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WORLD WAR I. Texans were interested in the events of World War I from the beginning of the conflict in Europe in August 1914, and with the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915, a resolution was introduced into the Texas Senate asking that diplomatic relations between the United States and Germany be severed. Texans were further provoked by Germany's continuing attempts to stir up trouble on the Mexican border. The German motive was to involve Mexico in a war with the United States so that America would be diverted from her possible support of the Allies. Toward that end Germany encouraged the internal turmoil associated with President Venustiano Carranza, Gen. Victoriano Huerta, and Pancho (Francisco) Villa, all of whom were watched closely by the United States. Villa's raid on Columbus, New Mexico, in March 1916 brought on the punitive expedition of Gen. John J. Pershing and the call-up of the Texas National Guard. President Wilson was opposed to American intervention in the war until Germany sent what became known as the Zimmermann Letter, a secret telegram transmitted in code to the German ambassador in Washington for transmittal to the president of Mexico. It promised Mexico that if she would join Germany and encourage Japan to join the Central Powers, Germany would assist Mexico to regain her lost territories in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico by conquest. The Texas media reflected the outrage of the citizens. The San Antonio Light suggested that if a German-Mexican army overran Texas, Texans would fight to the death. The El Paso Times grew indignant at the very thought of Prussian militarism. Other papers across the country reacted in a similar fashion. The threats against the United States contained in the Zimmermann Telegram were enough for Wilson to ask the Congress to declare war against Germany on April 2, 1917. Congress officially declared war four days later.

Texans took an active part in the preparedness program in 1916 and in 1917 approved the declaration of war. The buildup of United States forces on the Mexican border in 1916 helped prepare the armed forces for entry into the war. Texas National Guard officers gained valuable experience commanding, supplying, and maneuvering large units. There was little opposition in the state to the draft, for which 989,600 men registered. Through the draft and voluntary enlistments a total of 198,000 Texans saw service in the armed forces during the course of the war (see THIRTY-SIXTH INFANTRY DIVISION, and NINETIETH DIVISION). In addition, 450 Texas women served as nurses. One nurse and 5,170 Texans died in the armed services; 4,748 of the dead served in the army. More than a third of the total deaths occurred inside the United States, many of them as a result of the influenza epidemic of 1918. Four Texans were awarded the Medal of Honor. Military camps established to train men for service were Camp MacArthur at Waco, Camp Logan at Houston, Camp Travis at San Antonio, and Camp Bowie at Fort Worth. An officers' training school, the Leon Springs Military Reservation, was established at Leon Springs. By mid-1917, the Aviation Section of the U.S. Army Signal Corps began constructing twenty-eight new training fields and schools for aviators and ground support personnel.  The nine fields built in Texas included Barron Field near Everman, Brooks Field in San Antonio (later Brooks Air Force Base), Taliaferro Field in Wichita Falls (later Hicks Field), Call Field in Wichita Falls, Carruthers Field in Benbrook (later Benbrook Field), Ellington Field in Houston (later Ellington Air Force Base), Kelly Field in San Antonio (later Kelly Air Force Base), Love Field in Dallas, and Rich Field in Waco. The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) Canada utilized three training fields located near Fort Worth to train during the winter.  Between November 1917 and April 1918, the RFC Canada also trained pilots and support personnel for the U.S. Army Air Service.  Ultimately, the RFC Canada trained ten squadrons for the U.S. Army Air Service that served in Europe between December 1917 and March 1918.  The Aviation Section (renamed U.S. Army Air Service) established eight ground training schools throughout the state, including one at the University of Texas at Austin.  Following ground training the aviation cadets travelled to the Camp John Dick Aviation Concentration Camp, built on the Texas State Fairgrounds in Dallas, until receving an assignment to one of the aviation training fields.

The Texas State Council of Defense was established to cooperate with the National Council of Defense. Some restrictions were placed on the customary freedoms of speech and press. Each public school was required to be equipped with a suitable flag and to spend at least ten minutes a day in teaching intelligent patriotism. "Give Till It Hurts," "Do Your Bit," "Buy More Bonds," and other slogans found a place in the popular mind. Texans bought Liberty and Victory Bonds and War Savings Stamps and contributed to the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and other wartime organizations. They also cooperated in the food-conservation program known as "Hooverizing," which included wheatless Mondays and Wednesdays, meatless Tuesdays, and porkless Thursdays and Saturdays; fat and sugar were to be conserved every day. War gardens were planted, and Texas farmers devoted new space to food crops. War industries established in the state benefited temporarily. The war ended on November 11, 1918.


Committee on Veterans' Affairs, United States Senate, Medal of Honor Recipients, 1863–1973 (Washington: GPO, 1973). F. N. Samponaro and P. L. Vanderwood, War Scare on the Rio Grande (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1992). Barbara W. Tuchmann, The Zimmermann Telegram (New York: Delta, 1958). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Ralph W. Steen

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Ralph W. Steen, "WORLD WAR I," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed December 01, 2015. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on November 3, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.