital media strategy built upon broader virtual education and outreach initiatives, which became especially critical as the pandemic prevented many from visiting the cemetery in person.
ANC’s blog (https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/blog), launched in 2019, features original historical essays based on archival research, as well as journalistic accounts of present-day ceremonies and other events at the cemetery. For the 100th anniversary of the Tomb, we published thirteen blog posts, listed here: https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Tomb100/News-Photos-Videos. These posts highlighted key participants in the 1921 ceremonies (Chief Plenty Coups, Edward F. Younger, Frank Witchey, André Maginot); provided historical context and interpretation for the 2021 ceremonies (“The Centennial Flower Ceremony: Meaning, Symbolism, and History”); and delved into broader issues related to World War I, such as memorialization and trauma (“The American Battle Monuments Commission and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”; “A Tragedy after the Unknown’s Funeral”). Authors included subject matter experts from other federal agencies as well as ANC staff and contractors. Within a ninety-day period preceding the centennial on November 11, 2021, ANC’s website received more than 2.5 million views.
In addition, ANC developed a year-long social media campaign to publicize and interpret the Tomb centennial on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The #Tomb100 digital campaign produced 123 posts across these platforms, with a net of more than twelve million impressions. On November 10, our Facebook live video of the flower ceremony went viral, receiving more than 1.2 million views.
Granddaughter finds hidden WWI treasure in a box
By Judy Bruckner
Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site
Judy Bruckner’s lifelong passion for family history began at a young age. An interest sparked by a multi- generational collection of stories, photographs and countless afternoons with her beloved grandparents who cared for it all. Every Tintype, Daguerreotype and Cartes des Visites was a window peering into the past, every enthralling story a chance for Judy to reach through time and touch the fabric of her family's history.
Most prized amongst this collection of treasure; a black, leather-bound album containing photographs, letters, documents and a one-year diary by a 19- year-old ambulance driver named Charles C. Leonard, Judy's grandfather. This vast collection of memories allowed her to experience WWI through Charles' eyes during his time as a volunteer for the American Field Service organization (AFS), which was taken over by the US Army shortly after he arrived in France in July 1917. Charles served as an ambulance driver until May 1919.
Judy knew the unique experiences Charles collected during the final years of the Great War needed to be preserved so upon gaining access to the deteriorating album, she went to work. Between a career and motherhood, she spent the next 8 years digitally repairing the 1000+ fading photos, transcribing journal entries, and exhaustively researching broader events of the war to support the magnificent memories Charles preserved. This book is the achievement of Judy and her grandfather’s work.
The time spent unlocking the mysteries of her grandfather’s experiences broadened her appreciation about a war that before she had only a slight knowledge about from school. Her research brought her closer to the men who served alongside Charles as she translated stories preserved from French books from 1922, old newsletters, and documents preserved by the AFS Virtual Museum and French Museum archive sites.
When asked about her experience, Judy comments:
“Writing a book was much more challenging and rewarding than I ever imagined. I became absorbed in learning as much as I could about USAAS 644 (old SSU 32) and the French infantry division 37 (DI 37) to which they were attached. I translated French books about DI 37 into English to read diaries and to track their journey as they chased the enemy back to Germany. It was hard to leave some of their touching stories out, but I wanted to focus on Charles and his experiences. Even still some of the final moment of the war can only be captured by one who there and so an Algerian solders’ memory was added to the book. The commitment and bravery of these Algerian fighters and their French Officers helped me to understand the sacrifice of all who serve at wartime.
"As I learned about SSU 71 and SSU 32, I decided to create a pictorial roster of these brave men. This would help confirm some of the photos of people taken by Charles but left unlabeled. My challenge was finding a military roster. In 1973 the National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri had a fire in the Military Personnel Record Center in which most WWI service records were stored. All information about USAAS 644 was lost in that fire. Through research using the documents I possessed and online sites I was able to find most of the men and recreate the roster.
How Much Was World War I About… Bread?
By Scott Reynolds Nelson
the Literary Hub web site
Stories about the Great War of 1914 to 1918 often begin with an account of German aggression. But the war’s cause also had roots in the cheap grain cast upon the waters every spring and summer to feed Europe’s working classes. The Turkish-German alliance threatened European gullet cities: it combined the grain-bottling Bosporus, which could block Russian grain, with Germany’s ship-destroying U-boats, which could block grain from Argentina, Australia, and America. Together Turkey and Germany could starve Europe.
