100 Years Ago–Villisca’s boys came home from the Mexican border, only to be ordered to prepare for WWI

Parade Susie E
Photo courtesy Susie Enarson.

The sixty-five men and three officers of Company F of Villisca left on June 25, 1916, for Camp Dodge on their way to the Mexican border. They arrived in Texas on July 26, and by the time September rolled around the Company had been on the line for all of six minutes! They returned home on February 20, 1917 to a huge red, white and blue welcome, with banners, dinners and speeches.

But, just three months later, the Company that had returned in joy from what was  essentially a phony war was ordered to recruit men to attain war strength. America had declared war on Germany on April 6 and needed all of her fighting men. This one was
going to be a real war and western Iowa’s troops were needed.

The unit was mustered into federal service on July 25, 1917, assigned to the Rainbow Division. When Col. Douglas MacArthur had been ordered to form a division of 42,000 men by selecting crack regiments from practically every state. He responded that it would be “a division that will represent every state, to cover the country like a rainbow.”

Our boys, part of the 3,600 Iowans in the 168th Infantry division, departed for Camp Mills, Hempstead, Long Island, New York on September 10. They boarded a  transport ship, arriving in France in December 1917.  By March they were in the trenches fighting the “Hun.” Before it was all over, our men—no longer boys now—would see service on six different fronts.

Battles at Champagne Marne, Aisne, Marne, St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne took some of our men’s lives and injured others. The war made heroes of our men, although not all of them received medals for their bravery. Some would die from disease or suffer for the rest of their lives from the effects of mustard gas. Tiny little camps such as Ker-AVor would imprint themselves on the consciouness of the men from Villisca.

But at 11 o’clock of the 11th day of the 11th month, it was over. The men from Villisca had helped win the war to end all wars. They came home on the transport Leviathon, which landed at Hoboken, NJ, on a May evening in 1919.

The division was sent to Camp Upton, New York, for a short period.

The people of Villisca couldn’t wait! The screaming headline in the May 2, 1919 Villisca Review said it all: “They’re Coming Home!”

A joint celebration with Clarinda was planned, with Villisca honoring the company first.

The Herald summed it up: “The boys are on their way home and plans are under way here and in Villisca to give them the greeting and welcome that they have justly earned
and deserve. Just when the boys of Co. F will be here is not yet known, but it is a positve fact that when they do arrive they will be welcomed back to us with the spirit of tried and true heroes who have fought and bled for home and country.”

Co. F arrived in Villisca on Train No. 9 on May 17 and were met by a large, exuberant crowd. The official celebration was held May 20.

Villisca heaved a huge sigh of relief: “Our boys are back!”


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