A world turned upside down, the war effort

Sandy Vasko

    One hundred years ago the whole world was in turmoil.
    Young men were being drafted, a thing that hadn't happened since the Civil War. Food was scarce, and some things could not be found at all.
    Rumors of German spies in our midst had folks looking twice at their neighbors, especially those with an accent. Patriotism was not encouraged, it was demanded.
    The simple life that people had known was gone forever, the world had turned upside down.
    In April of 1917 the President had declared war, and in that declaration, he also outlined what was to happen to those who were declared an enemy.
    Under the heading of “enemy” were the peaceful German settlers who had come to Will County to escape the oppression in Europe. The following rules were outlined for them:
    • All males over 14 years old of German descent, who have not been naturalized shall be liable to be apprehended, restrained, secured and removed as alien enemies.
    • Those who fit the above criteria shall not have in their possession at any time and any place any firearms, weapons or implements of war or components thereof, or any ammunition or silencer, arms of explosives or material used in the manufacture of explosives.
    • An alien shall not have in his possession at any time or place, or use or operate any aircraft or wireless apparatus, or any form of signaling devices, or any form of cipher code or any paper, document or book, written or printed in cipher.
    • Anyone found in violation shall have all property subject to seizure by the United States.
    The list went on, but the above restrictions were enough. Many who had come to Will County when a child, had not been naturalized, many older folks could not pass the test in English.
    This meant that a good portion of the eastern part of the county were “officially” enemies. They lived in fear, hoping that something that was said to a neighbor would not result in their arrest.
    The restriction about firearms were another problem. Almost every farmer had a gun, for use in hunting, killing livestock, shooting coyotes, etc. If a young German was caught hunting, it would mean jail.
    The third restriction resulted in Germans being fired from their jobs as telegraph operators as Morse Code was considered a cipher. Railroad linemen were also dismissed as they used signaling devices.
    It wasn't only those of German descent. We read on Sept. 7, 1917 in the Advocate,  “The following is taken from Wednesday's Chicago Herald, and through the kindheartedness of Tom Hennebry of this place the Mexicans were given a feed before they started on their hike home:
    “Ten Mexicans from Joliet, who have been held in the county jail for failing to register June 5, were released yesterday and told they could return to their homes without being further troubled by the government, but none had the carfare for the return trip Deputy Marshal Thomas Hennebry purchased a dinner for the rowed and they announced they would try walking.”
    In addition, men's draft numbers were published in the paper, along with the list of men called. Those who were conscientious objectors were disregarded.
    We read, “Saturday last several additional names of drafted young men for the army were added to the accepted list by the first district board of Will County.
    The men named below had filed claims for exemptions, but did not back their claims by the time the limit for filing expired.
    The following men will be drafted for service in the order called unless later claims for exemption are filed and accepted by the district appeal board:
    James Cunning, Custer Park, 1771
    William Hanley, Wilmington, 2517
    William Howard, Wilmington, 2434
    Oliver P. Leasure, Wilmington, 2453
    Joseph Michlowitz, Wilmington, 2546
    Joseph J. O'Reilly, Custer Park, 1744
    Edmund William Scarth, Elwood, 983
    Rinehart Winstrom, Ritchie, 2396
    Soon, those who did not fly a flag, or who did not join the Red Cross, or who spoke with an accent of any kind, or questioned the government, or looked young and healthy but did not join the National Army came under suspicion from their neighbors.
    The world had turned upside down and even your old friends and neighbors had become potential enemies.