This panel features individuals connected to war and military efforts in the United States and abroad, including soldiers, nurses, philanthropists, and military advisors.
(1) Jack Johnson
A scrawny kid, Jack Johnson quit school to be a carriage painter apprentice to Walter Lewis, who loved boxing. Lewis’ passion rubbed off and it was during this time that Johnson learned how to hit — and hard. Johnson grew to become the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion (1908–1915) at the height of the Jim Crow Era.
Noted documentarian Ken Burns said “for more than 13 years, Jack Johnson was the most famous and the most notorious African-American on Earth.” This fame extended outside of the ring to the Allied war effort at the outset of WWI. The day before Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated, Johnson had successfully defended his heavyweight title in Paris. When war broke out several weeks later, Johnson – then in Russia – set out for Paris and announced that he would donate the vehicles in his motorcade to the French Army. He received an ecstatic welcome and an honorary post as a colonel in France’s Army.
Johnson’s lavish lifestyle and flamboyantly confident personality were at odds with the “gentleman boxers” who had defined the sport from the beginning. His talent as a fighter, and the money that came with it, made it impossible for the establishment to ignore Johnson. In these ways, Johnson foreshadowed one of the most famous boxers of all time, Muhammad Ali, who spoke often of how Johnson influenced his fighting style as well as how much he identified with him in feeling ostracized by much of America.
Jack Johnson became a charter member of the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954 – eight years after his death in a car crash – and also is included in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
(2) Anne Tracy Morgan
Being the daughter of finance magnate John Pierpont Morgan, Anne was educated privately and grew up among the immense wealth amassed by her father. This upbringing influenced her toward charitable works, and Morgan built significantly on the efforts of her father in helping others through targeted philanthropy during and after both WWI and WWII.
As early as 1903, Morgan lived and worked in France near the town of Versailles. Owing to this she travelled frequently between her villa there and her home of New York City. A very active member of the socialite class, Morgan participated in many social and charitable groups. She hosted a salon at her residence in Versailles beginning in 1903, where “intelligent, self-educated, and educating women … adopted and implemented the values of the Enlightenment.” (Dena Goodman, Republic of Letters). Also in 1903 she worked with other wealthy heiresses such as Ann Vanderbilt to found the Colony Club – the first women’s social club in New York City.
In addition to these social activities, beginning in 1910 Morgan worked as an activist for workers unions. In 1912 she began her first organized forays into public relief by co-founding the Society for the Prevention of Useless Gift Giving. In 1915 she was awarded a medal by the US National Institute of Social Sciences for her contributions to the field. With the outbreak of WWI Morgan established a home for the wounded staffed by international volunteers and paid local workers. During this time she also became very active with the American Fund for French Wounded and would remain so for the rest of her life. After the war, along with Anne Murray Dike, Morgan founded the American Committee for Devastated France. This group restored homes, shops, churches, and monuments; built barracks for the homeless; provided seed and livestock; established medical dispensaries, clinics, rest houses, and traveling canteens for soldiers; and provided training for the disabled, along with schools, libraries, and summer camps.
This work continued with the onset of and following the end of WWII, and Morgan was awarded the French Croix de Guerre and was made a commander of the Legion of Honor – the first American woman to receive that award.
(3) Walter Lippmann
Walter Lippmann was a highly influential writer, reporter and political commentator during the first half of the 20th century. He won two Pulitzer Prizes and is regarded by many as the “Father of Modern Journalism.”
Lippmann attended Harvard University, studying philosophy and languages. Upon graduation he immediately went to work writing. Journalism, media criticism, and amateur philosophy all fell within the sphere of his interest and quickly came within the pull of his influence. In 1913 he started The New Republic magazine with Walter Weyl and Herbert Croly, the latter of whom – at the request of Lippmann – would back Woodrow Wilson for the presidency using his considerable political sway. This connection led Lippmann to be commissioned as a captain in the Army in 1918 rather than being conscripted as a foot soldier. He was a member of the American Commission to negotiate peace in December of that year and returned home in February 1919 after just 8 months in the military.
Lippmann secured a post as an advisor to President Wilson and helped draft the “Fourteen Points” speech. Lippmann also was severely critical of the President’s appointee for head of wartime propaganda, George Creel. He advised Wilson that censorship should “never be entrusted to anyone who is not himself tolerant, nor to anyone who is unacquainted with the long record of folly which is the history of suppression.”
