Monroe County and World War I

 

“Image of the “Welcome Our Boys” parade held in Sparta on May 19, 1919, for the returning men of the 32nd Division. The arches in the background were erected at the intersection of Oak and Water streets as part of the parade.

 

By ADAM BALZ

Monroe County Local History Room volunteer researcher

Author’s note: In 2018, the United States recognized the centennial of its involvement in World War I. The U.S. was in World War I from April 1917 until the Armistice ended it 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 final installment examines the grim reality of war and its lasting effects on those who returned from overseas and hoped to settle back into their pre-war lives.

 Because soldiers returned in waves, celebrations were held throughout 1919. The Red Cross organized multiple banquets; the final one, held in May, was attended by “about 280 soldiers, sailors and marines,” along with members of the community. And for the Fourth of July, Sparta planned a demonstration “which will surpass anything ever put across by a city of this size.” Among the festivities offered were a barbecue, movies, dances, and ball games, all of which were free to those in the military.

Many soldiers returned with scars from the war, both seen and unseen. Archie Berlin, who was discharged in 1918, was one of many who arrived home suffering from shell shock. Those who had survived gas attacks, like Edward Denomie, found certain tasks unbearable; when a doctor warned him against working in an auto shop because of his damaged lungs, Denomie got a job with the railroad instead.

Some did not return at all. Forty-two soldiers from Monroe County died while serving. Eugene Oakes of Sparta was killed in action on May 21, 1918, the first to die in battle. He was 23 years old and the only child of Mr. and Mrs. Simeon Oakes. The last to die in battle were DeWitt Farnham and Archie Robinson, both of whom were killed on Nov. 7, 1918, four days before the armistice was signed.

However, almost half of the 42 casualties were victims of disease rather than bullets, gas, or cannons. The United States had joined the war just as the Spanish flu made its first appearance stateside; that so many people would now be confined to small quarters, such as camps and ships, was an invitation for the disease to spread much more rapidly and with greater devastation. What’s more, pneumonia and meningitis were rampant throughout Europe, made all the worse by living conditions on the battlefield.

Soldiers were not the only people susceptible to disease. Kathryn Linehan, a 29-year-old Army nurse from Tomah, contracted the flu while caring for soldiers at Camp Taylor in Kentucky. The disease weakened her until she lost consciousness and died. The Tomah Journal noted that she cared for soldiers throughout her illness, positing that she was the victim of over-exertion and fatigue due to the shortage of nurses. Linehan was buried in Tomah with military honors. She was the only woman from Monroe County who died while serving during World War I.

Over time, the veterans of Monroe County settled back into domestic life as best they could. Some opened businesses; others started families, or added to them. A few died while still young, having survived the horrors of battle but not life at home. Years passed, and many of those soldiers were old men, even grandfathers, by the time America entered another world war. Soon, more than a few would watch their children enlist, just as they had done more than two decades earlier. “Our boys overseas” now became the parents of a new generation of soldiers and nurses, waiting anxiously for the war to end and their children to come home safe.

Comments are closed.

  • Book review: ‘Death in Cold Water’ by Patricia Skalka

    January 16th, 2020
    by

    When a millionaire with a long, public history of supporting the Packers disappeared after attending a Bears-Packers game in Chicago, it was national news.


    KVR to host talk on raptors this Saturday

    January 9th, 2020
    by

    A talk on raptors is slated for Saturday, Jan. 11, from 10–11 a.m. and from 2–3 p.m. at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve.


    Book review: ‘Mr. Dickens and His Carol’ by Samantha Silva

    January 7th, 2020
    by

    “Mr. Dickens and His Carol” is a work of fiction. That must be understood to appreciate this review.


    Upward Bound representatives will be available in Norwalk

    January 2nd, 2020
    by

    Representatives from UW-La Crosse’s Upward Bound program will be at Bailey’s Diner in Norwalk on Monday, Jan. 6, from 5–8 […]


    Royall finance and facility meeting set for Jan. 7

    January 2nd, 2020
    by

    Great news: The Royall School District has only two years of debt payment left after this year.


  • One dead in rural Ontario crash

    December 30th, 2019
    by

    One man is dead after a one-vehicle traffic crash on Highway 131, near Nisswa Road, in rural Ontario, according to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.


    Person injured in Clifton fall

    December 29th, 2019
    by

    During the morning of Dec. 28, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office responded to an incident of a subject who had lost consciousness after falling from a high elevation on Kirkwood Avenue in the town of Clifton.


    Two taken to hospital after Jefferson crash

    December 29th, 2019
    by

    The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office responded to a two-vehicle crash at about 3:48 p.m. today at Highway 33 and County Highway D in the town of Jefferson, between Ontario and Cashton. 


    Vernon County to issue WIC benefits

    December 28th, 2019
    by

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


    Book review: ‘Nothing More Dangerous’ by Allen Askens

    December 28th, 2019
    by

    By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton Boady Sandron was working for one objective. As soon as he had earned enough money, he […]


    ‘This Tender Land’ by William Kent Krueger

    December 22nd, 2019
    by

    William Kent Krueger is the author of the “Cork O’Connor” mystery series. I first discovered Krueger when “Ordinary Grace,” a standalone novel, was an Ontario Public Library selection.


  • Archives