WITHIN HOURS OF the American declaration of war against Germany and her allies, volunteers were lining up to join the armed services. The government hoped to have more than a million men in the service within the first year and two million by the end of the next year – if the conflict continued.
Fearing that there would not be enough volunteers, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, allowing for the involuntary recruitment of all able-bodied men aged 21 to 30. The age limit was later extended to include men aged 18 to 45. Skilled tradesmen, food producers and those whose civilian jobs were considered vital to the national defense could receive exemptions.
Regardless of whether or not they would be excused later, all eligible men had to register for the draft at their local post office. Those not registered were brought in under protest. In Sheridan, the June 5 Registration Day was marked with a parade of registrants, solemn patriotic ceremonies held on the steps of the courthouse, and a benefit baseball game. As each man registered, he was given a flag pin with an attached white ribbon bearing the inscription, "Registered at Sheridan, Wyoming, in the Cause of Humanity."
Registering didn't necessarily mean enlisting. Prospective soldiers still had to pass physicals and other exams before heading overseas. As Powell, Wyoming, matron Cecilia Hennel Hendricks noted on Registration Day 1917,
It is too bad that anybody has to go, but since the situation's what it is, the conscription plan is the very best possible way to solve the problem. This registration is merely taking an invoice of the stock there is available. Then the most eligible will be chosen.
After registration, recruits were sent off to training camp. Eighteen-year-old Alfred E. Dunning, one of Sheridan's first recruits into the Navy, wrote home to his parents, describing life at his training camp, located at Goat Island near San Francisco:
Our company has been drilling for the last few days. We have learned the manual of arms and march about ten miles a day. I am serving my time in the mess hall until tomorrow. We all have to do that. We will go down to the lower camp by Monday anyway. After we have been there about three weeks, we will go out to sea, maybe before. I surely will be glad. Every night all of us go down in the basement of the mess hall and dance and sing. We manage to enjoy ourselves but we don't have much time to lay around. Every morning we take a cold shower before breakfast and it surely makes one feel good.
Men who enlisted rather than waited for the draft could choose from a variety of military organizations in which to serve. In addition to the Navy, Coast Guard (created in 1915) and Marine Corps, there was always the Army. This branch of the service offered a variety of options itself, among them the U.S. Cavalry, the Tank Corps, the Coast Artillery Corps and the Army Air Service. This last was considered one of the most dangerous branches of the military.
MANVILLE KENDRICK'S MILITARY EXPERIENCE
In September 1918, after the age limit had been lowered to eighteen, it was Manville Kendrick's turn to register. Unfortunately, he neglected to do so before leaving for college and his father had to take steps to have it done long distance. Numerous telegrams went back and forth between Senator Kendrick and the registration clerk in Sheridan:
Manville Kendrick arrived Washington this morning without having registered in Sheridan … too late now to have registration card from Washington reach you by mail … if I have boy register here today and have card mailed immediately will it be possible for you to accept his registration as of September twelfth … particularly desire that boy should be registered from Sheridan … the young man left Sheridan without having thought to register in advance and without realizing that the date of registration was so near at hand.
The draft board was amenable to the long-distance registration and Manville was duly registered with the draft. On October 15, 1918, shortly after his arrival at Harvard, Manville was selected for immediate military service and ordered to report to Division 4, Cambridge, Massachusetts, to begin active duty. He was assigned to Company D of Harvard's Student Army Training Corps.
Long interested in airplanes, Manville Kendrick entered the military with an eye toward joining the Air Service. In September 1918, just days after registering, Manville sent his father the following telegram: "Aviation Corps open for short time only … if accepted would enter officers training camp immediately … may I try … wire immediately."
Both John and Eula Kendrick were appalled by the idea of their only son entering into such a risky proposition. The life span of an Air Service pilot was rather short, as Captain Alfred A. Cunningham, the first Marine aviator in France, noted in his 1917 diary:
Everyone here [in France] is in dead earnest and you can realize the grimness of it when you realize that an average of one man a day is killed flying here. This afternoon we flew low over the wreck of a machine in which a pilot was killed yesterday. They keep the deaths as quiet as possible and I do not know if anyone was killed today or not.
John and Eula weren't opposed to Manville's being in the military. Indeed, they applauded his patriotism and desire to serve his country. But they had doubts about the way in which he wished to do it. As John told his son in early October of 1918:
As I size up the situation this war will probably continue from one to two years longer, and if one enters it in a common sense way they will, in my judgment, have an opportunity to display just as much patriotism and just as much of courage and devotion to the cause as they will by taking up the so-called sensational work and they will come out of it with health improved or health impaired according to the branch of service they take. If a man wants just to do something sensational and quit, why undoubtedly your best plan would be to go into aviation, but certainly if you chose that branch of the service with a view of keeping it up, you are not expecting to become an important man in your State and community in the next twenty or thirty years, because aviation doesn't lead in that direction.
Manville's parents tried every argument they could think of to keep Manville out of the air service: health reasons, safety reasons, education reasons, etc. Nothing was working. In early October, Manville wrote to Senator Frances E. Warren, his father's colleague and one-time political rival, asking him to write a letter of reference to the Corps. Warren responded with a letter to the Chief of the Division of Military Aeronautics:
[Manville] is a splendid specimen of young manhood with a most pleasing personality and appearance which, we cannot doubt, mean much in a young man's favor when he is under consideration for training as an officer. … I beg to endorse and ask your consideration of the application referred to … I feel that young Kendrick will be a success in your Service.
The same day, Warren wrote to Manville about his prospects:
I commend you for your "high" ambition and hope you may qualify for the Air Service as you desire. … I can understand your Father's feelings in giving his consent to your application rather involuntarily. But I know that in his heart he wants you to serve in the place where your inclination leads you, for that is where you will have every incentive to "make good."
Unfortunately for Manville, that was not his father's attitude. Instead, John Kendrick asked Senator Warren to put off mailing the recommendation until he made one final plea to Manville's common sense. This was done and in the end they arrived at a compromise: if Manville would stay in school the rest of his freshman year, he could join the Air Service in the spring – if he still wanted to:
We cannot avoid the conviction that it is a vital mistake for you to enter this branch of the service, but if you cannot be reconciled to follow any other plan then we would like to have you delay making this application or going into aviation at least until next Spring. … by deferring your application you will have the benefit of the military training as well as one year's academic work in college. Such a course will please your mother and myself beyond measure, and as stated before we would, whether willingly or not, cheerfully cooperate with you at that time in carrying out any plan upon which you have your heart set.
The issue of Manville's enlistment in the Air Service was soon moot, however, as the war was over by the middle of November – in spite of the Senator's earlier predictions.
The most visible mark of the soldier or sailor was his uniform. Made of wool, the uniforms were hot, scratchy and prone to shrinkage. Nevertheless, they were a source of pride for the men who wore them. Uniforms distinguished the wearer from not only the civilian, but from members of the other services as well.
In general, the enlisted Navy man's uniform was made of dark blue wool in a style similar to that of the British Navy, with wide-legged pants, tunic top, white undershirt and black neckerchief. Officers wore double-breasted coats over trousers. In the Army, both officer and enlisted men's uniforms were made of khaki or olive drab wool with knickers-style pants (jodhpurs), leggings (puttees) and high collars. Different hats – flat-brimmed, peaked cap and others – were also issued, depending on service unit or rank.
Uniform rules and regulations could be quite confusing to the uninitiated or ill-informed. In October 1917, for instance, the War Department issued a bulletin in regards to the wearing of the Sam Browne belt. This style of belt went not only around the waist, but had an additional leather strap that crossed diagonally across the chest, over the shoulder and diagonally down the back. It was popular with officers but not with the War Department:
WEARING OF UNAUTHORIZED BELT PROHIBITED: It has been observed that some officers are wearing a belt known as the Sam Browne belt. There is no authority for the wearing of this belt within the limits of the United States, and until such authority is given this belt will not be worn.
Less than two months later, in December 1917, the War Department issued another bulletin, this time allowing the belt to be worn – but only overseas. No mention was made of stateside use of the belt. To further confuse the issue, they renamed the item, now calling it a Liberty Belt.
Because of a shortage of wool, the War Department found it difficult to provide enough uniforms for its officers. When they reported to duty in mid-1917, candidates at the officers' training camp in Fort Riley, Kansas, were asked to provide their own uniforms. Because many different private tailors were employed to make the uniforms, they were not all alike.
THE KNITTING BRIGADE
Not only was the military short of uniforms, it had no extra scarves, mufflers, mittens, socks, vests or caps for thousands of its new recruits. This became a particular problem at the time of embarkation. Crossing the North Atlantic was a perilously cold journey and without adequate clothing, the men risked frostbite and hypothermia. In response to the need, millions of American women turned their needlework skills to the war effort. A giant “Knitting Brigade” was formed and chapters sprung up all over the country. As Needlepoint Magazine noted in 1917, "Everywhere women are knitting, knitting, knitting; we see them on the trains, the streetcars, in the waiting-rooms, wherever there is a spare moment to be utilized outside the home."
While some knitting groups were sponsored by the American Red Cross, the Sheridan Knitting Unit was organized by the Daughters of the American Revolution. In 1917, the Unit pledged itself to make 1,500 sweaters, caps and scarves for the men on the Battleship Wyoming. Starting with 25 knitters, the Unit soon grew to 225 and completed the project within six months. Another local knitter, Elizabeth Kraft, made over 200 pairs of regulation wool socks – quite a feat for an elderly blind woman! The work was greatly appreciated, as noted in The Sheridan Post:
It is difficult to estimate the help these warm knitted articles will render to our lads in the navy. It must be remembered that the government or the commissary department of the nation does not furnish the articles which the women are knitting, neither do woolen factories knit what will be a necessity and comfort to our boys.
Other equipment provided to servicemen included boots, coats, helmets, dog tags, canteens, mess kits and blankets, plus rifles, bayonets, knives, ammunition belts and lifesaving gas masks.
Some of Sheridan's first volunteers, 1917 (Wilson Collection, SCFPL)
A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
April 1997 - December 1998
Detail from Red Cross poster, circa 1917 (Private Collection)
State Historic Site