A World War I Monument Dedication and its connections to the "Ohio Gang"
By Paul LaRue, Ohio World War I Centennial Committee
Numerous monuments were constructed and dedicated to World War I service members following the Armistice. These monument dedication ceremonies were major community events. The dedications often combined a welcome home ceremony for the troops returning to their communities from service in France, with a somber remembrance of the Soldiers and Sailors whom had lost their lives in the war. Washington Court House, and the surrounding community of Fayette County, held such an event on May 27, 1919. What is fascinating are the connections between the World War I monument dedication and the soon to be elected administration of President Warren G. Harding. These connections bridge the end of World War I with the events of the 1920's, and not without controversy.
The Ohio State Register began its reporting of the Fayette County monument dedication with “... Rousing Welcome Extended Soldiers, Greatest Event of its Kind in County's History was Thorough Success and 15,000 Persons Flock to City and Take Part in Extending Hearty Welcome to Fayette's Brave Soldiers and Sailors ...” The event both welcomed home World War I service men and dedicated the newly constructed Memorial Arch.
Post card of Fayette County Courthouse, circa 1920. Note the WWI Memorial Arch in front of the Courthouse. Courtesy of Kathleen LaRue.
The Memorial Arch had two bronze plaques with the names of forty-four Soldiers and Sailors from Fayette County who made the ultimate sacrifice in World War I. Fayette County historian B.E. Kelley wrote that “... The Arch was largely the suggestion of Jess W. Smith member of the War Work Council...” Jess Smith served as grand Marshall for the accompanying parade while riding a "prancing" horse. Fayette County's returning African American Soldiers received a formal welcome from Mr. Fred Patterson from nearby Greenfield. Fred Patterson, owner of C.R. Patterson and Sons Company, is the first known African American car manufacturer in the United States. The event's keynote speaker was the Honorable H.M. Daughtery. The Ohio State Register described his remarks by saying “... his words were greeted with frequent outbursts of applause ...” The event concluded with a large fireworks display, and a dance that ran until midnight.
Several participants from the World War I welcome home event were later participants in another important chapter in United States history. One year later, Jess Smith served as assistant to Harry Daughtery, who managed the Presidential campaign of Warren G. Harding. Harding's slogan, "Return to Normalcy," referred to getting life back to pre-war conditions. Smith followed Daughtery to Washington D.C. and then served as his unofficial assistant.
Harry Daughtery served President Harding as Attorney General. Daughtery, possibly the most famous of Harding's "Ohio Gang," would draw scrutiny, though never found guilty of any crimes. Jess Smith was accused of influence peddling and committed suicide on May 30, 1923. Smith's World War I Memorial Arch also met a sad ending. The Memorial Arch (which was poorly constructed) was taken down in 1927. The two bronze plaques from the Memorial Arch were removed, then later placed on a new Memorial to Fayette County's World War I dead. This memorial still stands on the lawn of the Fayette County Courthouse. President Harding would die suddenly and unexpectedly, marking an end to this controversial chapter in Ohio and national politics.
Contemporary photo of Fayette County Courthouse. Note no arch; but the plaques on the WWI Memorial are from the earlier Memorial Arch. Courtesy of Kathleen LaRue.
It is striking to read the newspaper account of the welcome home event for the Fayette County's World War I Service members. The event provides a local account of a community ceremony not unlike others across the United States, but also an interesting early look at several members of the “Ohio Gang” – a foreshadowing of the dark days of the President Warren G. Harding administration.
“Little Stories of the Great War”
By Kristen Newby, Projects Coordinator, Ohio History Connection
In 2017, the Ohio History Connection embarked on a two-year digitization project titled Little Stories of the Great War: Ohioans in World War I, generously funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, to commemorate the World War I centennial by bringing Ohioans’ stories to life and sharing their experiences of the war. During an earlier planning phase of the grant, project staff identified World War I collections held by Ohio cultural heritage institutions (which you can search in our WWI Union Bibliography)--14 of these were selected as partners on this project, including local history organizations, university archives, public libraries, and art museums. When the project concludes in April, over 3,000 items from 61 collections representing 16 institutions will be freely available in the World War I in Ohio Collection on Ohio Memory, which include letters and diaries, photographs, posters, published works, cartoons, military records, museum objects, and more.
These primary sources tell the stories of the men who answered the call to arms, as well as the men, women, and children who did their part on the home front to support Allied troops at training camps and serving overseas. Over 154,000 Ohioans were drafted during the war, and a total of 200,293 draftees, volunteers, and Ohio National Guardsmen represented Ohio in the military. To meet the demands of troops mobilized at such a scale, the federal government constructed 16 military training camps across the United States, one of which was built in Chillicothe, Ohio. Camp Sherman, the third largest training camp in the nation, could house 40,000 men and 12,000 horses at any one time, and by the war’s end, over 120,000 soldiers had trained there. Photographs documenting the campus, regiments, camp staff, and candid shots of daily life, as well as letters from soldiers stationed there, provide insights into camp life and a typical training regimen.
