Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, December 24, 2021

America's First World War I Memorial


Monument Erected by the Minot, North Dakota,
Military Squad for Fallen World War I Soldiers,
Rosehill Memorial Park

Originally  presented by Jill Shramm in the 
Minot Daily News

A monument in a Minot, North Dakota, cemetery dedicated before the Armistice holds an important place in the history of World War I memorials in the United States.

The white marble monument erected by the Girls' Military Squad of Minot in May 1918 is believed to be the first permanent memorial in the nation to recognize local soldiers who died during the war.

Susan Wefald of Bismarck has been compiling North Dakota information for the national World War I Memorial Inventory Project for the past two years.

“Around North Dakota I have found about 40 World War I monuments and memorials,” she said. Completed between 1918 and 1941, they are among thousands across the country.

When she came across the Minot monument in Rosehill Memorial Park, she brought it to the attention of the project director, Mark Levitch. Levitch responded that there are a handful of memorials from 1917 that celebrate the troops’ departures and one memorial in Arkansas dated November 1917 that honors the first three members of the American Expeditionary Forces killed in the war, although the originality of the existing structure is not clearly documented. A cornerstone for a memorial home in Indiana, honoring the mother of one of the first three killed in action, dates to April 1918. The United States entered World War I on 6 April 6 1917

Minot’s memorial appears to be the first major, permanent monument to local war dead, and the best documented, Levitch wrote. He confirmed that distinction this week, saying it is unusual for memorials to have been erected that early in the war. Most monuments were erected after the war ended. So the existence of the Minot monument was a pleasant surprise.

“That really stands out,” he said.

The Minot memorial was dedicated on 30 May 1918, in Riverside Park, now Roosevelt Park. It was moved to Rosehill Cemetery due to flooding, Wefald said. The date of the move is uncertain. Cemetery and park officials are researching to locate that date, known to be before 1962, and welcome any information the public might have.

Visitors to Rosehill will notice the nine-foot spire standing over veterans’ graves, but few may be familiar with the Girls' Military Squad, the organization that erected it.

The 12 April 1917, issue of the Ward County Independent announced the formation of the squad, which by then had already held several meetings. The young women had ordered khaki suits of the regulation military style, and a military instructor planned to drill the women. They were to use regular Army guns for drilling, and with some practice, planned to make appearances in the parks.

Minot Girls' Military Squad

Sixteen members of the Minot Girls' Military Squad are shown above in uniform in this 25 July 1918, photo from the Ward County Independent. Women across the country were organizing such squads, the article noted.

“It affords excellent exercise and gives the young women an opportunity to learn what our young men have to undergo in times of war. The moral influence on our patriotism is increased, and in case of necessity, they will be better enabled to defend themselves,” the article stated.

Members at that time were Sayde Pinkerton, Hazel Holt, Martha Piper, Corene Ash, Margaret Guthrie, Margaret Falconer, Mrs. Ethelda Luce, Catherine Leet, Mabel Olson, Lola Smith, Eva Taplin, Hilda Balerud, Dagney Jensen, Willa Edminster, Gladys Myers, Pearl Adams, Ida Schomacher, May Hardak, Hazel Rusk and Mrs. Will E. Holbein. At the time, the squad consisted of about 25 women who arranged financing of the monument and organized the dedication.

Wefald said Holbein may have been a primary organizer. Her husband was a prominent newspaperman and politician. He established the Lansford Journal in 1909 and was secretary for the N.D. Press Association from 1911 to 1914. He moved to Minot in December 1915 to become secretary of the Minot Commercial Club. He had been a Republican candidate for agriculture commission and labor secretary in 1914. The Holbeins moved to Bismarck in 1920.

A Ward County Independent article on 26 April 1917, noted 54 young ladies attended the latest meeting of the squad at the Association of Commerce rooms. The first drill was held in the same location on April 26. The squad also held the first of what would be several dances that month.

The Girls’ Military Squad wasn’t without controversy, though.

The 21 June 1917 issue of the Ward County Independent wrote of the criticism the young women were receiving for wearing soldiers’ uniforms and drilling, which were considered unseemly by some residents. The article argued that since most of the young women work in stores or offices, the outdoor, physical activity is a good thing, and their intent to be a service to the country is commendable.

The article stated their activities were considered wrong “because they have had the temerity to organize such a military company without conferring with the high and mighty men and women who have set themselves up as dictators of conduct, mode of living and who have established a code of military ethics. These young women are told to take to the sewing machine and knitting needle.”

According to the article, the squad was organized to:

  • stimulate desire for outdoor life.
  • give young ladies gymnastic training.
  • assist the Red Cross Society through teaching first aid.
  • assist the local military authorities in recruiting.
  • assist the home guards in every possible way.
  • take part in activities that might arise on account of the war.

The squad showed up on Registration Day to see that men who registered for the draft were tagged. They helped recruit membership for the Red Cross and sold tickets to raise funds to assist the committee in charge of the Loyalty Day parade. They assisted in furnishing enlisted men with small conveniences not provided by the government.

Memorial Certificate for Frank Midak, Also Honored
at the Minot Monument

Squad members also arranged for the monument in memory of heroes who enlisted in Minot and died in the fight. Members of Companies A and D who were memorialized were Pvts. Claude Keller of Glenburn, Frank Midak of Minot, Theodore Wong of Sanish, Ernest Fulkerson of Parshall, Wallace Hatchard of Velva, Clarence Larson of Tunbridge, Willie Remine of Silva and Rolly Darling of Berthold. Also recognized were John Engen of Des Lacs, Ole Victor Cox of Max, and Carl Boardson of Minot, who died of disease at Camp Dodge, Iowa.

The base of the monument is inscribed on all four sides. On the north side is engraved, “Erected by the Girls Military Squad, Minot, ND, May 30, 1918.” Other inscriptions read, “All For Our Country,” “In Memory of Minot’s Heroes Who Have Sacrificed Their Lives In The World’s Great Struggle for Universal Democracy,” and “That Government of, by, and for the People Might Not Perish From the Earth.”

Thanks to Susan and Bob Wefald for bringing this story to our attention.

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