African American Officers Riveters doughboys with mules Mule Rearing pilots in dress uniforms The pilots gas masks African American Soldiers 1

Indiana In WWI Stories

Since there have been Hoosiers, there have been Hoosier willing to serve and sacrifice for their nation and its ideals. The state of Indiana is represented in every major United States war since the state’s founding and as of the twentieth century, hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers had served their country proudly. By April of 1917, Indiana had demonstrated their willingness and capability to serve and following the United States’ declaration of war, Hoosiers were ready to step up and serve their nation.

Below are stories of different Hoosiers, who served during World War I. Please click an icon to jump to a particular story or scroll below to learn more!

Aaron R. Fisher IconAlex Arch IconBase Hospital 32Helen Purviance IconJames B. GreshamOpha May Jacob JohnsonSamuel Woodfill Icon

INDIANA IN WORLD WAR I

BY CONNOR MCBRIDE
Connor McBride is a graduate student of Public History at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and intern for the Indiana State Historic Records Advisory Board. He received his B.S. in history from Indiana State University in 2015. He can be reached at cjmcbrid@umail.iu.edu.

Since there have been Hoosiers, there have been Hoosiers willing to serve and sacrifice for their nation and its ideals. The state of Indiana is represented in every major United States war since the state’s founding and as of the twentieth century, hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers had served their country proudly. By April of 1917, Indiana had demonstrated their willingness and capability to serve and following the United States’ declaration of war, Hoosiers were ready to step up and answer the call of their nation.

Read more: Indiana in World War One

AARON R. FISHER

Most Highly Decorated African American Soldier from Indiana to Serve in World War I

May 14, 1896- November 22, 1985

BY CONNOR MCBRIDE
Connor McBride is a graduate student of Public History at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and intern for the Indiana State Historic Records Advisory Board. He received his B.S. in history from Indiana State University in 2015. He can be reached at cjmcbrid@umail.iu.edu.

During the First World War, millions of Americans answered the call to serve the United States with unwavering loyalty to their nation. This number included thousands of African Americans who bravely stepped forward to fight and die for the United States, in spite of the prejudice they so often faced from the country they loved. Their dedication to their country and its ideals remained steadfast, even in the face of the discrimination and vitriol they faced from too many of their countrymen. These soldiers could only serve in certain segregated units, often under white officers. In addition, the military was reluctant to have these soldiers deployed in combat capacities, instead wanting to relegate them entirely to non-combat roles in support of the army, primarily through labor such as loading and unloading supplies from ships. Despite the uniquely high level of adversity they faced, many black soldiers would see combat on the battlefields of France and would perform admirably, earning many awards and commendations. Among these decorated soldiers was Aaron Fisher, a young man from Lyles Station in Southern Indiana. 

Read more: Aaron R. Fisher

ALEXANDER L. ARCH

Fired the First American Shot of the War

March 19, 1894- December 09, 1979

BY CONNOR MCBRIDE
Connor McBride is a graduate student of Public History at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and intern for the Indiana State Historic Records Advisory Board. He received his B.S. in history from Indiana State University in 2015. He can be reached at cjmcbrid@umail.iu.edu.

From the moment the first troops of the American Expeditionary Forces arrived at St. Nazaire, France on through the war and subsequent occupation of Germany, Indiana was always represented. In the case of Corporal James Gresham of Evansville, this meant being among the first to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country. In the case of Alex Arch of South Bend however, this meant being the first to strike at the enemy. On October 23, 1917, Alexander Arch would pull the lanyard on the gun that would cement his name in history. In a time when many immigrants’ loyalties were questioned, this young Austro-Hungarian immigrant from South Bend would deliver a sharp rebuttal to such doubts and earn a place among the American heroes of World War I.

Read more: Alexander L. Arch

BASE HOSPITAL 32

Lilly Base Hospital

BY CONNOR MCBRIDE
Connor McBride is a graduate student of Public History at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and intern for the Indiana State Historic Records Advisory Board. He received his B.S. in history from Indiana State University in 2015. He can be reached at cjmcbrid@umail.iu.edu.

The officers, nurses, and staff of the various hospitals throughout Europe, are the often unsung heroes of World War I. By the war’s end, 21,480 nurses had enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps with over 10,000 of them having served overseas.1 Amongst them, Hoosier nurses were well represented. “Lilly” Base Hospital 32, stationed in the town of Contréxeville in France, was funded largely through the contribution of Eli Lilly & Company, the Indianapolis chapter of the Red Cross, and the citizens of Indianapolis2 and was comprised primarily of officers, nurses, and enlisted personnel from Indiana.3 Throughout its year of active service through 1918 and into the beginning of 1919, the hospital was responsible for the care of 9,698 admitted patients representing 35 different nationalities and every U.S. state with the exception of Nevada.4 Supported by Hoosier funds and personnel, Base Hospital 32 serves as a clear representation of Indiana’s unwavering commitment to the national cause from the very beginning and throughout the First World War.

Read more: Base Hospital 32

SAMUEL WOODFILL

The Outstanding Soldier of World War I

January 06, 1883- August 10, 1951

 BY CONNOR MCBRIDE
Connor McBride is a graduate student of Public History at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and intern for the Indiana State Historic Records Advisory Board. He received his B.S. in history from Indiana State University in 2015. He can be reached at cjmcbrid@umail.iu.edu.

Praised as “Outstanding” by AEF commander General John Pershing,1 Samuel Woodfill would be resoundingly praised as a hero following his return from Europe after World War I. For his bravery and heroism, he would receive the Medal of Honor as well as numerous other military honors both from the United States and several European nations. Though Woodfill reportedly disliked publicity, Indiana’s war hero would receive no shortage of it as he met with presidents, was given a standing ovation in Congress, and was chosen by General Pershing to represent the Army’s infantry as a pall bearer in the burial of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Renowned for his incredible feats as a soldier and remarkable humility as a hero, the Outstanding Soldier of the First World War is considered to this day to be one of Indiana’s greatest war heroes.

Read more: Samuel Woodfill

HELEN G. PURVIANCE

The First Salvation Army 'Doughnut Girl'

February 16, 1889- February 26, 1984

BY CONNOR MCBRIDE
Connor McBride is a graduate student of Public History at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and intern for the Indiana State Historic Records Advisory Board. He received his B.S. in history from Indiana State University in 2015. He can be reached at cjmcbrid@umail.iu.edu.

Of the heroes produced by the First World War, many are soldiers who are remembered for the bravery and sacrifice they displayed on the battlefield. While these soldiers certainly deserve their place of honor in history, one would be remiss not to mention those who worked so diligently and faithfully during the war to support and care for these troops of the United States. The Salvation Army was among the groups that dedicated their energies and support to the efforts of the United States forces in Europe. While the Salvation Army did a great deal to provide humanitarian relief to the soldiers, their involvement in World War I is often remembered for the actions of its “Doughnut Girls”, so named because they were remembered by the soldiers of the American Expeditionary Forces as those who provided coffee and doughnuts to those fighting in France. These Doughnut Girls often served alongside the troops at the frontlines, performing their duties amidst the chaos of nearby battle. The story of the Doughnut Girls and their place in the history of World War I begins with a young woman named Helen Purviance, a salvationist from Huntington, Indiana who had the idea for and cooked the first batch of doughnuts to serve to the troops in France.

Read more: Helen G. Purviance

JAMES B. GRESHAM

The First American to Die in Combat in World War I

August 23, 1893- November 03, 1917

BY CONNOR MCBRIDE
Connor McBride is a graduate student of Public History at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and intern for the Indiana State Historic Records Advisory Board. He received his B.S. in history from Indiana State University in 2015. He can be reached at cjmcbrid@umail.iu.edu.

Among the first American Doughboys to be sent to the front, James Gresham was a Hoosier who would be one of the first American soldiers to reach the battlefield in France and one of the first to give his life in the First World War. He was an average American from humble beginnings whose life was consistently characterized by personal sacrifice: both at home in Evansville, where he chose working to support his family over continuing his education, and on the Western Front where he was among the first Americans in World War I to make the ultimate sacrifice for his country and its ideals. James Bethel Gresham was one of America’s first fallen heroes in France whose actions, throughout his life, reflected a sense of duty and selflessness that we have now come to expect of the American soldier and citizen.

Read more: James B. Gresham

OPHA M. JOHNSON

First Woman to Enlist in the Marine Corps

May 1878- August 13, 1955

 BY CONNOR MCBRIDE
Connor McBride is a graduate student of Public History at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and intern for the Indiana State Historic Records Advisory Board. He received his B.S. in history from Indiana State University in 2015. He can be reached at cjmcbrid@umail.iu.edu.

