Longing for Home
By this date in 1919, World War I had ended. The armistice was signed the previous year, and it was time to move on. Americans were anxious to get on with their lives.
But some who had difficulty moving on. Returning veterans often felt lost. They had left for the war with a sense of adventure and excitement. They were going to make the world “safe for democracy.” They returned tired, having seen horrors they could never have imagined. Adjusting to their old lives often proved difficult.
The government had taken steps to ease things for the veterans. The 1917 War Risk Insurance Act provided life insurance and provisions for rehabilitation for disabilities. The 1918 Vocational Rehabilitation Act provided an allowance for veterans who were unable to work, not just money to live on, but training as preparation for new jobs matching their abilities.
Veterans faced many challenges. Some cities passed ordinances requiring veterans with severe facial wounds to wear hoods or masks so they wouldn’t frighten women and children. Many veterans suffered from shellshock, a condition we today recognize as PTSD. One veteran tried to go to school but said he couldn’t study because “there are always planes flying in my head.” Over 300,000 veterans returned with some form of physical or mental disability.
Finding a job was perhaps the biggest overall challenge. Many came home to find someone had taken the job they left behind. Employers were reluctant to hire veterans. They didn’t want to take a chance that a veteran would have a breakdown on the job. The employment issue also confronted women who served. Many were not anxious to return to the role of housewife.
An article in the Pioneer Express of Pembina addressed a government proposal to settle veterans on the open land of the Great Plains. The article pointed out that men who had spent their lives in cities would be understandably reluctant to relocate to the Plains, and they would often lack the necessary skills to survive as farmers and ranchers. The truth was borne out by the experience of ranchers in the Northwest looking for hired help. Only a handful of returning veterans applied.
For some soldiers it would take many years to recover. And many others never did.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Pioneer Express. “This is the Life.” 25 April 1919. Pembina ND. Page 1,
Prezi. “Issues of Returning Soldiers.” https://prezi.com/bdtu1i525rmj/issues-of-returning-soldiers-from-ww1/ Accessed 3/25/2019.