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World War I

Uncle Sam poster

The Great War in Europe broke out in 1914, but it was nearly three years before the U. S. became involved. In the meantime, the country had problems closer to home. Revolutionary upheaval in Mexico led to military action in that country and along America's southern border. Kansas troops were called to active duty and served on the Mexican border in 1916.

The U. S. declared war on the Central Powers—Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey—in April 1917. Within a year and a half, three million Americans were under arms and one million saw duty overseas. About 80,000 Kansans enlisted, most of them in the 35th, the 42nd, the 89th, and the 92nd infantry divisions.

Camp Funston at Fort Riley served as a major training center for World War I troops. Many soldiers from the Midwest and West were sent to Funston to train in modern war tactics. A career army officer with a distinguished record of service, Major General Leonard Wood took command of the training center at Camp Funston in 1917.

Most American troops arrived in France in the spring of 1918, just in time to serve as reserves in the St. Mihiel offensive. Their first major action, however, came in the bloody Meuse-Argonne campaign, which broke the German resistance. The 89th or "Middle West" Division was composed of troops from Kansas, Missouri, and Colorado.

Salina native George Robb was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism displayed during the Meuse-Argonne action of September 1918. One other Kansan, Erwin R. Bleckley of Wichita, was posthumously awarded this high honor.

James Harbord of Manhattan rose to the rank of major general during the First World War. He served as chief of staff for the American Expeditionary Forces, commanded the Second Division in the field during the summer offensive of 1918, and finished the war as commander of service and supply. In the latter capacity, the general accomplished a vital and difficult assignment—getting adequate supplies to the thousands of soldiers fighting at the front. General Harbord's outstanding wartime service led to many decorations and honors, including the Distinguished Service Medal.

On the home front, people contributed to the war effort in many different ways. Citizens began purchasing war bonds and growing victory gardens. Kansas farm production was vital to the war effort. With thousands of men leaving the farm to serve in the armed forces, farm labor often came from non-traditional sources. Women began stepping into men’s working roles as the men went off to fight. Women become employed in factories, began running farms, and even delivering the mail. These positions had been closed to women prior to the start of the war.

Entry: World War I

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: November 2001

Date Modified: July 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.