On Monday 5 August, Governor Tim Walz signed Bill HF 810 into law in front of a small crowd of veterans, supporters, and members of the press. The new bill seeks to honor all Minnesota WWI-era veterans by authorizing the replacement of a memorial plaque located in the Capitol’s Court of Honor.
Retired Navy Chaplain David Thompson [friend and contributor to Roads to the Great War], who testified in support of the bill, took issue with the WWI Plaque’s inscription, “Dedicated to the 57,413 Minnesotans who gallantly served in ‘the war to end all wars.’” While 57,413 Minnesotans served in active combat during WWI, many more were stationed on military bases away from the front lines where they battled a dangerous influenza outbreak that would kill 50 million people worldwide. Thompson’s father was stationed at Camp Dodge, Iowa, during the war, where he and 10,008 other soldiers were infected. Thompson detailed his father’s account in a Minnesota Military Museum newsletter article, “The Great Flu Pandemic of World War I: ‘Over Here’ and ‘Over There.’”
He was put on a detail to prepare bodies for shipment home by rail, recalling hundreds of wooden coffins stacked awaiting train transportation,” Thompson explained. “In the process, he got this respiratory flu himself, but he recovered to be discharged and sent home on Christmas Eve 1918.
According to Thompson, 57,460 (50%) of the total 115,660 war dead died as a result of the disease, a number he doesn’t want future generations to forget.
“With our passing, this rarely told ‘other war story’ of the battle with the disease in World War I may fade from memory, leaving only the stories of the conflict’s military battles and strategies,” said Thompson.
The new Court of Honor plaque will commemorate all WWI service members by including a more representative design and number (now believed to be 118,497) in its inscription. MDVA Deputy Commissioner Brad Lindsay gave some insight as to why the smaller number was originally honored.
“The plaque stated, ‘Dedicated to the 57,413 Minnesotans who served in “the war to end all wars.”’ I believe ‘in’ is the key word in that sentence,” Lindsay explained. “This focus on those who actually served in war was reflected in Minnesota Statutes at the time, which narrowly defined a ‘Veteran’ as someone who served in the U.S. military in a specifically named war.”
This difference between those who were considered WWI veterans and those considered WWI-era veterans came down to legislative specifics and, therefore, resulted in the plaque only considering those who served in the WWI combat theatre.
With this signing, Governor Walz hopes to include Minnesota servicemen who died or served in all areas of the War. The new plaque will serve as place for families and military members, like Thompson, to honor their loved ones’ legacies as WWI veterans.
“If we don’t tell our stories and if we don’t tell our history, we will lose the lessons that we learned,” said Walz upon authorizing the bill.
To design the new plaque, Walz and the bill’s creators look to the public. The Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board will collect submissions before deciding on the final design, which will then be furnished by the selected party.
Source: Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Blog