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Citizens as Soldiers


As World War I raged in Europe, President Woodrow Wilson called for mobilization of the National Guard. The western states were the first to be affected. On this date in 1917, Colonel J.H. Fraine, commander of the First North Dakota, made an announcement. The North Dakota National Guard would report for national service on July 15. Palo Alto, California was the likely location for training. Some Army officials were skeptical of the citizen soldiers. They predicted disaster. They said the North Dakotans were inferior troops – the National Guard would not be able to stand up to a trained enemy. But the North Dakota Guard had served on the Mexican border the year before. Army Colonel Henry B. Parker was impressed with them. He reported that “these troops are fit to take the field.”

The ranks of the North Dakota Guard were not full. Many members did not reenlist after returning from Texas. Company A had 91 officers and men in July, 1916. By March, 1917, there were only 37 officers and men. Recruits were badly needed. The Grand Forks Herald issued a plea for volunteers. The article reminded readers of the draft. Men subject to the draft were urged to volunteer while they still had the chance.

The First North Dakota Regiment was renamed Company E of the 164thInfantry. The Second North Dakota was disbanded.

Due to a lack of equipment, the switch to the regular army did not go smoothly. Captain Clarence N. Barker said his men were in an assortment of uniforms “that would make a rag peddler sit up and take notice.” When the North Dakotans arrived in California, they were in for a shock. Their barracks was an abandoned railroad station with no bathroom facilities, and they were mired in mud from heavy rain. The officers demanded better treatment, and soon the unit moved to new facilities.

Despite the troublesome start, the 164thwent on to serve honorably in Cantigny, Sossions, St. Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonnes offensive.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

Grand Forks Herald, July 10, 1917

Cooper, Jerry with Glenn Smith. Citizens as Soldiers: A History of the North Dakota National Guard. Fargo: The North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State University: 1986.

National Guard North Dakota.