Gifts Given To Soldiers
An outpouring of patriotism and good will accompanied North Dakota’s soldiers as they left on trains to fight in World War One. In communities across the state, townspeople gave banquets, speeches, band concerts, and farewell receptions for their departing soldiers. Flags, flowers, songs and oratory showed each draftee that he had the support and encouragement of the people.
It was on this date in 1918, that the Grand Forks Herald revealed how the people of Rolla showed their loyalty to their local soldier-boys. The newspaper reported that about 500 people gathered at the Great Northern Railway station “to give the nine drafted men . . . a rousing send-off.” Before the train arrived, the teachers and students at the Rolla School formed lines and marched to the depot, waving flags and bearing goodwill in a “lively and patriotic procession.” At the depot, a local judge gave an eloquent speech, and each of the nine draftees received a wristwatch as a token of gratitude.
Similar ceremonies were common across the state during World War I, and some towns had given greater farewell gifts than wristwatches. In July of 1917, during a patriotic gathering in Cavalier, the townsfolk gave 26 young draftees ten dollar gold pieces as symbols of appreciation.
In the town of Fingal, in September, the people paid tribute at a assembly, with rousing tunes from the marching band, several songs by a ladies quartet, and stirring speeches. Fingal, like Cavalier, presented a ten-dollar gold coin to each of the 17 men called by the draft, in homage to their service and sacrifice.
In Inkster, on September 22, all of the local draftees were “highly honored” at a “patriotic meeting” held in their honor at the Inkster Opera House. Each departing soldier got a gold coin to take with him or to leave at home with his family.
As more and more men were conscripted and sent away to war, citizens in Forman, Willow City, Pembina, and elsewhere continued send-off ceremonies, but townspeople, wearied by the sheer numbers of draftees, no longer gave gold coin gifts. Instead, the men got cakes and cookies; and marching-bands still played amidst inspirational words, but there were no more wristwatches or coins.
Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.
Sources: “Rolla People Present Departing Soldiers With Wrist Watches,” Grand Forks Herald, May 1, 1918, p. 6.
“A Patriotic Meeting Was Held In Cavalier,” Pioneer-Express [Pembina], July 27, 1917, p. 8.
“Fingal Shows Loyalty for Departing Soldiers,” Weekly Times-Record [Valley City], September 6, 1917, p. 1.
“Inkster Has Celebration,” Grand Forks Herald, September 23, 1917, p. 3.
“Pembina To Entertain The Conscript Soldiers,” Grand Forks Herald, September 21, 1917, p. 3.
“Sargent County Residents Honor Departing Heroes , Grand Forks Herald, April 2, 1918, p. 3.
“Willow City Honors Departing Soldiers,” Grand Forks Herald, March 30, 1918, p. 3.
“76 Soldiers From Walsh County,” Grand Forks Herald, March 30, 1918, p. 3.