For the first 2 ½ years of World War I the United States was able to stay out of it. The slaughter on the battlefields, month after month, was unlike anything that had ever been seen. The losses of young men were unbelievable. In a single day during the 1916 Battle of the Somme, the British lost 20,000 men killed and 40,000 wounded; when this one battle was over there were over 1 million casualties on both sides, and the trench lines had hardly moved.
Most Americans viewed it as just another endless European war in which monarchs and colonial empires settled their differences by conscripting their people into armies to fight it out. Just the kind of thing many of our ancestors emigrated to America to get away from. The American public in general wanted nothing to do with the Great War – President Wilson was re-elected in 1916 with the slogan “He kept us out of war.”
A good illustration of the attitude of most Americans toward the disaster occurring in Europe during 1914-1916 can be seen from a picture in the Clarkson Museum’s “war room.”
It depicts the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria) as a many-headed Hydra and two-headed eagle battling animals symbolizing the other nations at war (the Allied Powers – Britain, France, etc.). The dates on the bottom of the page count year after year of this terrible war, ending… when? I suppose that the picture leans toward the Allied cause by depicting Germany as a black, snake-headed creature, but it’s a bit hard to tell – the message seems to be “Stay Out!”
In any event, it didn’t work. By 1918, only the countries in gray in the map below had managed to avoid getting embroiled in the Great War:
Staying out of the fighting was probably a very popular sentiment in the Clarkson area as well. Most of the locals were first- or second-generation immigrants from Germany or Bohemia/Moravia. The Germans felt an attachment to their native land; they still spoke the language, ate their traditional foods, and were proud of their culture. It’s only natural that they would be unwilling to go to war against their homeland, and they didn’t relish the thought of taking up arms to kill their friends and relatives back home. Among other reasons, many Bohemians had immigrated to America in the late 1800s to avoid being conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian army to fight for a cause and an Empire which they hated. If the United States entered the war, they might be drafted and sent back to Europe to die, perhaps fighting against their fellow Bohemians in the Austrian army. On the other hand, if the Austro-Hungarian Empire was beaten and dismantled, the Czech-Americans could help their friends back home achieve the freedom and independence for which they had dreamed for 300 years. These are the kinds of impulses that young men had to balance as U.S. involvement in the Great War was discussed.
But eventually the U.S. was pushed too far by Germany’s provocations. In an effort to starve Great Britain, Germany commenced unrestricted U-Boat (submarine) warfare on all shipping toward England, and the toll of American lives lost from sunken freighters and passenger liners began to add up. A secret message from Germany to the Mexican government (the Zimmerman telegram) was intercepted which offered to Mexico large areas of the American Southwest (Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico) if they would ally themselves with Germany in a war against the U.S. Abandoning neutrality, President Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany on April 6, 1917.
Once the U.S. declared war on the Germany, Clarkson jumped in with both feet. Less than a month later, 15 young men from Clarkson had volunteered for military service, and over the course of the war some 81 young men volunteered or were drafted, of whom 6 lost their lives.
On May 3, 1917 the Colfax County Press reported:
“Fifteen Clarkson youths volunteered for the Army, responding to President Wilson’s call for volunteers and pledged to fight for the flag which stands for honor and for the rights of mankind. The volunteers are: Richard Karel, Anton Luxa, Alois Hanel, Jos. Makovsky, Edward Vitek, Frank Polacek, Cyril Chrastil, Frank Zelenda, George Homola, Albin Vraspir, Emil Lukl, Anton J. Svoboda, Bohumil Bukacek and Wm. Rosmarin. Lad Kubil of Clarkson who is attending the University in Lincoln, has also enlisted in the army and will leave for Fort Snelling, Minn. next week. The citizens of Clarkson, to show their appreciation and loyalty paid the boys transportation to Omaha besides giving each a gold five-dollar piece as a souvenir from home. Escorting the volunteers to Omaha was Jos. R. Vitek.”
A crowd gathered at the Opera House to celebrate their patriotism, on what must have been a chilly day (the men have removed their hats of course, but many of the women are wearing knit caps or shawls). It was a solemn moment, and the men have serious, almost melancholy looks on their faces. No one in the room knew what awaited them.
Happily, all 15 of these initial volunteers survived the war and returned home. Although one of them, Frank Zelenda, died young due to war-related causes, most passed away in the 1960s after a long life. Here are the stories and service records of some of them:
Bohumil Bukacek – May 18, 1893 – May 5, 1964. His grave in the Bohemian Cemetery in Omaha displays the code “SGT CAS DET 1035 DEMOB GP WWI” (He was a Sergeant in a Casualty Detachment of the 1035th Demobilization Group, whose task was to return soldiers to civilian life after they had been wounded or once hostilities were over).
Cyril Chrastek – Believed to have died on June 7, 1963 at age 65
Emil Lukl – January 7, 1886 – March 18, 1969 in Klamath Falls, OR. His grave says “ENG1 US NAVY WWI” (Engineman First Class in the U.S. Navy).
Anton Luxa – May 14, 1896 – August 4, 1966. Sgt. US Army. Buried in San Antonio, TX
Joseph B. Makovsky – From the June 26, 1924 Leigh World – Jos. B. Makousky, adjutant of the Clarkson post of the American Legion, is in receipt of a supply of blanks for soldiers’ bonus and every ex-soldier of this community is requested to call on Mr. Makousky for same. Anyone desiring to have the blank filled out by the officer is asked to bring his discharge papers when making the application.
Frank Polacek – May 20, 1888 – July 4, 1960
William Rozmarin – August 17, 1896 – February 1979 (?)
Anton J. Swoboda – Bat. A 30, Coast Artillery
Edward Vitek – From the September 26, 1947 issue of the Leigh World
Funeral services were held for Edward Vitek, 50, at Clarkson whose remains were sent there from Chicago for burial.
Services were conducted at the New Zion Presbyterian Church by Rev. Rundon of Wahoo, in the absence of Rev. Filipi, who had an out of town mission. Pallbearers were members of the American Legion Post.
Edward Vitek was born in Clarkson, September 10, 1897. He was the son of the late Joseph and Anna Vitek. He grew to manhood in Clarkson and attended the public school there. In May 1917 he volunteered in the U.S. Army and served 19 months on the Hawaiian Island during World War I.
He was united in marriage to Miss Ida Krofta on June 18, 1925. They established their home in Creston where Mr. Vitek operated a meat market for several years, later moving to Chicago. He has been in failing health for the past few years and passed away September 19, 1947, at Hines Veterans Hospital in Maywood, Illinois.
He is survived by his wife, Ida; two sons, Kenneth and Larry; a sister, Mrs. Rudolph Novotny, Clarkson; three brothers, Joseph R. and Adolph E. of Clarkson and Frank J., of Buhl, Idaho.
Albin Vraspir – 1890-1954 WWI Co. 202, C. A. C. T. (Coastal Artillery Corps)
Frank Zelenda – Private, Coastal Artillery Corps. Died Febuary 27, 1931.
From the August 16, 1917 Colfax County Press – Frank Zelenda, who left with the first Clarkson volunteer boys last May, wrote to his sister, Mrs. Anton Makovsky, that he arrived safely in the Philippine Islands and is nearly nine thousand miles from home
From the April 3, 1924 Colfax County Press – Frank Zelenda spent the weekend in Schuyler at the home of Mr. and Mrs. William Roether. Mr. Zelenda returned last week from the May sanitarium where he was accompanied by Mr. Roether for an examination covering a peculiar condition that comes over him periodically.
Mr. Zelenda was one of the last Colfax county boys in the service to reach home, having been stationed in the Philippine Islands. Soon after his return he suffered a partial loss of his sight, the spell lasting for several weeks.
Another attack came upon him and several weeks later he was attacked for the third time. It was then that he decided to go to the Mayos for an examination. The case had progressed to such a point that it was waning, and the specialists advised that he return with the beginning of the next attack so he can be under observation.
Mr. Zelenda sees all objects in doubles. He is compelled to wear glasses with one eye darkened. In addition to this irregular vision, he feels dizzy, during these attacks.
From March 5, 1931 Colfax County Press – After suffering for a period of several years, Frank Zelenda, an ex-service man and a former Clarkson boy, made his supreme sacrifice at the Veterans Hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he had been a patient for a long time. Word of his demise reached Clarkson relatives. He died at the age of 39 years, 8 months and 8 days.
The deceased was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on the 19th day of June, 1891, and when a small boy he came to this community with his parents. The family located on a farm in Stanton County and after losing both of his parents, Frank came to Clarkson and made his home here for many years.
Shortly after America declared war on Germany, Frank joined a group of Clarkson volunteers and entred Uncle Sam’s fighting forces. He left Clarkson on May 3, 1917, with the first contingent of volunteers and remained in service for almost three years.
He returned to Clarkson in the fall of 1919, after having served in the Philipine and Hawaiian Islands. His health had been greatly impaired and he was unable to find relief for his illness.
In 1925, he was admitted to a Veterans hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas, where death ended his suffering.
The remains were brought to Clarkson and interment was made in the local cemetery. The rites were conducted from the home of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Zelenda, with services at the New Zion Church conducted by Rev. Filipi.
The deceased is survived by three brothers, Joseph Zelenda of Schuyler, Edward and Leo Zelenda of Clarkson; two sisters, Mrs. Anton Makovsky of Buhl, Idaho, and Mrs. W.H. Roether of Schuyler.
The names of those who served from the Clarkson area and survived the War were recorded in the November 3, 1921 issue of the Colfax County Press:
Jos. M. Makovsky, secretary of the Clarkson American Legion, Vitek Post, is in receipt of honorary certificates from the State Executive Department for all ex-servicemen who gave Clarkson as their home address while serving in the Army during the recent conflict.
All ex-servicemen included in the below published list are requested to apply for them at the Armistice day services at Clarkson Nov. 11, at which time the memorable documents will be officially handed out to them.
The Honor Roll referred to above contains the following names:
Albert O’Brien, Joseph B. Makovsky, Alois F. Tomes, Jos. F. Seda, Adolf W. Tomes, Frank Kozisek, Lester Scovill, Robert H. Noh, Frank Zelenda, Oscar W. Hahn, Emil Lukl, Henry M. Menke, William Severa, Frank Bourek, Frank R. Vanicek, George Humlicek, Paul J. Havel, Charles J. Vanicek, Charles J. Novotny, William A. Karel, Jos. Hejtmanek, John E. Knapp, Fred Teply, Anton J. Podany, Jerry Mundil, Edward Cada, Adolf A. Jonas, Adolf J. Faimon, Frank A. Podany, Jerry J. Lukl, William Budin, Emil J. Novotny, Richard Karel, Stanley Kubik, Frank J. Janousek, Frank Hamernik, Emil Hladky, Jos. Lapour, John C. Mastny, Jos. Kudera, Louis V. Hanel, Jerry M. Molacek, Jos. E. Stanek, John G. Fuhr, George Homola, William E. Podany, Henry Janda, James Zoubek, James Podany, Ludvik Novotny, Edward E. Hanel, Emil Ahrens, Bohumil Krofta, Anton J. Swoboda, Ladislav Horak, Frank Polacek, Emil J. Konicek, Jerry Kadlec, Jay E. Arnold, Louis E. Warner, Leonard F. Noh, Henry J. Dworak, Cyril Chrastek, Charles Lukl, Charles H. Glasner, Albin Vraspir, George A. Reiter, J.W. Knipping, Percy Butterfield, William Rozmarin, Jos. Mundil, Jr., Edward Vitek, Charles Gross, Albert Walla, G.B. Fayman.
Portraits of some of these young servicemen are below:
William A. Karel (trombone) and Leonard F. Noh (saxophone)
These 75 names do not include the 6 Clarkson men who gave their lives in the Great War. More about them in a future post.