The Bugler

Bugler Newsletter

World War I: The Great War that America Tried to Miss (Part 2)

The original Uncle Sam poster to recruit soldiers during World War I, 1917. Artwork by James Montgomery Flagg. Public domain.

By early 1915 the great Atlantic Ocean had become very dangerous as German U-Boats (U-boat is an abbreviation of Unterseeboot, "undersea boat," a German submarine) continued to fire and sink commercial vessels. On May 5, 1915 a German U-Boat torpedoed the Lusitania, the British ocean liner, sailing from New York to Liverpool. Over one thousand lives were lost including 123 Americans. According to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, "The incident created sharp reactions among Americans, many of whom believed that the United States should inflict an immediate reprisal upon Germany. President Woodrow Wilson, however, took a cautious approach to responding to the attack, demanding from Germany an apology, compensation for American victims, and a pledge to discontinue unannounced submarine warfare." Former President Theodore Roosevelt was in the camp for immediate reprisal and made several public proclamations calling for the United States to declare war on Germany.

Today we think our country is so divided and that these times are new. However, if you read the New American's account of the sinking of the Lusitania, you will see that even 100 years ago there are always two sides to the story. This view is that the British knew that the Lusitania had a greater than even chance to be sunk, but that it would psychologically pull America into the war. Another theory is that the ship didn't sink in 30 minutes because of the torpedo but because the vessel was carrying bomb-making equipment to Britain.

It would be almost two years later on April 2, 1917 when President Wilson would ask the U.S. Congress for a declaration of war. America had maintained its stance of neutrality, even though our largest banks had been funding France and Great Britain's insatiable appetite for weapons, clothing and food for their armies. In early 1917, Germany was stuck in an endless land battle. Britain and the Allies were starving the German people with its dominance on the seas. Germany announced it would resume unrestricted warfare in war-zone waters. Another liner, the Housatonic, was sunk by a U-boat. Congress quickly passed an arms bill and the United States made preparations to enter the war.

In June 1917, the first 14,000 infantry troops landed in France. Before the war was over the "U.S. had mobilized over 4 million military personnel and suffered 110,000 deaths, including 43,000 who died from the influenza pandemic." Read more about World War I at as well as this website maintained by the Library of America. They have a special grant to compile an anthology of personal stories by people who experience the war.

Found Memories of the War

We often hear people comment that their relatives never talked about the war. William Ober sent us the following picture and note: My father was a veteran of WWI having served as a pilot in the Turkish as well as the German air forces. He emigrated to the US after the war and was granted US citizenship in the 1920s. He never spoke about the war during his life. He soloed on May 30, 1913 and was a proud member of the Early Birds. William Ober served in the US Marine Corps from 1961-1967.

Photo courtesy of William Ober.

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