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National Guard Units Leave


For the units of the North Dakota National Guard, the days in camp took on the feel of a summer bivouac more than a preparation for war. Soldiers received furloughs to return home and help with farm work or just to visit families and sweethearts. Since the officers and men had known each other for years, the relaxed atmosphere created disciplinary problems. Soldiers left camp without permission. Some even got married. Although still waiting for final orders, the units had been mobilized, and America was at war. Being absent without leave could be viewed as desertion, and desertion during a time of war was an extremely serious crime. Fortunately for the local boys, penalties were rather light. In one instance, a soldier was given four days in the guardhouse and docked two days pay for each day absent.

Speculation was rampant that North Dakota’s units were to be sent to the Philippines to relieve the more experienced troops, which would then be sent to the Russian front to help train and support Russia’s army. So, when the order for deployment of the North Dakota National Guard to Camp Greene, North Carolina came on September 21, it was a bitter disappointment for many, because an East Coast camp meant deployment to the battlefields of Europe. The two North Dakota regiments had a total of 3,678 soldiers.

On this date in 1917, the last of the Guard units were on their way to North Carolina. Only two weeks prior, almost two thousand draftees had left the state for Camp Dodge, Iowa, and it was no secret that they were to be sent to Europe. In a period of three weeks, over 5,600 of North Dakota’s young men had left the state, with the probable destination of the front lines in France.

Emotions ran high. In Cavalier County, Martin Dahl was worried about his younger brother Bennie, who had been drafted and had never been away from home. Believing that his place was by his brother’s side, Martin received special permission from the governor and volunteered for the draft so he could accompany his brother to the front. They served together through basic training, but were in separate units when sent to the front lines in France. Although wounded, Bennie survived, but Martin died on August 6, 1918, at the battle of Aisne-Marne, possibly only a few miles from his younger brother whose unit also fought in that offensive.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis


Courier-Democrat, September 27, 1917

Ibid, September 5, 1918

Grand Forks Herald, August 17, 1917