You never know what fun facts you will learn about your family history. It turns out that I have a few family members who fought for the Unites States in World War I. There is also a good chance I had family on the other side. If you couldn’t tell by some of my recent posts, I’ve been on a WWI binge. Molly calls it another one of my “phases” that I go through. That era is somewhat of a forgotten period in our nation’s history that impacted the rest of the 20th century.
When the United States declared war in April 1917 it did not have a large standing army–just over 200,000 men. To address that, Congress enacted the Selective Service Act of 1917 that required men ages 21-31 to register for the draft. I’ve found three of my relatives who registered were later called to serve in the US Army during the war. Others registered but were not drafted.
Private First Class Theodore M. Fredrick
Theodore Fredrick was born on December 7, 1895. He was a son of Carl and Bertha Fredrick. Carl was a brother of my great-grandfather, Arthur Frederick. That would make Theodore my first cousin twice removed. Theodore was required to do what millions of other young men had to do at the beginning of US involvement; he went and registered for the draft in June 1917.
What’s interesting about Theodore’s situation is that he and his brothers were first-generation Americans on their branch of the family. Their father, Carl, was born in Germany. Anti-German sentiment was sweeping the nation in the wake of the US entering the war. It cast a shadow over Americans with German background and customs. It makes me wonder what the boys and their father thought about going to war against the Fatherland.
According to his military records, Theodore was inducted into the army on July 14, 1918. He was first assigned to the 343rd Infantry Company “B” which was part of the 86th “Black Hawks” Division at Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois. According to the division’s history, it was made up of men primarily from Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota.
Theodore disembarked aboard the HMS Olympic (sister ship to the ill-fated RMS Titanic) on September 14, 1918. When the 86th Division arrived in Europe it was broken apart to reinforce other units on the front lines. Theodore was transferred to the 311th Infantry Company “A” of the 78th “Lightning” Division on October 11, 1918. You can see the division’s lightning bolt insignia on his left shoulder in the photograph. His military record indicates that he was involved in the Meuse-Argonne offensive from October 10 through November 6, 1918, and that he sustained no injuries.
In May 1919 he disembarked from France aboard the USS Otsego on his way back to America. He was discharged from the service on June 5, 1919, and returned to work on his farm near Juneau, Wisconsin. Theodore passed away March 15, 1965, and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Juneau.
Corporal August L. Fredrick
August Fredrick was born on August 9, 1893, and is a brother to Theodore. August is also my first cousin twice removed. I actually stumbled across him while looking for Theodore’s military background. Like his younger brother, August also registered for the draft after the implementation of the Selective Service Act in 1917. If you look at the brothers’ registration cards you will see they went to register the same day-June 5, 1917.
August was inducted on July 9, 1918, and was shipped down to Camp Hancock near Augusta, Georgia, which was one of the major machine gun training camps in the country. He was part of a training group Co I. Group 2 and was promoted to a Corporal in January 1919.
August was never shipped overseas. He was discharged on March 1, 1919. The records I have don’t specifically say that he was training for a machine gun unit, but the photo I have of him shows the machine gun “MG” collar disks, and his Corporal bars are visible on his right shoulder. August passed away in 1974 and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Juneau, Wisconsin.
Private George P. Hoeft
George Hoeft was born on October 11, 1896, to Gustav and Anna Hoeft. George is technically my step great grandpa. My Great Grandmother Viola (Kaul) Hoeft had her daughter, Mildred, my grandma, out of wedlock with another man. That is a long family history for another day! Nonetheless, Grandma took his last name and was treated like his own.
George was inducted into the service on August 8, 1918. He was assigned to the 57 Depot Brigade that processed new draft inductees. On September 23, 1918, George boarded the USS Princess Matoika for France as part of the Camp MacArthur Automatic Replacements that would replace men wounded or killed on the front. At the end of October, he was transferred to the Infantry Candidate Training School 2nd Battalion in France to be trained as an infantry soldier. Luckily for George, the war ended on November 11, 1918, and he never had a chance to see action. His discharge papers indicate that he was never even qualified with a rifle.
His military service indicates he served in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) from September 23, 1918, to April 24, 1919. Upon his return to the United States, George was honorably discharged on May 5, 1919. I am still trying to find a photo of George in uniform…if one exists. George passed away February 21, 1967, and is buried in Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery in Watertown, Wisconsin.
In case you are wondering as you read my post, I did not spell my family name wrong. For reasons I am still trying to pinpoint, some of my family members spell our last name all different ways (Fredrich, Frädrich, Frederick, Fredrick), and it makes it harder to do family research. I’ve heard two versions of the story. One was that some of them wanted to spell it more traditional and others wanted it more American. Another version is that there was a falling out, and some of the family changed the spelling to separate themselves from the rest.
It was really fun for me to trace out the military history of these individuals in my family tree. Just imagine the things Theodore must have experienced on the front lines in the final weeks of the war. Here was a young man, a farmer from Wisconsin, fighting on the front lines against his father’s homeland. Did August know his brother was on the front lines as he was training at Camp Hancock back in the US? I wonder if he was eager to ship out, or did he want to avoid the fighting? What could have been going through George’s mind as he made his way across the ocean heading towards the trenches of Europe? Maybe he was relieved to have missed out on the action. It’s a privilege and honor for me to be able to say that I have family members that served our country during World War I.
Did you have an ancestor that served during WWI? What battles were they in? Were there any war stories passed down from them? Do you have a photograph or war memorabilia from their time in the service? If you want to research your family in WWI get an Ancestry.com account. You will not regret it. There are so many great resources that can be found on the site. Also, check with your local library to see if you have access to NewspaperArchive through your library account. A lot of old newspapers have been digitized which makes searching a breeze. If you live in Wisconsin, some military records can be obtained through the Wisconsin Veterans Museum’s WWI soldier database. You can also visit the courthouse in the county your family member resided for discharge papers.