In honor of the passing of the last US WWI veteran this past Sunday, I’m posting a photo of the dog tags and trench lighter of my Great Grand Uncle Alex Kownacki. He was from Milwaukee and had been a member of the 127th Infantry – Wisconsin National Guard. I found his draft record a few years ago, but hadn’t been able to find anything else about his life. Then my father found a listing that had him killed in action on September 7th, 1918 in Cierges, France. This would explain how only one of his dog tags made it down through the family. Later, I was able to locate the cemetery in Milwaukee that he was reinterred in a few years after the end of the war. He was only 22 when he was killed in France.
I originally thought that this was from WWII, but after a bit of research I discovered that I was off by a war. These half-dollar sized coins were created by the Treasury Department as a little gesture of thanks to individuals that were Liberty Loan workers during WWI. The Liberty Loans were basically U.S. bonds that individuals bought to help the Government pay for the war without incurring any further debt (a rather novel concept in today’s world). I found an article from the April 14, 1919 issue of “Greater New York - Bulletin of the Merchant’s Association of New York” (Volume 8, No. 15, p. 24) describing these Victory Liberty Loan medals. In the article it mentions that the metal used came from cannon captured by U.S. troops during the Battle of Château-Thierry, which was part of the Second Battle of the Marne. I’m sure these little tokens were appreciated by many that did what they could during the war the end to all wars. At least I know it meant enough to someone in my family that it has managed to be passed down through the years.
In honor of Veterans Day I’m posting three small pins from the Third Liberty Loan, which was a Government bond program to help pay for WWI. This third loan campaign of The Great War started in April of 1918, which makes dating these pins rather easy. I found various articles and speeches given for this loan drive including an article from the Harvard Crimson and a speech given by President Wilson. If you’re a history nerd (and I’m going to assume you are if you’ve gone this far) you might be familiar with the photos of Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. revving up the crowd to buy bonds on Wall Street, or the famous poster of the Boy Scout handing a sword to Liberty to fight for freedom, that was from this drive. I know that one of my ancestors on my Mom’s side worked at selling the bonds because I have this cool token that was handed out to them after the war. Sadly, I’m not exactly sure which one.
While most in the U.S. don’t know the origins of what we call Veteran’s Day, other nations like England and France know quite well. Their Remembrance Day is also known as Armistice Day, which marks the end of WWI. England, for example, holds a moment of silence for 2 minutes at 11:00 a.m. (very striking images here) which was the time when the hostilities ended. It’s rather easy to remember when the guns fell silent: The 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month (or at least you hope it’s easy if you have to take my test). They also wear a red poppy, which is a direct link to one of WWI’s most famous of poems In Flanders Fields. It’s also easy to see why other nations so honor this day. In England, for example, they lost more men during this war than WWII (almost 1 million - a fact that shocks most), and they didn’t even loose as many as the roughly 1.6 million suffered by France. With that in mind you can see why they mark this day in a very somber way.
Three generations in a row were named George F. Ehemann, which at times makes things a bit difficult to identify which was which. In this case it is a bit easier. My Grandpa George was born in 1907, so most likely he wasn’t registering for the draft at 11. That make this his father’s draft card (his father George was already 80 and well out of service age). He was born in 1872 which meant that he was 45 when filling this out. The Selective Service Act of 1917 initially required registration for all males between the ages of 21 to 30, but that was later changed to 18 to 45, which meant he just fell into the requirement. The war ended 2 months later and he was never called up (as far as I know).
While my Great Grandfather was registering that Monday morning another relation of mine from the other side of my family was already in France serving with the US Army. He was not even half the age of George and was most likely in a cold and miserable trench. By the end of that same week he had been killed in action. Here are his trench lighter and dog tag.