Doyen P. Wardwell (back row, 4th from the right) is pictured here at Wilbur Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, with other pilots in training. He served as a combat pilot with the 103rd Aero Pursuit Squadron. Courtesy of Hocking County Historical and Genealogical Society and Museum via Ohio Memory.
Photographs of soldiers throwing grenades, shooting at ranges, putting on gas masks, and digging trenches show some of the rigorous combat training soldiers completed, alongside physical conditioning and more academic study. Soldiers’ letters to their families often describe their daily routines, training exercises, and places they visit throughout Europe, as well as their experiences fighting on the front lines, which can paint vivid pictures of the horrors of the Western Front and the terrible conditions they survived. Letters from members of the Armco Ambulance Corps to Armco’s president tell the story of a volunteer ambulance unit which retrieved wounded and dying men from the front lines and transported them to base hospitals for treatment, traversing treacherous landscapes and often under a barrage of gun fire. Diaries preserve unique and personal accounts of the soldier experience, as well as those who served beyond the traditional combat role of a soldier, like Chaplain Cecil Smith, or 166th Infantry Band member Burt Moffett who writes about his rehearsal schedule and performing for wounded soldiers at military hospitals and at fallen soldiers’ funerals in his diary.
This lantern slide shows soldiers firing French Chauchat automatic rifles at a shooting range during a training exercise. Via Ohio Memory.
The stories of those who served on the American home front are also well represented in the digital collection. Women and children, as well as men who were not drafted to join the military, were encouraged by federal, state, and local governments and organizations to support the national war effort in a variety of ways. Americans could purchase war bonds, called Liberty Loans during World War I, or war savings stamps to help finance the war and offset the national debt; ration food and other goods, like sugar, wheat, steel, metal, and fuel; grow produce in war gardens or “victory gardens” and can their home-grown foods; or volunteer their time with organizations like the Red Cross, Salvation Army, or Y.M.C.A/Y.W.C.A. Women especially played an important role on the home front, as they were the top war bond sellers, led organized volunteer work to support soldiers, and assumed factory work that allowed wartime manufacturing to continue over the course of the war. Many women served in Europe as nurses, such as Mary Gladwin of Akron, who served in Serbia and Greece, and Mary Miller Hayes, daughter-in-law of President Rutherford B. Hayes, who served with the American Red Cross in France.
Although the Armistice on November 11, 1918, brought a long-awaited end to the war, work didn’t come to a halt to bring our troops home, and the effects of war continued to impact the lives of Ohioans. In 1919, women dedicated much time to selling the Victory Liberty Loan, the fifth and final war bond issue, specifically designed to raise funds to bring soldiers overseas home. The Anti-Saloon League, a national player in the prohibition and temperance movements based in Westerville, Ohio, continued their efforts after the war to secure the dry vote in January 1919. Upon their return, World War I veterans formed most of the national veteran organizations extant today, such as the American Legion and the Disabled American Veterans, which continue to advocate for veterans’ rights and needs.
Illustrated by Frederick Duncan, this poster shows a woman in a Salvation Army uniform raising her hand for help for the men and women at her feet. Courtesy of Sandusky Library via Ohio Memory.
One of the ways we can remember World War I and commemorate those whose dedication and sacrifice supported our nation through the war is to remember their stories, learn from them, and share them with our fellow Ohioans and beyond. These men and women’s stories help us better understand our state’s history and contribution to the war, but also demonstrate Ohio’s important role in the nationwide World War I narrative.
In an effort to make these often untold stories more accessible, the Ohio History Connection developed an online transcription platform called World War I in Ohio Transcriptions (transcribe.ohiohistory.org). Users can help transcribe handwritten documents, primarily letters and diaries, which provides a unique opportunity for the public to engage with these first-hand accounts, while increasing their discoverability online by creating full-text searchable records. Full-text searchability allows Ohio Memory users to easily retrieve records that contain specific terms, such as the names of battles, places, military units, and soldiers. To date, 342 documents have been transcribed as part of this project, and we thank all who have contributed!
One of the goals of the “Little Stories of the Great War” project was to not only create a robust digital collection, but to make its contents easily accessible to teachers. Project staff created three bundles of educational resources, each focusing on a specific theme—American home front, soldier experience, and World War I technology—that put these primary sources at teachers’ fingertips for integration into lesson plans, homework assignments, and short and long-term research projects. These resources are available on our Educational Resources page under the heading For Teachers.
To learn more about Ohio’s role in the Great War, and the fascinating stories of Ohioans who experienced this impactful time in our nation’s history, explore the World War I Collection on Ohio Memory! You can search by format, subject, and place, and look for primary sources related to members of your community by conducting keyword searches to limit your results. New content will be added regularly through the end of April, so check back soon for more Little Stories!
World War I veterans at American Legion Post No. 463 in Waterville, Ohio. Photographs, his uniform, and other items related to Albert Graf's (far right) service in the 325th and 112th Machine Gun Battalions are on Ohio Memory. Courtesy of Waterville Historical Society via Ohio Memory.
