Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. This week, instead of providing “the rest of the story,” as we normally do, we’ll assume that everyone knows the outcome of World War I. Here, a look at how the people of Great Bend reacted to the historic declaration.
On April 2, 1917, US President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war against Germany. Four days later, both houses had responded with an overwhelming “yes,” and a groundswell of patriotism resulted.
One hundred years ago today, on April 6, 1917, Great Bend celebrated Loyalty Day. This is particularly notable, because if you do a search for Loyalty Day on Google today, you will find an overwhelming number of sites that claim Loyalty Day has always been on May 1. Not so. The April 5, 1917 Great Bend Daily Tribune’s front page declares, “Loyalty Day is Tomorrow - City will show its patriotism in big parade and meeting - Judge Cole will speak - School children, hundreds of automobiles and old soldiers to form a line”
As the nation committed itself to war, it was also a historic moment for prayer.
Just as the Senate voted to pass the war resolution, last night, Senator Smoot of Utah, delivered the first prayer ever delivered by a Senator on the Senate floor. Rising in his place he said: “God bless and approve the action to be taken by the Senate this day. Oh, Father, preserve our government and hasten the day when liberty will be enjoyed by all the people of the earth.”
Patriotism in song
Throughout the week leading up to the Loyalty Day celebration, the Tribune printed patriotic songs, with the following advice:
“The Daily Tribune will publish a patriotic song every day this week until Friday, and which should be cut out of the paper and saved for the big patriotic rally next Friday evening. If you know the songs as every American should, there will be no use to cut them out, but for the sake of having a large chorus and so everyone can sing Friday evening, the Tribune is publishing the songs. Lest we forget, “America First.” (Sounds a little familiar.)
Songs included were “One Country, America,” “Columbia the Gem of the Ocean,” “The Star Spangled Banner,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and finally “Hail, Columbia.”
Women, Negroes, and Germans
It was a given that young men would be called upon to serve. It was not yet known however if it would be volunteer or draft. There were three groups spotlighted in the pages of the Tribune this week, their patriotism noted as though it was both unexpected and welcomed. Women were noted for their volunteerism.
“The hand that rocks the cradle rules a good share of the world of American preparedness. Nationwide reports to the United Press today show the women of the country offering to serve as sign painters, factory inspectors, naval stenographers, nurses, drug clerks, cooks, laundresses and anything else they are needed for. Hundreds of patriotic women have answered the navy’s call to the colors and other hundreds have answered in other branches without being called.”
Roscoe Congling Simmons, a nephew of the late Booker T. Washington, gave a rousing and patriotic speech at a meeting in Lexington, Ky., which was picked up and reported through the wire service.
‘We have a record to defend, but no treason, thank God, to atone or explain. While in chains we fought to Carrizal, and returned again to our chains. No Negro has ever insulted the flag. No Negro every struck down a President of these United States. No Negro ever sold a military map or secret to foreign government. No Negro ever ran under fire or lost an opportunity to serve, to fight, to bleed and die in the republic’s cause. Accuse us of what you will - justly and wrongly - no man can point to a single instance of our disloyalty. We have but one country and one flag, the flag that set us free. Its language is our only tongue and no hyphen bridges or qualifies our loyalty. Today the nation faces danger from the foreign foe, treason stalks and skulks up and down our land in dark councils intrigues being hatched,” He goes on to declare his allegiance to the country and the president. “Injustice to me there is, bad laws there are upon the statute books, but in this hour of peril I forget, and you must forget, all thoughts of self or race or creed or politics or color.”
Meanwhile, Germans expressed their loyalty, as well as their dismay about the position they found themselves in. Here, the sentiments of Fed Buehler, a man quoted in the Holton Recorder:
“My parents came to this country from Germany to escape the militarism of that country and to better their financial condition for themselves and their children, both of which objects were accomplished. I therefore believe I owe the most devoted loyalty to the United States. I have mighty little patience with German-born people who came here with the same objects my parents did, and prospered and enjoyed peace and plenty in this country, who talk and act as though they owe more to their fatherland than they do to the country of their adoption.”
Flags, big and small
With all this buildup, is it any wonder the turnout to Loyalty Day was unprecedented?
“City shows its loyalty - Monster patriotic parade and Old Glory display unequaled - Meeting in the forum - Flags float over the city - every organization is represented”
“Great Bend witnessed the greatest patriotic display ever before staged in the city today. Patriotism was the password on the streets, in every office and the homes. Every public institution and civic organization in the city displayed its patriotism to the city and it in turn will be shown to the world as time progresses. Nearly everyone in the parade carried an American flag. To be sure some of them were dilapidated looking, and rather small but they answered the purpose very well. Anything in the present crisis that bears the stars and stripes is good enough for the American people.”