Peace at Last
Events in Europe made clear during the fall of 1918 that the Allies would win the war. The questions became how and when. Negotiations finally produced the Armistice that took effect Nov. 11, 1918. In the following months, spontaneous and planned events throughout the state celebrated the victory and honored the sacrifices of those who served. The Oregon Legislature responded by passing a bill calling for a commission to welcome the returning Oregon veterans as they arrived in New York City.
Oregon Celebrates the Victory
After a year and a half of austerity, hard work, and worry on the home front, Oregonians could feel the pressure rise in anticipation of victory as they followed news reports of the war and negotiations. In some cases, they jumped the gun, as in Klamath Falls where rumors circulated about a truce and enthusiasm grew to a fever pitch:
As November 11 was just beginning in Portland, the Oregonian newspaper published a midnight edition heralding the news of the peace. Skeptics, remembering the false reports of a few days earlier, demanded to know if it was official. Once reassured, the news spread "like wildfire." People started trickling into the streets before dawn. By noon the crowds had coalesced into dense masses. Governor Withycombe declared the day a state holiday. Workers left their factories and offices to join in the celebration. Department stores closed in recognition that "bigger things than business were afoot."
People grabbed anything that would make noise to add to the din as cow bells, tin cans and pans, whistles, buckets, sirens, saw blades, and 5-cent horns were drafted into service for impromptu bands. One woman was seen holding up an alarm clock and repeatedly turning the alarm key to do her part for the noise. Traffic reached a standstill in many places as police worked in vain to keep up. Cars and trucks, overloaded with human cargo, crawled along as the passengers yelled and waved flags.
Oregonians released pent up hatred of German Kaiser Wilhelm with a vengeance during the spontaneous parades through the streets of Portland. Several effigies of the Kaiser paraded through the throngs of celebrants. One was dangling at the end of swaying rope. Coffins carried other effigies that bore epitaphs such as:
Other Oregon cities carried on the theme. In Salem the Kaiser's effigy was hanged, dragged behind cars, and made the target of a "fast-firing gun" that left bits of the Kaiser "strewn about the streets." From the state capitol, the governor said "...American arms and American virile manhood have been potent factors in this great victory." In Marshfield, those who stopped dancing in the streets were "brushed aside." The police chief considered stepping in after seeing "numerous bottles of stimulants waving promiscuously in the patriotic air." Discretion prevailed as he "beat a hasty retreat when he saw that he might have to arrest the majority of the citizenship." Albany held a "monster parade" in which, true to form, the "Kaiser was shot, hanged, burned at the stake and dealt justice otherwise in the various floats." Umatilla County residents celebrated with an "auto cavalcade" of over 100 cars decorated with flags and colors and carrying bells and horns for noise. Parades, bands, and bonfires carried on "to a late hour."
As the joyous "living riot of people" finally ran out of energy in the wee hours of the night, Oregonians wandered back to their homes to fall into their beds in exhaustion. Officials planned more organized and formal parades and events in the following days and weeks but nothing would match the sheer energy and emotional release of the frenetic celebrations of November 11.
A Welcome Face
Responding to public sentiment to "get the boys home," the War Department quickly began to demobilize the American armed forces after hostilities ended. The Oregon Legislature recognized the ragged nature of the process and passed a bill to create the "Oregon overseas welcome commission for returning soldiers, sailors, and marines." in early 1919. The goal of the commission was to welcome and "look after" Oregon men as they arrived in New York City.
By early March the work was in full swing as one supporter noted how the "Oregon boys" were welcomed by the committee: "Why, just last night bunch after bunch of them came in here and were tickled to death just to sit and chat with us." The volunteers made up for a lack of money with enthusiasm and long hours: "Peggy Curtis was here until late last night, after working nearly all day, and is this morning down on the docks, checking on incoming small or individual units of men, among whom may be some from Oregon."
The chairman of the commission, O.C. Leiter, gave a glowing assessment of the services in a letter to Governor Olcott in late March: "The boys are drifting in now 25 and 30 a day, and we are doing all we can to cheer them up and make them realize that the people of Oregon are still with them and back of them." Moreover, he reported female volunteers were calling on wounded Oregon men in hospitals. The commission also helped Oregon servicemen get their military discharges or even advanced men money if they were out of funds. After opening a "modest headquarters," Leiter claimed:
(Oregon State Defense Council Records, State Historian's Correspondence, Box 1, Folder 38; Oregonian, November 12, 1918, pages 1, 8; Oregon Journal, November 11, 1918, page 1; Oregonian, March 9, 1919, page 16, March 21, 1919, page 16; Oregon Laws, 1919, Ch. 177)
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