In 1917, life in America was about to change dramatically. The most obvious one would be when the US officially entered WWI after the British passenger liner, the Lusitania, was sunk by a German submarine, killing 128 Americans.
In Texas, large military installations were set up in multiple sites, and soldiers were shipped out for Europe – many to return suffering from combat injuries, disease, and poisonous gas. Immigrants were streaming into Texas through Galveston, and suffragettes were fighting on the home front to gain the right to vote – a fight that was won in 1920. It is interesting that 100 years later, our nation still struggles with similar issues: immigration, war, infectious diseases, and voting rights. (adapted from Houston Chronicle/Carol Christian, December 29, 2016.)
Some interesting war-related facts of 1917:
March 28: Jews are expelled from Tel Aviv & Jaffa by Turkish authorities
April 4: US Senate agrees to participate in WWI
April 6: US declares war on Germany and enters the World War
April 16: Vladimir Lenin issues his radical “April Theses” calling for Soviets to take power during the Russian Revolution.
May 18: US Congress passes Selective Service Act, authorizing the federal government to raise a national army for the American entry into WWI through compulsory enlistment.
June 4: American men begin registering for the draft
Aug 5: The entire US National Guard is taken into national service, subject to presidential rather than state control
Sept 3: First night bombing of London by German aircraft
Oct 17: First British bombing of Germany
Nov 6: Bolshevik revolution begins with bombardment of the Winter Palace in Petrograd during the Russian October Revolution
Nov 7: Lenin and the Bolsheviks seize power
Dec 26: US Federal government took over operation of American railroads for the duration of WWI
And here are some interesting non war-related facts and changes of 1917 – 100 years ago – that sharply affected American culture:
Love Field in Dallas, TX, is opened on Oct 19
20,000 women march in suffrage parade in New York on Oct 27.
First Class US mail cost 3 cents per ounce
Supreme Court decision (Buchanan v Warley) strikes down Louisville, KT, ordinance requiring Blacks and White to live in separate areas.
New York State adopts a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote in state elections.
Telephone Co runs first advertisement for Army operators: receives 7,000 applicants
The 18th Amendment, authorizing prohibition of alcohol, is approved by the US Congress and sent to the states for ratification
Average life expectancy for men was 47 years
Fuel for cars was sold in drug stores only
Only 14 percent of homes had a bathtub
Only 8 percent of homes had a telephone
The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.
The average US worker made between $200 and $400 per year.
More than 95 percent of all births took place at home.
Ninety percent of all doctors had no college education.
Sugar cost 4 cents a pound; eggs were 14 cents a dozen; coffee, 15 cents a pound.
Five leading causes of death: pneumonia and influenza, tuberculosis, diarrhea, heart disease, stroke
The American flag had 45 stars
The population of Las Vegas, Nevada, was only 30!
Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea hadn’t been invented yet.
Two out of every adult could not read or write and only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.
Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at local drugstores.
There were about 230 reported murders in the entire USA!
WWI ended in 1919, and some historians believe the secret arrangements for distribution of conquered German territories among the Allied Nations eventually led to WWII. This Second World War lasted from 1939 to 1945, but for the US, it began on December 7, 1941, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it ended in late1945.
Below are some of the more remarkable war-related facts of 1945:
Jan, 1945: President Franklin D. Roosevelt is inaugurated for his fourth term.
Jan 17: Auschwitz concentration camp begins evacuation
Jan 30: American Rangers and Filipino resistance fighters liberate over 500 Allied POWs from Japanese at Cabanatuan.
Feb 5: US troops under General Douglas MacArthur enter Manila
Feb 23: US Marines raise the flag on Iwo Jima, later a famous photo and Marine Corps War Memorial sculpture
March 23; Largest operation in WWII’s Pacific War with 1,500 US Navy ships bombing the Japanese island of Okinawa
April 12: Pres Roosevelt died. Vice President Harry S. Truman takes the Oath of Office
April 4: US forces liberated the Nazi death camp Ohrdruf in Germany
April 5: Kuniaki Koiso resigns as PM of Japan and is replaced by Kantaro Sazuki
April 22: Concentration Camp at Sachsenhausen liberated
April 23: Concentration camp Flossenburg liberated
May 7: WWII unconditional German surrender to the Allies signed by General Alafred Jodl at Rheims
May 8: V-E Day! WWII ends in Europe after Germany signs an unconditional surrender
July 27: US Communist Party forms
July 28: Japanese premier Suzuki disregards US ultimatum to surrender
Aug 6: US detonates atomic bomb “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, Japan
Aug 9: US detonates “Fat Man” over Nagasaki, Japan
Aug 15: Victory over Japan Day – Emperor Hirohito announces Japan’s surrender on the radio, and the end of WWII is announced.
