by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The news of the cessation of fighting in Europe ending World War I came on 11 November 1918, which became known as Armistice Day (changed to Veterans Day by order of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954.) This hardly meant, however, that the American military presence in western Europe, much less training and support here in the United States was going to end quickly.
Nor did it mean that new recruits were not needed. Today’s highlighted artifact in our preview posts leading up to Sunday’s “The End of the Great War” event at the Homestead, commemorating the centennial of the war is a fascinating panoramic photograph, taken by Huddleston Photo Company of Los Angeles, of 815 men comprising the last quota of those in the city called up for the draft on that day when hostilities officially ceased.
Processed by Local Board #17, the call-up of the men appears to have been handled at some kind of institution, judging by the large building behind the group. There are a few men in military uniform with civilians next to them or off to the side who may well have been officers of the draft board, some of these have patches or some insignia on the left arm of their jackets. A couple of American flags are held aloft in the middle of the assemblage.
As for the draftees, a careful look shows that all but a very few are white, with one black man and a few Latinos or other people of color here and there within the throng. There appear to be a wide range of socioeconomic classes represented, if clothing is a reliable indicator. Some men wear well-tailored suits and ties, some with vests. Others have loose-fitting jackets with only one man that I could see who was without one, while some do not have neckwear or dress shirts.
While the ethnic composition was reflective of how segregated communities were in Los Angeles a hundred years ago, there was an apparent diversity of socioeconomic classes within the district covered by the local draft board. What we don’t know is how many of these men wound up going into the service to provide whatever support or postwar assistance that was required in the months ahead.
The Los Angeles Times reported on the 11th that
The [draft] boards intend to continue sending men to training camps, unless otherwise ordered, and it is not thought likely that the entrainment of more than 3000 Los Angeles men for Camp Lewis or Kelly Field next week will be halted, even if Germany accepts the armistice terms.
Local draft board officials felt that an ongoing census of men ages 18-45 would continue and that those sent to training “will be put to some useful purpose, probably having direct bearing on reconstruction work in this country.” Those soldiers already in France “possibly will contribute to the policing of Russia [which experienced the Revolution of 1917 and the rise of Bolshevik Communism] and the rehabilitation of France.”
Regardless of whether Germany agreed to terms of an armistice, it was assumed “that men in military camps will continue their training for several months and possibly a year” and that, even with some mustering out of troops, “a large army will be maintained in this country.”
Yet, it was also felt by many that for those not already inducted, they “will not be asked to leave their homes or their occupations,” while opportunities were likely to remain in the Army and Navy. As for those already in camps receiving training, it was believed they “will be sent to France, unless an unusual situation arises in Russia.”
There were 1 million men in the service in the country and double that number in Europe, so “it is believed that no special movement of troops back to the United States will immediately follow peace with Germany.”
Because there’d been a second mass registration date (the first was 5 May 1917) on 12 September,
There are more than 30,000 men in this city who are registrants of September 12 and are in Class 1 [eligible for full service]. Most of these, it is believed, will remain at home and take up their usual occupations or new ones caused by the shifting of men due to the war . . . Board members do not expect a cessation of their activities. While they have no actual knowledge of what the draft machinery might be used for, they do not [sic?] believe it will be used for some time to come, mostly in reconstruction work in this country.
So, it is possible that many of the 815 men shown in the photo were inducted and did engage in military service, though many of them likely remained within the U.S. and did not go overseas, although that possibility was there, too. The military did announce on the 12th, though, that those men under 19 and over 36 were no longer to be classified and did not have to complete draft questionnaires. It was asserted that “cancellation of all draft calls and inductions practically has nullified” orders given in the summer to call up soldiers for the next phase of fighting in Europe.
So, while the war was over, there was still a need to continue classifying men from 19 to 36 and inducting, training and deploying some for service, primarily within the U.S. At least, none of these recruits had to worry about being deployed in battle and their term of service was likely to be short.