Veteran’s day is eight days away. The day set aside to salute veterans, past and present, falls on Nov. 11. It will also be the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I, a conflict from which the Veterans Day celebration originated.
The tribute to America’s triumph in Europe was initially known as “Armistice Day.” The Nov. 11 date was celebrated in much more patriotic fashion in the beginning years than now, but a string of major conflicts since WWI probably contributed to the change in attitude.
With the country engaged in two separate wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, this is no time to forget our servicemen and women fighting the battles. Nor should we ever overlook the veterans who came before them.
Since this is the 90th anniversary of the end of hostilities in WWI, now is a good time to reflect on what our nation was like, and what our twin towns were like, at the time. The men and women who served in the conflict have marched on to their eternal reward, but they left an army of ancestors behind to retain the mental images of their brilliant accomplishments.
The U.S. declared war on Germany April 6, 1917. By June 5, more than 10 million men, many of them in their late teens and barely out of high school, had registered for the Army. Twenty-one days later, the first U.S. Army Division landed in France for additional training.
By Oct. 23, the first Yankee soldiers were fighting in trenches on foreign soil. The first American casualties were reported a week later.
Under the command of revered Gen. John L. Pershing, 205,000 U.S. troops were assembled in France in the drive to achieve victory. Thousands more were on the way.
Mile by mile the American military machine advanced from battlefield to battlefield. Names like Montdidier, Chateau-Thierry, Marne, Belleau Wood, St. Mihiel, Argonne, Aisne and Argonne Forest, hardly to be recognized unless one is a student of history and geography, were just some of the torrid battle sites.
News from the front wasn’t a fraction of what it is like in modern-day warfare with wall-to-wall, 24/7 coverage and its instant communications.
The Associated Press and the local newspapers were the messengers from the frontlines.
Local reporters made sure the anxious citizens on the home front were aware of their responsibilities, from food and gas rationing, to war bond and blood drives. Growing food gardens to preserve staples for the armed forces, and sewing and knitting garments and other clothing for hospitals and battlefield aid stations were also high on the list.
Patriotism was sky-high, from school children to adults, in small rural towns and metropolitan cities. Everyone was willing to do his or her part to support the American doughboys, a favorite nametag for Uncle Sam’s soldiers.
Marinette and Menominee counties were well-represented in the military. Although many served in the Marines and Navy, most pulled duty in the Army. The Air Force was a part of the Army at the time. Marinette sent its Co. I National Guard unit. Company L, 33rd Regiment of the Michigan National Guard, came from Menominee. Many men served in other units of the huge Army.
While the sacrifices of the men and women, the latter serving mostly as nurses and ambulance drivers, have been spotlighted in past accounts of WWI, the 90th anniversary milestone is a good time to enlighten readers about the loyalty and noble contributions on the home front.
The American Club of Menominee sponsored “garden forces.” G.W. McCormick, Menominee businessman, was the Upper Peninsula administrator for the Michigan Food Administration. Landowners who held vacant lots were encouraged to make them available to families to plant gardens. A Michigan Agriculture College (Michigan State) visited the U.P. to instruct boys and girls ages 10-16 on how to work a garden.
Daggett had a popular band that toured the area playing patriotic songs at special events, including the gatherings at Hotel Menominee when the county’s draft contingent embarked for military assignment. The band played some concerts for a fee and used the proceeds to purchase wrist-watches for each man from Daggett summoned to duty.
Draftees were given rousing sendoffs. They usually were treated to a luncheon at either Hotel Menominee or Hotel Marinette. Community leaders gave speeches and local bands provided music. Parents and friends gathered at the hotels to partake in the sendoffs.
With a band leading the way, the draftees then marched to the respective train stations from the hotel. Women distributed care packages to the men as they boarded the train.
Liberty bond drives were conducted throughout the twin counties. Local dignitaries, usually a mayor, judge, attorney or business-man, gave fiery speeches to promote the bond sales, money that was invested in manufacturing tanks, trucks, guns and ammunition for the Yanks.
Red Cross workers, White Cross volunteers, Women’s Clubs, Daughters of the American Revolution, church groups and other organizations pitched in to assist in liberty bond and blood campaigns. They produced food with home gardens, made surgical dressings and garments for hospitals and performed other duties in the war effort. Teachers and school children were always available for volunteer work.
A dozen or so local bands enjoyed staging concerts and playing tunes that were uplifting to their audiences. One of the favorites was John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” a march that remains atop the charts at parades and military functions today.
It was no small bragging point for Twin City folks when Harry Glick, a Marinette musician, was chosen assistant band leader for Sousa’s Great Lakes Naval Band that went on a national tour.
Glick first served in the National Guard, then enlisted in the Navy after Army duty. Glick’s position with the 250-piece Sousa band was considered a lofty one, and the twin towns didn’t hide their pride.
When Germany surrendered at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, what was proclaimed the “wildest celebration” in local history burst out. The world knew the end was near.
Thanks to the AP, subscribers to the Eagle-Star and Herald-Leader were braced for the tidings of joy. The two local dailies published “Extra Editions” on Sunday evening, then came back with morning editions on Monday, the day of the armistice. The newspapers were normally late after-noon editions back then.
The bands played, people spilled into the streets with shouts of happiness, and many wept with joy. Embracing was widespread.
The favorite tune, of course, was “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
The World War I memories will last forever. The mental images needed a refresher course on the 90th anniversary.