By Robin Wallace
The television series “Downton Abbey” and the film “War Horse” are vividly bringing the horrors and heroics of World War I to life this year. Louisville was, of course, very actively involved in the Great War with the construction of the army training facility Camp Zachary Taylor in 1917, and over 10,000 local soldiers serving in the war.
The National Guard History eMuseum tells us that a total of 84,172 persons from Kentucky served in the United States Army. This total included 80,009 enlisted men, 3,747 commissioned officers, 241 nurses, 153 army field clerks, and 22 United States Marine Cadets. A breakdown of these figures show that there were 12,759 men in the regular Army, 7,518 National Guardsmen, 2,526 in the Reserve Corps, 2,734 volunteers, and 58,635 drafted men. Seven Kentuckians were Army Major Generals, nine were Brigadier Generals, and 23 were Colonels. Distinguished aviators were Major Victor Strohm and Lieutenant Colonel J. O. Creech. Of the overall total 41,655 saw overseas duty, while 2,418 deaths occurred among Kentucky troops, 890 of which were battle deaths.
Sentiments were divided in Louisville at the start of the war, with Courier-Journal editor Henry Watterson vehemently opposing the German and Austro-Hungarian Central Powers in his daily editorials; young men were whipped into a frenzy of volunteering at patriotic meetings. But the local German-American community and the German language newspaper the Louisville Anzeiger vocally supported Germany. And much like “Branson,” the Irish chauffer on "Downton Abbey," many Irish-American Louisvillians were more Anti-English than Pro-German, but also opposed the U. S.’s entry into the war. The city was, however, united in May of 1917 when a German submarine torpedoed a Louisville-owned cargo ship owend by C. C. Mengel and Brothers. Louisvillians flooded recruiting stations, German, Irish and otherwise.
Camp Taylor opened in 1917 and 150,000 men were trained there. In addition the casualties of war visited upon the troops, 824 soldiers at the Camp died of the Spanish Flu when the disease struck in 1918.
Kentucky’s last World War I veteran, Robley Henry Rex of Louisville, passed away in 2009.
Contributed by Filson Staff Member Robin Wallace