Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles about Christmas in Colfax 100 years ago.
“War in Europe, Peace in America,” President Wilson’s re-election campaign slogan in 1916, was a relic of the past by the time the Christmas holidays rolled around 100 years ago. On Apr. 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany, and just one month ago Iowa boys had been lost in battle.
“. . . [D]ispatches brought the sad news that our soldier boys in the trenches in France had been in a severe engagement with the result: three were slain, five wounded and twelve captured,” The Colfax Clipper reported on Nov. 8, 1917.
“Among those dead and missing occur the names of two Iowa boys, Merle D. Hay of Glidden, being the first soldier whose name will be forever enshrined in the minds and hearts of this country. ‘Greater love hath no man than he lay down his life for his friend.’ And truly it may be said that [Merle Hay] gave his life that Christianity and all that that stands for might triumph.
“Among the missing is the name of Dewey Kern and right then the people of Jasper county began to wake up.”
Kern, 19, son of Mrs. Glen Tilton, of Collins, was born in Clear Creek Township, Jasper County. His grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. David Southern, lived in Clear Creek together with many other relatives and friends. He was a cousin of Colfax attorney M. E. Penquite. Kern enlisted in the army from Collins.
An unconfirmed rumor that Floyd Meckley of Colfax, had been wounded was published in the Dec. 6 issue of the paper.
That patriotism was the order of the day is reflected in a letter home from Private Carl G. Dimmick, 18, son of Mr. and Mrs. I. G. Dimmick of Colfax, published Jan. 3, 1918:
Scofield, Barracks, Hawaiian Islands, Dec. 15, 1917. Dear Home Folks: - My opinion of a slacker is not in any sense favorable. I know young men who would rather see their fathers go to the war than go themselves, which fact does not speak well for their patriotism, rather, it classes them with slackers and deserters.
Young men should not wait to be drafted but should enlist and prove [t]heir patriotism and love for their country.
Offer your services while it is a gift and not a demand upon you.
I know a man who came from New York to California to escape the draft but was caught and put in prison. He is safe from attack in the trenches but his conscience will eat him up. In this hour of our country’s needs there is but one way – get to the front!
Forever your son,
Private Carl G. Dimmick.
Co. D., 32nd Inft., Scofield Barracks.
Perry Luengen, son of the late P. W. Luengen, proprietor of the old Centropolis Hotel, enlisted in the aviation service and Dec. 6 went to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, for training. “Perry has been a very busy man in Colfax and is leaving important business interests to do his part in the great war,” the Clipper informed its readers.
Speaking of aviation, Messrs. Willis and Brown, two Colfax High School teachers, had already “got an overdose of patriotism” and made application for the Observation Corps.
In the Dec. 13 Christmas issue of the Clipper a letter written by Corp. James Norman Hall to his parents told of the “activities in the air” and gave a vivid description of a battle between French and German flyers.
At least one man tried to get in to the action - twice, but was rejected. “Tom Liddel of Mulcahy Drug company has twice offered his services to Uncle Sam but has been politely refused, on account of ‘undersize’ or some other trivial reason,” the Clipper marveled Dec. 6. “He’s a good scout and the country has missed a brave soldier. You can’t always measure the bigness of a man with a tape line.”
Rev. C. S. Wikoff, Church of Christ minister, gave a talk he titled “Three Weeks of Life in Camp Dodge” Dec. 16. In it he described the camp, the conditions that surrounded the soldier boys there, and the problems of soldier life.
A new war tax, intended to “help whip the kaiser,” was now in effect. The Clipper published a list of the things to be taxed and the amount of the tax on them.