In many ways, Memorial Day 1918 in Columbus was like many of the Memorial Days that had preceded it since 1868.
Gen. John Logan in 1868 proclaimed on behalf of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Civil War Union Army veterans organization, that May 30 should be a day to remember the sacrifices of those who had died in that bloody conflict.
Since that time, with allowances for weather and other occasional difficulties, the residents of Columbus had shown their respect with floral decorations on the graves of Union veterans.
Over the years, what had begun as a holiday to remember Union Army soldiers became something more. The graves of soldiers from the United States' other wars began to marked, as well, and many people observed what was then called Decoration Day with floral tributes at the graves of family and friends.
In addition to the tributes at local cemeteries, other events began to be held to celebrate the day. Among them were special services at local churches, meetings of local lodges and clubs and parades through downtown.
Some of these parades were larger than others, but most of them never exceeded more than a few thousand residents.
But that changed in Memorial Day 1918.
America was at war, and it was a war like nothing America had seen for some time.
The American Civil War was the deadliest war in American history. By the time it was over, more than 600,000 American soldiers from the North and South had died.
In the years since that war ended in 1865, the United States had fought other wars, but the casualties from those conflicts were small compared to the losses experienced in the Civil War.
Now the United States was fighting in what had come to be called the Great War. Since 1914, the great powers of Europe had been fighting, and because most of those counties were imperial powers, the conflict had spread to every corner of the globe.
Since the outbreak of the war, the United States had worked hard to remain neutral while hundreds of thousands of men died in the Great War. Elected in 1912, President Woodrow Wilson ran for re-election in 1916 with the slogan, "He Kept Us Out of War." In the following year, a variety of events intervened and in April 1917, the United States entered World War I.
The United States entered the war with Great Britain, France and Russia as allies. The enemies were Germany, Austria-Hungary and their allies. To prepare to participate in a war of this magnitude took time, and it was well into 1918 when the United States was prepared to send large numbers of men, guns and supplies to the war in Europe.
In the meantime, large camps were established to train young men to become soldiers. Camp Sherman near Chillicothe became the home of more than 20,000 soldiers in training at a time. The government took over control of the railroads for the duration of the war and many industries converted to wartime production.
In Columbus, as in many other cities, a number of actions were taken against the local German community. German schools and the local German newspaper were closed. German street names were changed and German books were burned.
Complementing the anti-German activity was an enormous outpouring of patriotic fervor by the local population. That popular sentiment expressed itself in rallies, meetings and local gatherings to support bond sales, recruiting and other activities.
By early 1918, troops were beginning to arrive in France, so it is not surprising that Memorial Day, when it came, was celebrated with a special energy. Some of the activities were the traditional ones: Volunteers from women's organizations prepared more than 4,000 bouquets of flowers that were placed at grave sites in Green Lawn, Union and Mount Calvary cemeteries.
Then came the parade. Led by cars carrying a few surviving Union Army veterans, more than 20,000 people marched up High Street from Mound Street to Naghten Street (now Nationwide Boulevard), then marched back to East Broad Street and Memorial Hall. Participants included members of local civic and service organizations, veterans groups and active-duty members of the armed services.
It was one of the largest parades Columbus had ever seen, and it was followed by speeches, rallies and local gatherings in support of the war effort.
The next day, a local newspaper noted Columbus had its first aerial ace in World War I when resident Edward Rickenbacker shot down his fifth German warplane. The article noted that "the Columbus man's friends are confident that if his life is spared, Rickenbacker's exploits will place him in the front rank of allied aviators."
The life of Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker was spared and he went on to become "America's Ace of Aces" in World War I with 26 aerial victories.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.