Following WWI, Lippmann served as unofficial advisor to several presidents and was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Lyndon B. Johnson for his decades of service helping to safeguard the freedom and objectivity of the press.
(4) George Patton
You could almost say George Patton was born to be “Old Blood and Guts,” as his troops would call him. He was a boy in California fed a diet of family war stories ranging from the American Revolution to the Civil War. Inspired to keep this service tradition, Patton attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
And though he’d been selected for the 1916 Olympics team and would travel overseas — it was not for the games. By then, the First World War was underway and Patton was assigned to a new tank corps. With this new technology, Patton established himself as gifted strategist. He would earn a Distinguished Service Medal for brigade leadership and for organizing a tank school.
This led to the high point of Patton’s military career: World War II. President Roosevelt gave him command of the 3rd U.S. Army, which would eventually march into Germany liberating it from the Nazis.
(5) Christy Mathewson
Christy Mathewson was a National League baseball star of the early twentieth century, famous for his wits, good looks, and religious devotion. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest pitchers of all time, playing 17 seasons with the New York Giants. Mathewson’s pitching so dominated his sport, he ranks in the All-time Top-10 Major Pitching Categories for wins, shutouts, and ERA.
In 1918, he enlisted in the Army and although he never saw combat he was accidentally gassed during a training exercise. With damaged lungs, he struggled with tuberculosis for the rest of his life. He died of the disease in 1925.
Mathewson was one of the first inductees to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.
(6) Anna Coleman Ladd
Anna Coleman Ladd was a sculptor who made face masks for soldiers disfigured during the War, setting up the American Red Cross Studio for Portrait Masks in Paris in 1917. Her sculpting process was very labor intensive; she spent time getting to know her clients and their families so she could get a clear idea of what their face and facial expressions looked like before their injury. Then she molded a mask and painted it to match their skin color. Her work was honored by both the French and Serbian governments.
(7) Laurence Stallings
Laurence Stallings worked as a reporter, critic and entertainment director of New York World. It was as a critic that he became impressed by playwright Maxwell Anderson. The pair decided to work together, writing “What Price Glory,” a play depicting the rivalry between two U.S. Marine Corps officers fighting in France during World War I. Their debut work was well received by the public, running for 435 performances and adapted into two films.
The collaborators went on to write several more plays and ventured into books. Stalling’s solo book, “The Doughboys: The Story of the AEF, 1917-1918,” was a nonfiction account of World War I. The work explored the racism and discrimination faced by the black troops. He also wrote a groundbreaking autobiographical novel called Plumes, which explored the personal trials of a soldier returned from WWI disillusioned and disabled. Written in 1924, the book was an immediate success and remained Stallings only novel.
Like the main character in his novel, Stallings’ right leg was badly injured during an assault on a machine gun nest in the Battle of Belleau Wood during WWI. Though able to save it during the war, his leg was eventually amputated in 1922 after a bad slip and fall on a patch of ice. Through his writing and public life, Stallings helped to raise public consciousness about disabled veterans and the immense challenges they faced.
(8) Edwin Hubble
If you like the show, “The Big Bang Theory” you indirectly have Edwin P. Hubble to thank. He was a lawyer who, after serving in World War I, bravely chose to “chuck law for astronomy” — and in doing so made some of the most important discoveries in modern astronomy.
While at the Mt. Wilson Observatory in the 1920s, Dr. Hubble proved that those clouds of light seen through telescopes were actually entire galaxies. This discovery that our own Milky Way was not alone in the universe shifted thinking in astronomy forever.
And that Big Bang Theory? That came in 1929, when Dr. Hubble showed that the farther out a galaxy is from our planet, the faster it appears to move away. This became the foundation of the expanding universe principle, which theorizes that a long ago explosion — or Big Bang — has been propelling all matter away from the core of the universe.
The Hubble Space Telescope was named after the scientist in 1990.
(9) John McCloy
John McCloy was a lawyer and banker most notable for serving as Assistant Secretary of War during WWII. Prior to this he studied law at Harvard, where he enrolled in 1916. Upon the US entrance to WWI in 1917 McCloy joined the Army and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Artillery. He sailed for France as part of the American Expeditionary Force and saw combat in the final weeks of the war as commander of an artillery battery in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Following armistice he returned home in July of 1919, resigned from the Army in August, and returned to Harvard Law School where he received his LL.B. (bachelor of law) degree in 1921.