At the onset and throughout the First World War, women in the United States were still denied the same basic rights and privileges as male citizens, including the right to vote. Suffragists would continue to battle on through this time, but their efforts would not culminate into a constitutional revision until 1920. Not only was the political arena considered off limits for women, but military service was also denied to them. Though legends of women dressing as males to fight for the United States had been spoken of since the Revolution, women were not allowed to legally enlist in the armed services, the Marine Corps being no exception. By the summer of 1918 however, the Corps was in need of more soldiers, many of whom occupied vital administrative and clerical positions throughout the war department at the time. The idea was circulated and eventually approved to allow women into the marines to fill these non-combat positions, relieving this men to head for the front. From Kokomo, Indiana, Opha May Johnson was first in line when the recruiting station in Washington D.C. opened its doors to women and would become a legend as the first woman Marine.

Read more: Opha M. Johnson

World War I Centennial Commemoration Kick Off 

On November 11, 2016, Indiana Governor Michael R. Pence officially kicked off Indiana's World War I Centennial Commemoration with an executive order proclamation.

Proclamation World War I Centennial Commemoration Kick Off Day 2016

World War I and Carroll County

BY MARK ALAN SMITH
Mark Alan Smith is the Carroll County Historian and the Museum Coordinator for the Carroll County Historical Museum.

The initial storm clouds of war started swirling upon the sinking of the luxury liner “Lusitania” on May 7, 1915. The toll of this event was one-thousand lives, one-hundred-and two of whom were Americans. Communiques were issued by the German government to American citizens not to travel on liners destined for Europe due to their vulnerability to attack.

President Wilson then pursued the usual “diplomatic “measures and assured the American public that the nation would not go to war due to the Lusitania tragedy. Ironically enough, prior to this event, on April 15th, 1915, the American steamer “Cushing” was sunk by an airplane attack. On May thirteenth following the demise of the Lusitania the United States government issued a strongly worded document to admonish the German government pertinent to submarine warfare, but their reaction was evasive and for all practical purposes bought some time until later events.
It wasn’t until April second that President Wilson asked Congress to declare that acts of Germany constituted a state of war, and that a submarine sunk the “Aztec” without warning.

On April fourth the senate passed a declaration of war to be followed by an act by the House which cleared the way to a joint declaration, which we are celebrating today.

On May seventh, the War Department ordered rising of nine volunteer regiments to go to France, to be followed by the Selective Service Act’s signing on May eighteenth. It is at this time that General Pershing entered the scene with his expeditionary force of regulars, also destined for France. The State militia became involved on July ninth as well as control of food and related material.

This action was followed by a drafting of 678,000 into service on July eighteenth. The developing use of aircraft was greatly assisted by an appropriation of $640,000,000 for that cause.

By 1918 the end of the conflict was in sight with over 75,000 troops in France by March first. After many negative moves by Germany, and resultant positive moves by the American troops, Germany requests armistice on October sixth and is refused by President Wilson, who later demands surrender by Germany on October fourteenth. Following a refusal of German peace terms, Germany countered with a request to the President. The denouement of the drama is seen with an Allied peace conference at Versailles which fixes peace terms for Germany; Austria signs an armistice acknowledging unconditional surrender. The abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm occurs on November ninth, to be followed by a flight to Holland with his son to escape the wrath of impending revolution---and----finally---the Armistice is signed on November eleventh of that year—1918.

To remind those of the origin of that event, it was originally entitled Armistice Day which was declared by President Wilson on November eleventh of nineteen-nineteen in a proclamation, and I quote “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victor both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

The day was transformed into Veteran’s Day on June first, nineteen-fifty-four, amending an act which was signed into law by President Eisenhower on May twenty-first of that year initiated by World War Two veteran Raymond Weeks in nineteen-forty-five to encompass veterans of all wars especially Korea instead of those exclusively from World War One.

More specifically, the Carroll County toll during that conflict was great:

There was $3,373,260.00 raised for the effort; five-hundred-ninety-four soldiers were involved, and out of that number eighteen lost their lives, and twelve were injured, including, as an example: Emerson B. Knight, Delphi former city editor, Delphi Journal, shot through the right shoulder and received six other wounds; James McCouch, one eye gone, Sergeant John Davis, of Delphi, limbs injured due to a three ton truck passing over his body, Walker Gardiner, Delphi, gassed. These were just exemplary numbers, by the way, which were listed in an insert in the Historical Atlas of Carroll County, Indiana, edited by Thomas Mayhill and Margaret Mayhill, reprinted by the Bookmark in Knightstown, Indiana.

