The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In.
When World War I broke out, Fullerton resident Fred Strauss and his friend Nels Nelson decided to enlist. He recalls the experience, “We went there to Los Angeles and had a lot of beer. Finally, after we had had enough beer and we got to feeling pretty good, I said to my pal, ‘Let’s go and enlist and join the Army.’ And he said, ‘Okay, we’ll go.” So they enlisted.
Fullerton resident Archer W. Kammerer was in the National Guard during World War I. When asked why he chose to join the National Guard, Kammerer said, “The company I enlisted in had a pretty good baseball team, and I liked to play baseball. The kids were pretty enthusiastic about it. I think that was the reason I enlisted.”
Strauss enlisted because he was drunk. Kammerer enlisted because he liked baseball. I think the deeper reason was because they were bored, and the War offered a welcome contrast to their boring, hum-drum lives. Strauss recalls, “There was nothing to do in Fullerton. We had a few moving picture shows...Or you could sit across the street from where our store was, at the ice-cream parlor. We could sit there for a ten-cent soda for about two hours and talk to one another. There was nothing else to be done.”
I don’t think these men were unique in their reasons for enlisting. America at that time was pretty rural, and the War Propaganda promised adventure, as it still does today. Of course, the reality of warfare turned out to be less than glamorous. Over 115,000 American boys lost their lives in that war.
In the National Guard, Kammerer admitted that he didn’t really know what he was supposed to be doing or why he was doing it: “We tramped around in the hills and didn’t know what anyone else was doing. I don’t think we cared very much...Down on the border, there was nothing really for us to do except wish we were not there...I don’t know for sure but in a war maybe the best thing is not to know too much about it.”
Strauss had similarly Kafkaesque moments in his War experiences. He recalls, “We were stationed in San Diego, at Camp Kearney. We used to march on the parade grounds every day and sing, ‘I’m a Christian soldier, marching to the war.’” This is funny because Strauss was Jewish. That’s a pretty weird thing to require soldiers to sing, especially in a country founded on religious liberty.
War is weird. I get a little disturbed when I see these Army recruitment ads on TV and before movies, especially knowing that my tax dollars helped pay for them.
Here's a parody someone made of this ad. I like this a little better: