The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.
The buttons used on military uniforms were very representative of their country. Pictured here are military uniform buttons from Australia, Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany, and the United States. It is not hard to tell where each button is from just by looking at it. The Australian button has the outline of the country; the British depicts the crest of the monarchy. The Canadian, French, and German all have emblems referring to their monarchical history. And the US button bears the crest of the United States. These ornate buttons served as reminders to the men wearing them of what they were fighting for. Their individuality also made them a common souvenir picked up by soldiers abroad.
Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collections
This is the Gold Star Roll Record of Alexander P. Adwell from Renville, Minnesota. Adwell died on this day in the Battle of Belleau Wood from a machine gun wound. Seen here is the original Marine Corps Dispatch which informed Adwell's family of his death. Also included is a letter from one of Adwell's comrades to his family extending his condolences about their loss. He says that Adwell was an incredible soldier, and that he obtained all the qualities that make up a true soldier.
July 2, 1918
Deeply Regret to inform you that cablegram from abroad advises that Private Palmer Alexander Adwell, Marine Corps, was killed in action between June second and tenth. Body will be interred abroad until end of war. Please accept my heartfelt sympathy in your great loss. Your son nobly gave his life in the service of his country.
Major General Commandant.
Camp Doniphan, Oklahoma,
July 8, 1918.
Mr. and Mrs. William Adwell,
Having just learned today through the Official Bulletin from Washington that your boy, Palmer, had made the supreme sacrifice for his country, I wish to extend my heartfelt sympathy to you in your hour of sorrow and grief. I know that any words of mine must be weak but I wish to tender you the consolation that may be found in knowing that as a soldier Palmer was one of the finest it has been our country's honor to own. In my service with him on the Mexican border in 1916 I learned to know him as possessing all the finer qualities that go to make up the true soldier or man, courage, self-reliance, diligence, intelligence and a happy cheerfulness under adversity. Twice did he voluntarily offer himself to his country and twice did you cheerfully send him on to do her bidding. [...]
Yours most respectfully,
Lawrence M. Carlson
Citation: "Adwell, Alexander P" Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.2F
This general order, issued on June 5th, 1918, reports that troops had been stealing towels, sheets, and blankets off Pullman cars in large numbers. This order thus declares that the soldiers must be inspected upon arrival so that stolen materials could be returned and the thieves brought to trial.
June 5, 1918.
1. It has been brought to the attention of the Commanding General, Port of Embarkation, that troops have been removing from the Pullman cars quantities of towels, linens and blankets; the aggregate loss amounting to many thousands of dollars.
2. It is therefore directed that on the arrival of troops at the Port of Embarkation, a thorough inspection of the clothing and equipment of the troops be made, and in all cases where property belonging to the Pullman Company is found, inspections will cause it to be turned in to the local Quartermaster and the guilty parties brought to trial immediately.[...]
BY COMMAND OF MAJOR GENERAL SHANKS[...]
Citation: U.S. Army, 350th Infantry Regiment, Co. G, records 1917-1919. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. BG6/.U584/350th
"German Submarines Sink U.S. Vessels Off Jersey Coast; Boston Port Closed" and "Germans Attempt Pust Westward on Marne; Battleline Huge Semi-Circle" - Bemidji Daily Pioneer. June 3, 1918
Sergeant Fritz "Fred" Gustafson was from St. Paul, Minnesota. During the war Gustafson did his bit by serving as a recruiting officer for the Marine Corps. In this letter home, Gustafson compares the act of recruiting men to missionary work. He says he goes to churches and open air meetings, anywhere that men congregate, in order to recruit, and he plans on using a short bible verse to convince men to join the cause. Gustafson became ill on October 26th, 1918, the day he was supposed to sail for France with the Replacement Battalion. He died of pneumonia a week later on November 2, 1918, 9 days before the Armistice.
June 2, 1918
Just a few lines this beautiful Sunday afternoon[.] I just returned from a recruiting trip to St. Charles. We had a fine time and were successful in securing recruits. [...] I have been speaking at open air meetings and at the theatres, now I am going to make a round of the churches. You understand we must speak wherever men gather. A sort of Missionary work. [...] I am going to use that little verse, "What greater love hath man shown than that, that he lay down His life for a friend." I am going to compare this with the war. And tell the men that when they enlist they are doing as the Scripture says, that we should obey the government even though it be against our convictions. [...]