Goodbye Cleveland, Hello France
Video tells the story of an Ohio Major who fell in France
By Claude Humbert, film maker
I could say the film is about the life of Arthur Samuel Houts (1880-1918), but it goes way beyond his individual destiny. It covers many pre-WWI events that prepared the U.S. troops to their arrival in the trenches of north-eastern France in the last year of WWI.
Houts served in the U.S. Army in 1898, during the Spanish-American war. In 1901, he enlisted in the Ohio National Guard. As a National Guardsman, he went to Washington for the inauguration of President Roosevelt, he assisted the population during the Great Dayton Flood, and dealt with the violent strikes of the early 20th century. In 1916, after the attack of Columbus, NM, by Pancho Villa, he was sent, with the whole National Guard, to the Mexican Border.
In 1917, the Ohio National Guard was called under federal service as the 37th U.S. Division. Major Houts trained the troops at Camp Sheridan, in Montgomery, Alabama, then at Camp Lee, Virginia, and Bourmont, France. He was leading his men during the Meuse-
Argonne offensive when he was killed in action. He was survived by his wife Georgina (born 1884), and his son Kenneth (1903-1985).
I did not choose Major Houts, I would rather say he chose me. I was fifteen when I discovered an old trunk in the attic, at my great-aunt’s, in a small French village. That was a few days after my aunt’s death. I had never been allowed to enter the attic before. That trunk bore a red disc, inside a larger white disc. I learned years later that it was a buckeye, the symbol of both Ohio state and the 37th U.S. Division. The trunk also bore the name of Maj. A. S. Houts, 145th Inf.
Major Houts's trunk, discovered by Claude Humbert in his aunt's attic
That was 40 years ago. Finding information proved difficult then. So, for almost two decades, nothing much happened. Then, the Internet happened, and, little by little, I found pieces of information. The heavy death-toll during the Meuse-Argonne offensive decided me to look into the lists of casualties. The American Battle Monuments Commission had the answer: Houts was killed in action on Sept. 29, 1918, and was buried at the Meuse-Argonne cemetery in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon. I visited his grave as soon as I could.
I promised myself that, some day, I would travel in Houts’s footsteps, from Ohio to the Meuse-Argonne battlefield. Valerie and I finally came to the U.S. in 2015, having decided to document our journey with photos and videos. We agreed that, if the videos and the story proved interesting enough, then I would make a film out of it. I already had some experience in filmmaking, but this was a true challenge, especially since the story meant so much to me.
I wanted to tell most of the story in the soldiers’ own words. I read all the diaries, letters, articles, and veterans’ books I could find. Unfortunately, I could find no personnel correspondence or diary of Houts or his family. But he had several articles published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, mostly expressing his concerns about how the U.S.A. was military unprepared.
We came back to the U.S. in 2018 to present our film. It was premiered in Hoboken, New Jersey, the last U.S. town Houts saw before leaving to France. Later, while in Cleveland, we went to the Western Reserve Historical Society. There, after hours of searching through the 37th Division archives, as we were just about to give up, we found… the last message written by Major Houts. I already had a transcription of it, but this was the actual message he sent to General Farnsworth, and, unlike most of the other messages in all those boxes, it was handwritten, and hand-signed! Except for his trunk, it was the only object that could physically connect me to Major Houts. One hundred years ago, he had held this small piece of paper in his hands, and now it was in my hands…
Note written by Major Houts. Courtesy of the Western Reserve Historical Society
Mr. Humbert's video on retracing Major Houts's footsteps can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/278220140/5500ab95b8
They Shall Not Grow Old
Additional Opportunities to see this Remarkable Film
Peter Jackson's film They Shall Not Grow Old, which features digitally restored original footage from the First World War, will return to theaters in February. The film, which originally showed on two days in December, received highly positive reviews and sold out across the United States, prompting Fathom Events, the film's distributor, to bring it back.
As Jackson explains in the epilogue, They Shall Not Grow Old is directed towards all audiences, not only those with a pre-existing interest in the First World War. Using original footage and excerpts from interviews with veterans, Jackson illustrates what life was like for a soldier serving in the war. Though the film shows the war from the British perspective, it is meant to be universal and the experiences apply to soldiers from any combatant nation. In a process developed for the film, the original footage has been meticulously restored and, after much research, colorized. The result is a beautiful and poignant image of what the war was really for those who served in the trenches.
According to Fathom Events, showtimes depend on location, so check your local theaters.
The Long Road Home
African American WWI Veterans return to their communities
By Paul LaRue, Ohio World War I Centennial Committee
World War I concluded on November 11, 1918, but in many ways, the war never ended for African American Veterans returning home to a segregated, racist America. In 1919 seventy-eight African Americans were lynched in the United States. Eleven of the seventy-eight lynched were ex-soldiers; two were still wearing their World War I uniforms.
In World War I, 380,000 African Americans would answer the call to serve, and 200,000 of these men would travel to France as part of the American Expeditionary Force. While serving in France, African American Soldiers were exposed to poison gas, machine gun fire, and high explosive shells. These soldiers also experienced a paradox while serving; the men received better treatment by French citizens and the French Army than their own Army.