Back in New York and working as a lawyer, McCloy was an associate at Cravath, Henderson & de Gersdorff. During his time at this law firm he worked with many wealthy clients, including the St. Paul Railroad and Lehigh Valley Railroad. In 1934 he found new evidence which allowed him to re-open the Black Tom explosion case. In 1916, a munitions depot on Black Tom Island in New York Harbor was sabotaged by agents of Imperial Germany in order to prevent the contents of the depot from being sent to the Allies in WWI. The explosion was massive, registering the equivalent of an earthquake measuring 5.0 to 5.5 on the Richter Scale and felt as far away as Philadelphia. It even damaged the Statue of Liberty, resulting in the closure of the statue’s torch to visitors. McCloy successfully re-opened an action almost 20 years later in order to pursue damages incurred by the Lehigh Valley Railroad, which included the death of the company’s Chief of Police in the explosion. The Railroad subsequently won this legal action and settled on damage claims of $50 million in 1953, the payment of which was made in 1979.
McCloy’s most lasting impact came during WWII as Assistant Secretary of War, and after the war as US High Commissioner for Germany. He was a major component of several notable military decisions, including: internment of Japanese-Americans, not bombing rail lines leading to Auschwitz, and the method of ending the war with Japan. He also served on the task forces that built the Pentagon, helped found the predecessor to the CIA, proposed the United Nations and the war tribunals, chaired the predecessor to the National Security Council, proposed ending segregation in the military, and helped convince President Truman to reject the Morgenthau Plan which would strip Germany of its industrial capacity. Later in life he was selected by President Lyndon Johnson to serve on the Warren Commission which investigated and reported on the assassination of President Kennedy.
(10) José de la Luz Sáenz
José de la Luz Sáenz was one of the few Mexican Americans who left a written record of his service in World War I. He was a teacher in Central Texas, and his war diary reveals the parallels he saw between fighting for democracy in France and fighting racial segregation in Texas schools. In 1929 he helped found the League of United Latin American Citizens, a major civil rights organization.
“Have we saved democracy, civilization, the nation, humanity? I do not know. What I do know is that the Mexican American has distinguished and asserted himself. The glorious stars and stripes we have defended with our lives in European battlefields will no doubt serve as our children’s banner for years to come. They are the kind of sacrifices that forge a nation and honor a flag. It is only right that when the last glorious chapter of our National American history is written, we do not forget that Mexican Americans have made a contribution with their blood. Fini la Guerre!”
(11) Tokutaro Slocum
Tokutaro Nishimura came to the US in 1905 when he was just ten years old. When his father moved to Canada to escape the harsh discrimination he faced in the US, Tokutaro was adopted by the Slocum family of Minot, ND. He graduated from the University of Minnesota and was enrolled at Columbia Law School, but left Columbia to fight in WWI. He took part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and the Battle of St. Mihiel, and for the rest of his life he suffered the results of being gassed during the war.
Like many other Japanese immigrants, Slocum saw his military service as a path to US citizenship, which he applied for in 1921. After much struggle and delay, Slocum eventually was granted his US citizenship and immediately set to work helping others to do the same. Because of Slocum’s work, FDR signed the Nye-Lea act in 1935, granting citizenship to 500 Japanese who had fought for the US during WWI. This did not alter the Immigration Act of 1924, however, which had banned the immigration of Japanese and other Asian peoples.
Throughout the 1930s Slocum was intensely patriotic, even arguing that American-born children of Japanese immigrants should turn in their own parents if necessary. Despite his collaboration with the FBI, Slocum and his family were forcibly removed from their homes following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Along with more than 120,000 other Japanese-Americans, Slocum entered the Internment Camps in spring of 1942. He remained in federal custody until the end of WWII, and worked for the Social Security Administration until his retirement in 1958.
(12) Frederick Jones
If you enjoyed some ice cream lately, you have African-American inventor Frederick Jones to thank. Although not formerly educated, Jones fine-tuned his curious mind with reading and independent study. At the age of 19, he moved to Hallock, Minnesota and found work as a farm mechanic.
