The war in Europe had become a stalemate with both sides dug in. parallel lines of trenches ran from the Swiss border to the North Sea and the Germans, Squeezed by the Allied blockade of their ports threw caution to the winds and started sinking American shipping. The United States got into the struggle. Before Wilson's request for a Declaration of War against the Central Powers, I had never seen a man in the uniform of the armed services on the streets. Afterward everyone my age seemed to be in uniform. People went to the depots to watch troop trains go thru on the way to training camps and the streets were full of uniformed soldiers and sailors home on leave. At the G.E. plant every department had put up big wall maps of France on which the daily changes in the lines of battle were marked.
I was as stirred up by all the flag waving as everyone else and made up my mind to enlist. When I went to town the next Saturday afternoon I stopped in at a navy recruiting office - it was the first one I encountered. The naval officer in charge gave me a list of questions to fill out, when gave me a physical examination. At the end he announced that I was in good physical condition except that I was under-weight for my height. However he thought he might waive that and accept me. Then he asked me to stand again with my back to him. He announced that I had a slight curvature of the spine and he couldn't accept me. I didn't know it then but I learned later that my left leg is a quarter of an inch shorter than my right. It has never bothered me in any way but it makes trouble for the tailor when I buy a new pair of pants.
After the draft law was passed I registered in Paulding on one of my weekends at home instead of registering in Ft. Wayne. It was six months or so before I was called up. Corydon Neeley was already in the army and at a training camp and so was my roommate Leonard Erickson. William Jackson had gotten an appointment to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD thru Congressman Snook, who was a Paulding man, and Arthur Neeley had applied for one. He got it shortly after but as soon as the war was over he resigned. My cousin, Russell Moran went into the army and remained there until he retired. Both he and Corydon were sent to Europe but not until after the armistice, as occupation troops. There were about a dozen other young fellows called up at the same time I was. Two Paulding doctors gave us our physical examination. The first thing they did was have us strip and then weigh us and check our height. They told me I was under-weight for my height and Dr. Foster, who was a member of our church, asked me if I had ever tried to enlist. I had to tell him yes and that I was rejected. He didn't go any further with the examination.
We followed the progress of the war on our maps and in the newspapers and became familiar with a lot of French names and military terms which entered the English language at that time, names like barrage and liaison and Chateau Thierry on the Marne River where the first American troops were sent into the lines. The American soldier was called a "doughboy," not a G.I. as in the second world war, and the English were "Tommies" and the French "Poilus" (hairy people). The most glamorous roles were played by the aviators like Eddy Rickenbacker of the American Lafayette Squadron and the Red Baron on the German side. Sergeant York, who captured single-handedly a whole German infantry company, became the most famous foot soldier of our army.
In the beginning of November, 1918, it was obvious that the war was near its end as the Kaiser had abdicated and fled to Holland. Then one afternoon shortly after lunch the power plant whistle in the plant started blowing short blasts without stopping and the announcement raced thru the factory that the war had ended. Everyone in the plant put down his work and streamed out the gates heading for downtown. On Calhoun Street it was pandemonium. All the church bells were ringing, factory whistles were blowing, cars and trucks full of people were cruising back and forth sounding their klaxons and the sidewalks were crowded with people yelling, shouting and banging on any noisemaker the y could get hold of. I had walked to town with one of the fellows in my department and we paraded with the rest of the crowd from the city hall to the depot and back a couple of times, then I went home. The whole city seemed to have gone crazy and an hour or so was all I could take.
The next day we found out there had not been an armistice signed after all. It was a mistake. Then on the eleventh the war really did end. I thought when I heard it, "surely they won't go crazy again" but they did. As the plant was deserted I went downtown for a couple of hours to watch. It made no sense at all.
Last modified on 14 June 2009 @ 10:08