Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Fodder for the war machine: Draft physicals in 1917

I'm wondering how many Iowans now poised on the jagged edge of old age remember that trip to Fort Des Moines back in the 1960s. In my case, a charter bus that left Iowa City before dawn was involved, filled for the most part with young men scheduled to receive their University of Iowa bachelor's degrees in early June, now potentially little more than fresh meat for Vietnam.

Then long lines, degrading if you thought about it --- poking, prodding, visual assessments and questions.

Fifty years or more earlier then --- exactly a century ago now that it's August in Chariton --- similar lines formed. But inside the Lucas County Courthouse as the first physical examinations for potential World War I draftees commenced.

The United States had declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917; and the Selective Service Act of that year went into effect on May 18, remaining in effect until the war ended during November of the following year.


Here's how The Herald-Patriot reported those first physicals in its edition of Thursday, Aug. 9, under the headline, "Selective Draft Examination Begun: Lucas County Young Men Subject to Military Duty Called Before Board Saturday, Monday and Tuesday:

"Men whom fate directed as the first contingent of the army which is to crush kaiserism and keep the world safe for democracy were before the local examining board Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, the total called being 278, though probably twenty-five of those listed to appear were examined elsewhere.

"The official board consisted of Sheriff Thomas, Auditor Rose and Dr. T.M. Throckmorton, but Gov. Harding named Dr. T.P. Stanton as assistant examiner and Dr. R.F. Throckmorton, of Derby, volunteered his services in the same connection. W.J. Marshall, of Russell, and Jerome Oppenheimer acted as clerks. Geo. Verner, Dee Batten and Chas Wennerstrum gave valuable help and all of these men served without pay of any kind.

"Examinations began promptly at 7 o'clock Saturday morning and continued until those notified to appear the first day had been looked over and their condition recorded. Examinations were held in the court room and the men were first taken before Dr. Stanton, thence passed on to Dr. R.F. Throckmorton and then for final approval to Dr. T.M. Throckmorton and C.W. Rose, the latter writing the record as it was called to him.

"All were reduced to birthday clothing in the final analysis and their weights were carefully noted, together with all other physical conditions.

"Monday and Tuesday were repetitions of Saturday. The records will not be complete for several days, but it is known that perhaps thirty men will be disqualified because of physical or mental troubles.

"Altogether the men examined were a fine lot and the condition of the vast majority was beyond criticism; the spirit of the men, too, was admirable and comparatively few of them grumbled at the ordeal before them in leaving home and associations for the battle front.

"Many exemption claims were filed, however, because of real or fancied claims on their services. Claims must be wholly substantiated by strongest evidence before they will receive favorable consideration at the hands of the local and state examiners.

"Under instructions received from Provost Marshal Crowder local examiners have little option in the matter of exemptions and the married man who has a family able to care for itself is just as much subject to draft as the single fellow who has no dependents. The feeling has been quite general that married men would be exempted, especially where there are small children, but Order No. 2750, issued by provost Marshal Crowder and sent to local boards for their guidance by Gov. Harding, says in part: 'In order to bring about uniformity of exemptions on account of dependencies throughout the state, the provision is made for appeal to be taken to the district board. A set of rules was formulated that both local and district boards will follow on the question of exemptions on account of dependencies.'

"One paragraph of the rules drawn by Marshal Crowder gives a very good idea of what is necessary to gain exemption from service and it is said that the rules will be strictly enforced. So many, many men have offered flimsy excuses that a hard and fast rule, pretty severe in its term, has been adopted throughout the country. This reads as follows and will come as a distinct shock to those who believed themselves protected because of their marriage:

'You will observe from a reading of these rules that the mere fact that one is married is not ground for exemption. There must be actual showing of dependents and that showing should go to the extent that the dependent would be left without support and be a charge upon the state or community if the exemption is not made for that reason. In other words, if the dependents can apparently support themselves, or have relatives who are able to support them, the case should be thoroughly looked into and doubt solved in favor of the government.'

"Interpretation of the above rule precludes the exemption of many married men from Lucas county for there are few citizens who do not have relatives able to care for those left behind. Further, there are few who would become charges upon the county in case the husband and father was required to go to war.

"In industrial claims for exemption it must be shown conclusively that the industry in which the claimant is engaged would be seriously crippled or discontinued in the absence of the person it is proposed to draft. Men who follow farming must be able to show, under oath, that their places cannot be taken by others; married miners must be able to prove that their family and their work cannot survive if they leave. Clerks and businessmen must show, without shadow of a doubt that they are indispensable to the business they follow if they are to be exempted, and the same rule applies to other vocations. A mere statement or opinion will not be considered; there must be undeniable proof and it is up to the applicant to make a showing which cannot be questioned insofar as dependency is concerned.

"It is not believed that the men examined will be called out for several months as training quarters have not been prepared for them as yet, though the time of their going is wholly problematical."


This article was accompanied by the list that introduces this post --- 77 young men "who were passed by the examining board and made no claims for exemption." I cannot tell you how many of the 77 actually were drafted; only that six of these men were and did not make it home.

Those from the list killed in combat or dead of disease during the next year were Roy Tickel, Joe Dachenbach, Earnest Herndon, Rudolph Otz, Walter West and Forrest Youtsey.

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