Aug 15: US wartime rationing of gasoline and fuel oil ends
Aug 17: Korea is divided into North and South Korea
Sept 2: Ho Chi Minh declares Vietnam independent from France
Sept 2: V-J Day – formal surrender of Japan aboard USS Missouri marks the end of WWII (Sept 1st in US)
The year of 1945 also reflects marked changes in American culture.
New York is the first to prohibit discrimination by race and creed in employment
Microwave oven was patented
Charter of the United Nations comes into effect
First ballpoint pen goes on sale, manufactured by Biro
US government announces the end of shoe rationing (Oct 30)
Most US wartime rationing of foods, including meat and butter, ends. (Nov 23)
Congress officially recognizes “Pledge of Allegiance” (Dec 28)
Cost of a new house: $4,600.00
Average wages per year: $2,400.00
Cost of a gallon of gasoline: 15 cents
Average cost for house rental: $60.00 per month
Average cost of a new car: $1,020.00
Another cultural change brought about by WWII was the increase of women serving not only in the military but in the work place at home. The munitions industry heavily recruited women – note the “Rosie the Riveter” campaign – but the aviation industry had a surge of female workers with more than 310,000 women working in the US aircraft industry – 65% of the industry’s total workforce. Hence, by 1945, nearly one in four married women worked outside the home.
The effects of the wars on the home front were very much a part of everyday life. During WWII, there was rationing of almost all consumer goods, the planting of “victory gardens”, a shortage of coffee, an absence of nylon stockings – prompting the habit of ladies drawing a “seam” up the back side of their legs to simulate stockings – and tin cans and bacon fat being recycled into steel and ammunition base. Today, the number of Americans living who recall these experiences is dwindling. But here are a few remembrances from some:
Freeman White, Purple Heart recipient from combat during Korea in 1951, recalls that he was eleven years old when his family returned home from church on Dec 7, 1941, to hear on the radio of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He had four older brothers who then served in combat zones, one as a pilot; and a fifth brother – one who suffered from a withered foot due to polio as a boy – couldn’t make it into the service, so he joined the Merchant Marines and traveled across the seas delivering goods for the war effort.
Franklin Runnels, who lived in South San Antonio near Kelly Field, recalls Tent City, where the hillside near Kelly was covered with tents that housed Lackland trainees. He also shares that his parents rented out one of their two bedrooms to service men and their wives. One such couple was Betty and Lewis Bailey of Quihi, TX. Another memory was the shortage of gum, candy, and toys. Franklin shares whimsically, “I was so happy when the war ended because Fleers Bubble Gum was back on the market, and plastic toy cars were back on the shelves at Kress’s.” On a more serious note, he recalls the honor burial of a cousin, Carvel Collins, from Uvalde, and of his Uncle Tom Harris – who served on a destroyer in the Pacific Front – looking impressive in his Navy uniform.
And though quite young, this writer recalls poignantly the honor burial of my Uncle Morris Van Treese, several years after his B29 crashed on a training mission in Belgium in 1945, at Fort Sam Houston and the chilling 21-gun salute!
Beulah Anderson says that she was visiting her grandmother in Grand Saline in the summer of ’45, and while sitting outside on the porch, fire trucks came down the street with sirens blaring and firemen yelling, “The war’s over; the war’s over.” They family came out and waved and went to crying from happiness. Beulah also remembers wanting to get her grandmother a Service Flag with three blue stars representing the three sons she had serving. Beulah also recalled as a little girl listening on the radio to Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent saying, “This is Ernie Pyle, reporting from the front lines.” Beulah’s mother and father both had three brothers serving at the same time.
One key to the survival of our nation is that during both world wars, everyone had a sense of patriotism. For the most part, people put aside political differences for the common good. Unfortunately, that unity has diminished with each subsequent conflict. So, as we pay homage to our veterans from both world wars, from the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, and from the ongoing conflicts since Desert Storm, let us also pray for a resurgence of American unity for the common good and future of our great nation.