Sunday, January 15, 2012

World War One and The Local Boys

By Delores Miller
On June 28, 1914 the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Serbia and his wife were assassinated.  Little did the local folks know what a long-lasting effect this was going to have on this area.  War began over there with Germany  and Kaiser Wilhelm II conquering all Europe.  President Woodrow Wilson promised in campaign speeches in 1916  to keep America out of the war,  and remain neutral, but in April 1917 declared war on Germany.  This was to be 'The War to End all Wars, The Great War, The war to make the World safe for Democracy', all names given to World War One.    Another embellished and gaudy  name was 'La Guerre du Droit' or the War for Justice.   (Little did they know what the future held for more wars.)   Liberty Bonds were sold to provide financing for the war. 
Local boys were required to register for the draft.  Pressured by propaganda, publicity, proselytism, ballyhoo and enthusiasm  to become soldiers, mercenaries, and sharpshooters. They  left  by train in high spirits.   They returned home two years later, broken and bent in vitality  but when they left, were    sent  off with  the high school bands from the train station.    Most of the population were only one generation removed from immigrating from Germany.  The food sauerkraut was changed to Liberty Cabbage.  People named Schmidt changed their names to Smith to disassociate themselves from German roots.  Some  Dupont young men were straight off the farm and never been further than Marion, too busy milking cows.
One young man from Marion, William Bertram (1890--1918)  was the son of Charles Bertram (1856-1940) and his wife Louisa Rigby (1866-1943).   His draft registration lists his birthdate as December 5, 1892 in South Dakota and his employment as a painter.    William was a Private in Company H, 127th Infantry, 32nd Division and  lost his life in battle  at the age of 28 on August 27, 1918 and is resting for all eternity at Roseland Cemetery.  94 years ago he died.  A life cut too short by a terrible and needless war.
 Dr. Frank Mulvaney, a Marion physician was in the Spanish American War in 1898, in the Panama Zone where he contracted malaria and could not serve in World War One.
One such infantry training  facility was constructed, and called Camp Grant, and christened  and named after the Civil War General and later President Ulysses S. Grant.  Located near Rockford Illinois in Winnebago County.  Quarters were built for housing, drill grounds, rifle ranges for 43,000 men of this new National Army.  180 barracks each holding 200 men was ready for the reception of the first draftee  contingent of selected men.    61 buildings  comprised the base hospital unit.  A remount depot had a capacity of 5000 animals, mostly horses and mules and had to include a school for blacksmiths.    Classes were held in French and German.  Activities included boxing, wrestling, football and mandatory attendance at Chapel.  This was the 86th Black Hawk.
After a training period of several weeks, off they went by train and shipped to France, Belgium and Germany and into the sand-bagged trenches.  Often filled with 2 feet  water, which provided a gratuitous bath.  Hand to hand combat, warfare with grenades, poison mustard gas, masks.  New and improved weapons gave each side more efficient machines to kill the  enemy.   (how wasteful!)  Mechanized vehicles, tanks, trucks, automobiles, motorcycles and for the first time airplanes.  Submarines torpedoed merchant ships.  Stench of rotting flesh.  Soup kitchens and rations, all in the name of fighting the Huns.  Most infantry men were in the Army, although the Marines served among other places at Belleau Wood, on the Marne River, just outside Paris, France, Chateau-Thierrey.  Hard winter weather, and were forced when not in the fox holes to sleep in the snow.  Few had tents or other protection.  Came home shell-shocked and deaf.   Some received a small disability pension. This was a world war, with soldiers, sailors from many countries.  They still bled and died.
The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo!
No more on life's parade shall meet
The brave and fallen few.
Their silent tents are spread
And glory guards with solemn round
The Bivouac of the dead.
By the time the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918 more than  three million Allied servicemen had died from wounds, disease and other causes.  Then came the Spanish Influenza which is another story for another time.
In 1919 the American Legion was formed in Marion.   A canon used in the war was brought to Marion and a park was built  near the plywood factory especially to house this historic artifact.   Wives, daughters and other interested females organized the Auxiliary which every year sell poppies in honor and tradition of the World Wars.
In Flanders fields, the red poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The birds, still bravely singing,  fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead.  Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved and were loved and now we lie dead
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Remembrance Day November 11 and the poppies still grow in abundance and profusion, in the disturbed earth of battlefields and cemeteries where war casulities are buried.  In Marion, still the high school band marches down Main  Street with a program and ceremony.  A moment of silence  marking the end of the war, the 11th day of the 11th month at 11 a.m. in 1918.
And then the Veterans came back to Marion to live uneventful lives, seldom talking about their experiences in World War One. 
Old soldiers never die;
They just fade away.
Their memories remain.
Bibliography:  Zillmer, Lembke and Miller family archives, World Book Encyclopedia, the History of Marion, The Early Years.

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