Maine WWI Centennial Home
Why remember World War I?
That is the question that we will work to answer during the centennial of Maine's involvement in the American war effort. This page is dedicated to providing stories, events, and news related to Maine in World War I.
In 1917, the unthinkable happened: the United States joined the hell that was the Great War. No one knew what the future would hold after the Declaration of War was signed on April 6, but all somehow sensed that things had changed. The hand of war gripped Maine immediately, as the state's National Guard was called up in the days after war was declared, the coast was fortified, and industry shifted from peace to war. More than 32,000 Mainers served in uniform during the war, out of a population of 777,000 in 1917. Over one thousand of those who served would not return to Maine alive. From the Home Front to the Western Front, Mainers made their presence known through their vitality, can-do attitude, and Yankee ingenuity. At the same time, the war left its mark on Maine. In just two quick years, World War I spun the state into a frenzy of activity and propelled the United States to the forefront of the world stage.
On April 3, 1917, the Lewiston Evening Journal carried the ominous headline "United States at War with German Empire." Below it was Governor Milliken's war message. Three days later, Congress officially declared war on Germany. On April 12, a telegram arrived to the Military Department at Camp Keyes in Augusta: “I am, in consequence,” read the telegram from Secretary of War Baker, “instructed by the President to call into the service of the United States forthwith, through you, the following units of the National Guard of the State of Maine: the Second Regiment Maine Infantry.”
The Second Maine was the largest National Guard organization in the state, with companies ranging from Dexter to Augusta, and from Houlton to Eastport. These companies assembled at their hometown armories and began recruiting drives immediately. As they had done in the Civil War, brothers, uncles, fathers, and sons joined up in the same unit to serve alongside each other.
As the Second Maine was mobilizing and conducting guard duty at various sites around Maine, other units were being formed. The call to arms was met with a flood of enlistees. A regiment of heavy artillery was raised, nicknamed "The Milliken Regiment" in honor of the governor, Carl Milliken. Its headquarters was in Brunswick for some time, at Camp Chamberlain on the grounds of Bowdoin College. Chauffeurs and truck drivers formed the 303rd Motor Truck Company. Railway workers from the Maine Central formed the nucleus of Company C, 14th Engineer Regiment (railway). Mainers joined the Navy in great numbers as well.
Women went to work in the factories, many for the first time. They made munitions at the Portland Company or shoes, coats, or blankets at the textile mills in western Maine. Maine industry became centered on the war effort. Even potatoes from Aroostook County were being sent to the front. Communities held war bond and Liberty Loan drives, raising more than one hundred million dollars over the course of the war.
In the summer of 1917, New England began organizing the first National Guard division. Called the 26th Division - later nicknamed the "Yankee Division" - it contained troops from the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. In August of 1917, the division assembled in Massachusetts. The Second Maine was redesignated as the 103rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, taking on about 1,500 men from the 1st New Hampshire and 400 men from the 1st Vermont. Battery C of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery Regiment, from Lewiston, lost its big guns and was issued mortars, becoming the 101st Trench Mortar Battery. Hundreds of men from the Maine Coast Artillery were transferred into the 101st Engineer Regiment and 103rd Field Artillery Regiment to fill the vacancies there so that the division could leave for France.
And thus it was that in the fall of 1917, the 26th Division - with its thousands of Maine men along with it - slipped away in the night and boarded transports headed for France. Beginning in February of 1918, the Yankee Division would enter the front lines and - with the exception of two weeks in August - would remain in combat sectors until the Armistice on November 11. These men - and the thousands of Mainers serving in other units across the Western Front - endured some of the harshest fighting of the war. Despite artillery bombardment, poison gas barrages, machine gun and sniper fire, the influenza, and the ever-present mud, Maine's service members pushed on to ultimate victory.
When it was all over, Maine's Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines came back home and returned to their lives. Three who served - William Tudor Gardiner, Sumner Sewall, and Owen Brewster - would become Maine governors. Other veterans became active leaders in the legislature or in community politics. Many returned to industry or their farms. Some came home with physical or mental wounds. Most would never forget - for good or ill - what they had witnessed in the Great War. And all fell under the shadow of the war that followed - World War II - and faded into memory. Which is why we must remember them.
Proclamation from Governor Paul R. LePage