The interest in American history is diminishing. As we pass the 100-year anniversary of World War I, the memories and history of the state of New Jersey during that period continue to drift further away into the distant past, seldom recalled, seldom remembered.
Therefore, lest we forget, it was 100 years ago this month, on April 2, 1917, that President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany. The U.S. had been relatively neutral towards the conflict in Europe, but the sinking of the ship Lusitania by a German submarine with 128 Americans aboard, combined with the âZimmerman telegram,â seemed to be the deciding factors in President Wilsonâs decision. The Zimmerman telegram was a message from the German government encouraging Mexico to attack the United States; in return Germany would assist Mexico in regaining the lands âannexedâ by the U.S.
On April 6, 1917 Congress granted that declaration of war and the U.S. made its entry into âthe war to end all wars.â The battle cry went out across the country, âOver there, over there. Send the word, send the word over there, that the yanks are coming, weâll be over, weâre coming over and we wonât come back âtill itâs over, over there.â And so they came from every hamlet and town, men and women, black and white, all answering Americaâs call.
Among the 4.5 million Americans, draftees and volunteers who were in military uniform by 1918, 150,000 were from New Jersey. Over 116,000 Americans lost their lives in combat or from disease during World War I; 3,800 of them came from New Jersey. Eight New Jerseyans won the Medal of Honor and Needham Robertson, an African American from Trenton, was among the first to receive the French Croix de Guerre for heroism. Among the dead was the highly acclaimed poet from New Brunswick, Sgt. Joyce Kilmer, a member of the famous Fighting 69th regiment. He was killed in action, on July 30, 1918, just four months before a truce was declared.
A truce was called by the warring factions in Europe marking the end of the fighting in Nov. 1918, but, the actual warâs end didnât take place until the signing of the peace Treaty of Versailles, June 28, 1919. It was a highly formal event with hundreds of dignitaries gathered in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles in France. The U.S. was not a signatory to that document and was technically still at war with Germany.
President Warren G. Harding was visiting the home of his friend, Senator James S. Frelinghuysen, in the small town of Raritan, N.J. on a July 4 weekend in 1921….