The Roanoker - November/December 2017 - 97
COURTESY OF THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF WESTERN VIRGINIA
HISTORY | ROANOKE, 1917
Company F, 2nd Virginia Infantry, National Guard, stands on the steps of the Elks Club in downtown Roanoke. The photo was taken in 1914 of Company F that would
be called up for active military service in 1917 for WWI.
a city manager form of local government,
something that Staunton had pioneered a
few years earlier.
In short, Roanoke in 1917 was energetic in its progress, conservative in its public
mores, and responsive to the national call
for patriotism, service and civic philanthropy
in light of the European conflict that would
bring America into the First World War.
To better understand Roanoke in 1917,
let us focus on certain key events.
PREPARING FOR WAR
In early March, Company F, Second Virginia
Infantry, returned home to Roanoke, arriving by train from Richmond. The company
was greeted by a committee of 25 citizens
and the mayor, the Virginia Military Institute band, and a squad of policemen. From
the train station, the entourage marched in a
cold drizzling rain to the municipal building
where they were recognized and thanked for
their military service and then dismissed to
go to their homes.
A crowd of several hundred was on hand
to witness the ceremony honoring the khakiclad soldiers who had spent eight months
stationed in Brownsville, Texas. Company F
had been in Texas as part of the federal government's effort to counter the activities of
Mexican revolutionary Poncho Villa. Villa
had led a raid into U.S. territory when he
and his men had done a hit-and-run on the
small town of Columbus, New Mexico, on
March 9, 1916, killing 16 U.S. citizens. This
became known as the "Columbus Raid."
President Woodrow Wilson directed the
U.S. Army to pursue Villa, which they did
without success. However, the Roanoke's
Company F was part of a military contingent
sent to secure the border. Their homecoming
was short-lived, for two weeks after returning
from Texas Company F was re-activated due
to America's entrance into the World War I.
Following months of additional training,
this time for certain combat, the Second Virginia Regiment left Roanoke to the cheers
of hundreds as they boarded a train at sunset on August 17th for Anniston, Alabama.
Some 2,000 men crowded the Virginian Railway passenger station surrounded by family
and friends. The Roanoke Times described the
scene as follows:
Roanokers witnessed scenes they will never
forget. Mothers clasped their loved ones and
wept upon their shoulders. Some bade farewell
and hastily left the scene. One mother who appeared to be sixty years of age placed a Bible in
her son's hands, whispered a few words of encouragement to him, and immediately boarded
a street car nearby. She wept in silence. Men
passengers on the car almost wept at the sad
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2017 | 97