World War I Centennial: “Looking Back”

November 11, 2018, marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that officially ended World War I. More than four million American families sent their sons and daughters to serve in uniform during the Great War. With a casualty rate far greater than World War II, 116,510 U.S. soldier died from combat and disease while another 200,000 were wounded.

Although World War I began in 1914, the United States did not enter the conflict until April 1917. Even before the U.S. entered, however, the fighting affected Arkansas. Armies needed cotton for uniforms and bandages as well as lead and zinc which were mined in the state. A factory was also built in Helena to craft rifle stocks from the local hardwoods.

Dr. J.Z. Bailey and Theodore Smith quickly began organizing a 65-man machine gun company in Conway after war was declared. Eight other Faulkner County men joined the Morrilton company of the Third Regiment, Arkansas National Guard. Still others were recruited by the various branches of the military.

Dr. J.S. Westerfield, who practiced medicine in Conway from 1894 to 1933, served as the examining physician for the World War I inductees from Faulkner County. Physicals of prospective soldiers across the state revealed chronic health problems including hookworm.

Patriotic rallies were held, and flags were hoisted around Conway while young men at the colleges began volunteering. Seventy-five men joined a company of guards organized at State Normal School by Prof. R.E. Womack and Prof. G. Daniel Estes; both had military training at the University of Arkansas. The Normal School cancelled graduation activities in early May on account of the national crisis.

Once the U.S. entered the war, a total of 199,857 Arkansans, ages 21-45, were registered. This caused a great labor shortage in the state while new job opportunities were provided in the construction of Camp Pike in North Little Rock, named for Gen. Zebulon Pike, and Eberts Field in Lonoke County.

Various campaigns were launched in Faulkner County to support the war effort. More than 200 black farmers gathered at the black school building to discuss how to meet the food needs, supplying both the soldiers and the people at home. A committee was established to distribute khaki-bound testaments to the Faulkner County boys going to war. Conway women began to “sew for soldiers,” making bed coats, sweaters, pajamas and socks.

Fundraising efforts also began as every community was given quotas to raise its share of liberty loans, bonds, war savings stamps and other funds. Money was also raised to provide a library and a Victrola for soldiers at Camp Pike. New taxes were also placed on railroad passenger fares to raise money; a ticket to Little Rock was raised to exactly a dollar.

As the war progressed, more sacrifices were made at home. Citizens observed “meatless” days as butchers were notified they could not sell meat on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Faulkner County young women began enrolling in the US Student Nurse reserve as the call went out for 25,000 nurses.

The first death of a Faulkner County serviceman occurred in December 1917 when William Luther Fulmer, son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Fulmer of Beryl, died at Camp Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. Faulkner County lost at least 20 young men in the war.

Photo as appeared in the Log Cabin Democrat.

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.