Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


The Boys of '17...

Posted 7/18/17 (Tue)

We all know it’s been 100 years since the United States entered a three-year-old war in Europe that came to be known as “The Great War” and later World War I.

The United States was thrust into the war, because according to historical documents, Imperial Germany continued to provoke the United States, even though it was already at war with England and France.

On April 2, President Wilson asked for a declaration of war and on April 6 he got it.

Almost immediately, young men began signing up to avoid the new draft that would surely send people to the front lines if they didn’t choose their “poison.” Militia units were organized and began training at their home bases that included Kenmare, Minot and Crosby.

It’s fascinating how The Kenmare News followed the developments as local men were whisked away to military training camps in Iowa, New Mexico and North Carolina.

One article stated that when the draft was established, a quota of 300 recruits was set for Ward County. Instead, Uncle Sam got 618.

Another article was about a going away party the community of Kenmare was having for its Soldiers as they surely would encounter danger somewhere along the way.

That article, printed in July 1917, stated that 50 men from Kenmare would be going to the front lines. Whether that’s true or not is unknown, however, each week new names were added to the “drafted” list.

Ironically, as young men were drafted and gearing up to go “Over There,” the War Department announced that farm boys would be deferred from reporting to their camps until after harvest.

We sometimes talk about the guys who dodged the Vietnam draft, but there were dodgers in 1917 also. At that time they were called “slackers.”

On Aug. 2, 1917, the attorney general ordered all states attorneys general to begin rounding up the “slackers.”

There was also the story of two local men, Alfred and Manfred Granlund who had taken up homesteads in Saskatchewan, but had contacted the Ward County auditor for military induction applications.

After war was declared, it was made clear that any American outside of the United States, had to go to the nearest consulate and register for the draft.

In 1917, there were a lot of American men logging in British Columbia and after the order came down, they had to start signing up so the consulate went to them.

A makeshift office was set up in nearby Lethbridge, Alberta where thousands of American loggers reported and signed up for the war effort.

A Red Cross Society was organized in Kenmare in 1917, The Kenmare News was running ads for Liberty Loans. That is the U.S. government received the money from those who signed up for the Liberty Loans, promising a 100 percent payback and a generous interest rate.

We know about the history of the war through our text books, newspaper articles, family legacies and other means. But what we don’t often know is the day-to-day life of a Soldier or his family and how they’re coping with the stress of war.

The Kenmare News did us a great favor with this. Starting about the middle of July, each week letters sent home were printed on the front page of The Kenmare News.

This kind of information is fascinating reading from “thanks Maw for the cookies,” to “they stripped us down to nothing then they examined our teeth.”

We can envision any kind of scenario and we often form our snapshot of the war through photographs because it gives us that visual that our brains just can’t specifically create.

Thus, it’s the trenches, the fog and mud of Europe, the gas warfare and who could forget the movie “Sergeant York,” in which the star of the movie singlehandedly picked off 16 German soldiers.

Now that we are 100 years out, these newspaper articles tell us the similarities and differences in 1917 and 2017.

It’s like a time capsule localized that provides a true and honest account of the war because these men were writing to their parents or girlfriends rather than the newspaper.

You can’t make this stuff up and it’s too intriguing to just read and put back on a shelf, so we hope to print some of the excerpts of these letters to honor “The Boys of ‘17” 100 years later.