Rural Missouri - November 2020 - 52

photos courtesy State Historical Society of Missouri

Left: Gen. John J. Pershing, a native of Laclede, served as general of the armies for the American Expeditionary Force during World War I.
Right: Pershing inspects troops of the 42nd Division in March 1919, roughly four months after the armistice that ended the war.
by Jim Denny | info@ruralmissouri.coop

O

n April 6, 1917, Missourians and their fellow
Americans found themselves at war. For the previous three years no one in Missouri, or anywhere
else in the nation, wanted anything to do with the
hideous slaughter pen that World War I had become since
the conflict had erupted in 1914 between England, France,
Russia and other Allies against Germany, the AustroHungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire and other Central
powers.
At the war's beginning, there was no military-industrial
complex (almost all artillery and arms used by Americans
were provided by the French or British). In early 1917, the
U.S. Army consisted of only 133,000 soldiers. A massive
mobilization of men was required.
Two Missourians played key roles in creating this new
fighting force. Gen. Enoch Crowder, born and raised in Edinburg, Grundy County, was tasked with implementing the
Selective Service Act. Within two months of the declaration of war, he oversaw the registration of 10 million men.
Within a year, a military force was assembled consisting
of 2 million men. Three-fourths of them were draftees. A
quarter of a million Missouri boys registered for the draft.
Ultimately, 174,000 Missourians, both volunteers and
draftees, served in the armed forces during the war.
To lead this massive army, another native Missourian,
Gen. John J. Pershing, was tapped. He grew up near
Laclede in Linn County. In 1917, Pershing was appointed
to head the American Expeditionary Force in France. On
his arrival in France, he paid his respects at the tomb of
the American Revolutionary War hero, the Marquis de Lafayette. Pershing proclaimed, "Lafayette, we are here."
A little over a year after the declaration of war, American

52

RURAL MISSOURI | NOVEMBER 2020

doughboys saw their first action against the Germans
at Chateau Thierry, just 59 miles from Paris. The hardpressed French appealed to Gen. Pershing for assistance
in beating back the enemy assault. Pershing detached two
divisions of American soldiers to fight with the beleaguered
French defenders. Some of the bloodiest combat came at
a place called Belleau Wood. Marine Lt. Frank Becker, a
Fulton native, was in this battle. At one point, during a
German night assault he recounted, "We heard German ...
command[s] and opened up with our machine guns, etc.
and stopped them dead in their tracks."
However, the Germans were well dug in at Belleau Wood
and mounted a fierce resistance. By June 6, 1918, 60%
of the forces Becker fought with were dead or wounded.
Ultimately, the German attack was repulsed by the "Devil
Dogs," as the Marines came to be known. The hardfighting Marines received much credit for saving Paris
from German occupation. It came at the cost of nearly
10,000 U.S. casualties. The French later renamed Belleau
Wood, "Bois de la Brigade de Marine" ("Wood of the Marine
Brigade"), and Pershing referred to it as the biggest U.S.
battle since Appomattox during the Civil War.
On the home front, Missouri joined the nation in a massive mobilization of the civilian population to support the
war effort. The general assembly of Missouri did not hold a
legislative session during 1918. As a result, Missouri's war
effort was carried forward by citizen volunteers at every
level from state to county to towns and townships.
The Missouri Council of Defense coordinated the operation. The most urgent priority, in order to help finance the
war, was the sale of war bonds. Between 1917 and 1918,
there were four bond drives. Although Missouri met all
of its war bond quotas, it was not without a considerable
amount of arm-twisting.



Rural Missouri - November 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - November 2020

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Rural Missouri - November 2020 - Contents
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