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Welcome to the Georgia WWI Commission

"To Honor, Educate and Commemorate"

When Emory Doctors went to War

Reproduced here with appreciation to and permission of the Saporta Report

In this column, members of Georgia Humanities and their colleagues take turns discussing Georgia’s history and culture, and other topics that matter. Through different voices, we hear different stories.

This week, REN DAVIS, an Atlanta writer and photographer, shares a story of Georgia patriots — the physicians, nurses, and medical staff who answered the call of World War I.

By Ren Davis

Ren Davis (pictured with wife Helen)Only a small fraction of Americans now choose to serve in the military, many coming from the lower rungs of the nation’s economic ladder, and a declining number ofpolitical and business leaders are veterans. Circumstances were very different a century ago, when nearly all Americans, from laborers to professionals, put their lives and careers on hold and answered the call to serve in World War I. Atlanta and Georgia provided an excellent illustration of this patriotism and dedication.

In April 1917, shortly after America’s entry into the Great War, a call went out from the U.S. Army and the Red Cross to medical schools across the country. Doctors and nurses would be urgently needed to staff hospitals in support of the hundreds of thousands of newly enlisted “doughboys” who would soon head overseas to join British and French allies fighting Germans in the trenches snaking across Europe.

Emory School of Medicine answered the call. When dean William S. Elkin, M.D., received the request, he turned immediately to Edward Campbell Davis, M.D., to organize the school’s medical unit. Davis, a professor at the school and co-founder of Atlanta’s Davis-Fischer Sanatorium (later Crawford W. Long Memorial Hospital and now Emory University Hospital Midtown), had served as an Army surgeon in the Spanish-American War and retained his military rank. Without hesitation, Davis accepted and immediately began assembling a team of Atlanta’s and Georgia’s most prominent physicians, skilled nurses, and other staff for this critical assignment. To enlist support for Davis’s efforts, noted Atlanta writer and journalist Corra Harris urged readers to volunteer, writing, “Every doctor and every nurse that can be spared must be sent to France, and they must go at once.”

Edward Campbell Davis, professor and physician, formed the Emory Unit at the request of the Emory School of Medicine.The initial call was to organize a 500-bed hospital to be funded through popular subscription. Recognizing the scale of this endeavor, however, the federal government in August 1917 appropriated $40,000 to equip the Emory Unit, soon to be officially designated Base Hospital 43.

Base hospitals were the fourth tier of a complex military healthcare system. The first tier were aid stations near the front lines, where casualties were brought by stretcher for assessment. A few miles to the rear and accessible by ambulance were field hospitals, where patients were triaged by severity of injury or illness; those with minor wounds could be treated and returned to the front lines, while others would be transported to evacuation hospitals. These facilities, predecessors to the M.A.S.H. units from World War II and the Korean War, were the destination for urgent surgical or medical care. Once stabilized, patients would be taken by train to the large, permanent base hospitals for extensive surgical or medical treatment and convalescence.

Throughout the fall and winter, before leaving for Europe, Emory Unit physicians and nurses attended courses in military and combat medical care while awaiting word of the unit’s activation and training. A local fundraising campaign by the Atlanta newspapers netted $7,000. At a Piedmont Driving Club celebration, Davis was presented with the check (used to purchase a fully outfitted ambulance), while staff were given sweaters and Red Cross comfort kits.

Still, months went by — the usual military “hurry up and wait” — with no orders. Finally, in April 1918, unit officers received instructions to report to the recently constructed Camp John B. Gordon (present site of DeKalb Peachtree Airport) for basic training. At the same time, they learned that the unit’s hospital would be increased in size to 1,000 beds.

Finally, in June 1918 unit members traveled by train to Hoboken, New Jersey, and boarded the SS Olympic (sister ship of the ill-fated Titanic) for the voyage to Southampton, England. Due to logistical delays, unit nurses were held behind and did not join their colleagues for nearly a month. After a short channel crossing, the unit arrived in Le Havre, France, on June 23, 1918. A few days later, they were in the city of Blois. Emory Unit Base Hospital 43 of the Allied Expeditionary Force was now operational.

