Marengo citizens who glanced at the front page of the April 19, 1917, edition of the Marengo Republican News saw bold black capital letters underlined by small icons of American flags screaming “PRESIDENT APPEALS TO NATION.” The Great War was only ten days old; Congress had declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, about one month after the contents of the Zimmermann Telegram were made public and confirmed by Germany. In an effort to keep the United States military pinned down in North America Germany proposed an alliance with Mexico; the goal of the alliance was to bring on a war between the U.S. and its southern neighbor. The Mexican government nibbled on the bait, but after considering the proposal thought it to be fruitless. Nonetheless, the contents of this document and the beginning of Germany’s submarine warfare against American merchant ships swayed the public opinion towards war.

In the appeal President Woodrow Wilson outlined things the nation must do as it entered the First World War, and he concluded; “The supreme test of the nation has come. We must all speak, act, and serve together.”

Below Wilson’s appeal to the nation was a story about Fred Janke Jr., a Marengo man who on April 14th left his home for Chicago with the intent to enlist in the army. On the 18th Janke reported to his parents that he was successful in his efforts to become a soldier, and that he was stationed at the Rock Island Arsenal. The Republican News awarded Janke the “distinction of being the first to respond from this community to the call of the President.”

Over the next several weeks patriotism became contagious in our little community as young men left homes, farms, and colleges to support the war effort. One Marengo boy, Nebelow “Neb” Woleben “quit his school duties” at Marengo Community High School and headed for Rockford to enlist in the coast artillery service. School Superintendent E.A Gardner awarded Woleben full credit for his studies, and the young soldier eventually received his diploma. Marengo citizens had the opportunity to wish Woleben a good bye as he and other recruits passed through Marengo on their way from Rockford to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri.

On May 10, 1917, the Marengo Republican News front page headline blared; “MARENGO BOYS ON SEA, ON LAND, IN AIR.” The article provided an updated report on enlistments since the previous week. Ray Murley and Charles Kelley joined the army, and reported to Jefferson Barracks for training. James Woleben, Howard Lowe, Floyd Betts and Lorenzo Webb joined the navy, and reported for training at the naval training station in Lake Bluff, Illinois. At the time article was written several enlistments were pending with the officers corps; these included Glen Patterson, Carlton Robb, and Vernon Lowe. Another Marengo resident, Sherman Crissey, who was a student attending the University of Illinois in Champaign joined the aviation corps and reported for training in Houston, Texas.

On May 3rd a dance was held in honor of the enlistees at Riley’s hall on Prairie St. The Marengo Republican News reported that the event was a joyous occasion, and described the somber scene...”at the railway station the next morning when parents and friends of the young men gathered to see them off. What war means; how heavily it bears upon the hearts was there seen in the bowed heads and moist eyes of those near and dear to the boys who went bravely forward to render service to their country in its necessity.”

American involvement in WW I was approximately nineteen months. In that time approximately U.S. 4.3 million soldiers served, and out of those approximately 116,000 were killed or died of disease. The Marengo community provided 180 men to the war effort, and the following ten gave their lives; Horace Brotzman, Fred Boyle, Arthur Dunker, Arthur Dollman, Paul Gehrke, Ernest Kalbow, Walter Lind, Arthur Schultz, Willis Henshaw, and Herman Steinke. About 99 years ago when the names of these soldiers were still fresh on the minds of many, and their families still suffered in grief; the community memorialized them on a bronze tablet in Calvin Spencer Park - the tablet is still there today. This coming Memorial Day take a few moments out of your busy day, visit the park, pause for a moment and reflect in silence on the sacrifices of these heroes. These men and the many who served before and after them should never be forgotten


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