With mechanical experience, Jones became a valuable soldier in World War I. He often was called upon to make repairs to machines and other equipment. It was his later inventions in refrigeration, however, that would help more drastically in the next war. Jones created an air-cooling unit designed for trucks in 1935. This turned into a life-saving invention during World War II, sustaining blood, medicine and food for use in hospitals and battlefields. Thanks to Jones’ mechanical prowess his invention helped keep perishable supplies – greatly needed in the Allied war effort – from spoiling or going to waste.
His inventions in refrigeration, sound technology and electronics earned him 61 patents for various devices, including a portable X-ray machine. Jones was recognized for his incredible achievements both during his lifetime and after his death. He was elected to the National Inventors Hall of Fame and was the first African American inducted into the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers. He later consulted with the U.S. Department of Defense, and in 1991 was the first African American to be awarded with the National Medal of Technology.
(13) James Reese Europe
James Reese Europe was known as the Martin Luther King, Jr. of Jazz for both advancing music and the African Americans who performed it. In the 1910s, the genre was not well known and it both delighted and bemused those who heard it.
Born in Mobile, Ala., the young musician moved to Washington and leveraged his considerable talent to land gigs for his fellow black musicians. It was in 1914 that Europe met the dancers Vernon and Irene Castle. Together they showed the world a new dance: the Foxtrot!
With America edging closer to war in 1916, the bandleader signed up for the Army, hoping to inspire other African Americans to do the same. His assignment was changed from artillery to military bandleader for the Hell Fighters Band. Europe was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full honors.
(14) Joseph Oklahombi
An American soldier of the Choctaw Nation, Joseph Oklahombi was the most decorated soldier from Oklahoma during WWI. On October 8, 1918, Private Oklahombi was at St. Etienne, France with the 141st Regiment in the 36th Infantry Division. He and 23 other soldiers attacked an enemy position and captured 171 Germans while killing some 79 more. They held their position for four days while under attack, frustrating German attempts to advance or out-maneuver allied forces. Oklahombi was awarded the Silver Star with Victory Ribbon, and the French Croix de Guerre for his efforts.
He also served as a Choctaw Code Talker, the first Native American code talkers employed by the US military. Oklahombi, with the rest of his Choctaw brothers-in-arms helped circumvent the fact that German wiretaps and other interception of US communication had by early 1918 rendered US military codes useless. Owing to the fact that the Germans could neither understand the Choctaw language, nor did they have the means to learn it, US military communications were once again safe from being decrypted by German agents. This greatly improved battlefield maneuvers by US forces, and it surprised and confused the German military in the waning days of WWI.
Oklahombi’s medals, awards, and other honors are now on display at the Oklahoma Historical Society. Current leader of the Choctaw Nation, Chief Gary Batton, is working to have the Congressional Medal of Honor awarded to Oklahombi in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the US war effort during WWI.
(15) Harvey Cushing
Harvey Williams Cushing (April 8, 1869 – October 7, 1939) was one of the first great neurosurgeons in the United States and considered a pioneer of brain surgery. And as if that wasn’t enough, he also founded the study of endocrinology — the branch of physiology concerned with glands and hormones.
At the beginning of World War I, Cushing was commissioned a major in the Army Medical Corps. He directed a base hospital and also served as head of a surgical unit in France. It was in this role he initiated the use of electromagnets to extract metal shrapnel lodged within the brain.
The next year he was promoted and became the senior consultant in neurological surgery for the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe. His contributions to wartime surgery earned Cushing the Distinguished Service Medal by the U.S. Army.
On the side, Cushing was also an amateur historian. He wrote a biography of Sir William Osler, which won a Pulitzer Prize.
(16) Oswald Robertson
Oswald Robertson is the “father of the blood bank” and through this work continues to play a critical role in nearly every surgery and dozens of therapies.
While on vacation in Germany, he met an American medical student who encouraged him to leave his study of biology to become a doctor. His academic career took him to the Harvard Medical School, the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, but World War I got in the way. He joined the forces in France on a medical team.
With so much need for blood at field hospitals, Robertson experimented with preserving human blood cells for use in transfusions. This work led to the concept of a blood bank, saving countless lives on and off the battlefield.
(17) John Pershing
John Pershing was selected commander of the American Expeditionary Force following the United States declaration of war against Germany in April 1917. In many ways new to the international stage, Pershing vigorously resisted calls from the British and French to merge American forces with their own. The addition of hundreds of thousands of American troops, by the autumn of 1918, proved decisive in tipping the scales against Germany and in favor of England and France. An armistice was adopted on November 11, 1918 despite Pershing’s desire to push Germany army forces back beyond the political boundaries from before the war.