Grain was key to almost every stage of World War I. Fearing the threat to its grain exports, imperial Russia helped provoke this global conflict. During the war the British underestimated the threat of Istanbul and overestimated their ability to overcome it. As the conflict dragged on, Germany, also suffering from a dearth of cheap bread, found a unique path to Russia’s bountiful harvest. German success in 1917 and most of 1918 would rely on the un-likeliest of allies: a communist grain merchant with an ax to grind.
World War I has been characterized as a “great powers” conflict with Germany as the aggressor. A Serbian assassin killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to Austria-Hungary’s throne, leading that empire to declare war on Serbia. Russia backed Serbia, mobilizing its army near the Austro-Hungarian border. Germany, itching for conflict, supported Austria-Hungary and demanded that Russia demobilize. When Russia refused, Germany invaded Belgium to attack France—Russia’s ally and financial backer. In the same month the Germans and Austrians attacked Russia near Tannenberg, wiping out the Russian First and Second Armies. England joined the side of the Franco-Russian Allies after Germany invaded Belgium. The Ottomans only joined the Austrian-German Central Powers two months later.
That’s an oft-told story, but for scholars of the pathways of grain around the world, the war’s history begins a little earlier and much farther east. In 1911, Italy invaded what would become Libya, taking it from Turkey. The day after the fighting stopped, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro took advantage of the conflict to invade Turkey. Then, crucially, Turkey closed the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits to commerce, blocking all Russian grain and oil exports. Russians, fearing that Bulgaria or Greece might capture Istanbul, put both their army and the Black Sea fleet on alert.
Russian agriculture minister Alexander Krivoshein, who then dominated the Tsar’s council, reorganized the Russian cabinet in 1914 to prepare for a global war. From the cabinet’s perspective, this coming conflict would be the seventh Russo-Turkish war since the reign of Catherine the Great, yet another attempt to protect Russia’s precious grain-export trade.
Together Turkey and Germany could starve Europe
Krivoshein saw in Istanbul an existential threat. He recognized that Germany, in helping build up Turkey’s military, was drawing Istanbul into its orbit. The paranoid Russian cabinet saw signs of this German-Ottoman alliance everywhere. German officers had been training the Ottoman army since 1883, and Prussian officers organized the placement of the artillery that Parvus had purchased on city walls in Istanbul and Adrianople. Most concerning was that, in July 1914, the Turkish state would receive its first dreadnought: a costly state-of-the-art ship from the English firm Vickers & Co., with other ships on order.
Teaching Ohio's Forgotten WWI Heroes
By Paul LaRue
via the Ohio History Connection web site
Nearly 8,000 Black Ohioans served in the United States Army and Navy in World War I; many made the ultimate sacrifice. The story of these heroes is often overlooked. In today’s classroom, teachers are often forced to balance the volume of content against limited time. World War I content would likely be covered in one to two weeks of class time. A teacher once told me they could cover the World War I content in three class sessions; apparently, they are a much better time manager than I ever was!
The World War I Centennial has provided teachers with an infusion of fresh World War I material and resources. The Ohio History Connection and the Ohio World War I Centennial provide content aligned to the Ohio model curriculum. These lesson plans are free and online. The United States World War I Centennial Commission and The National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places series also offer free quality online lesson plans and resources, aligned to national social studies standards, and with a focus on Black World War I Soldiers and Sailors.
Below are five statements about Black World War I Soldiers and Sailors, their connection to Ohio, with a corresponding lesson plan to help your students explore this rich history!
The 93rd Division saw more combat than any other Black Division. The Division contained the famed 369th Regiment, better known as the “Harlem Hellfighters.” The Division also contained a combat regiment with a significant number of Ohioans, the 372nd. The 93rd Division served under French, not United States command.https://ohiomemory.ohiohistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Searching-for-Homer-Lawson-Lesson-Plan.pdf
Of the approximately 380,000 Black World War I Soldiers only 42,000 served in combat regiments. Nearly 340,000 Black Soldiers served in labor regiments. These men dug trenches, unloaded trains and built roads. Several of these regiments were organized and trained at Camp Sherman near Chillicothe, Ohio.https://ohiomemory.ohiohistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/African-Am-Labor-for-Victory-Lesson-Plan.pdf