During the Emory Unit’s time in France, the capacity of the surgical wards at Base Hospital 43 was increased twice to handled casualties.Utilizing existing hospitals and converted school buildings, Base Hospital 43 was soon expanded to 939 medical-surgical beds and 1,229 emergency beds. By mid-July, casualties began arriving by train from evacuation hospitals near Coulommiers, close to the battle lines at Chateau-Thierry and along the Marne River. Soon, the hospital’s census exceeded 700, most injured by gunshot and shrapnel wounds, with dozens of others suffering from poison gas attacks. To meet the growing number of casualties, two principal surgical teams were organized, one of which was then deployed to staff Mobile Hospital 1, providing frontline care for American soldiers fighting in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the climactic battle to end the war.

Twice during these final months, Base Hospital 43’s capacity was increased to meet the desperate needs, the last time in mid-October, to 2,025 medical-surgical beds and 2,300 emergency beds. On November 10, 1918, the day before the Armistice would be signed, ending the war, the hospital’s census peaked at 2,237 patients. In the weeks and months after hostilities ceased, the hospital continued to care and treat hundreds of patients suffering from both combat-related injuries as well as the epidemic of influenza that was sweeping across Europe and the world.

On Christmas Day, Base Hospital 43 commander Lieutenant Colonel S. U. Marietta, received a telegram of season’s greetings and congratulations from Major General John J. Pershing, Commander in Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces. Pershing wrote, “Please accept for yourself, the officers, nurses, and men under your command, and patients under your care, my. . .admiration for. . .the spirit of loyalty and enthusiasm with which the personnel of your hospital have met their obligations.”

The Emory Unit drew doctors and nurses from across Georgia.The unit remained in France, caring for ill and wounded soldiers until relieved from duty on January 21, 1919. Following a month of demobilization and packing, the unit’s veteran doctors, nurses, and enlisted personnel returned home to a rousing welcome at Camp Gordon on March 29, 1919. While the Emory Unit received citations for meritorious service from General Pershing, French field marshal Ferdinand Foch, and others, the greatest compliment may have come from a patient, a young Army lieutenant, E. H. Jefferies, from New York:

“Atlanta, you can be proud of Emory Unit and if you think you have any more like it, send them along, but you have to go some to keep up with Emory. God bless the people of the South. From a Northern Yank. . . .”

On September 2, 1942, the Emory Unit would be reactivated for service in World War II as General Hospital 43, serving in North Africa and France.

To learn more about the Emory Unit, check out History of the Emory Unit, Base Hospital 43, U.S. Army, American Expeditionary Forces (1919) and The History of Surgery at Emory University School of Medicine (Ovid Bell Press, 1979) by John D. Martin, M.D.

Georgia Humanities is a partner of the Georgia World War I Centennial Commission. To learn more about Georgia and World War I, read this overview, and our columns about fighter pilot Eugene Dobbs, the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919, and the impact of wartime propaganda.

Ren Davis, a graduate of Emory University, is a writer and photographer whose work has appeared in such places as the Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionGeorgia Magazine, and Atlanta Magazine. Davis and his wife, Helen, are the authors of several popular guidebooks and the award-winning Landscapes for the People: George Alexander Grant, First Chief Photographer of the National Park Service (UGA Press, 2015).

Kelly Caudle and Allison Hutton of Georgia Humanities provide editorial assistance for the “Jamil’s Georgia” columns.


World War I Changed Georgia

Reproduced here with appreciation to and permission of the Saporta Report

In this column, members of Georgia Humanities and their colleagues take turns discussing Georgia’s history and culture, and other topics that matter. Through different voices, we hear different stories.

This week, TOM JACKSON, Georgia World War I Centennial Commission, and LAURA MCCARTY, of Georgia Humanities, examine the changes World War I brought to Georgia and efforts across the state to commemorate the war.

By Tom Jackson and Laura McCarty
Photo of Tom Jackson
Those of a certain age – early Baby Boomers – grew up through the centennial of the War Between the States and were regaled with stories of Georgia’s role in it. Our parents were of “the Greatest Generation” who fought World War II, so we were well familiar with those stories as well. But when we note that April 6 this year marks the centennial of the United States’ entry into the “Great War,” some actually have to pause to think what war that might be.

World War I, as it came to be known, had been thought “the war to end all wars,” until it didn’t. There were 70 million military personnel mobilized, nine million combatants and seven million civilians who died as a result of the war. We know of the trench warfare, the use of mustard gas and barbed wire, but the stories of Georgia’s role in the war and of the doughboys it sent to the front are less well known.