During the war, Pershing prohibited blacks soldiers serving alongside whites. This blatant segregation was in line with Wilson administration policies. After the war ended, he was joined by his counterparts from France, Britain, Belgium, and Italy at the groundbreaking of Liberty Memorial in Kansas City. He died a few years after the end of WWII.
(18) George C. Marshall
Marshall was a top assistant to General John Pershing during WWI and went on to a distinguished military career through the second world war 30 years later. He oversaw the rapid expansion of American forces. As Secretary of State in the years following WWII, he is credited with the plan bearing his name which proved so effective in rebuilding European countries in the late 1940s. Marshall was named Time’s Man of the Year in 1943 and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 10 years later.
(19) Harry Truman
Serving as vice president, Harry Truman was thrust into the Oval Office on April 12, 1945 — the day Franklin D. Roosevelt died. The timing was difficult. The people mourned their leader of 12 years and were weary of World War II. Truman was presented with an option to end the fighting with the successful testing of atomic bombs in the secret Manhattan Project.
On August 6, 1945, Truman ordered the bombing of the Japanese city of Hiroshima — a decision that still is debated today. Some 80,000 people were immediately killed; tens of thousands would die later of radiation. A second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later, killing 40,000 more. It was not long after that Japan surrendered and thousands of Allied troops came home.
It also was under the Truman administration that the United States embraced internationalist foreign policy, founding the United Nations. In 1947, the Marshall Plan was passed to help rebuild Western Europe.
And while Truman may have finished World War II, the Cold War with the Soviet Union had just begun.
(20) Douglas MacArthur
During WWI, Douglas MacArthur served as a Major in the office of the Secretary of War and is now regarded as the Army’s first press officer. Following the US’s entrance into the war, MacArthur helped create the 42nd – or ‘Rainbow’ – Division which was organized of units from different states throughout the US. MacArthur was a part of the Champagne-Marne Offensive following his promotion to the rank of Brigadier General in June 1918. He then led the Rainbow Division effectively through the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, being gassed twice and eventually earning four Silver Stars, two Croix de guerre, and a Distinguished Service Medal.
As Chief of Staff of the US Army, MacArthur was sent to the Philippines in 1935 by President Franklin Roosevelt in order to establish a defensive military presence there. When the US entered WWII in 1941 MacArthur was recalled to active duty and oversaw several successful offensives in the Pacific Theater, eventually being promoted to Supreme Allied Commander by the end of the war. Following Japan’s surrender in 1945 General MacArthur remained there for six years to oversee the rebuilding of the country.
(21) Julia Stimson
During World War I Julia Stimson served as head of the Red Cross Nursing Service and later as chief nurse of the American Expeditionary Force, receiving a Distinguished Service Medal from General Pershing. After the war, she became the superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps and became the first woman in the military awarded the rank of major. She served as an army nurse again in World War II, and was promoted to the rank of colonel six weeks before her death in 1948.
“[E]very available spot-beds, stretchers and floor space-was occupied by a seriously wounded man. The overflow cases lay on the wet ground, waiting their turn to be moved under cover: We stood, tears mixing with the rain, feeling anger and frustration.”
(22) Katharine Stinson
Katherine Stinson wanted to be a music teacher. But her plan to earn money for school was particularly unusual — become a stunt pilot. While it took some doing for this petite young woman to convince her parents (and later an instructor), Stinson took flight. She was the fourth woman to earn a pilot’s license.
Soon she was flying stunts and made a career of touring the U.S. as the “Flying Schoolgirl,” — making nervous audiences cover their eyes at her antics.
As the United States entered the First World War, Stinson early applied, twice, to use her skills as a volunteer pilot. And twice she was rejected. Undeterred, Stinson later was accepted as an ambulance driver. This gig, with its extreme cold and conditions, gave her a lifetime of health maladies. She gave up aviation for a quieter life in architecture.
(23) Ernest Hemingway
You might know that Ernest Hemingway could write a good book, but did you know he could drive an ambulance?
