Had you taken a stroll around East Campus before the First World War, you might have walked down Keiser Avenue.
But back in 1917, that sounded too much like the German word “Kaiser.” So when the war began, and boys in Boone County were shipped off to fight the Germans, the street was renamed Wilson, after America’s wartime president.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, which happened on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. In the United States, Nov. 11 has been called a legal holiday since Congress declared it as such in 1938 and Veterans Day since 1954.
Few reminders of World War I linger in Boone County today, a century after four years of fighting brutalized Europe and cost more than 8 million soldiers’ their lives. A few quiet celebrations have marked Veterans Day in Columbia, including a wreath-laying at Memorial Union. The day now recognizes all veterans, especially those who left their farms, their homes and their place at the university when America entered what became known as World War I.
President Woodrow Wilson tried to keep the United States out of ‘The Great War’ for 2½ years, but when war was declared in April 1917, MU students, Boone County residents and other Missourians stepped up.
More than 4 million male American citizens between the ages of 18 and 31, including 156,000 Missourians, headed to the bloody trenches in Europe. More than 11,000 Missourians died, including 117 MU students.
“Missouri has never failed when a national crisis has called for patriots. She will not fail now, nor will the University of Missouri,” read the last page of the 1917 Savitar, the old MU yearbook.
“To the students of Missouri who are enlisting in the national service ... the 1917 Savitar, speaking for the entire University of Missouri, expresses its last word — Godspeed.”
More than 170 students at MU left school to go back home and work on their farms. During the war, Missouri farmers enlarged their fields to help feed the war-torn citizens of Britain and France, according to the State Historical Society.
Ranchers supplied the U.S. military with hundreds of mules to pull wagons full of soldiers and artillery. Women filled jobs vacated by the young men sent abroad.
In addition, 48 MU students and alumni aided the war effort by joining an ambulance unit, according to university archives. The unit left for France in June 1917.
“They used a campus as a training ground for those ambulance units, so they were training ambulance folks and the ROTC program kind of stopped,” said Lt. Col. Gary Kerr, the military science and leadership chair at MU.
The four-year program became a two-year program to produce officers more quickly, he said.
By 1918, the second semester after America entered the war, more than 1,200 people from the university had gone abroad to join the war effort, Kerr said.
Columbia residents also joined anti-German propaganda efforts, with many businesses and organizations purchasing full-page ads in the Columbia Missourian displaying gruesome war depictions, such as American soldiers choking German soldiers or Uncle Sam rolling over German troops with a tank.
Today, Columbia continues to honor those died in World War I with a monument on the Boone County Courthouse lawn. The engraving on the stone reads, “In memory of Boone County boys who lost their lives,” along with the dates 1917 and 1918.
A grim soldier stands on top, and two tablets flanking the monument list the names of 45 soldiers, many just teenagers and maybe students, who died in the war.
Angelo Crist, 24, died of meningitis on July 12, 1918, in France, according to an Aug. 2, 1918, report in the Missourian.
Vernie and John Kite were brothers from Ashland who were both killed. Vernie was 30 and John was 23.
At least half of the soldiers from Boone County died during the influenza pandemic or from other diseases, either abroad or in training camps. According to Missouri State Archives, Cliff Sargent, 23, lived in town with his wife before being shipped to England and dying just a month before the war ended.
Richard Kelley, 22, was a student at Lincoln University and died of pneumonia shortly after arriving in France, and Willie Wise of Brown Station died of bronchial pneumonia at a training camp in Texas on Oct. 20. 1918.
World War I would be over less than three weeks later.