With love to father, sister and brother-in-law.
With warm love
Citation: "Gustafson, Fritz A." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.3B
In the final of three letters written by First Class Private Elmer J. Ecklund to his family, he describes a rush into no mans land that he participated in. He tells his family that he experienced some "excitement" while on the front when they ran out and were being shot at by Germans. Ecklund tells his parents that it was in that moment he fully realized that he was in war.
June 1, 1918.
Somewhere in France.
Dear Father + Mother, Lawrence, and Eva,
[...] I have been to the battle front three times and the last time I was there we had a little excitement. We jumped "over the top," ran across the barbed wire entanglements and charged on the enemy. In crossing "no mans land" we began to realize, however, that we were really in war.
The german machine guns became active but still our troops advanced. And we gained the desired object, what we sought to gain and held it and our troops made the "square heads" run. We beat them back with our rifle fire, and even at the point of the bayonet. One German threw up his hands and said "Kamarad". A soldier in our company said "Kamarad" hell, "this is war" and then finished him. A german soldier is afraid of an american when it comes to hand to hand fighting. But a few americans gave up their lives during that battle. Some fell on the left of me and some on the right, but the losses wern't very heavy. [...] But my nerves were very much shaken for I had some big shells explode near me. [...] It seems cruel and heartless to shoot a man when you have him in your mercy and when he says "Kamarad" while on his knees, but if you didn't he would stick you with a knife when you had your back turned. [...]
And now dear folks good bye, with lots of love to all.
Pvt. Elmer J. Ecklund,
Co. L. 28 Inf.
Citation: "Ecklund, Elmer J." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.3B
"Liquid Fire Machines Captured by Americans in Raid" and "May Bear Brunt of Next Attack" - The Caledonia Argus. May 31, 1918.
Today's entry comes from a volume collected by members of the Hamline community, detailing the war work of the Hamline women serving as nurses and with the Y.W.C.A. overseas. Keith Clarke, a woman working as Director of Publicity for the Y.W.C.A. in France describes spending from 8 PM to 8 AM the next day with three other women feeding and comforting the refugees coming through the train station near where she was stationed. The refugees were fleeing the Chateau Thierry area, as this was the beginning of a battle which lasted until July 18. Clarke describes a midnight raid that necessitated moving a thousand refugees into the subway station underground and then back up to the canteen when the raid was over to continue serving them. She also tells the story of an old man sitting alone in the train station, ignorant of the commotion around him. The man had been separated from his wife two days prior, and knew he would never see her again. Clarke's heart went out to the man, and she did everything she could to try and help him, offering him both soup and coffee, and keeping an eye on him throughout the night.
"As to my great day, the day which is unforgetful, I think that can be befinitely [sic] dated May 30th, 1918. It was a day that ran twenty fours hours and more, and it was the day of the taking of Chateau Thiery. [sic] [...] Because the Red Cross and the Y.M.C.A. were both having monster out-of-town picnics, there was no one to serve in the canteen at the station. Actually no one. The four of us improvised aprons out of towels, and from eight in the evening until eight the next morning, without ceasing, without resting, we fed and tried to comfort the refugees who parted through the station on the way- to anywhere. Thousands of them whole families, fragments of families that had been shattered that very day. A pair of twins was born in the station, Life in the midst of death. [...] Near midnight a raid. It was necessary to marshall the thousand of refugees of the moment, down the steps into a station of the subway. They went at meekly as they had come from their homes. [...] The night crept on, the tracks which had been wrecked by a bomb during the air raid had been mended, the trains began pouring in. We were enormously busy, We could scarce look at these refugees as individuals, so swift was the massed necessity. One man sat alone, I offered him soup, He did not see it. I offered him coffee, He did not even refuse it, he sat there, simply sat there, and saw and heard nothing. I went to the Lieutenant for counsel, He saw the old man and reported to me- lost his wife, separated from her two days ago, he'll never see her again. One more of those rending tragedies, and we went on with our serving, and the night went on, and the old man sat there. [...]
Citation: 1917-1921, Hamline in the Great War: articles and extracts. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1560