Chicago’s Sons Prepare for War (5-13-1917)

A little more than a month had passed since the United States entered the Great War.  The country had joined Britain and France in the fight against Germany.  Now Chicagoans were heeding President Wilson’s call to “make the world safe for democracy.”

At Fort Sheridan in the northern suburbs, over 2,000 men assembled to begin officers’ training.  For three months they would be instructed by Regular Army personnel.  Then the new officers would be placed in charge of various units, such as engineers, artillery, infantry, or cavalry.
Uncle SamLeadership was more prized than formal education.  “We would like to have [officers] who have good training in handling men,” the fort commandant said.  “The man who has bossed a section gang is worth as much or more to the Army than a man with a Ph.D. degree.”

On this first day, the officer trainees were measured for uniforms, took a lesson in semaphore signaling, and did a little marching.  They would get their rifles in a week.  Morale at the fort was high, though the men had one complaint—the electricity in the barracks wasn’t working, so they had little chance for off-duty reading.

Back in the city, Army enlistments were heavy.  The war in Europe had been dragging on for three years.  Americans had been reading stories about German outrages.  Now it was time to teach those villains a lesson!

At one recruiting station on the Northwest Side, 187 men took the Army oath in a single day.  The line of men waiting to sign up stretched for a full block down Milwaukee Avenue.

These new privates were young Poles.  Some were American-born, but many had just become citizens.  The Polish soldiers had a double motivation.  Besides fighting the enemies of the United States, they also saw a chance to help Poland win its independence.

Navy Recruiting Station, 610 S. State St.

Navy Recruiting Station, 610 S. State St.

While the Army was overwhelmed with volunteers, the Navy was having trouble filling its quota.  Just yesterday, more than 150 men had applied at the Navy recruiting station, but only 52 were accepted.  The rejects had bad eyes, bad teeth, flat feet, or other physical problems.

The Great War—today known as World War I—lasted until November 1918.  The United States  entered the conflict with a peacetime military of 200,000.  That fighting force eventually grew to 4.3 million.  American intervention was the decisive factor defeating Germany and winning the war.


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