Quincy, IL doctor thought U.S. proved its might in World War I
By Arlis Dittmer
via the Quincy, IL Herald-Whig newspaper web site
Dr. C.D. Center took an unusual path when he served in World War I. He had been a respected doctor in Quincy for 17 years. He began his military career in 1905 as assistant surgeon for the Fifth Infantry of the Illinois National Guard. In 1910 he was promoted to captain and shortly after to major. Because of the ability displayed while on duty at Fort Benjamin Harrison in 1912, he was transferred from the medical corps to field and staff duty as a lieutenant colonel of the infantry. In that capacity he reported for duty March 26, 1917, shortly after the United States entered the European war, now known as World War I.
Physician and Col. Charles D. Center wore his World War I infantry uniform in this undated photograph. | Illustration courtesy of the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County Charles Dewey Center was born in 1869 on a farm near Ottawa. While helping his family farm, he suffered a leg injury and developed a blood infection. Not being able to farm, he attended Knox Academy and Knox College in Galesburg. In 1890, his leg was injured again, and he spent months in Chicago at Presbyterian Hospital, which helped him decide to become a physician and where he met his future wife. He graduated with honors from Rush Medical College in Chicago in 1894. After graduation he was a surgeon for three iron mines on the Gogebic Range in northern Michigan before returning to Chicago to complete his internship.
Soon after, Dr. Center married his first wife, Edith, who had taken care of him in 1890, and who was a graduate of Illinois Training School for Nurses. At the time of their marriage she was assistant superintendent of the school. They moved to Quincy in 1896. Dr. Center first worked with Dr. Henry Hatch before he opened his own practice specializing in surgical services for women and diseases of children. He served on the medical staff of Blessing Hospital and was a lecturer for Blessing Hospital Training School for Nurses.
Dr. Center wrote scientific articles for medical journals on a variety of topics such as encephalitis, abdominal pregnancy, history of medicine, malaria, and the uses of X-rays. He was active in both the Adams County Medical Society and the Illinois State Medical Society, holding a various offices. According to the Quincy Medical Bulletin, he also was known as "a speaker of force and wit … on almost any subject." He and his wife had two sons, Donald and Arch, before she died of Bright's disease in 1908. Fourteen months later, he married a nurse he met while she was in training at Blessing Hospital. They had two sons, Charles and H. Allen.
Dr. Center was called to active service March 26, 1917. While at Camp Logan in Houston, the Fifth Infantry was transformed into military police, engineers,and machine gun battalions. In November he was placed in command of the 108th Ammunition Train. In December he received orders to report to Hoboken, N.J., where he boarded the ship Andania and sailed for France. In Blois, he was told he had been promoted to colonel before he left the United States. He was now in charge of a station of casual officers, those coming and going, but also those about to be discharged from service. His next assignment was with the 4th Canadian Division and then on to Staff College for a short time. Throughout these months in France, he received training on front line transport of men and materials, all of which prepared him for his job of transport command in the 33rd Division of the 2nd Army. After the war ended in November 1918, he was provost marshal for the Duchy of Luxembourg.
His oldest son, Donald, also joined the Army. He left the University of Illinois in May 1917 and enlisted in the Fifth Illinois Infantry. He went overseas with the headquarters company of the 129th Infantry. While in France, he was transferred and became a battalion sergeant-major of the 108th Trains and Military Police.
In the last chapter of his book, "Things Usually Left Unsaid," Dr. Center wrote, "It was not altogether a pleasant thing to be an American officer in France late in 1917 and early in 1918. … (Allied officers said) A year ago you would have been welcome; now your coming will merely prolong the struggle a few weeks or months, and we will have to pay a still greater penalty… ." He then asked, "What did we get out of the war?" He answered his own question by saying, "We prove again that the American Nation -- slow to take offense, dilatory perhaps in her methods up to the final moment -- will, when sufficiently aroused, fight, and fight hard."
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A New Reading of World War I American Literature
By Keith Gandal
via the Johns Hopkins University Press web site
One hundred years after U.S. involvement in World War I, it is time to revisit our literature that came out of that conflict--because we are only now, finally, able to understand it in its actual historical context. That is the purpose of my new book, War Isn't the Only Hell: A New Reading of World War I American Literature. It draws on military archives and cutting-edge research by social-military historians to fully and properly come to terms with the works of thirteen of our major writers, including some of our most famous authors and some who were in their own time well-known but have been mostly forgotten.
Keith GandalThe Great War is sometimes called “America’s forgotten war.” This is the case, not only because World War I came to be overshadowed by World War II, but because, as Steven Trout suggests, there is no single prevailing account of the war that became registered in the national memory, as there is with World War II. Instead, we supposedly have two sets of contradictory narratives, some patriotic and excited, some haunted and disillusioned.
We know what American involvement in World War II was about; we are less clear what World War I meant to the country. Historians and literary critics have tended to divide our Great-War literature into pro- and antiwar works, but this is too blunt a procedure because it fails to do justice to the mixed reactions that in fact characterize most of these works. Moreover, it is misleading because commentators have largely mistaken the motivations behind a large portion of the disillusionment and excitement.
I would suggest that another reason for World War I’s “forgotten-war” status, which also explains the reductive critical approach, is that, until very recently, we had forgotten a tremendously important aspect of the U.S. experience. In fact, that war involved a chapter of American history that eventually changed this country forever.
As I argue in my book, World War I began America’s national embrace of meritocracy, a conception of status and a practice of governance that had roots in the founding principle of human equality and that would move the country toward an understanding of equality not simply as equality of political rights but also as equality of socioeconomic rights, or equality of opportunity for advancement.
To raise and organize a huge army and officer corps almost from scratch, as I show in War Isn’t the Only Hell, the army conducted America’s first, large-scale national experiment with meritocracy, mostly assigning men to positions and ranks based, not on class, family, and ethnicity, as had been the practice in the Civil War, but on merit. Though the army was notoriously discriminatory against African Americans, it nonetheless made a groundbreaking attempt to extend egalitarian treatment to all other ethnic groups, as well as to the poor and working class. This policy was not a matter of social justice but of the practical, bottom-line aim of winning the war. Indeed, the army’s original plan was for no discrimination against African Americans as well, but the military brass was overruled by a federal government pressured by alarmed white southern leaders. And meanwhile--despite, on the one hand, the vicious army discrimination instead instituted, and, on the other, continuing protests by white southern officials concerning black participation--inclusion of African Americans in the war effort involved some black troops in battle, saw a limited number of black officers, and gave hundreds of thousand of black men a chance to experience a country (France) that was not governed by racial discrimination and Jim Crow laws and that came to embrace them.
Read more: A New Reading of World War I American Literature