Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hell, No, I Won't Go!

When first made World War I draft registration cards available, I immediately began to search for evidence about relatives. Only one in my grandfather's family (total of ten siblings) actually served during the war. Most of his brothers were too young to be required to register... but, what of the eldest brother, and especially of my grandfather--the second eldest?

On May 18, 1917, the Selective Service Act authorized the President to temporarily increase the U.S. military. Under the office of the Provost Marshal General, the Selective Service System was established to draft men into military service. Local boards were created for each county or similar state subdivision, and for each 30,000 people in cities and counties with a population greater than 30,000. [1]

During World War I there were three draft registrations:

June 5, 1917 - all men between the ages of 21 and 31 residing in the U.S. - whether native born, naturalized, or alien

June 5, 1918 - men who reached age 21 after June 5, 1917. (A supplemental registration, included in the second registration, was held on August 24, 1918, for men who turned 21 years old after June 5, 1918.)

September 12, 1918 - all men between age 18 and 45.

Not surprisingly, I found Grampa's card; he registered promptly during the first go-around, on June 5th:

Name: Ernest JohnsonCity: Not Stated
County: Clearwater
State: Minnesota
Birthplace: Minnesota;United States of America
Birth Date: 23 Jan 1889
Race: Caucasian (White)
Roll: 1675389

His occupation is listed as "farmer."

In response to the question: "Have you a father, mother, wife, child under 12, or a sister or brother under 12 solely dependent upon you for support," he answered "wife."

I was unprepared, however, for his response to the question: "Do you claim exemption from draft (specify reason)." His answer was: "Yes, don't want to go to Europe," and below it, he signed his name.

I had to laugh at the blatant honesty of that answer, and I'm sure Grampa did not mean it quite the way it sounds, but...

Don't want to go to Europe?!

I can't imagine how many other young blokes would have liked that phrase to stick on their behalf.

Grampa turned out to be one of the lucky ones, but the government's decision to not draft him was based on several things: 1) his dependent wife, 2) the fact that he farmed alone, and 3) the need to keep enough farmers producing food on the home turf for U.S. citizens and troops abroad, and, 4) not just because he felt a responsibility to his wife and farm. As a newlywed, married just months before draft registration, he obviously felt a great deal of pressure to make his farm into a successful venture that could support a family. If Grampa had been drafted, the farm would probably have been sold and my grandmother would have returned to live with her parents. Happily, that did not have to happen.

(Love you, Grampa--always will; I miss your crinkly smile.)

Ernest Johnson, Salem, Oregon, about 1965.

[1] Kimberly Powell at genealogy

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