The 372nd Infantry Regiment on parade in Columbus after returning from Europe in 1919. Via Ohio Memory
As soldiers returned to their communities they brought with them the visible and invisible scars of their war. Cincinnatian Lewis Higgins, while serving as a member of the 369th Infantry Regiment (better known as the Harlem Hellfighters), was severely wounded in action, and thus declared as 30% disabled. Sarah Good, of Cleveland, and also a widow of a Civil War soldier, described her son's condition following his World War I service:
“... My son who used to help me, went to the World War and came back, all a total wreck, and no health to do any work scarcely. They gave him eight dollars a month for a few months after his return home and then they taken that away ....”
The examination of data from the Ohio Graves Registration Cards of 165 World War I Veterans, buried in the Historic Union Baptist Cemetery between 1918 and 1940, reveals an interesting narrative. Twenty veterans’ records list tuberculosis as cause of death, while another twenty records list their cause of death as homicide. Two veterans’ cause of death is listed as suicide. It is impossible to know all the challenges these veterans faced in their post war experience, but life for African Americans in the 1920's and 1930's was not easy.
But even with the obstacles facing these returning veterans, many found success. Private Wilber Page of the 317th Engineers returned from France in 1919. Later that year, Private Page would become Reverend Page, Pastor of the Historic Union Baptist Church in Cincinnati. Reverend Page would lead the church for the next sixty-six years. Lieutenant Charles C. Jackson of the 370th Infantry Regiment (better known as the Black Devils) a decorated combat officer, moved his family from Akron to Cincinnati to become a successful independent realtor.
The service and sacrifice of African American World War I servicemen seemed to quickly fade from most Americans’ memory. After the parades welcoming the returning soldiers home were over, the stories of bravery and sacrifice were left to be told at African American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars Posts. Few monuments or memorials were erected to African American World War I Soldiers and Sailors. One of the first monuments erected was by an African American combat regiment to commemorate its dead. The 372nd Infantry Regiment raised more than 10,000 francs before leaving France for home for the construction of a monument. The 372nd asked the monument be erected near a public highway, near the point of farthest advance by the regiment. Today the monument to the 372nd stands by a road near Monthois. The monument is not an official United States memorial, so appropriately it is maintained by the French and private funds.
Monument to the 372nd Infantry Regiment in Monthois, France. Photo credit to Lillian Pfluke, Founder American War Memorials Overseas
We can continue to honor the memory of African American World War I servicemen in our communities and classrooms. The World War I Centennial has provided opportunities for teachers and students to learn more about the service and sacrifice of African American World War I Soldiers. The Ohio World War I Centennial Committee and the Ohio History Connection offer several lesson plans on African American World War I Service:
1.) African American Combat Troops
2.) African American Labor Regiments
3.) Technology and the 325th Field Signal Battalion
4.) Veterans Organizations
Names on a Wall
Documenting Ohio's World War I Deaths in Service
By Paul LaRue, Ohio WWI Centennial Committee
Most Ohio counties honor their community's World War I service members with a list of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. My county, Fayette, is no different. On the Fayette County Courthouse lawn is a monument with two plaques containing the names of Fayette County's World War I dead.
The United States number of deaths in World War I was approximately 116,000. Ohio's eighty-eight counties contributed more than 260,000 soldiers, sailors, and marines to the war effort. Sadly, more than 6500 of these service members never made it home. I became curious about the sources available to locate or identify my community’s WWI deaths in service. These sources and data will vary from county to county. Here are the sources I used to develop a database of Fayette County's WWI deaths in service.
First, I started with the names on our local WWI memorial. Consult your county's veteran organizations and County Veterans Services for plaques and lists of WWI service members. Your local historical society can be helpful in locating local plaques, and/or memorials. Our local plaques (Fayette County) were dedicated May 27, 1919 and list the names of forty-four service members from our county that died in service. These names would have been collected from available local sources.
Second, local period newspapers are extremely helpful. Your local library or genealogical society can be an excellent source of local newspapers. The Ohio History Connection has an excellent collection of Ohio newspapers (Link: http://catalog.ohiohistory.org/Presto/home/home.aspx?ssid=Newspapers ). I used Fayette County's weekly newspaper of the time, the Ohio State Register. The paper contained an article listing the names of the local deaths in service as of December 6, 1918. The newspaper listed twenty-six names as deaths in WWI service. If you have been following my data, you should quickly see a problem. There are eighteen more names on the memorial plaques than listed in the newspaper. Following World War I, the United States government went to great lengths to identify and recover the dead in Europe. Initially, a large number of soldiers were classified as missing in action. The December 6, 1918 issue of the Ohio State Register reflects this fact. Lieutenant Paul Hughey, the namesake of Washington Court House American Legion Post 25 was shot down over Tronville, France on September 14, 1918. At the end of the war his death was classified as missing in action. Lt. Hughey's body was later recovered and buried in France before ultimately being returned to our community for burial in 1921. So, don't be surprised if the number of war dead from your community will vary from source to source.
