Winnebago County’s Gold Stars of WWI

Service Flag (www.war-veterans.org)

Service Flag (www.war-veterans.org)

April 6, 2017, will mark the 100th anniversary of the United States of America officially entering World War I. The US was hardly prepared to fight a war in 1917. When war was declared, there were only 208,000 men in its standing army–80,000 of them were part of the national guard. Additionally, weapons and munitions were in short supply. Soon the American factories shifted to wartime production. Congress passed the Selective Service Act in May 1917 to bolster the US Military through a draft, which proved to be largely successful.  Nearly 2.7 million young men were conscripted into the army and about 300,000 volunteered.[1]

Out of the nearly 4.7 million men who served during World War I, the United States suffered over 116,000* casualties at the conclusion of the war.[2] Winnebago County sent off quiet a few of its sons  to fight in the trenches and on the seas, and some of them paid the ultimate price. Their names are forever immortalized on 4 bronze plaques that hung on the front of the Winnebago County Courthouse in Oshkosh.

When I read the names, I had this realization that these men were more than just names on a plaque, or number on a casualty list. They were people who lived and worked in our local communities, and they have a story. I think that is what fascinates me the most. Who were they, what did they do before the war, and what propelled them into the first global conflict of the 20th century? I am going to attempt, hopefully with the help of others, to learn and share the stories of theses soldiers from Winnebago County who lost their lives in World War I.

While doing some reading on the subject, I stumbled into the movement to build a monument in Washington D.C. to honor our WWI vets. I was surprised to find out that we don’t have a monument there already! I included a video from the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission‘s website about their efforts to memorialize the servicemen of World War I in Washington D.C. I encourage you to see what this organization is doing to preserve our veterans’ history. 

*over 53,000 casualties were battle related, and over 63,000 were non battle related
[1] https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1998/fall/military-service-in-world-war-one.html
[2] https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/factsheets/fs_americas_wars.pdf 

Great War to Great Gatsby

IMG_2205

Molly and I had a great Labor Day weekend. We did some of the usual summer rituals. We had friends over for a brat fry, beer, and a campfire to roast s’mores and visit.  It was a great way to celebrate the unofficial end of summer. But a holiday weekend is not complete without learning some history. We paid a visit to the Oshkosh Public Museum to see their current exhibit called, Great War to Great Gatsby: 1914-1929.

We both find this era very intriguing, especially the fashion and entertainment of the 1920s. Both of these topics and more were touched on in the exhibit. Upon stepping into the exhibit, I was amazed to see the local items in its collection connected to this era. Molly even commented, “all of these gowns are in the museum’s collection?” We often learn of all the movements, social norms, and cultural fads on a national level. This exhibit brings that history home.

You will encounter a number of objects with some interesting history behind them. You will learn about Oshkosh suffragette Jessie Jack Hooper and get up close to one of her 1920s outfits.Oshkosh men and women volunteered to serve and defend the United States during the Great War, and their uniforms are displayed. Bathing suits,  kitchen appliances, and homemade moonshine stills, are just a few of the objects on display. All of them having a connection to someone or some event in Oshkosh of that era.

I am always excited to see ways that museums are making exhibits interactive for the audience. There were a few in this exhibit that were fun. You were able to pick up an old telephone and listen to someone telling you a story over the phone. An old radio was set up that allowed guests to press buttons and  hear popular music from that time. Another interactive portion was a wall filled with automobile ads with car features and prices. You wrote which car you preferred, and you could also figure out the 2015 price of that vehicle.

In the end, we both really enjoyed the exhibit. I hope the OPM can put on some more exhibits with objects and stories that coincide with a set time period. I liked learning about the connections to Oshkosh with events like Prohibition, fashion, suffragist movement, and the advancement in technology. Go and see it before it’s gone! The exhibit lasts until October 18.