By Pam Stranahan
Chair, Aransas County Historical Commission
This year, 2018, marks the centennial for the end of the Great War (1914-1918). World War I (WWI) was known as “the war that will end all war.” President Woodrow Wilson had hopes that would be true. The armistice came on Nov. 11 at eleven o’clock in 1918.
While other conflicts have gotten more notice, we live in an America shaped by WWI. Today Americans support global relief efforts, protect free speech, assist veterans with PTSD, and honor heroes for their efforts. These actions are an outgrowth of WWI. Other little known facts: daylight savings time was instituted to save energy costs during WWI and the Aggie War Hymn was written by a soldier in a trench in France.
More than 200,000 Texans served and more than 5,000 died. San Antonio and Fort Worth became important centers of aviation, which established the new U.S. Army Air Service (later the Air Force).
In 1916 Camp Scurry was established near Corpus Christi for more than 3,000 troops. Other training sites were Fort McIntosh in Laredo and Fort Brown in Brownsville. At Camp John Wise, near San Antonio, the Army Balloon Corps trained aviators and support staff. Balloon observers could spot an individual from five miles away, a vehicle within 10 miles and a train as far away as 30 miles.
In 1918 an outbreak of Spanish influenza weakened personnel around San Antonio. Within two weeks 1,100 soldiers were admitted to that base’s hospital. The pandemic lasted just 15 months, but was the deadliest disease outbreak in human history, killing an estimated 100 million people worldwide.
The U.S. declared war on Germany after the Zimmerman letter was released in which Germany promised Mexico the return of lost territories – Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California – if Mexico would support the German war effort.
In Aransas County the “war effort” was active. Fred Bracht signed up – one of 40 men from Aransas County who volunteered. Forty-seven were drafted.
Fred and Oliver Brundrett were surprised at being drafted after delivering horses to the army in San Antonio. Marvin Davis was a local doughboy. Travis Bailey flew his Curtiss “Jenny” airplane to Rockport on the weekend of Sept. 28, 1918 where he was recognized as the “first Rockport boy to visit us in an aero plane.” Archie Arthur McLester posed in front of his tent at Camp Wilson in San Antonio.
Fred and Carl Heldenfels of Beeville decided they could build ships but needed water access. Rockport donated 13 acres. The government contracted for four wooden ships. At the peak of construction, more than 900 men worked at Heldenfels Shipyard.
With the Armistice (Nov. 11, 1918), the ships were no longer needed, but Emergency Fleet Corporation agreed for two ships to be completed. The Baychester was launched on July 31, 1919 and the Zuniga on Sept. 9, 1919.
Veterans who returned from WWI organized legion posts. Frank Buckles was the last American WWI veteran. He died in 2011.
WWI symposium set April 7
A symposium to commemorate WWI will be held April 7 at the Fulton Mansion Education Center. It is sponsored by the South Texas Historical Association (STHA) and hosted by local history groups.
Contact Carroll Brincefield at firstname.lastname@example.org or 361-798-4280 for reservations.