Courtesy of Anuta Research Center
At left, the snappy Marinette Mystic Drill Corps was a popular group during World War I. The corps put on dazzling demonstrations for M&M residents and surrounding communities at parades, rallies and other activities. Above, six of the Marinette Red Cross Girls’ are pictured here in their all-white uniforms. From left are: Margaret Goodman, Catherine Lindem, Gertrude Mueller, Fay Lauerman, Lenore McLain and Myrtha Habighorst.
Courtesy of Anuta Research Center

At left, the snappy Marinette Mystic Drill Corps was a popular group during World War I. The corps put on dazzling demonstrations for M&M residents and surrounding communities at parades, rallies and other activities. Above, six of the Marinette Red Cross Girls’ are pictured here in their all-white uniforms. From left are: Margaret Goodman, Catherine Lindem, Gertrude Mueller, Fay Lauerman, Lenore McLain and Myrtha Habighorst.

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Marinette and Menominee were peaceful communities in 1917. Logging and sawmills were still prime employment outlets, but other segments of the industrial trade were gradually making a presence — like foundries and paper mills. Lloyd Manufacturing Co. had already established itself as the area’s top employer.

Family farms were scattered throughout the two counties and commercial fishing vessels dotted the west shoreline of Green Bay from Oconto to Cedar River. Wages were skimpy in all segments of work and families struggled. 

The inhabitants were aware of a war going on “over there” in Europe since 1914. They also knew German submarines were taking control of the Atlantic Ocean by sinking ships transporting goods and supplies. Some of those ships were American. They saw the war clouds forming overhead, which eventually would trigger World War I.

The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. “There may be many months of fiery trial and sacrifice ahead of us,” President Woodrow Wilson told Congress three days before war was declared. He said civilization itself seems to be in the balance, “but the right is more precious than peace and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts — for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations.”

Two months after war was declared, some 10 million men had registered for the Army and the first U.S. Army division had landed in France. It wasn’t until Nov. 11, 1918 — some 19 months later — that Germany surrendered and the war was over. The memorable date was to be called “Armistice Day,” a nameplate that was carried until 1954 when President Dwight Eisenhower and Congress changed it to “Veteran’s Day” to recognize the wars that followed World War I.

Two weeks from now, Americans will observe the 100th anniversary of the armistice. Wars aren’t only fought on land and sea and in the air. There’s a very important segment of people who sacrifice on the homefront. Today’s column will focus on those patriots. Next Monday’s column will focus on the men and women who went to Europe and fought in the frontline trenches or served at installations behind the frontlines.

There was no shortage of volunteers on the homefronts of Marinette and Menominee. There were numerous jobs that needed to be done. It’s difficult to list all of them here so we’ll have to pick and choose. 

I’ll begin with the Marinette County Draft Board. Comprised of seven men at the outset and later reduced to a six-member board, these men were responsible for filling the draft quotas for the country. The board was responsible for wading through the voluminous number of draft registrations and choosing men to serve in the armed forces. The task wasn’t easy.

“They sent them away with that feeling of pride and cheer,” wrote the Marinette Eagle-Star in its historic book “From Marinette to the Rhine and Return,” a publication covering local activities in WWI. The Eagle-Star combined with the Menominee Herald-Leader with its publication reporting the war, “Honor Roll.” The two newspapers were rivals when it came to competing for circulation figures and advertising sales, but they teamed up to publish the contributions of each county in their separate books. Some of the research for the two-column series was taken from the two publications.

John Harper, Michael Hallen, George Bogrand, Dr. A.T. Nadeau, Fred C. Burke and Harry A. Dommerville comprised the draft board.

One of the biggest challenges for the board was tracking “slackers” or “draft dodgers” from other counties in Wisconsin, as well as from other states, who were attempting to elude military service.

Marinette County had an active list of Liberty Loan workers who canvassed the county and encouraged citizens to buy war bonds, which helped finance America’s involvement in the conflict. Teams were organized across the county. The county became known statewide for its high percentage of bond sales.

In the city of Marinette, ward captains were chosen to lead their teams. In the rural areas, districts were established in places like McAllister, Loomis, Beaver and Town of Stephenson to the far reaches of Pembine and Goodman. For example, in the first drive the county oversubscribed its quota by $300,000, a hefty sum of money in 1917. In other drives, the county topped its quota by as much as 150 percent. The county’s success rate became a model for other counties in Wisconsin.

The Marinette Red Cross girls put their stamp on patriotism by devoting their time to make life comfortable for the men on troop trains passing through the city from other points in Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. The women were on hand when the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Hut opened in the city. They provided coffee and boxes of food to the troops passing through on trains and were at the station when they returned home.

Rain or snow, sleet or hail, the women were at the train station. No matter if the trains went through in the early morning hours or late at night, the girls were on hand.

One of the organizations for young men in Menominee County was the Student Army Training Corps (SATC). After graduating high school, the young men who were too young for the military draft could enlist in SATC where they were put through military training exercises while attending a college or university of their choice. They were paid the same as the regular Army and were issued regular military uniforms, arms and equipment. The corps was demobilized one month after the war ended.

The Menominee County Chapter of American Red Cross had a separate branch of service called the Military Relief Corps. The group of volunteers made hospital garments and surgical dressings for the military. They also knitted sweaters, socks and mittens. It was one of the largest organizations in the overall effort on the homefront. 

A unique organization was the War Garden Committee, whose task it was to sprout food gardens throughout the county. People with vacant lots or unoccupied land were encouraged to plant a war garden. Ornamental gardens were scrapped in favor of providing food for families due to the shortages going to the military. Mary Gotte, a sixth-grade teacher at Washington School, was named general inspector of the gardens in the city. Each of the city’s seven wards had their own inspector.

Another notable club was known as the John Paul Jones Club, which was created by the Menominee Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The 15 girls in the club paid dues. The money raised from membership dues was sent to Egg Fund for children in France.

So what did the school girls do at club meetings? They made gun wipes for the soldiers at Camp Custer, Mich., one of the largest Army training grounds in the Midwest.

These were just some of the extraordinary work assignments performed on the homefront in Marinette and Menominee counties during WWI. One hundred years later, their contributions have not been forgotten.