One of the most touching of these numbers was that of Harry Bohannon, from Rockfield, who volunteered to cross the Marne River in a small boat to capture one or more prisoners that they might retrieve information to be used in the Marne drive, then known to be imminent. : The middle of the river had been reached when a soldier of the enemy saw them coming. There was a flash of flame, the boat disappeared, and seven members of the Thirty-Eighth infantry of the Third Division met their Creator. Their bodies were never found. They are thought to have floated down the river or to have been destroyed by the shell which destroyed the boat. George P. Horst, Chaplain of the outfit, helped search the river later but to no avail. He later communicated with Bohannon’s mother that he had died in action. This same Chaplain, who was later field Secretary of The Presbyterian Men’s Assembly, related to Bohannon’s mother this story at Calvary Presbyterian Church at an assembly reported in the Saturday, January twenty-seventy 1923 Hoosier Democrat newspaper. Later in April of 1927 a tree was planted (which is still standing) outside the present-day town of Rockfield. Bohannon was born in 1890 at Rockfield, the son of David and Anna Bohannon of Rockfield. The Harry Bohannon Legion Post at Delphi was named in his honor.

Another Carroll County veteran who was commemorated was that of Clarence Alton Wiles, whose remains were transported home from his fatal injury at Fismette, France, between Rheims and Soissons, France, on August sixth, 1918, with burial at Maple Lawn Cemetery near Flora. Wiles was born December twenty-third on a farm near Pyrmont, Indiana, The son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wiles. He was a member of Co. G. 47th Infantry. The former American Legion post at Flora was named in his honor.

A third veteran of a later war—WWII—imparted his name to a citizenship award of Deer Creek High School in 1947, and that was Courtland Williams, who was a Private in Company L, of the 80th Division of the 317th Infantry. Williams was born February seventeenth of 1919, and lost his life on March thirteenth, 1945 at Grumerath, Germany. According to the Logansport Pharos Tribune of 1947 he was laid to rest in a military cemetery in Luxembourg, Belgium.

There were at least two residual effects of World War One; one being the League of Nations, which became a prototype for the later United Nations, both of which were advocated by Presidents Woodrow Wilson and later Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the actions taken against Germany which involved stripping its Army and Navy of all but 200,000 men for the Army and the reduction of the Navy to six battleships, six light cruisers, and twelve torpedo boats, without submarines, and a personnel of not over 15,000 troops. All other vessels were required to be surrendered or destroyed. These actions and others taken caused a young German corporal who had spent time in a military hospital following blinding in conflict to avenge Germany and to restore its territory and military prowess to pre-World War force. His name was –Adolf Hitler.

I conclude with a short verse by Robert W. Service:

“There was music, mirth and sunshine, but some eyes shown with regret;
And while we stun with cheers our homing braves,
O God, in thy great mercy, let us nevermore forget
The graves they left behind, the bitter graves.”

 

Source: Carroll County Map, War History and Latest Atlas published by the Delphi Journal and the Hoosier Democrat of Flora

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Contact

Sam Alderfer, Director of Communications
Indiana Archives and Records Administration
salderfer@iara.in.gov
317-232-4530

Next Meeting

Indiana World War I Centennial Committee Meeting

  • Tuesday, November 14, 2017 - 10 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
  • Indiana War Memorial - Woodfill Memorial Room
    431 N. Meridian Street, Indianapolis, IN 46204

Next Event

Alex Arch Commemoration

  • Please join us as we remember and honor WWI hero Sergeant Alexander Louis Arch who fired the first American shot of the war.

    - Monday, October 23, 2017
    - 5 p.m., EDT
    - Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens
    - 10776 McKinley Highway, Osceola, Indiana 56561

  • Learn more here: Alex Arch Commemoration

Indiana World War I Centennial Committee

Leadership

  • Chairperson
    Jim Corridan
    Indiana Archives and Records Administration
  • Vice Chair
    Jim Osborne
    Indiana Military Museum
  • Executive Director
    Brig. Gen. Stewart Goodwin
    Indiana War Memorial

Committee Members

  • Bruce Blomberg
    Indiana Department of Education
  • Hannah Brown
    Governor's Office
  • Jim Brown
    Indiana Department of Veteran's Affairs
  • Wayne Eells
    Sons of the American Revolution
  • Katherine Gould
    Indiana State Museum
  • Gerald Hadley
    Indiana National Guard
  • Elizabeth Howard
    Indiana Daughters of the American Revolution
  • Dr. Dan Murphy
    Hanover College
  • Lauren Patton
    Indiana State Library
  • Johnathan Pickett
    Department of Indiana, American Legion
  • Jo Ann Remender
    Salvation Army
  • Dr. Lawrence Sondhaus
    University of Indianapolis
  • Dr. Kathleen A. Tobin
    Indiana Association of Historians
  • Major Bob Webster
    Salvation Army