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Four Questions for Amy Rohmiller, Ohio WWI Centennial Committee

"Ohio played a major role in WWI in almost every area you can think of." 

By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, United States World War One Centennial Commission

We are thrilled to report that the state-level WWI Centennial Committee from Ohio has gone live with a new web page. The page is hosted by the U.S. WWI Centennial Commission's own website, and can be found here. We caught up with Amy Rohmiller from the Centennial Committee to talk about the new site, and what Ohio is doing to commemorate the Centennial.

The new Ohio new web site is amazing. Who is the target audience for it? What will people find there?

Amy Rohmiller 500Amy Rohmiller of Ohio History ConnectionOur target audience for our news section is anyone who wants to learn more about World War I and Ohio’s role in World War I. We hope to include a variety of different things in that section. We’re using it to highlight exciting resources coming out of the World War I commemoration, including lesson plans for educators and newly digitized and accessible collections available through Ohio Memory, the website for statewide digital collections. We’re also using it to bring more attention to interesting topics and people in Ohio’s World War I history.

Ohio has a rich World War I history, and we’d like to tell the story of the home front as well as the story of military. So far, we have articles posted giving an overview of Ohio’s home front and telling the story of how the town of New Berlin changed its name to North Canton as a result of anti-German sentiments at the time. We’ll have upcoming articles exploring propaganda and newspaper coverage, the role religion played in World War I, the beginnings of Daylight Savings Time, and the War Library Service among others. We aim to post new articles every other week, so keep checking back for new content.

Ohio played a very important role in World War I on several aspects -- recruitment, training, the Buckeye Division and others in combat and support roles, invention/innovation, production of key war materials such as vehicle tires, farm-raised produce & animals, etc. etc. etc. Tell us about that role. What have you learned?

Ohio played a major role in World War I in almost every area you can think of. I was surprised at how big of a role Ohio played. As a state, Ohio sent the 4th most troops in the country and about 5% of the entire nation’s military manpower. Ohio was the home of Camp Sherman, the third largest training camp for soldiers. Over 120,000 soldiers trained at the camp outside of Chillicothe. (Sadly, Camp Sherman also had the highest rate of flu casualties.) As the birthplace of aviation, Ohio, and especially the Dayton area, played a role in World War I aviation. Factories in Dayton produced thousands of Liberty Engines and the Dayton Wright Airplane Company was the largest manufacturer of airplanes producing the American version of the DH4. Ohio also manufactured some of the first mass-produced tanks to support the military war effort.

On the home front, Ohio also made a big contribution to the war effort. The Women’s Committee of the Ohio Branch, Council of National Defense encouraged those at home to plant Victory Gardens, conserve food, and observe “wheatless” and “meatless” days to make sure that soldiers had plenty of food. Ohio actually increased its farm production during the war. In addition, local Community War Chests raised more than $37 million ($600 million today) to support the war effort.

Who were some of the key Ohio figures that rose to prominence, or contributed greatly, to the war effort? What happened to them/with them?

One key Ohio figure in World War I was Newton D. Baker. Baker was the mayor of Cleveland from 1912-1916 until he was appointed as the Secretary of War by Woodrow Wilson. Baker served in that position during World War I. After his term was over, Baker returned to private legal practice. He also wrote a World War I memoir that was published in 1936.

Ohio World War I Centennial Committee logoOhio World War I Centennial Committee logoAnother Ohioan who contributed greatly to the war effort was Burton Egbert Stevenson. Stevenson was a librarian from Chillicothe who founded a library at Camp Sherman where troops were training. He then moved to Paris as the European director of the Library War Service, an effort to provide books to every soldier in camps and in the trenches. After the war Stevenson founded the American Library in Paris.

The most famous Ohioan from World War I is Eddie Rickenbacker. Rickenbacker was from Columbus and became the most successful American fighter pilot in the war, the “Ace of Aces.” Rickenbacker shot down 22 airplanes and 4 balloons. After the war, Rickenbacker eventually became president of Eastern Airlines. He also fought in World War II, surviving being shot down in the Pacific for 24 days before being rescued.

What events and activities are planned by the Ohio Centennial Committee for the centennial year? What are you most excited about? How can people get involved?

This year the Ohio Centennial Committee is working on several different events and activities. The first is bringing a lot of new content to our website to spread the word about what happened in Ohio and to Ohioans during the war.

We’ll have a presence at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus from July 25-August 5. We’ll have a booth with organizations from around the state showing off their World War I collections and hands-on activities like poppy-making and designing shoulder patches for uniforms. The first weekend of the fair will also have an encampment of World War I reenactors to give fair goers a taste of what life was like in camp during the war.

We’re starting a “poppy project” based on the Kentucky Poppy Project to engage people all around the state in commemorating World War I. We’re finalizing a toolkit, with a lesson plan for educators and poppy templates that will go out throughout the state to help them engage their communities in the World War I Centennial. We’re going to encourage people to make poppies, write the name of a veteran from their family or town on them, and return them back to us.We’ll display all the poppies people make during our commemoration of the end of the war on Veterans Day 2018 at the Ohio History Center in Columbus. We’re hoping to get at least 6,777 poppies, one for each of Ohio’s casualties during the war.

We’re also working on a commemoration event for Veterans Day this year, including having a float in the Columbus Veterans Day parade. We’re still working on the details, but we hope to tie into the national commemoration event with bell-ringing.

Finally, we’d like to support events around Ohio as much as we can, and we’re most excited about the events that are happening around the state that get people involved! People can get involved by letting us know what is happening in their community by sending events to arohmiller@ohiohistory.org. We’ll add all the events we know about to our statewide calendar. And, of course, they can help us make poppies!

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