Hidden Heroes of WWII: an honor roll for DeKalb County women (Part I)

“Women who stepped up were measured as citizens of the nation, not as women… This was a people’s war and everyone was in it.” – Oveta Culp Hobby (as quoted on the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C.)

 

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Women played an essential part of the war effort, both in the military and on the home front. This recruiting poster encouraged women to join the military for their own sake, and for their country’s sake. (Image source: UNC Greensboro Women Veterans Project)

World War II was the first time in American history that women were allowed to enlist in the military. Even today, these groundbreaking women remain on the sidelines of WWII history and many of their stories have been forgotten. Few of these women faced enemy fire or had the opportunity to serve overseas, but they were heroic nevertheless. When it was not expected of them, they left their homes and their families to serve their country. They served as essential behind-the-scenes members of the military, serving as officers, recruiters, clerks, storekeepers, control tower operators, nurses, pharmacists, and more. Women could enlist in special reserve units of the military starting in 1942, including the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC, dropping the “Auxiliary” in 1943 to become WAC), United States Naval Reserve WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, Coast Guard SPARS, and Air Force WASPS (Women Airforce Service Pilots). The Army Nurse Corps (ANC) was established in 1901 and the Navy Nurse Corps in 1908, but these women were not considered part of the Army or Navy until later, when they were given retroactive veteran status. The approximately 350,000 women nationwide who enlisted in these reserves “released a man to fight” overseas. Whether they enlisted out of patriotic duty, sense of adventure, or another reason, they became an essential part of the military. Continue reading “Hidden Heroes of WWII: an honor roll for DeKalb County women (Part I)”

DeKalb County’s Gold Stars, 1919

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My copy of the 1919 book, “An Honor Roll…”

About 1,000 men from DeKalb County, Illinois, answered the call to serve their country between 1917-1919 during World War I. About 65 of them died during the war and never made it back home. The following pages are from “An Honor Roll, containing a pictorial record of the gallant and courageous men from DeKalb County, Illinois, U.S.A., who served in the Great War 1917 – 1918 – 1919,” published by the DeKalb Chronicle Publishing Company shortly after the conclusion of the war. These men are among the “gallant and courageous men” who did not make it home. They had earned their families a “Gold Star,” which was a designation that started in WWI, and denoted that the family had lost a loved one in combat. This was a visual symbol to the community that the family had lost a loved one in the war. (Learn more about the Gold Stars tradition here.) This Memorial Day, I’d like to remember the service of these men who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War I. Continue reading “DeKalb County’s Gold Stars, 1919”

Christmas on the German Front — 100 years ago

One hundred years ago, my great-grandfather Glenn Kaiser wrote a Christmas letter home to his mother. He had just received his Christmas box that his mother sent. Below is a transcription of that Christmas letter.

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(Click on the image above or this link to read the full letter.)

Continue reading “Christmas on the German Front — 100 years ago”

Film Review: “They Shall Not Grow Old”

A stunning portrayal of soldiers’ lives during WWI

This past Monday, I went to a screening of Peter Jackson’s new WWI documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old. I went into the theater with high expectations, and this film definitely surpassed all of them. It brings to life the old archival footage in a way that has never been seen before. It truly allows you to travel back in time, and to experience history as the soldiers saw it. This film will be the closest you’ll ever be to actually experiencing the life of a WWI soldier on the Western Front, and horrors of war that they saw. It is a fitting tribute to the men and women who lived and died during this war. Continue reading “Film Review: “They Shall Not Grow Old””

A Kaiser at the War’s End: 100 years ago

Remembering the end of WWI, 100 years ago today

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Glenn with a group of fellow soldiers near Alsace, France, in about June 1918. Glenn is in the back row, third from the left. The other soldiers are unidentified, but are likely members of the A.E.F. 32nd Div. 127th Inf. (Image source: Kaiser family photos)

One hundred years ago today, the Armistice was signed between the Allies and Germany, which ceased the hostilities on the Western Front, and that ended World War One. When the war ended, my great-grandfather Glenn Kaiser had been serving in the Army for 14 months, and had been on the front lines with the U.S. Army 32nd Division for many of the major military campaigns of the war. He was one of about 1,000 men from DeKalb County, Illinois to enlist in the service, and was one of the 4.7 million American soldiers to serve during the war. He was sent to the European front in February of 1918. This photo (right) was taken with some of his (unidentified) fellow soldiers near Haute Alsace just after they arrived in France. Glenn sent it to his mother along with this letter in June 1918. He had participated in battles in the Aisne-Marne Campaign, the Oise-Aisne Campaign, and finally the Meuse-Argonne Campaign. Like many of the soldiers on the Western Front, my great-grandfather could tell that the war was drawing to a close, but was very anxious to see it finally end. Glenn and his unit were engaged in battle until the last hours before the Armistice took effect. He and his unit had indeed been up for two nights getting into battle positions and marching through tough roads. When the guns finally fell silent at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, I’m sure that the men were relieved that the war was over, and also in that moment, relieved that they could get some sleep. He wrote to his mother on Nov. 12, the day after the Armistice took effect, to describe his relief and his commitment to making the peace last.

Below is an excerpt from the letter that Glenn sent his mother the day after the Armistice was signed. See the original letter and read the entire text here.  Continue reading “A Kaiser at the War’s End: 100 years ago”