Bell Tower Theater
The tolling of our church bell quickened our steps as we six children returned from our one-room school on April 2, 1917, to find my mother sitting at the kitchen table crying as she told us, “Our country is at war.” She heard this news on our 14-party country telephone’s general ring. The following day our daily paper’s headline was “U.S. Proclaims War.” War had been declared by President Woodrow Wilson.
With only 208,034 men in the army, (the U.S. was unprepared for war. The country had not fought a major war in over 50 years. The military air service had 55 rickety planes and 150 pilots.
The situation was quickly remedied by a draft and the mobilization of industry. Men between the ages of 21-30 went to their voting places to register on June 5, 1917. Newspapers listed their names by county and township.
We had to buy most of our artillery, tanks and ammunition at first from France and Britain. But patriotism was strong. We were out to win this war against Germany.
My two brothers, Harry and Francis, were drafted, and reported to the Army station in Dyersville for a physical examination. Harry failed to qualify as he had had one kidney removed at the age of 14, while Francis came home in tears as he was rejected because of poor vision. They would stay home on the farm to help raise food for the army.
Liberty Bonds were sold in order to finance the war. My father borrowed $200 to buy bonds as he felt troubled that our family was not represented in the armed services. The youngest children filled Liberty Books with 25 cent stamps, helping in a small way to raise $17 billion for the government.
By June of 1918, the U.S. was in full swing with the business of war as factories ran around the clock. Community meetings were held to distribute materials to be made into pajamas and other clothing for the servicemen. My mother could sew 14 pairs of pajamas in one day. She had worked at in Glovers in Dubuque. Yarn for socks and sweaters came in large skeins, so we kids held the yarn over our wrists while she rolled it into a ball, making it handy for knitting. We also rolled bandages in two and four inch wide rolls.
Women stepped forward to fill the jobs, working seven days a week for the duration of the war, doing the work left behind by the boys. They toiled in factories, plowed fields, worked in assembly lines, became traffic cops and held civil service jobs. 11,000 females enlisted in the Navy to become clerks and stenographers.
The government diverted tons of food to the men in the trenches, while at home food was rationed by allotting stamps in accordance to the number in each family. For each 100 pounds of white flour, you were forced to buy 100 pounds of substitutes like com meal, oatmeal, rice, rice flour, pancake flour, etc. Sugar was replaced with molasses, sorghum and honey. Canned food was also rationed. We were fortunate enough to trade meat and butter stamps with the clerks at the store for shoe stamps.