Some Waco residents recalled World War I (1914-18) as a period of fervent flag-waving patriotism as Americans went overseas to make, as then-President Woodrow Wilson put it, the world safe for democracy. Others remembered it as a time when more than 30,000 Army soldiers stationed at Camp MacArthur proved a business opportunity for downtown merchants and car owners willing to serve as part-time taxis.
Still others had darker memories: Area German-Americans were forced from jobs at Waco High School and Baylor University; pressured to buy Liberty Bonds to prove their loyalty; or, in one case, tarred and feathered for presumed German sympathies. For some, death on the homefront from the Spanish influenza shadowed wartime memories.
Those memories, drawn from thousands of taped interviews archived in Baylor’s Institute for Oral History, form the core of Steven Sielaff’s talk “Waco Citizens Remember the Great War: Tales From Baylor’s Institute for Oral History Archive.” Sielaff will present the talk as the Historic Waco Foundation’s fall lecture at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Lee Lockwood Library and Museum.
Sielaff, the institute’s senior editor and collections manager, found World War I references and recollections scattered through the various interview projects in the institute’s holdings. Digitization of those holdings is ongoing, with 4,000 transcripts and 2,500 audio interviews already in digital form.
Most of the stories that make up his multimedia lecture came from the homefront. Waco businessman Lee Lockwood, longtime U.S. Rep. Bob Poage and Waco Latin teacher Mary Sendon were Waco High students at the time. Douthit Young McDaniel was a Baylor student, and Oscar Hessdoerfer was a Waco grocer.
Wilford Wolfie Naman, a founder of the Waco law firm Naman, Howell, Smith and Chase, provided the sole soldier’s viewpoint. Naman served as an army artillery spotter, training at Camp Bowie in Fort Worth before being posted to France in August 1918.
Naman witnessed a German submarine attack on the journey across the Atlantic Ocean, saw the American troop buildup for an offensive and enjoyed a short leave in Paris, where he bought a pair of fancy boots that won him the nickname “Beaucoup Boots.”
Those in Waco during 1917 and 1918 recall the creation of Camp MacArthur, whose population of more than 30,000 Army trainees nearly matched the city’s population, recorded as 26,425 residents only seven years earlier in the U.S. Census.
Waco High students Poage and Lockwood were particularly taken with the pilot training going on at newly constructed Rich Field.
“That was a big story. (Aircraft were) still a new technology,” Sielaff said.
Other Waco residents took soldiers under their wings during their stay. Sendon recalled playing piano to entertain visitors, and residents hosted troops even more during cold and rainy weather as the majority of troops at the camp lived in tents.
The presence of thousands of Army soldiers and the general patriotism of the times dampened other aspects of Waco life. German-Americans paid fewer visits to the German Central Verein, a social club in downtown Waco where members met to play billiards, drink beer and roast oysters. Speaking or singing German in public was frowned upon.
At Baylor, comments that Dean of College J.L. Kesler made in chapel were interpreted as showing a divided allegiance, and despite support by Baylor President Samuel Brooks, Kesler left after 15 years with the university to take a position with the YMCA in another city.
Anti-German sentiment also held sway at Waco High, where one German teacher left, and Principal E.T. Genheimer and a math teacher were suspected of being spies because of their work with a school radio. Sendon recalled that French was the recommended second language the year after the German teacher left.
Sielaff said other people interviewed recounted tales of harsher treatment. A homeowner’s fence was painted yellow when citizens felt he wasn’t patriotic enough, and another man was tarred and feathered for the same reason.
Much of that came to an end after Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918, which Sielaff said left an impression on Waco High students. Principal Genheimer called off school for the day.
“Waco Citizens Remember the Great War: Tales from Baylor’s Institute for Oral History Archive”
Historic Waco Foundation fall lecture by Steven Sielaff
When, where: 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Lee Lockwood Library and Museum, 2801 W. Waco Drive