When war broke out in Europe in 1914, many Americans were reluctant to become involved. However, by April 1917, the United States declared war on Germany, allying itself with Britain and France in war against Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Turkey. On May 18, 1917, the U.S. Congress passed the Selective Service Act, mandating that the United States raise an army through a military draft. 

Missouri Gov. Fredrick Gardner declared June 5, 1917, to be Registration Day. He requested that all factories and businesses close to allow all men between ages 21 and 31 to go to their county seats to register for the draft. The courthouse was crowded as men flocked to register; a total of 3,010 registered. The men then went to the courthouse lawn where the Red Cross was distributing armbands made of olive-drab colored cloth for those who registered.

During the afternoon, the day became a celebration. At the Sedalia Infantry Company headquarters on Ohio Street, Kroenke’s Band played patriotic music. Attorneys and veterans spoke of patriotism, duty to one’s country, and the glories of war. The people gathered downtown cheered the registrants, listened to speeches, and were inspired by the music for over two hours.

June 8, 1917, marked another war celebration as Navy Day, designed to increase enlistment in the U. S. Navy, was marked by a 14-block long parade of 650 people and decorated cars and trucks marched through downtown. Speeches and songs echoed from the courthouse lawn.

Labor Day of 1917 featured another patriotic parade. Labor union members, bands, floats, and automobiles marched down Ohio Street and Third Street to Liberty Park, where once again patriotic songs and speeches roused patriotic sentiment.

When the first Pettis County men left for basic training, a more somber celebration occurred. The draftees, their families, friends, and interested citizens gather at the Courthouse and listened as Judge H.B. Shain lauded the draftees for their willingness to serve. The crowd cheered while family members pondered the possibility that their men might not return. 

While troops were fighting in Europe, the Democrat covered the war in detail and Pettis Countians rallied to the war effort. The local press detailed the activity at the front, printed letters from service men, urged people to buy bonds, and published negative comments about the enemy. Residents bought war bonds and supported the Red Cross. Women’s groups met troop trains with donuts and coffee and gifts for the men. 

When the war ended at 11 o’clock on Nov. 11, 1918, the Sedalia Democrat announced “Peace!” The end of the war celebration in Sedalia began at daybreak when word of the Armistice reached the United States. People crowded into the downtown area. Stores and businesses closed. Factory whistles blew, church bells rang, and people cheered, resulting in what the Democrat said was a “roar that filled the air and reverberated from street to street.”  The crowds created “the greatest and most monstrous parade and celebration” Sedalia had ever seen. 

People decorated their automobiles with bunting and flags. Folks piled into the cars, honking the horns, beating on pans and drums, and shouting as they marched from Broadway north down Ohio Avenue.

Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society. 

Contributing Columnist

Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society. 

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