Courtesy of Anuta Research Center
This photo shows a peaceful setting on Hall Avenue as the city gets ready to welcome home troops from Company I, Marinette National Guard, following the end of World War I in Europe in 1918.
Courtesy of Anuta Research Center

This photo shows a peaceful setting on Hall Avenue as the city gets ready to welcome home troops from Company I, Marinette National Guard, following the end of World War I in Europe in 1918.

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The old soldiers have passed on to their eternal rewards, but it’s time to replay the music they made famous in World War I. Like the tune that warned the enemy “the Yanks are coming over there.” There were other favorites, of course, that fired up the homefront in the war that was supposed to end all wars.

One hundred years ago — Sunday, Nov. 11, 1918 — German envoys signed the Allied peace terms. President Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of the United States, read the terms of the German armistice in a joint session of Congress. The U.S. had declared war on Germany April 6, 1917. President Wilson signed the Selective Service Act May 18, 1917, and the military draft was enacted. The first American troops reached France June 26.

By the time the war ended, 4,734,991 military personnel had served in the conflict, 4,057,101 in the Army alone. The Navy provided 599,051 of the total armed forces; the Marines 78,839 and the Coast Guard 8,835. According to the Department of Defense, the U.S. had 53,402 battle deaths and 63,114 died from other causes. The flu and infections took a heavy toll on American casualties. Additionally, the U.S. reported 204,202 were wounded in the war.

Marinette and Menominee counties provided their share of the manpower. Company L, 125th Infantry, 23rd Regiment of the 32nd Division was comprised of troops from Menominee County. The company was under the command of Capt. Oscar Falk. First Lt. Grover Thompson was second in command. Falk died of battle wounds while in France.

Cap. Edward Mayville was in charge of Company I of the Marinette National Guard when it embarked from the Chicago & North Western railroad station on Hall Avenue near Hattie Street at 5 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1917. The 191-man company had just returned from the Pancho Villa crisis on the Mexican Border when it was summoned to duty in the greatest war the world had seen up to that point in history.

Hundreds of loved ones left behind on the homefront were at the train stations when the two companies left in different directions — Co. I to Camp Douglas, Wis., and Co. L to Camp Custer in Lower Michigan for their preliminary work before heading off to Camp MacArthur in Waco, Texas, for training. Camp MacArthur was the training center for Wisconsin and Michigan National Guard troops.

On Jan. 2, 1918, the first troops departed Camp MacArthur for Camp Merrit, N.J., and on to France. An advance party of 32nd Division troops landed in Brest, France, Jan. 24. The famous division, which later was to be nicknamed the Red Arrow Division, suffered its first casualties of the war when 13 soldiers were lost in the sinking of a troop ship bound for France. 

Keep in mind not every soldier out of Marinette and Menominee counties served in the 32nd Division. Scores of others were assigned to various divisions, notably the 4th, 42nd and 82nd divisions. All four divisions were in the thick of the fighting in France.

Books, newspaper files, personal writings and a platoon of pictures and artifacts tell the story of the 32nd Division and its impressive record on the battlefields of France in WWI. The history is logged at the local libraries and Anuta Research Center in Menominee. Many families living today cherish scrapbooks and other keepsakes of ancestors who fought in the war.

Although the U.S. didn’t get involved in the conflict until April 1917, fighting actually broke out following the assassination of Frederick Francis Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria and his wife at Sarajevo, Bosnia on Jan. 28, 1914. The shot that triggered the war was fired by a student. His arrest led to international law complications. The student died in jail of tuberculosis long before the war ended.

Historians calculated that out of every 100 American citizens, five took up arms and served their country.

One of the foremost components that sparked America’s victory in the war was said to be the Selective Service Act — a universal military draft for short. The first registration was June 5, 1917, and blanketed men between the ages of 21 and 31. The second registration came over a year later and included those men who reached the age of 21 since the first registration went into effect. A third registration occurred Sept. 12, 1918, and extended the age limits from 18 to 45. 

The average U.S. soldier who fought in Europe had at least six months of combat training in the U.S. and another two months overseas before being ordered to the front lines and combat. Most received their training in infantry divisions which usually consisted of 27,000 men, including 1,000 officers. Forty-two divisions were shipped to the battlefields of France.

A majority of the troops sent overseas left New York for France. About half of them went directly to France and the other half landed in England. ten ports of embarkation served as shipping points for U.S. troops, weapons, equipment and supplies. Four of the ports were located in Canada. The American ports were New York; Brooklyn; Philadelphia; Boston; Portland; and Norfolk, Va.

Like all wars, heroism surrounds military units, large and small. No recap of WWI, however, would be complete without reflecting on a soldier from a small town in Tennessee. His name was Sgt. Alvin York from Pall Mall. He was declared the greatest single hero of the conflict by Marshall Ferdinand Foch. The U.S. Congress supported Foch’s assessment by voting York the Congressional Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest award for bravery.

York was classified as a “conscientious objector” which meant he didn’t believe in killing. But when things got rough for his unit and men were dying around him, York went into action. He single-handedly killed 20 enemy soldiers, knocked out 36 machine gun nests and captured 132 prisoners while acting alone. He came home to a hero’s welcome and a movie was made of his fearless work on the battlefield.

Veterans Day was originally Armistice Day which marked the end of WWI. The identity was changed to Veterans Day in the 1950s by President Dwight Eisenhower. The ceremonial day began as a tribute to the men and women who served in WWI.

Sunday, Nov. 11, is a time to remember the sacrifices of all those who served in Co. I and Co. L and all of the other units of the armed forces on the 100th anniversary of their victory.

Let the memories and the music of the WWI era begin in their honor.