Fayette County's War Dead listed in the Ohio State Register
My third source was shared with me by the Manuscript Curator for The Ohio History Connection, John Haas. In the source, Charles Galbreath's History of Ohio, Volume #1, Ohio's WWI dead are listed by county beginning on page 699. The listing includes both the date of death and the town or community the service member was from. Galbreath lists thirty-three names of deaths in service from Fayette County. Still, this number does not match either the plaques or local newspapers.
Next, I cross referenced the names from the three sources – local WWI War Deaths in service plaques, the local newspaper article, and Galbreath's Vol. 1 – against two other sources. The first additional source was the Ohio Roster of Soldiers, Sailors and Marines of the World War 1917-1918. The Ohio Rosters are extremely useful. The twenty-two-volume series contains the names and key data on the more than 260,000 Ohioans who served in the Army, Navy, and Marines. The names are arranged alphabetically, and contain information on the regiment, place and date of enlistment, race, and birth. Death in service information is also provided—the date, place, and next of kin notified. Volumes 1 - 19 contain the names of soldiers, volumes 20 - 21 contain the names of sailors, and volume 22 contains the names of Marines. These volumes can be found in most public libraries genealogy section, as well as online.
Finally, I used the database by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) ( https://www.abmc.gov ). The ABMC was established by Congress in 1923. It operates and maintains twenty-six American Military Cemeteries and twenty-seven Memorials in sixteen countries. The ABMC maintains a database of more than 200,000 names of United States service members from World War I through the Vietnam War. More than 35,000 names are of WWI Soldiers and Sailors. The database provides name, rank, regiment, state, and location of burial in an ABMC Cemetery. Roughly 30% of American Service members from WWI whom died in service never returned to the United States for burial. This makes the ABMC database extremely useful.
Once I had cross referenced the names, I was left with three names I could not verify in the Ohio Rosters, which bothered me. I reached out to an excellent genealogist in Cincinnati to get his thoughts. He suggested I look at the local death indexes, then check the local newspapers. I located two of the names this way. One soldier's name was misspelled on the memorial plaque and actually was in the Ohio Rosters. The second soldier's death was chronicled in our local newspaper. The newspaper article described his enlisting in Michigan, which would explain his not being listed in the Ohio Rosters. Only one name listed in the Galbreath records went undocumented. The service member served in the Navy, and I never could find a direct connection to our county.
The Fayette County Court House with World War I Memorial in the foreground
I also added several names to the database. Homer Lawson served in the 372nd, and was killed in action. He is the namesake of American Legion Post 653 in Washington Court House. Lawson's name was omitted, (I speculate) because his mother had moved her young family (including Homer) to Columbus long before the outbreak of the war. Homer Lawson's service is documented in Galbreath, listed from Franklin County. The Fayette County African American community claim Homer Lawson as a local son whom made the ultimate sacrifice. Private Lawson is also profiled in a book, The Gold Star of Victory Memorial. The text honors Franklin County's war dead, and can be found through the Columbus Metropolitan Library. This also highlights the value of seeking out local history sources.
I also included two names from the Village of New Holland. New Holland, like numerous towns and villages in Ohio, straddles two counties. Three quarters of New Holland is located in Pickaway County, and one quarter is located in Fayette County. The New Holland community lost four of its sons in the war. Following WWI the ARCH Post #477 American Legion was organized in New Holland. The name ARCH was an acronym created by taking first letter from the first names of the four fallen soldiers. Two of the four names appear in the Fayette County data. I chose to include the other two names, though technically they are from Pickaway County. I wanted a comprehensive list to honor as many service members sacrifice as possible.
My final database of Fayette County deaths in service lists forty-eight names. Eighteen of the forty-eight names list pneumonia as the cause of death. Fourteen of the forty-eight were killed in action. Two never left Ohio, dying at Camp Sherman and the Wilbur Wright Field. Ten of the forty-eight are buried in ABMC Cemeteries overseas, including four names listed on the tablets of the missing. The earliest death was in April 1917, the latest death was in July 1919. One death was of a soldier killed in a railroad accident in France, and one death was a sailor drowned in the North Sea when his ship hit a mine and sank. Each service member's story demonstrates incredible personal sacrifice.
My hope is that my trail of resources can assist you with your own research. Help Ohio commemorate the World War I Centennial by documenting and recognizing the service members that made the ultimate sacrifice from your community.
Teacher Resources Now Available: Technology and World War I
The Ohio History Connection is pleased to announce the third release of free World War I lesson plans, resource guides, and classroom activities as part of the Little Stories of the Great War: Ohioans in World War I project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Learn about technological advancements during the war, and bring STEM into the history classroom, by engaging students with primary sources focusing on communication, aviation, weapons and artillery, and warships and submarines.
Photograph showing a soldier operating a radio station inside a truck in France, with two observers using binoculars to detect aerial threats. Via Ohio Memory.
Through photographs and letters in the World War I in Ohio Collection on Ohio Memory, the World War I Technology Impacts Ohio lesson plan explores wartime communications, the role of African American soldiers in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and Ohio’s impact on the growth of wartime aviation. The Technology of the First World War classroom activity includes four activities that require students to think critically about how soldiers’ needs and the new fighting style of trench warfare led to technological developments. The First Modern War resource guide provides sets of primary sources focusing on various aspects of technology that teachers can adapt for a variety of activities and assignments.