One hundred years ago this week, on April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany and entered World War I. Though President Woodrow Wilson recently had been reelected with a narrow victory under the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War,” increased German submarine attacks on trading and passenger vessels and the Zimmerman Telegram (a secret communication from Germany to Mexico that offered the latter the opportunity to reclaim land in the American Southwest if they allied with Germany) led him to seek the declaration. Congress also passed the Selective Draft Act requiring men from ages 21 to 30 to register.

Photo of Laura McCartyWith the war already almost three years old and at a dangerous stalemate, Georgia newspapers and elected officials had been opposed to American intervention, fearing it would hurt the cotton and timber trade. After the sinking of the Lusitania, Senator Hoke Smith said war was not needed to avenge the deaths of a few “rich Americans.” Senator Thomas E. Watson unsuccessfully challenged the draft act in federal court. Some farmers and landowners feared the loss of laborers and attempted to control who would be drafted. Ten percent of Georgia’s African Americans left as part of what became the Great Migration, seeking to escape Georgia’s Jim Crow conditions through jobs in northern industries or service abroad. (Georgia’s Eugene Bullard, a boxer, had left American shores for Europe prior to the war, but when war broke out, he joined the French military, fighting first with the infantry and eventually as a fighter pilot.)

Georgia’s anti-war attitudes changed quickly, thanks to newspaper accounts that were anti-German and strongly patriotic. (Annette Laing’s column of March 13 provides some examples of how these newspaper articles worked). By the end of the war, more than 100,000 Georgians had served in the war effort, and the state had been home to more military training camps than any other state. Georgia’s major camps crisscrossed the state — from Fort Oglethorpe to Fort Screven on Tybee Island; from Fort Benning in Columbus, to Camp Wheeler in Macon, to Camp Hancock and the Arsenal in Augusta. Souther Field, outside of Americus, was home to a flight school that trained more than 2,000 pilots. Fort McPherson was in south Atlanta, and Camp Gordon was located on the current site of Peachtree DeKalb Airport.

On April 6, 1917, the Atlanta Constitution announced America’s entry into the war. (Atlanta Constitution)Progressive era women’s clubs provided hospitality to the troops in training. Georgians bought war bonds and planted “liberty gardens.” The state school superintendent encouraged teachers and students to take loyalty oaths. Teachers stopped covering German language, art, and history to emphasize their patriotism.

In 1915 teacher and University of Georgia administrator Moina Michael began the practice of making and selling poppies to raise funds to care for wounded soldiers. The Veterans of Foreign Wars organization continues this practice through their “Buddy Poppy” effort, which occurs in April.

Less than seven weeks before the armistice, the tragic wreck of the troop ship Otranto occurred off the Scottish coast. Of 690 doughboys on board, 370 died, including 130 Georgians. Nashville, the county seat of Berrien County, which had lost 28 men in the Otranto disaster alone, dedicated one of the first doughboy statues in 1921. Across the state many communities erected monuments to those they lost and to honor those who served in the Great War. Charles Graves, a Rome native killed in action, was selected to be the “known” soldier buried at Arlington Cemetery. Later, in accordance with his mother’s wishes, he was reburied in Myrtle Cemetery. Shortly before the war’s end and for several months after, Georgia’s soldiers and civilians were effected by the Spanish flu pandemic.

The mission of the Georgia World War I Centennial Commission is to honor, educate, and commemorate.The Georgia World War I Centennial Commission (GWWICC), in partnership with Georgia Humanities and other key organizations, is working to honor the memory, educate about, and commemorate the roles that Georgians played in the war through exhibitions, K-12 curriculum development, and other programs. Among many of note:

With the Georgia Department of Education, the GWWICC is developing teacher resources for use by teachers in the 5th, 6th, and 8th grades and in high school U.S. and world history courses that include World War I. Through National History Day in Georgia (a program of Georgia Humanities and LaGrange College in partnership with Mercer University), the commission will present awards to students for their research on World War I topics.

The GWWICC website is rich with a directory and photographs of World War I markers and monuments across the state and an expanding database of Georgians who died in service during World War I, including many African Americans not previously recognized.

Tune in to GPB on Monday, April 10; Tuesday, April 11; and Wednesday, April 12; from 9:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m. for American Experience’s “The Great War” series.

Keep reading “Jamil’s Georgia” for more in this continuing series about World War I.

Tom Jackson serves as executive director of the Georgia World War I Centennial Commission in his position as Heritage Communications Executive for the University System of Georgia. Laura McCarty is executive vice president of Georgia Humanities.

Kelly Caudle and Allison Hutton of Georgia Humanities provide editorial assistance for the “Jamil’s Georgia” columns.


“Ready to Serve” – A story from WWI Base Hospital 18 in France

Storyteller Ellouise Schoettler re-enacts an engaging, first-person account of Army nurses at the front in World War I, leaving members of the audience feeling as if they had been there. Her presentation on Monday, March 27 told the story of nurses from Johns Hopkins Hospital, who are shown in the slide as they boarded the U.S.S. Finland to cross the Atlantic.  The event, sponsored by the Oconee County Library, was part of the observance of the centennial of World War I.  Thursday, April 6, 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the U.S. declaration of war.

Storyteller Ellouise Schoettler giving a presentation

Storyteller Ellouise Schoettler giving a presentation closeup


Georgia VFW raises contributions to Georgia WWI Centennial efforts to $27,050 toward a goal of $50,000

Left to right:  VFW Department of Georgia State Commander William Sandberg of VFW Post 3679, Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia; World War I Centennial Commission Member Rick Elder, VFW Post 7116 Sylvania; Al Lipphardt, VFW Department of Georgia Centennial Commission Advisory Member, member VFW Post 12002 North Fulton, Georgia; World War I Centennial Commission Chairman Dr. Billy Wells, University of North Georgia and VFW Department of Georgia Senior Vice Commander Richard Attaway, VFW Post 4629 LaGrange. The checks displayed are contributions from VFW Posts in Newnan, Athens, Fort Ogelthorpe, Snelville, Jesup, LaGrange, Cordele, Lake City, Lawrenceville, Douglas, Jonesboro, Thomaston, Fairburn, Sylvania, Buchanan, Northside, Dunwoody and North Fulton.
Left to right:  VFW Department of Georgia State Commander William Sandberg of VFW Post 3679, Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia; World War I Centennial Commission Member Rick Elder, VFW Post 7116 Sylvania; Al Lipphardt, VFW Department of Georgia Centennial Commission Advisory Member, member VFW Post 12002 North Fulton, Georgia; World War I Centennial Commission Chairman Dr. Billy Wells, University of North Georgia and VFW Department of Georgia Senior Vice Commander Richard Attaway, VFW Post 4629 LaGrange. The checks displayed are contributions from VFW Posts in Newnan, Athens, Fort Ogelthorpe, Snelville, Jesup, LaGrange, Cordele, Lake City, Lawrenceville, Douglas, Jonesboro, Thomaston, Fairburn, Sylvania, Buchanan, Northside, Dunwoody and North Fulton.


The VFW Department of Georgia presents Georgia's World War I Centennial Commission with the second installment of a $50,000 pledge at the Commission's March 22, 2017 Meeting.  The image shows twenty checks from 20 posts of the Department totaling $17,050.  When combined with $10,000 from the VFW Department of Georgia presented to the Commission January 19, 2017 our new total is $27,050. Our ongoing efforts to honor our posts and those who served in World War I continues through financial support of the Commission's work. The third pledge installment will be presented at our VFW State Convention in Macon, Georgia on June 16, 2017.  Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States is the only Veteran Service Organization dedicated to combat veterans. Our members remember it is never a matter of what is in your wallet, but more of what is in your heart.  General George Patton, famed World War II warrior said, "Hate War, Love The Warrior".  And VFW members are warriors whose respect and honor of World War I veterans is shown through gifts to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead by giving not till it hurts, but till it feels good knowing the mission continues.  Formed in 1899 by veterans of the Spanish American War to advocate on behalf of those who served in combat, their widows and orphans, we dedicate ourselves to their honor.  We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and with the 100th Anniversary of our entrance into World War I how fitting it is to remember these brave men and women who sacrificed so much. Also noteworthy is the fact the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States presented the National World War I Centennial Commission a check for $100,000 on March 21, 2017.  The Veterans of Foreign Wars...Nobody Does More For Veterans.


Americans Underground: Secret City of WWI

Americans Underground, Secret City of WWI


A documentary airing on the Smithsonian Channel on an “underground city” found beneath a French wheat field that served as refuge for American soldiers during World War I.  They carved names and inscriptions and artwork in the limestone walls of the caves.  The documentary includes an interview with Dr. John Morrow, history professor at the University of Georgia and a member of the Georgia World War I Centennial Commission.  Atlantan Jonathan Wickham, who has collaborated with the GWWICC on potential video projects, is a co-producer.  Initially scheduled air times on the Smithsonian Channel are:

Monday, March 13, 8 p.m.
Friday, March 17, 10 p.m.
Saturday, March 18, 1 a.m.
Sunday, March 19, 1 p.m.

