State preserves WWI soldier’s letters home to mom

Apr 6, 2017
Originally published on April 6, 2017 9:53 am

100 years ago this week, the United States officially entered what was then called "The Great War." We know it today as World War I.

That rallying call "Over There," written by George M. Cohan, was heard around the country, and certainly here in Michigan. Roughly 150,000 Michiganders served in the war.

Among them was Freeman McClintock of St. Johns. His letters, written to his mother, give us a picture of life in the Army during World War I. 

Mark Harvey from the  Michigan History Center and McClintock's daughter Mary Jane McClintock Wilson joined the show to tell the story of the Great War and its connection to the state of Michigan.

"[Freeman McClintock] was born with the automobile and he always tinkered with motors and cars as they grew and he went out west and worked with a Ford agency in Modesto, California," Wilson said. "He learned more about selling out there and then he came back to Lansing. So he knew a lot about the automobile and how it worked."

This is why he ended up volunteering to work in the Motor Transport Corps in the Army. There, he worked on a lot of vehicles, including ambulance motors made by Ford. Eventually, he worked his way up and began working on vehicles for Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, and Teddy Roosevelt.

Harvey said Michiganders had a very similar reaction to The Great War as the rest of the country.

"This is a time when the U.S. would re-elect Woodrow Wilson in 1916 under the slogan, 'He kept us out of war,'" Harvey said. "It's a time when the progressive movement is still in effect. You have people fighting for suffrage, you have people concerned with a lot of domestic issues, caring for the poor and mentally ill. Ford Motor Company is led by Henry Ford, who is a pacifist, but at the same time, is working on mass production with the assembly line and is trying to get military contracts. And then also, you had several hundred people from Michigan go to Canada in 1914 to enlist and fight (in Europe)."

Listen to the full interview above.

This segment is produced in partnership with the Michigan History Center

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