If you have any questions, please contact project staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to download the lesson plan.
Click here to download the resource guide.
Click here to download the classroom activity.
On December 25, 1918, thousands of Ohioans were in Europe, serving as United States soldiers in the Great War. With the Compiegne Armistice of November 11 fighting ceased on the Western Front, but a formal peace had yet to be signed, and the soldiers remained near the battlefields on which they had fought. When Christmas came, Ohioans of the 37th “Buckeye” Division infantry were in Belgium, not far from the Scheldt River where they had been when the war ended. Artillerymen of the 37th were in France, close to the Meuse-Argonne where they saw action in the closing days of the war. Some, like the soldiers in the 166th Infantry Regiment and contingents of the 83rd Division, enjoyed Christmas in Germany as part of the Army of Occupation. Still others were scattered around France and Italy. Wherever they were, Ohioans made the best of celebrating the holiday while serving overseas, with gifts from home or organizations like the YMCA, and by blending their own traditions with local customs.
In Belgium, the infantrymen of the 37th Division spent Christmas near their billets. Packages from home arrived for many of the men, and the YMCA and Knights of Columbus stepped in and provided candy and cigarettes for those who did not receive anything. Celebrations were largely left to individual commanders, and the festivities were lavish for some units, with hot cocoa and gifts for everyone around. Their holiday celebrations mostly reflected American traditions, although with some improvised adjustments. In France, the 37th’s field artillery decorated their accommodations with locally-collected trimmings and feasted on chickens procured by their mess sergeants. They were also able to secure barrels of French beer to help warm their spirits. The highlight of the holiday season for soldiers of the 37th Division were the ample leave passes issued by headquarters. During and after Christmas, Ohioans took the opportunity to travel to the south of France and even Italy.
YMCA Christmas Card sent to Colonel Webb C. Hayes depicting Santa Claus as a French soldier. Via Ohio Memory.
For the Ohio soldiers of the Army of Occupation, Christmas came while they were keeping watch on the Rhine. Though part of an occupying force, the men were able to benefit from the generosity of German civilians in Coblenz, Oberwinter, and other towns in the Rhineland. In December, the Americans were still under orders not to fraternize with German civilians, however. The history of the 166th Infantry clearly summarizes how the men felt about fraternization: “Fraternizing? Well, what of it? Orders said not to fraternize, but who is going to gruffly refuse the proffered hand of friendship or the gift of cakes or fruit at Christmas time?” The history of the 308th Engineers shares similar sentiments, stating that quite often men spent the holidays in homes with new friends despite orders prohibiting fraternization. The men of the occupation were not offered the leave passes of the divisions in France, but they were able to celebrate the holiday with new friends, who had only months before been hated enemies.
Letter written by Ralph Roesch while in Italy on Christmas Day, 1918. Via Ohio Memory.
Even for all of the festivities, soldiers longed to return home. In a letter to his sister, Private Ralph Roesch wrote “I had the blues a good many times. But I never had them as bad as I did today. Every time anyone says ‘Merry Xmas’ it makes me feel like… I want to sit down and have a good cry.” At the time he wrote the letter, Private Roesch was serving with the 332nd Infantry in Italy. He also wrote of the YMCA providing chocolate, lemon drops, and cigarettes to the men, who were likely as homesick as Roesch. Fortunately for Ohioans who spent Christmas of 1918 in Europe, they had survived the fighting and not long into 1919 the War Department began bringing them home.
Cheseldine, Raymond Minshall. Ohio in the Rainbow; official story of the 166th infantry, 42nd division, in the world war. Columbus; The F.J. Heer printing co., 1924.
Cole, Ralph D. and W. C. Howells. The Thirty-seventh division in the world war, 1917-1918. Columbus; The Thirty-Seventh Division Veterans Association, 1926.
Roesch, Ralph. Ralph Roesch to Pearl Schalf, December 25, 1918. http://www.ohiomemory.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16007coll51/id/8151
With the 308th engineers from Ohio to the Rhine and back, 1917-1919. Cleveland; 308th Engineers Veterans Association, 1923.
"Where Do We Go From Here?"
World War I Veterans at Home
By Kristen Newby, Projects Coordinator, Ohio History Connection
The War Camp Community Service and other organizations published booklets like this one to help returning soldiers transition from military life. Via Ohio Memory.
November 11, 2018, marked the World War I Armistice Centennial, and Americans remembered the honorable men and women who served in the Great War. These types of anniversaries often inspire us to learn more about soldiers’ and sailors’ training regiments and daily life, as well as the harsh conditions they survived and the treacherous landscapes they traversed. But, another important aspect of World War I, or any armed conflict, is what happens to servicemen once they return home. After the parades and overjoyed welcomes from beloved family and friends, what resources were available to help the 4.7 million World War I veterans readjust to civilian life?
