President Woodrow Wilson called on Congress to declare war against Germany on April 2, 1917, and less than a month later, a young man named Glenn H. Campbell of St. Clair became one of the first in Blue Earth County to volunteer to serve.
Ten months later, he would be the first serviceman from the county to be killed in World War I. Tuesday marks the 100th anniversary of his death.
County Veteran Service Officer Michael McLaughlin happened upon the anniversary recently.
"We have old books and records here, and I was going through this book and just ran across it," McLaughlin said.
The book, "The Story of Blue Earth County’s Part in the Great Struggle for Democracy,” published by The Free Press in 1920, tells Campbell's story.
On the day after enlisting, Campbell was sent to Jefferson Barracks. He served with the Fourth company of the Artillery corps until July 26, when he was transferred to his final post with the Ammunition Train. He boarded the transport Antilles on Aug. 7 from New York to France and was one of the earliest American troops to land on European shores.
After spending time in winter quarters from November to January, Campbell was stationed at Sanzey for the first few months of 1918. To get to the front, which was just a short distance away, the ammunition train passed through a bend in the road known as “Dead Man’s Curve” because of the fact that several men had been killed there.
On Feb. 27, Campbell, an assistant truck driver on a machine driven by a young man named Sullivan, was proceeding to the front when, just as the truck was rounding the curve, a shrapnel shell struck the roadside and exploded. Part of the shell tore away the radiator of the truck, striking Campbell in the side and passing through his body.
He was taken to an advance hospital in a cellar, where he died a short time later.
Campbell was buried in grave No. 184 in a special American military cemetery in Menderes, France.
According to the book: "All who were with Campbell through the fall and winter of 1917 spoke of the young man in the highest terms. His death was mourned as that of a close friend by every man in the company and in the truck train of which he was a member. Cool, unassuming, and a tireless worker in the army, his service and sacrifice are symbolic of the highest type of Americanism brought forth in WWI."
He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. H. A. Campbell, who lived in St. Clair at the time of their son's enlistment but soon moved to 514 Pleasant St. in Mankato.
McLaughlin said the book lists about 1,300 men from Blue Earth County who served in World War I and more than 40 who were killed. But because the book was printed soon after the war's end, other soldiers who had served and others killed in the war were not included because not all the records had been compiled.
McLaughlin said World War I was a turning point in military history for its technology and the new problems it inflicted on troops.
"That was really the first conventionalizing of war with modern technology. They used technological resources for mass destruction. You went from muskets and break-action rifles to both sides being able to put down hundreds of rounds a minute (with machine guns)."
The war also produced a new term — "shell shocked" — for the condition of many returning soldiers who had often spent long times in trenches being bombarded.
"The other thing is how post-traumatic stress evolved, starting with shell shock then and how it's recognized in modern medicine today. A lot of initial research into it came from those guys who came back from the trenches and the gas and everything they had to deal with."