History speaker to highlight WWI in Iowa

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of WWI, the Monticello library is currently displaying propaganda posters, photos, and memorabilia from the war. The clothing items seen here belonged to Private 1st Class Joseph Nordhues of Bernard. They are on loan from his granddaughter, Diane Harris. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     To honor the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entering World War I (April 6, 1917), the Monticello Public Library invites a curator from the Iowa State Historical Society to speak on Thursday, Sept. 14, at 6:30 p.m.

     Leo Landis will share his research about Iowa’s experience in the war and the patriotism of Iowans across the state. He will also share stories about those living in Jones County during WWI. Landis will discuss the aftermath of the war and how life in Iowa changed into the 1920s.

     Landis’ program, “Somewhere in France. Somewhere in Iowa: Iowans and WWI,” is free and open to the public.

     Landis has been researching this topic for a couple years now, anticipating the centennial of WWI.

     “I knew we were going to do an exhibit of some kind at the State Historical Museum,” he said of the Des Moines museum. Landis has been with the society four over years now.

     Camp Dodge near Des Moines was a training base for Iowa soldiers before the state of the war. Fort Des Moines was used as a training facility for African American soldiers. Later, in 1942, Fort Des Moines was where the first Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs) was established. Landis said the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

     Landis said many documents and newspaper archives still exist, thanks to online resources, concerning Iowans and their connection to WWI.

     “No one thought the war would ever happen,” Landis said. “People did a good job of documenting things.”

     Due to the anti-German sentiment circulating the nation, on May 23, 1918, Iowa Governor William Harding issued a proclamation that Iowa would become an English-speaking state. Many across Iowa, with strong German heritage, wrote letters against such a measure, including those in Jones County. Today, many of these letters, and copies of these letters, can be found in the State Archives, digitized by the University of Iowa. Some from Jones County, praised Harding for what he did.

     Senator J.K. Hale, of Anamosa, wrote to Harding, congratulating him on the mandate: “I want to congratulate you on your proclamation abolishing the use of the German language in churches, schools, and all public places. We are glad that the Governor of the grandest state in the Union is the first to issue such a proclamation.”

     Landis many were concerned that they would be caught speaking German on the phone lines and turned into authorities.

     “This was all due to anti-German hysteria,” suggested Landis. “And it had far-reaching effects across the state.”

     He said there are accounts in Eastern Iowa newspapers of homes and businesses being covered in yellow paint, a sign of cowardice.

     “Vigilantes did this if they thought people were being unpatriotic,” he said.

     With WWI veterans now deceased, Landis said it’s important to rely on their family members for stories, photos, and memorabilia to keep the history of the war alive.

     Iowa suffered 3,576 casualties from WWI. Landis said that number might include those from Iowa who served for their home countries such as Canada, France and German.

     “That was no uncommon,” he said of Iowa soldiers fighting for their country of birth.

     With so many deaths attributed to WWI, the U.S. was only involved for a year and a half. 


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