The history of government funded veterans benefits dates back to 1776 when the Continental Congress established the United States’ first pension law, granting half pay to Revolutionary War veterans suffering from serious disabilities. After the ratification of the constitution in 1789, the federal government assumed responsibility for veterans’ pensions, which were previously disbursed by state governments. Federal officials revised U.S. pension laws several times over the following decades, including a need-based service pension for Revolutionary War veterans. The almost 2 million Civil War veterans initiated more progressive laws and programs, including compensation for diseases incurred during service and a large-scale national effort to provide medical care for veterans.
This passage comes from an American Red Cross pamphlet titled “When You Get Home” which helps soldiers adjust to civilian life and covers topics including insurance considerations, legal advice, and government compensation. Via Ohio Memory.
Prior to America joining World War I, the Sherwood Act (1912) granted pensions to all veterans, regardless of disability, at age 62. Once the U.S. joined World War I, the unprecedented enormity of mobilized troops forced the federal government to ensure the well-being and financial stability of servicemen and their families. Originally passed in 1914 to insure American ships and their cargos, and later expanded to include men killed, captured, or injured while aboard merchant ships, the War Risk Insurance Act was amended in 1917 to offer three basic benefits—to support servicemen’s families through allotments and allowances; to compensate families in cases of death or disability; and low-cost insurance coverage.
This Act marks the first time the federal government offered family allowances to protect their finances while the main bread-winner is away. Servicemen paid insurance premiums out of their monthly pay, but could also pay a $15 monthly allotment so that the government would send monthly allowances of no more than $50 to their dependents, with the allowance amount based on family size. If injured or disabled, the government provided monthly compensation for men and their families. Soldiers and sailors received $60 upon honorable discharge, and were then responsible for maintaining their insurance coverage by continuing to pay their monthly premiums. Five years after honorable discharge, servicemen could decide whether they wanted to continue their coverage or start a policy with a private insurance company or employer. However, private companies often would not sign on men with serious war-related health conditions and charged more expensive premiums.
Although the provisions within the War Risk Insurance Act protected soldiers’ families during the war, veterans returned with physical and emotional scars, many of them permanently disabled and unable to work. The government paid for medical, occupational, and rehabilitative care for injured and disabled veterans, as well as monthly compensation. Veterans could enroll in government funded vocational training through the Federal Board of Vocational Education, and receive a training stipend of $65 per month or more.
This article from the July 5, 1918, issue of the Morrow County Republican describes the protections given under the War Risk Insurance Act (1917) and the benefits of enrollment. Via Ohio Memory.
Many organizations like the Red Cross, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, and the War Camp Community Service distributed literature detailing how to receive proper medical and rehabilitative care, collect due compensation, find jobs, and how to handle financial situations that occurred while they were away, like lapsed mortgages and pre-war insurance policies. These organizations, particularly the newly formed American Legion, fought for veterans’ rights and pushed for increased educational benefits to help disabled veterans learn new hirable skills so they could work. Although partially disabled veterans received compensation through the War Risk Insurance Act, many veterans suffered financially because monthly disability compensation was often not enough to make up for the individual’s loss in earning power, as he could not return to work making his pre-war income. In 1917, the Red Cross opened the Institute for Crippled and Disabled men in New York to train amputees and individuals with decreased mobility, and by the war’s end most of its patients were veterans. The War Camp Community Service worked with companies to hire veterans and those whose war work jobs were now terminated. Many companies hired back previous employees once they returned from the service, and tried to open other positions to keep workers who temporarily replaced servicemen.
This poster encourages veterans to visit the U.S. Employment Service, operated by the Bureau for Returning Soldiers, to find a job. Courtesy of Sandusky Library via Ohio Memory.
Despite these combined efforts, veterans often did not receive the care and assistance they needed to reintegrate into society and gain financial stability for their families. Unfortunately, unemployment and poor housing conditions were realities for many veterans, not to mention the blatantly unwelcome reception of returning African American soldiers, leading to the 1919 race riots and the eventual Bonus March in 1932.
Although far from a success, one might consider the World War I era to be the United States’ first concerted effort to care for veterans and meet their needs. The government failed these men in many ways, but that doesn’t dim our gratitude and reverence for the men and women who served.
Ohioan Clarence Matlack submitted an affidavit complaining of lung trouble after gas exposure during World War I. Via Ohio Memory.
American Red Cross, When You Get Home. http://www.ohiomemory.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16007coll51/id/1025
Department of Veteran Affairs. VA History in Brief. https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/archives/docs/history_in_brief.pdf
Douglas, Paul H. “The War Risk Insurance Act.” Journal of Political Economy, May 1918. Accessed 12/13/2018. https://www.disabilitymuseum.org/dhm/lib/detail.html?id=3008&page=all
Meloney, William Brown. Where Do We Go From Here? War Camp Community Service. http://www.ohiomemory.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16007coll51/id/1016
Reft, Ryan, “World War I: Injured Veterans and the Disability Rights Movement,” Library of Congress Blog, December 21, 2017. Accessed December 31, 2018. https://blogs.loc.gov/loc/2017/12/world-war-i-injured-veterans-and-the-disability-rights-movement/.
Colonel Charles Young was not Alone
The systematic destruction of the African American Officer Corps in World War I
By Paul LaRue, Ohio WWI Centennial Committee
The story of Colonel Charles Young's service, sacrifice, and disappointment at not leading African American Troops in France during World War I has been well documented. Unfortunately, his story was not unique; large numbers of African American World War I officers were systematically denied or pushed out of leadership positions. World War I was fought during the backdrop of Jim Crow and in a blatantly racist America. I suppose it should come as no surprise that African American World War I officers were treated extremely poorly. The level of institutional racism encountered by African American officers is shocking.
Charles Young wearing the uniform of the 9th US Cavalry. In 1917, the War Department forcibly retired then-Colonel Charles Young rather than risk having white soldiers serve under his command in France.
African American soldiers served both in the 92nd and 93rd Divisions. The 93rd was an incomplete division comprised of four infantry regiments. The 93rd Division was given over to French Command. The 92nd Division was a complete division which stayed under American command. The 370th Infantry Regiment was formed around an Illinois National Guard unit, and was part of the 93rd Division. The 370th is unique amongst African American regiments for being able to keep its African American command structure largely intact. Unfortunately, this was an exception for African American World War I regiments. Ohioan Lt. Charles Jackson served as an officer of a machine gun company in the 370th, and was decorated for bravery in combat.
It is hard to imagine the impact the destruction of the African American Officer Corps had on African American World War I soldiers and their service. One of the best descriptions of service by an African American World War I officer was written by Charles H. Houston for the Pittsburgh Courier in 1940. Houston, a prominent attorney and lead counsel for the NAACP, had served as a First Lieutenant in 368th Infantry, 92nd Division. He wrote a thirteen-installment series on being an African American officer in World War I. Houston masterfully chronicles the racism and bias faced by himself and his fellow officers. The insidious nature of racism is reflected in things both small and large. Lt. Houston reflected on the disparity Black Officers faced in camp "...The Negro Troops were not as well supplied with Coal as the White Troops..." Worse still was the attitude reflected by the senior command.
At Fort Des Moines, 1200 African American officer candidates went to train for service in World War I. Lt. Colonel Charles Ballou was the commander at Fort Des Moines, and later would serve as commander of the 92nd Division. Houston wrote: "... Colonel Ballou told the regiment that the camp was an experiment and the future of Negro Officers in the American Army depended on the record we made at Fort Des Moines; that he expected us to vindicate our friends and justify the decision to make the experiment of training Negroes as Officers by staying out of anyplace where our presence right or wrong might cause friction..." Apparently Colonel Ballou was not aware Colonel Charles Young, the third African American to graduate from West Point, had led the men of the 9th and 10th Cavalry in combat for decades, and was a far more logical choice to command both Fort Des Moines and the 92nd Division!
Many of the same attitudes toward African American Officers was found at the regimental level. Historian and author W.E.B. DuBois wrote of the 317 Engineers, a regiment organized at Camp Sherman, Ohio. "... There were two battalions and all the officers were colored, except four field officers. The Commanding Officers, however, were from the first determined to get rid of the Negroes. On May 10 the colored captains were relieved ... On July 22 all the remaining colored officers, except two Lieutenants, the chaplain and the medical officers, were relieved at the repeated requests of Colonel Brown of Georgia..." There seemed to a belief (at least by some) that white southerners were better suited to command African American troops.
Panoramic Photograph of Company D, 317th Engineer Regiment, taken at Camp Sherman. No officers appear appear in the photo.
This belief and practice continued into World War II. Robert Renshaw, an African American World War II Veteran from Dayton, Ohio, reflected on his experience in the Army: "... If you want the truth, now I'm going to give you the truth. We had four white, non-educated officers from Texas - very prejudiced, couldn't read and write. Our outfit was made of boys from Ohio, Detroit and Chicago ... We had education, they didn't ..."
The impact of institutional racism on the African American World War I Officer Corps is hard to measure. We can evaluate the impact by examining the exceedingly small number of honors and medals received by African American World War I soldiers. Putting aside the generous recognition by the French government, a disproportionately small number of African American soldiers received medals or commendations for their wartime service. Fortunately, the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, along with the Congressional Black Caucus, are looking into this long overdue aspect of the story of the 380,000 African Americans that served our nation honorably in World War I. It is critical that their voices and stories are heard, including in our nation’s classrooms. Resources for teachers are available, such as the National Park Service's Teaching with Historic Places series that features a lesson plan focusing on the World War I service of Colonel Charles Young. Also The Black History Bulletin, Volume 80, Number 2: Titled: African Americans in Times of War. This issue provides educators resources and lesson plans that include content on: Colonel Charles Young, and Lieutenants Charles Houston and Charles Jackson.
Teaching with Historic Places lesson plan on Colonel Charles Young's WWI Service:
Saving the World for Democracy, by Charles H. Houston for the Pittsburgh Courier in (13) installments 1940: August 10th, 4th installment
Same as above; July 27, 2nd installment
An essay toward a history of the Black Man in the Great War by W.E.B. DuBois, The Crisis, June 1919
Robert E. Renshaw (Collection AFC 2001/001/49811), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress