This Week One Hundred Years Ago: America Enters World War I

Guest post by Laura A. Macaluso, Ph.D., author of New Haven in World War I

            Although it wasn’t so long ago, American have mostly forgotten the history and the people and the places of World War I. A centennial event is a great time to learn about things we should have known in the first place—this is how it was for me, when I wrote New Haven in World War I for The History Press. Thanks to all of the activities surrounding the centennial event both here and across the world, some of these stories are coming back into the light, and deservedly so. New Haven, a small city on Long Island Sound, played a part in these events, and in turn, was deeply affected, which I tried to document in my book. Some of these things are more known, such as Stubby, the brown and white bulldog-type mutt who was smuggled across the Atlantic in the coat of a corporal, and who went to the front with the 26th “Yankee” Division, and the exercise regimens designed by Walter Camp, the “father” of American football and the use of rifles and cartridges made by Winchester, the company famous for the “gun that won the west.”

            But there are quiet stories, too. Of an aviator from New Haven whose funeral was attended by both German soldiers and French villagers after his plane was shot down behind enemy lines; of the public school boys who left school to work local farms, in order to increase food production; and of the city’s clergy—men of the cloth who went to France to administer to the doughboys and to help Europeans rebuild after the Armistice. World War I is everywhere you look, if your eyes are open to this history. Even after finishing writing my book, I continue to find things pointing to this forgotten history. My favorite recent discovery is of a series of stained glass windows, one of which depicts the Battle of Seicheprey, which the was first fight for Americans without support from the French (Americans, remember, were novices in trench warfare, and spent the last few months of 1917 and the first few months of 1918 training with the French army). Seicheprey, a small village in northeastern France, was the scene of a deadly fight, resulting in hand-to-hand combat. There is still disagreement as to the final outcome of the battle: many American doughboys were killed here and many more taken hostage, but, the Americans proved their willingness to fight, leaving the Germans were impressed with their spirit and vitality.

            These stained glass windows are just one example of hundreds if not thousands of objects spread across the United States from coast-to-coast, which remain waiting for Americans to rediscover their history. The History Press has published nine books over the past two years about World War I where some of these stories are documented, from the East Coast to the Midwestern states to California. In addition, the United States World War Centennial Commission is leading the charge to Educate/Honor/Commemorate, kicking off this week with the ceremony titled “In Sacrifice for Liberty and Peace: Centennial Commemoration of the U.S. Entry in World War I,” which will be held at The National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City. The ceremony will be live-streamed by C-SPAN, and their website is filled with great information and links to everything WWI-related. Let’s remember the men and women of World War I this April and throughout the centennial year.