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Lake Geneva Chiropractic

Lake Geneva's history in World War I

August 26, 2014 | 01:19 PM
One hundred years ago in August 1914, World War I began. The “war to end all wars,” as it was called — it wasn’t — ended up costing millions of lives, particularly those of British, French, German, Austrian, Russian and Italian soldiers.

The United States did not enter the war until April 6, 1917, almost three years after it had begun, but the United States’ entry into the war played a key role in bringing it to an end 19 months later on Nov. 11, 1918.

Lake Geneva, like all cities in the U.S., was profoundly affected by the war. Residents dug up their lawns and planted “Victory Gardens” (which were intended to build support for the war).

Many young residents of Lake Geneva and the surrounding area joined the U.S. Armed Forces, including, among others, my uncle (by marriage) William Malsch, his brother Lewis Malsch, and their future brother-in-law Clarence Johnson (who joined the U.S. Marine Corps).

William F. Trinke (who later became a state senator, commander of the American Legion in Wisconsin, and a legendary real estate entrepreneur in Lake Geneva), Frank Kresen, who was killed shortly after the war ended when the howitzer he had volunteered to repair exploded; Ernest Niles, who later became a letter carrier in Lake Geneva and eventually the Walworth County Veterans’ Service Officer, his brother Vernon Niles, Joe Brozosky, Edward P. Dunn, William Krueger, Lloyd F. Best (a future mayor of Lake Geneva and the grandfather of Chris Brookes), B. O. Reynolds, Edwin Bruce Arnold, Dwight Allen, A. H. Button Jr., Warren Burdick, Gordon Gray, Hobart Griswold Jr., Henry Hinzpeter, George Hudson, J. Ingram, Gerald Keenen, Arthur Lawrie, Walter McNamee, Harold Nish, Clarence Rasch, Sturges Taggert Sr., and Audie Williams were among the 119 residents of the Lake Geneva area who volunteered for military service and joined Troop F of the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry before it was transformed into Battery F of the 120th Field Artillery of the famed 32nd Red Arrow Division.

Laura Dopke, who after World War II, would own the first Lustron house in Lake Geneva (on Maxwell Street), was in charge of 100s of Army nurses in Europe during the First World War. Among the many other Lake Geneva residents who joined the military were Warren Rich, George Stewart Rich, Erwin “Corby” Giese, James Pendergast, and Earl Jack, who later became a janitor at the U.S. Post Office in Lake Geneva. .

Between August 1914, when WWI began and April 1917, when the U.S. finally declared war on Germany and its allies, there was considerable opposition in the U.S. and in Wisconsin to the U.S. entering the war.

The legendary U.S. Senator Robert M. (“Fighting Bob”) La Follette Sr. of Wisconsin was opposed to the U.S. entering the war, as were many thousands of Wisconsin residents, especially those of German origin who lived in Milwaukee, many of whom were Socialists. They were opposed to the war not because of their German ancestry, but because they did not believe that working people in the U.S. should fight and kill working people of other countries.

After the U.S. entered the war, newspapers in the U.S., including the local Lake Geneva newspaper, devoted much space to whipping up pro-war sentiment, accusing people who opposed the war as being “slackers,” “pacifists,” “soft,” “cowards,” “unpatriotic” and even “traitors.”

The U.S. government arrested Eugene V. Debbs, the well-known leader of the Socialist Party and sent him to the Federal prison in Atlanta because of his opposition to the war. Debbs had run for president on the Socialist Party ticket in 1912 and would run again for president in 1920 from his Atlanta prison cell.

Although there was opposition in Lake Geneva and throughout the U.S. to entering World War I from August 1914 to April 1917, there was also considerable pressure for the U.S, to enter the war on the side of Great Britain, France, Italy and Russia, who were fighting Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire (Turkey). Many historians are convinced that President Woodrow Wilson had decided that the U.S. should enter the war long before it finally did on April 6, 1917.

Perhaps an indication that many Americans had become committed to supporting U.S. entry into the war is evidenced by the fact that in Lake Geneva, military preparations for an eventual entry into the war started in March 1917 with the enlistment of eight recruits in the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry, a military unit that traced its origins to the Civil War.

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The 1st Wisconsin Cavalry had been recruiting to increase its numbers in Wisconsin (it was a unit of the National Guard, which was expected to be “federalized” if the U.S. entered the war) and its recruitment efforts included raising a troop, (which later became Troop F) in Lake Geneva.

A recruiting office was set up in the Lone Opera House (which had been built in 1876 as “Centennial Hall” and was located where the Geneva Theater is located today).

Capt. Benoni O. Reynolds (whose father had been a surgeon in a Wisconsin regiment during the Civil War) was placed in charge of recruiting. The recruitment target was 105 men, which was the full peacetime complement of a troop.

An incident that fed pro-war sentiment in the U.S. occurred on May 7, 1915, when a German submarine torpedoed the British passenger liner, the Lusitania off the coast of Ireland. The Lusitania was (secretly) filled with munitions that the U.S. was sending to the Allies (Great Britain, France, etc.). There were also 159 American passengers aboard the ship of whom 128 perished.

The sinking of the Lusitania wasn’t exactly a 9/11, but it was sufficient to generate support throughout the U.S. for America to enter the war.

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After war was declared against Germany and its allies on April 6, 1917, the recruitment to Troop F accelerated and the troop was soon up to full strength. The fact that a draft was imminent no doubt had an impact on increased recruitment.

This column is the first of three parts devoted to Lake Geneva and World War I. Part 2 will cover the period from April 1917 to August 1918 when U.S. troops first entered combat in France on a large scale. Part 3 will cover the period from August 1918 to Nov. 11, 1918, when the Armistice was declared.

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