Crookston has always been a patriotic town. That patriotism came to full fruition in the years following the signing of the Armistice to end World War I on November 11, 1918.
The world called the First World War “the war to end all wars” because the involvement of so many nations and the loss of so many lives was believed to be enough to make another war of this scope unthinkable. People believed that attitudes about war and forms of government had surely changed. Thus, a celebratory atmosphere and feelings of relief accompanied the Armistice.
In Crookston, the National Guard Armory on North Broadway, built in 1915, became the site of major Armistice celebrations for years to come. In the early days of the 20th century, Crookston was a major city in Northwest Minnesota, and the population was about the same as it is now. What was different was the interest in gathering as a community for large events.
An astonishing fifteen hundred to two thousand people would cram the Armory for four nights running to celebrate the Armistice. Imagine how community leaders would feel about a celebration of this size in today’s Crookston!
Two thousand men from Polk County had served in the United States military in the First World War, and one hundred of those had paid the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our freedoms. Women had served in non-combat roles as well.
Armistice Day celebrations were held to celebrate peace. And celebrations they were!
When Company I, Third Minnesota National Guard came home from France on January 24, 1919, having been trained but not called to the front lines, a huge gathering turned out at the Armory to welcome them home. The facility was bedecked in flags and the nation’s colors, and at least one hundred uniformed men attended a dance and program in their honor.
In the years following World War I, the Nels T. Wold Post of the American Legion put on extravagant “carnivals” at the Armory which lasted three to four days. There were merchandise booths, car give-aways, nightly dances with live orchestras, and even Keno and roulette wheels.
The “Crookston Times” on November 10, 1930 stated that, “Whoopee will be the watchword in the evening, as the American Legion carnival in the Armory will again become the center of attraction.” In the evening, T.W. Thorson led the men’s chorus and the Ninth District Legion Band in a concert, likely featuring his favorite Sousa marches. Also on the program were song and dance numbers by local talent, vaudeville acts, and dancing to live music.
This is not to say that there were not more somber programs going on during the daytime during the same three to four days. Programs would feature patriotic songs and speakers, readings such as “In Flanders Field’, roll calls of the deceased, and the playing of “Taps”. Business and schools were closed. Two moments of silence would be observed at 11 a.m. on November 11, to commemorate the signing of the Armistice.
During these years, the Northwest School of Agriculture provided many special Armistice Days programs, always ending in the placing of a wreath on the large granite memorial near the school’s entrance. This monument now honors veterans of all foreign wars.
Hopes for peace were dashed when World War II broke out in Europe, later involving America. Again, Polk County men answered the call to serve. Eighty-three men from Polk County died in World War II, and a total of approximately 6,000 Minnesotans died.
One interesting fact I discovered while researching this topic was that Crookston Municipal Airport had a glider training school in 1942. Private contractors under contract to the United States Army Air Force taught the young men to fly and service CG-4A gliders in the field. This glider was a simple affair, consisting of a shell equipped with a radio, wheels and brakes!
It would be impossible in this article to delineate the service accomplishments of the thousands of young men who served in World War II from our area, but I will mention just two.
Bill Hovde, from the Central High School class of 1935, was Crookston’s only WWII flying ace. A graduate of West Point, he destroyed several enemy aircraft in World War II and the Korean conflict.
A CHS classmate of Hovde’s, Sherley Sampson, was killed aboard the “Arizona” in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, becoming Crookston’s first casualty in the war.
“Armistice Day” became “Veteran’s Day” in 1954, when it was clear that there would continue to be large-scale wars. Thus, the focus seems to be more somber for Veteran’s Day, and though it is celebrated on the same day as Armistice Day used to be, it now recognizes the service of all American military veterans.
On October 12, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed that November 11 would be “Veterans Day”. He said, “On that day, let us remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom. And let us consecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”
In the spirit of remembrance of our veterans’ sacrifices, on November 10, 2018, the Polk County Historical Society’s Carnegie Restoration Committee will sponsor a “salute to veterans”. The featured speaker will be World War II veteran Bernie Lieder, who served in Europe in the 102nd Division of the U.S. Army. This Division liberated multiple German labor camps.
Besides the featured speaker, the Carnegie Building at 120 North Ash Street will come alive with the music of the UMC Pop Choir and the Men’s Community Chorus, under the direction of George French. There will also be displays of military uniforms and memorabilia, including the Polk County Historical Society’s collection of World War II posters.
The World War II posters, called “weapons on the walls”, served varying purposes to aid the war effort. Many of the posters depict the necessity of ordinary people keeping silent about troop movement and other secrets which could potentially harm soldiers if known. Other posters are meant to recruit new service men and women, incite hatred for the enemy, or encourage rationing so that troops could thrive.
The public is invited to join us at the Carnegie Building on November 10 from 2:30-4:30 pm as we honor our veterans.