Editor’s note: The Amboy News will be publishing a series of articles on Lee County veterans who served during World War I. These heroes are part of Amboy’s history and it is our honor to publish these articles so you can learn about their service to our country. This article was researched by Jack Mead and Tom Dempsey, and written by Dempsey.
Remembering Lee County in the First World War
In 1914, after a Serbian nationalist assassinated Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a spark ignited what must have seemed like a tiny flickering flame from America’s side of the ocean. But the winds of history blew that flame into a hell-fire of human destruction across the continent of Europe and beyond, engulfing millions of lives around the world. That year few Americans favored any involvement in the affairs of kings or foreign empires. Indeed, President Woodrow Wilson was re-elected to a second term with the slogan “He kept us out of war.”
But by 1917, President Wilson felt he had run out of diplomatic options and reluctantly asked Congress for a Declaration of War. By this time most Americans favored sending troops to Europe after German U-Boats continued attacking U.S. ships causing scores of American deaths, while the German Empire attempted to conspire with Mexico against the United States. On April 6, 1917 America declared war on Germany and would spend most of that year building and equipping an army strong enough to fight an enemy that waged industrial scale warfare. In some battles, thousands of soldiers died on both sides in a few short hours with neither army gaining any advantage.
Adding to the misery, the Flu Pandemic of 1918, showing no preference for flag or uniform, swept across America and Europe killing soldiers and civilians until bodies were stacked one atop the other in hospitals on both sides of the fighting.
When the guns were finally silenced with the Armistice of Nov. 11, over 20 million soldiers and civilians were dead, including 116,516 American soldiers. Among those were at least 51 young people from across Lee County, Illinois. World War I, also known as “the Great War” and “the war to end all wars” was the first time America sent soldiers to defend foreign soil. It would not be the last.
In 1918, most Americans lived on farms or in small towns. Driven by a love for freedom and strong patriotism, citizens of Lee County organized themselves into neighborhood or township committees to raise money for the war effort, support the Red Cross, and maintain morale. Hundreds of young men entered the service from Lee County, and some of them sacrificed their lives for the cause.
It has been said that every person dies twice; the first time after your heart stops, the second when your name is spoken for the last time. We honor these soldiers from our home towns. We say their names for eternity, lest we forget what they did to keep the flame of freedom lit.
NOTE: If you know of other Lee County Soldiers who died in service during World War I, we urge you to share that information to firstname.lastname@example.org so that those soldiers may be honored and remembered.