Check the Smithsonian Channel schedule guide for potential future airings.

Details at



2017 WWI Flying Aces Exhibition Bell Media Ad 1366 x 713

COLUMBUS, GA- In coincidence with the national effort to commemorate the United States’ entry into World War I,
The Columbus Museum will present a week of events related to the exhibition “From Flying Aces to Army Boots: World
War I and the Chattahoochee Valley.” The opening celebration will begin March 14, with an artist meet and greet and the
Annual Rothschild Distinguished Speaker Series, and continue with Third Thursday program, March 16. The exhibition
opens to the public March 15 during regular Museum hours in the third floor galleries and will remain open through
August 27. This exhibition is generously sponsored by the Columbus Cultural Arts Alliance and the Columbus
Convention and Visitors Bureau. It is endorsed by the United States World War One Centennial Commission.

Beyond military history, “From Flying Aces” will look at the social and political climate of the region during the first
years of the war, 1914-1917, and changes to the home front during 1917-1918, which included the formation of Fort
Benning. It will also highlight the experiences of local soldiers, African Americans’ service in the war, the life and career
of Columbus native and French flying ace Eugene Bullard, and women’s volunteer service. Alongside artifacts from
public and private collections, a special installation by contemporary artist Danielle Frankenthal will include paintings
inspired by World War I and what she calls “the ceaseless cycle of war, suffering, glorifying, and forgetting.” The
installation, A War Room, is based in part on the classic poem In Flanders Fields, written in 1915 by Canadian
Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. Danielle Frankethal will open the series of exhibit-related events, Tuesday March, with
a meet and greet for Museum members at 5:30 p.m.

Opening events will continue with the Annual Rothschild Distinguished Speaker Series Lecture*, Tuesday, March 14 at
6:30 p.m. This event is free and open to all ages. Dr. Jennifer Keene, a specialist in American military experience during
World War I and President of the Society of Military History will present the talk “ ‘A War for Democracy’: The
Experience of African Americans and Women in World War I.” Keene is a published author of several books. Her book
World War I: The American Soldier Experience will be available for purchase and signing in the Museum Shop shortly
after the lecture. A reception will follow the program.

The opening celebration week will culminate with the Third Thursday program, Thursday, March 16. “From the Great
War to the Big Band” will feature music of the World War I era leading up to World War II by the Columbus Cavaliers, a
big band orchestra. The program will begin at 6 p.m. with music, tours of the World War I exhibition, and light

For more information about the World War I exhibition or The Columbus Museum, visit

*The Rothschild Distinguished Speaker Series is made possible by a generous bequest from the late Norman S. Rothschild (1917-1998) in memory of his parents Aleen and Irwin B. Rothschild. The fund allows the public the opportunity to attend and participate in programming, including lectures by nationally recognized speakers, beyond the normal scope of activities.


Opening of "The World War is Georgia's War" at Georgia Southern Museum

Members of the Georgia World War I Centennial Commission celebrated the opening of the exhibition "The World War is Georgia's War" which will run through January 2018 at the Georgia Southern University Museum. Congratulations to museum director Brent Tharp, staff and students for this outstanding presentation on our state's significant role in World War I.

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Georgia World War I Centennial Commission Donors

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Delta Logo

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Georgia Power

John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Foundation, Inc.

Numerous generous individuals


Georgia World War I Centennial Commission


Commission Members

  • Mr. Scott Delius, Atlanta
  • Mr. Rick Elder, Sylvania
  • Mr. Samuel Friedman, Atlanta
  • Mr. Thomas Lacy, Peachtree City (vice-chair)
  • Dr. John Morrow, Athens
  • Dr. Billy Wells, Dahlonega (Chair)

Executive Director:

Dr. Thomas H. Jackson, Jr., University System of Georgia

Federal Commissioner for Georgia

Dr. Monique Seefried, Atlanta

Commission Associates

  • Dr. Lamar Veatch, University of North Georgia
  • Mr. Keith Antonia, University of North Georgia


Next Meeting:

Wednesday April 19, 2019 1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Atlanta History Center
Draper Members Room
130 West Paces Ferry Rd NW

Future Meetings:

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