Monroe County and World War I: ‘The War to End War’ | Part VI: ‘The War Ends’

This closed sign hung in the window of Mike Reisinger’s tin shop, 212 N. Water St., Sparta, on Nov. 11, 1918, recognizing the end of the war.

By ADAM BALZ

Monroe County Local History Room Volunteer Researcher 

Author’s note: The United States is recognizing the centennial of the United States’ involvement in World War I. The U.S. was in World War I from April 1917 until the Armistice ended it on Nov. 11, 1918. Both the Sparta and Tomah National Guard companies were ordered to federal active duty as rifle companies in the 128th Infantry Regiment of the 32nd Infantry Division. Hundreds of county residents served in the armed forces during the war, and 41 died while in the service. Countless others supported the nation’s war effort at home.

The Monroe County Local History Room has been partnering with this newspaper to publish transcriptions of letters written by Monroe County soldiers while serving in Europe during World War I. We also shared articles about what life was like for those living in Monroe County during the war and explored the topic of anti-German sentiment during World War I. These letters and stories are intended to help us better understand what it was like for Monroe County residents to endure the “war to end war,” whether on the front lines or on the home front. This installment describes the events surrounding the end of the war — a war no one thought would last as long as it did or claim as many lives.

By November 1918, the United States had been engaged in the Great War for almost 19 months. In that time, more than 1,000 boys and men from Monroe County had joined the service, either through enlistment or the draft. More than a dozen women from the county had also volunteered as nurses. Tens of thousands of dollars had been raised through the sale of Liberty Loans, and local chapters of the Red Cross had produced hundreds of handmade items vital to the war effort, from socks and shirts to gauze and bandages.

 The people of Monroe County had also suffered under an endless stream of rumors regarding peace, often based on little more than wishful thinking. In just one example, a local newspaper ran a syndicated article claiming the war would end by January 1918. The author’s source was the Book of Revelations, and his article filled more than half a page. Time after time, such talk proved hollow, and the residents of Monroe County became increasingly anxious for peace.

They would not have to wait long.

News of the armistice came in the pre-dawn hours of Nov. 11. At half past three, the citizens of Sparta were roused from sleep by the sounds of train whistles being blown in celebration. Soon, the city’s water works began blowing its own whistle, followed by those of local factories. Church bells joined in the chorus. Once the news had spread, residents stepped out of their homes and began firing shotguns into the air.

Other residents swamped the local telephone office with calls. Some were undoubtedly confused by the ruckus. Others, weary from so many months of war, were perhaps worried that news jju of peace might be little more than an unfounded rumor. As a local newspaper noted, the operators handled each call “wonderfully well and assured every inquirer … that this was probably the end of the war.”

Before sunrise, people filled the streets. Some slipped into the alleyways behind local businesses, where they gathered up old boxes and crates for a bonfire. But this wasn’t enough. Soon they had commandeered a dilapidated bus to serve as the fire’s centerpiece. Once the flames had consumed the old vehicle, it was pulled from the fire and dragged through town, including a jaunt on Water Street. This was their improvised parade, a release of all the anguish and tension that had been building for so long.

By ten o’clock that morning, this slapdash celebration had turned into an actual parade, complete with “floats and automobiles and marching men, women, boys and girls and children.” One writer estimated that the demonstration was a mile long.

Even with this welcomed news, citizens knew their work was far from done. More than two million American soldiers remained in Europe, one newspaper noted, and they still needed to be clothed, fed, and cared for. What’s more, bringing so many people home from across the ocean required time. Consequently, it would be half a year before Monroe County’s fighting men would return home.

Author’s note: Learn more about the soldiers’ experiences during World War I by visiting www.MonroeCountyHistory.org.

Comments are closed.

  • Book review: ‘The Call of the Wild’ by Jack London

    February 7th, 2019
    by

    As a young man of 21, Jack London was caught up in the gold fever that was the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896–1899.


    Vernon County I&E Club to give presentation on food-service start-up

    February 7th, 2019
    by

    At the next Inventors and Entrepreneurs Club meeting, Justin Johnson, CEO and founder of Sustainable Kitchens, will talk about how he launched his scratch-food-focused consulting firm in his home office in 48 hours, with no capital and no plan.


    Vernon County to issue WIC benefits

    January 29th, 2019
    by

    The Vernon County Health Department will offer Women, Infants and Children (WIC) benefits at the following locations in February.


    Monroe County Local History Room to offer program on Civilian Conservation Corps

    January 29th, 2019
    by

    Historian Bruce Thayer will present “What was the CCC? The History and Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps” at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7, at the Monroe County Local History Room, 200 Main St., Sparta. 


    Book review: ‘The Life We Bury’ by Allen Eskens

    January 29th, 2019
    by

    Joe Talbert is taking a college English class and has been assigned to write a short biography of an elderly person. Having no elderly relative nearby, he researches people who are in a nearby nursing home.


  • Book review: ‘The Crops Look Good: News from a Midwestern Farm’ by Sara DeLuca

    January 26th, 2019
    by

    We have a nephew, now retired, whose whole teaching career was in Milltown, Wis., the setting of this book.


    Study shows Scenic Bluffs has more than $12 million in economic impact to local communities

    January 22nd, 2019
    by

    A recent study conducted by Capital Link reveals that Scenic Bluffs Community Health Centers had a total economic impact of $12,204,981 in 2017, according to a press release prepared by Scenic Bluffs.


    Monroe County offering free blood lead screening

    January 22nd, 2019
    by

    The Monroe County Health Department is offering free blood lead screening.


    Monroe County invites public comment on ATV-route proposals

    January 17th, 2019
    by

    The Monroe County Highway Department has received proposals to establish off-road vehicle (ATV/UTV) routes on segments of County Highways II, I, B, Q, S, SS, M, A, AA, XU and XX, which represent more than 39 miles of county roads.


    Hillsboro Equipment donates to Kendall Fire Department

    January 17th, 2019
    by

    Kendall firefighter Dick Martin (right) accepts a $3,000 donation from Don (left) and Joanne Slama to the Kendall Fire Department for its future equipment purchases.


    Book review: ‘The Haunted Mesa’ by Louis Lamour

    January 17th, 2019
    by

    For those who think of parallel world or fourth dimension as being primarily Stephen King territory, there’s new (old) ground to explore in the West.


  • Facebook

  • [Advertisement.]
  • Archives