Hemingway was recruited by the Kansas City Red Cross to become an ambulance driver in 1918. When he arrived in Paris, the city was under bombardment from German artillery. The next month he was transferred to Milan and immediately dispatched to an exploded munitions factory. He and other rescuers had the gruesome task of retrieving worker remains — a scene included in his nonfiction book Death in the Afternoon.
Just a month later at age 18, Hemingway was seriously wounded by mortar fire. Despite his own injuries, he assisted Italian soldiers to safety and earned the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery. Hemingway spent six months at the hospital where he fell in love with Agnes von Kurowsky, a Red Cross nurse. They became engaged before Hemingway returned stateside. However, she later wrote saying she was to marry an Italian officer.
War and heartbreak became major themes of much of Hemingway’s work. He published seven novels, six short story collections, and two nonfiction works. In 1954, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
(24) Walt Disney
Ray Kroc, not yet the mogul of the McDonalds empire, had Walt Disney all figured out back when the two were teenagers serving in a WWI Red Cross Ambulance Corps. Kroc called Disney a “strange duck,” because when the stateside trainees had time for gallivanting, Disney stayed in camp and drew pictures.
Disney had brothers in service overseas and he was itching to have an experience. Though only 16, Walt convinced his mother to fake his birthdate by a year on his corps application. A case of influenza during his Chicago-based training kept him from being shipped overseas during wartime. But he did get to go to France, arriving after the armistice in December of 1918. He celebrated his real 17th birthday there.
Disney drew on camp walls, the sides of ambulances and made drawings for soldiers. When he wasn’t driving ambulance, he served as an able tour guide in a country he found fascinating. Disney would spend 10 months overseas and would receive an early stateside discharge for doing a portrait of a superior officer.
The “odd duck” continued his fascination with film, and cartooning, to world acclaim.
(25) Ray Kroc
Ray Kroc couldn’t wait to be part of World War I. At age 15, he fibbed about his birthdate and became a Red Cross ambulance driver.
Following the armistice, Kroc worked in a restaurant for room and board just to learn the food service business. This led to a gig as a traveling milkshake machine salesman — and how he met the McDonald’s brothers. While demonstrating the shake machine, he witnessed their novel assembly-line food prep.
Soon Kroc was their franchising agent, which eventually led to his buying the fast food chain. He grew the business through carefully selected franchise owners, putting them through a training course at “Hamburger University.” The restaurateurs earned certificates in “Hamburgerology with a minor in French Fries.” His focus on providing suburban areas with a low cost and consistent meal paid off. McDonald’s had 7,500 locations in 31 countries in 1984, the year Kroc died.
(26) Amelia Earhart
It was a fluke that brought Amelia Earhart to aviation. While visiting her sister in Toronto in 1918, Earhart was moved by all the hospitalized war causalities there. She joined Canada’s Voluntary Aid Detachment program and became a nurse.
But it was while taking in an air show there that a plane swooped toward the crowd. Earhart later said the rush she got from that moment gave her the “aviation bug.”
She went to Long Beach, California where flyer Neta Snook ran her own commercial airfield — and gave pilot lessons. By 1935, she became the first person to fly solo over both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. She was at her height of fame with speaking engagements, a clothing line and writing for major periodicals when she attempted a flight around the world. Her plane disappeared somewhere in the Pacific. The details remain a mystery today.
(27) Harry Colmery
Ever know anyone who went to college because of their service? You have a quiet lawyer from Topeka to thank.
As America entered World War I, Colmery enlisted as a second lieutenant in 1917. Eventually he was promoted and trained as a pilot. He would go on to serve a decade in the Officers Reserve Corps. His career, though admirable, was not outstanding — but his commitment to veterans was.
Wanting to keep in touch with army buddies, Comery joined the American Legion and became an active member. He served on numerous national boards, always advocating for veterans.
As World War II was ending, Colmery worried about the desperate circumstances that veterans of his war had faced. After much work, Colmery crafted the original draft of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 – the G.I. Bill. As thanks for his work on drafting the legislation, Colmery was invited to witness President Roosevelt signing the bill into law, changing the trajectory of millions of American’s lives.
(28) F. Scott Fitzgerald
The author F. Scott Fitzgerald – named after Francis Scott Key, a distant relative and author of “The Star-Spangled Banner” – was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. As a youngster he published stories in his school newspaper despite his terrible spelling.
