TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - By the time the United States entered World War I in the spring of 1917, the earth had already been shuddering with the thunder of battle for three years through Europe and on the high seas. Many Americans, but not all, were ready to join the fight against the Kaiser and put an end to the long nightmare of German ambition.
Toledo, like the rest of the country, sent her boys to the front to help in the cause. During this time, the news stories of the day reflect an emboldened American spirit of pride and patriotism and a compliant willingness to sacrifice both blood and treasure.
Toledo did both.
Thousands of dollars of were raised to help fund the war through what were called Liberty Loans and Toledo was one of the top leaders in the country for such fund raising, and likewise, Toledoans also offered thousands of young men to fund the need for human lives on the front lines in France, in what would become a brutal trench war of attrition against the hated Germans.
By the time it was over, it was the costliest war in terms of human life, in the history of humanity. Over 8 million dead. For the United States, 116,000 military troops died in battle or from disease or accidents in the short 19 months of deployment.
Over 400 young men from the Toledo-area would not return home alive, having died on the battlefield, or of disease or by accident.
The Toledo News Bee newspaper at the time was a great repository of war information, reporting daily on the situation at home and abroad. One of the most poignant features I found in the pages of the newspaper were the letters from Toledo "Yanks" serving in France during those months just before the fall of the Germans in November of 1918.
The letters lend a human perspective to the events. A truly American perspective through the eyes of young men, many of whom had never traveled much beyond Lucas County, but whose sensibilities were now transported to a strange new world against the harsh landscape of war that would change their lives forever.
William Kieswetter wrote to his father J.L. Kieswetter of 828 Michigan St.:
Private Edward Major wrote to his father F. Major at 1806 Ray St. Toledo.
J Frank Coveney wrote to his sister Mrs. Stanley Lanker in Point Place:
For some of the Toledo soldiers, the adventure of war also involved other adventures besides those on the battlefield. Louis Gerding of Toledo wrote to his mother Ann Gerding of 119 Maumee Avenue about his new kindled friendship with a "French girl".
The sight of an American soldier, a Yank, with the companionship of a French girl was apparently not an unusual occurrence, so penned, Toledoan David Redding of the Chief Surgeon's office to his father John Redding, who worked for the Wabash railroad and the nephew of Rev. Thomas Redding of Maumee.
Corporal Bennie Rosencranz of Toledo wrote to his family that it was candy that was in short supply in France.
Other Toledo soldiers wrote of their eagerness to defeat the Germans and come home.
Toledoan Clinton Hart to Mrs. John Holzer of 1230 Oak Street wrote:
Others were even more belligerent in their regard for the Germans.
Shirley C. Matheny of company C to his mother Mrs. J.W. Matheny of 319 12th Street wrote:
For many of the young Toledo soldiers deployed to Europe, the experience was one of cultural enlightenment. They were getting the chance to see a world they had only heard of, or read about before.
Many communicated those experiences to their loved ones back home. Carl Hoefflin wrote to his mother Mrs. George Hoefflin of 1919 Hurd Street about his life in France:
Private Geogre Fulkert of 731 Pinewood wrote a letter to his wife and family:
Miss Mary Ges of 137 Steele St. read in a letter from her soldier friend Walter Dieffenbach of his observations of this strange and foreign land.
And while many of the Toledo Yanks reveled in these new experiences, they were also quick to point out that There is "no place like home".
Ferd Gladieux, a Company B machine gunner of Starr Avenue in East Toledo in writing to his father, George, summed it up this way: