Throughout Minnesota, people were encouraged to “do their bit” during the Great War, which meant service and sacrifice both at home and abroad.
The Great War, now known as World War I, began with an assassin’s bullet. On June 28, 1914, Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip killed Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. In response, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia in July, and they were followed by Germany, Russia, France, Great Britain, and Japan. By August of 1914, the main combatants were the Central Powers of the German Empire and Austria-Hungary against the Allied Powers of Great Britain, France, and Russia. The countries went to war with hopes of returning by Christmas.
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the United States tried to stay out of the conflict. But in early 1917, the Germans decided to resume their policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. This meant they would use their submarines to sink any ship traveling through the war zones of the North Atlantic, including American merchant ships. They also tried convincing Mexican leaders to join them in the fight. All of these incidents led President Woodrow Wilson to change his policy of neutrality and ask Congress to declare war.
In his speech on April 2, 1917, President Wilson argued that this would be a war to save democracy:
"It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts,—for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own Governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free."
Congress declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. Minnesotans could now officially join the fight, and many did. Here are portraits of some of those who served from communities across the state, including Glen Campbell, the first Minnesotan to be killed in the Great War:
- Portrait of Glen Campbell, St. Clair, Minnesota
- George Buggy of Pilot Grove Township, Minnesota
- Portrait of Louis Haugen, World War I veteran, Mora, Minnesota
- Portrait of Tedor, Melvin and Otto Torgerson in World War I uniforms, Fosston, Minnesota
- Portrait of Ernest Pederson, Big Stone County, Minnesota
- Portrat of Lynn Wheeler, Ortonville, Minnesota
- Portrait of Alexander Bacon Coxe, White Bear, Minnesota
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