In 1918, Fitzgerald left Princeton University to join the fighting in World War I. Worried he’d be killed in battle, Fitzgerald rushed to write a novel so he would leave a literary legacy. Fitzgerald needn’t have worried, however, as the armistice was signed before he was even deployed. This freed the young man to polish another novel, “This Side of Paradise,” which became a smash hit. Now with royalties in his pocket, he married his sweetheart, Zelda. Their relationship was both glamorous and rocky, epitomizing modern perceptions of the “Roaring Twenties.” Fitzgerald – with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound – often is considered one of the greatest members of the “Lost Generation” who came of age during WWI. His work often was used to define the age in which he lived.
Sadly, Fitzgerald’s masterpiece “The Great Gatsby” was little appreciated in his lifetime. The book sold only modestly and Fitzgerald died destitute in 1940 of a heart attack at the age of 44. Then in World War II, his title was selected as an Armed Services Edition and shipped to servicemen overseas — and became a beloved classic. The novel that once barely turned a profit still sells some half a million copies a year.
(29) Omar Bradley
Omar Nelson Bradley had a long and distinguished military career that took him to the highest places of power, but it all started when his Sunday school teacher insisted he take the U.S. Military Academy entrance exam. Bradley’s test was second highest for West Point, and when the first-place winner couldn’t accept the scholarship, Bradley stepped onto his life’s path.
World War I broke out just as Bradley was graduating. His unit was scheduled for deployment, but the armistice came first. However, there was plenty of service ahead of him. In World War II, Bradley rose to command 1.3 million men — the most to ever serve a single American field commander.
In peacetime, Bradley directed the Veterans Administration and became Army Chief of Staff. Later, he was appointed the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and held a rare five-star rank in the United States Armed Forces.
(30) Dwight Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower never left the United States during World War I. Stuck in his home state of Texas training recruits, the 1915 West Point graduate was disappointed not to see action. Despite his stateside assignment, Eisenhower showed great aptitude in the intricacies of war planning. Everywhere he went, higher-ranking officers noticed his acumen. In 1919 the Army assigned Eisenhower to a transcontinental convoy with the aim of testing vehicles and equipment. Throughout the trip the convoy averaged just 5 MPH from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco, CA, highlighting the need for new and better roads in the US.
Although his abilities had been noticed, he had never held active command above a battalion. Thus, it wasn’t until the bombing of Pearl Harbor that Eisenhower showed his true wartime skills. He was assigned to war planning in the Pacific and then the European theater where he was supreme commander of Allied forces in Western Europe.
By 1952, the war hero was elected president, serving two terms in the White House. One of his most enduring acts while in office was the development and enactment of the bill that authorized the Interstate Highway System. His experience leading the transcontinental convoy over 30 years earlier was instrumental in the success of this project – the results of which are the backbone of personal transportation in America today.
Eisenhower, who had a philosopher’s viewpoint on war and world relations, presciently warned Americans of the “military industrial complex.” He believed war profiteering was an issue to be dealt with, and more than 50 years later, his words still echo in the complex struggles and military economies across the world.
(31) Norman Rockwell
Norman Rockwell’s wartime efforts are usually associated with his famous “Four Freedoms” portraits from the Second World War – so moving are these takes on everyday life they’ve inspired a legion of waiting room calendars. But actually, Rockwell’s affinity for Americana and patriotism can be traced all the way back to World War I when he attempted to enlist in the Navy in 1918.
He was underweight, but on the advice of a doctor, the skinny wannabe sailor gorged himself on bananas, donuts and water and the next day made weight. But he would see no action. He was called to a South Carolina post to create illustrations for Navy publications. He also did portraits for military men to send to their families as a keepsake.
Rockwell became the art director for Boy’s Life, an attachment with the Boys Scouts of America he would hold all his life.
(32) Victor Fleming
Victor Fleming lived the “rags to riches” trope seen in many films — only his success unfolded behind the camera. His first real break came because of his World War I service in the photographic corps. He was assigned as President Wilson’s personal motion picture cameraman during the Paris Peace Conference.
This would blossom into a directorial career in film including the classics, “Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz.” Both films earned spots in the top 10 of an American Film Institute’s 2007 list of 100 movies. It is notable that Fleming was brought into both films to clean up when earlier directors had failed to impress the studios.
Although Fleming didn’t receive much acclaim for his work while alive, his craft is now widely studied and attracts many present-day admirers.