Sunday, April 6, 2017, marks the 100th anniversary of the United States declaration of war against Germany which brought the US into World War I. The Germans had been using submarines to attack any and all ships in the oceans. If you paid attention in history class, you’ll remember the Lusitania, a British luxury liner that was torpedoed by a German U-boat, and sunk on 7 May, 1915. There was world wide outrage. Germany backed off their sea attacks, but eventually resumed them, threatening United States vessels, even though we were technically neutral.
Another item you might recall from history class–the “Zimmerman Telegram” in which the ambassador of Germany tempted Mexico to join with the Germans to fight against the United States if she should enter the war. For their support, Germany would give Mexico back the southwestern states that had been lost to the US in previous wars. This tipped the scales of the people in America to support combat. On April 6, 1917, war was declared against Germany. General John J. Pershing, a Missourian, would lead the charge for the United States as the commander-in-chief for the American Expeditionary Force.
Family historians will want to search the World War I Draft Registration Cards at Ancestry.com (subscription required) or at Familysearch.org (with free account). An Ancestry.com search for my maternal grandmother’s family name–GOTT–brings up the following:
My grandmother, Mary L. Gott Norton would not be born for nine more years (Sept 9, 1926), but her brothers–Loren Bently, Walter Edwin, and Albert Earl–and uncle, Ira Lemmen Gott would all sign up for the draft. Other Gotts were cousins.
Loren Bently Gott was drafted in Montgomery County, Iowa. His World War I Draft Registration Card looks like this:Loren Gott was the son of George Wasington Gott and his first wife, Eliza Malinda Shirley. In 1917–the year of the draft–he was single and working for Ed and Gordon Hays of Stanton, Iowa. The card describes Loren as “tall, slender” with “blue” eyes and “Dark” hair.
He looked like this.
Loren died on Sept 25, 1950. His profile at Findagrave states he was in the 349th Infantry of the 88th Division, US Army. Wikipedia says they were called the “Blue Devils” and served in Alsace, France. (In World War II, the 349th served in Italy.)
Walter Edwin Gott was the son of George Washington Gott and his second wife, Alphrettia Provance. Walter also served in World War I. He is the middle man in the photo. We have no idea who the other two men are.
In honor of another World War I relative, I relate what I remember about Ollie Eber Vancil. I never knew him, but he was the husband of my great-great-aunt Agnes Phillips Vancil. He was a Private in Company B, 102nd Illinois Infantry. He was a prisoner of war. I have always heard that whatever torture he endured caused his hair to turn completely white. Link to his profile at Findagrave
World War I Draft Registration Cards are valuable records for the family historian. Wikipedia states that there were three stages of the draft, beginning on June 5, 1917. The initial registration was for men ages 21-31. A second draft on June 5, 1918 was for men who had turned 21 after the first registration day. Then another on August 24, 1918 to catch those who had missed the first two. A final registration on September 12, 1918 was required for men 18-45. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selective_Service_Act_of_1917)
My great-grandfather, Clarence A. Billingsley filled out his draft registration card, but he was married with young children. He did not serve. Later, in World War II, his sons, Eugene and Rude, would.
Another great-grandfather, Lawrence Beghtol’s draft card.
Registration State: Illinois; Registration County: Schuyler; Roll: 1614576
A final note about General John J. Pershing. He was born in Linn County, Missouri, and lived near Chillicothe. When a child, one of his teachers was George Asberry Smith, who was married to Mary Ellen Norton, a sister to my great-great-great-grandfather, William Norton.
The last veterans of World War I died in 2012 and 2011–they would’ve been well over 100. It is our duty to keep the memory of what they were fighting against, and what they were fighting for–100 years later, when many have been forgotten.
Recently, the Indiana Military Museum in Vincennes, Indiana, hosted a World War I reenactment. The museum is an amazing place!