Last time, we were talking about World War I. The U.S. declared war a century ago, April 6. The war meant a lot to Nevada—not just because 120 Nevadans paid the ultimate price serving our country.
Nevadans did a lot to support the war besides going into the military. At first, the state wasn’t well organized for defense. When the war began, all Nevada had were the ROTC at the university and nine so-called civilian rifle clubs. Governor Emmet Boyle wanted to create a national guard for Nevada, but the legislature didn’t move fast and labor unions reportedly were leery of the uses the guard might be put to. Finally, just as the country went to war, lawmakers set aside 25 thousand dollars for the Nevada State Council of Defense. Boyle and the council then created county and school district affiliates. Boyle named a who’s who of Nevada political and business leaders, including a state supreme court justice named Pat McCarran, as well as Elko’s district judge, E.J.L. Taber. The local councils provided funding and volunteer time for private groups like the Red Cross, as well as federal agencies.
That work included Liberty Loan drives. These were fund-raising campaigns for bonds to finance the war effort. Nevada consistently exceeded its quota of contributions. They did it through a variety of means, including circulating loyalty cards to be filled out and returned, as well as making speeches throughout the state’s vast reaches. In some areas, defense council members literally went door to door—something politicians were and often are familiar with doing.
As they had before and as they would in the future, women strained every nerve for the war effort. They took over some of the jobs left vacant by men who went to fight. They planted gardens and collected items like clothes and shoes for people overseas. Fruits and vegetables from Lund in White Pine County went to Europe, courtesy of a local relief society of Mormon women.
Other local groups made similar contributions. But immigrants in particular ran into issues and combatted them. Forty-two members of Ely’s Serbian Benevolent Society fought for the U.S., and the society assured Nevadans and the federal government of their loyalty to the U.S. Remember: a Serbian nationalist had fired the shot that killed the heir to the Austria-Hungarian throne and triggered the war. In turn, the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company assured those who went off to fight that they would have jobs when they came back. But other Nevadans were less fortunate. Douglas County always has had a significant German population, and some of its leading citizens served on the local defense council. But the local Lutheran Church stopped conducting services in German while the school board stopped the teaching of the German language. It’s no coincidence that the Prohibition amendment passed right after the war. Although the fight against alcohol had gone on long before the war, many beer brewers were German, and the whiskey manufacturing industry included many immigrants from Ireland, where the Easter Rebellion took place against Great Britain.
The war lasted until November 11, 1918. By the time it was over, there were more than 17 million dead and 20 million wounded. They called it the war to end all wars. If only.
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