”Honor the Past; Deserve the Present“

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Class of 2012


Back Row:  Sarah Gamble, Tim Krausz, Lucas Dohring

Middle Row:  Litto Damonte, Dustin Briggs, Dana Cronin,
Spencer Pearson, Violet Elder, Cori Calabi

Front Row:  Mr. Mazzi, Randy McKay, Mitchell Aiken,
Gus Conwell, Arylin Martin, Haley Raymond

The St. Helena High School World War I Research Institute began in the 2008-2009 school year as a history elective class, entitled “The American Experience in WWI.” During that school year we began to receive donations and loans of primary source materials (letters, diaries, photographs, scrap books, and manuscript recollections, for example) and WWI artifacts (uniforms, helmets, military equipment, and personal effects, for example), which provided those students, and which continue to provide new and re-enrolling students each year, a unique opportunity to conduct original research. We created a website to share our research with others studying the American experience in WWI, and the St. Helena High School WWI Research Institute was born.

Poster, Liberty Loan Campaign, Boy Scouts, US Army Ctr of Mil Hist

[Image Courtesy of U. S. Army
Center of Military History]

Visitors to our website will find a continuously growing number of topic summaries and, based largely on our own collection of donated research materials, a continuously growing bank of eye-witness accounts and biographies of American men and women who served in World War I. These eye-witness accounts were written, for example, in the training camps, on board troop ships bound for Europe, in the trenches under fire, and on return voyages following the Armistice ending the war. Both the eye-witness accounts and the biographies provide new and never before published information on the American experience in WWI.

Finally, we note that ninety-five years after the end of WWI there is still no memorial in Washington, D.C., to the 4.7 million Americans who served (and the 116,000 Americans who gave their lives) in that war. The St. Helena High School WWI Research Institute is dedicated not only to raising public awareness about this “forgotten war,” but public awareness about a “forgotten memorial.”


Following the U. S. declaration of war in April 1917, the already famous American musician, composer, and band leader John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) played a significant role in rallying American support for the war effort. He is known as America's “March King,” but his wartime sense of patriotism and duty, blended with his musical genius, made Sousa one of the Home Front's most important defenders of democracy.

John Philip Sousa and the Great War

John Philp Sousa, c1917

[Photograph Courtesy of Library of Congress]

Following the U. S. declaration of war in 1917 the American composer John Alden Carpenter sent a telegram to his friend John Philip Sousa, America's foremost bandmaster and march composer, inquiring whether he might be willing to help develop the Navy band program at the Naval Training Center in Great Lakes, Illinois, about forty miles north of Chicago. In an illustrious musical career that began when, at thirteen years of age, he joined the Marine Corps Band, Sousa was, by the time of the Great War, famous around the world. Sousa was sixty-two years of age in 1917, and had composed an unprecedented number of immensely popular marches, for example, "The Gladiator" (1886), "Semper Fidelis" (1888), "The Washington Post" (1889), "The Liberty Bell" (1893), and "Stars and Stripes Forever" (1896). Sousa's resume included twelve years as the Marine Corps bandmaster, and, over the years, leadership of several other bands, for example "The President's Own" for Presidents Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, and Benjamin Harrison, and the Sousa Band, formed in 1892, which was actively performing when the United States went to war in 1917.

In response to the Navy's need for musical assistance, Sousa traveled to the Great Lakes Naval Station to meet with Captain William Moffett, the base commandant, to discuss a unique United States Navy job description. Moffett offered Sousa a commission as lieutenant in the Navy Reserve, serving as the Great Lakes Naval Station Director of Music. "I won't fail you," Sousa assured Moffett. "I'll join. I'm past sixty-two, but you'll find me a healthy fellow."1 The Navy commission greatly pleased Sousa, as he had regretted not having received a Marine Corps officer's commission in the years he had served as the Marine Corps bandmaster.2

Sousa in Navy uniform, 1917

[Photograph Courtesy of Library of Congress]

Lt. Sousa essentially volunteered his services, donating all but one dollar of his annual salary to the Sailors' and Marines' Relief Fund.3 Though he was permitted to fulfill his previously booked responsibilities as conductor of his own Sousa Band, he spent most of his time fulfilling his Navy responsibilities, organizing some 1,500 musicians into regimental and fleet bands and an elite 350-member "Bluejacket Band," which went on tours to promote recruitment in the armed forces and to raise money for Liberty Bonds and the Red Cross. Having attended a performance of the Bluejacket Band, President Wilson may have spoken for the nation when he declared it "the greatest demonstration of American spirit that is possible to conceive and certainly . . . the greatest band in the world."4 Sousa's efforts raised about twenty-one million dollars.5

Sousa and the Bluejacket Band were in Toronto, Canada, assisting the Canadian government with its Victory Loan campaign, when the Armistice was announced on November 11, 1918. "Never was there such a night!" Sousa recalled. "Not a soul in the city slept." For Sousa the post-war euphoria was only slightly dampened by a bout with the Spanish Flu and an abscess in his right ear; "but," as he rejoiced, "what were pains and pangs and abscesses to the frantic delight of knowing the war was over?"6

American participation in the war inspired Sousa to compose both marches—for example, "Sabre and Spurs," and "Solid Men to the Front"— and songs—for example, "We Are Coming," "When the Boys Come Sailing Home," and "In Flanders Fields the Poppies Grow." Canadian Army doctor Lt. Col. John McCrae, the author of the poem "In Flanders Fields," had sent Sousa a manuscript copy of the poem and an accompanying request that the poem might be set to music. McCrae would never hear the music Sousa created for his poem, dying in Boulogne, France, of pneumonia and meningitis ten months before the war's end. For Sousa, McCrae's request became "a priceless memory" of the war. "I was deeply touched by the beauty of the verses," Sousa recalled, "and I should be happy if the music which I made for them may serve, however slightly, to keep that message sounding in the hearts of all lovers of human liberty."7 In the two years following the war Sousa composed additional patriotic marches inspired by the war—"Bullets and Bayonets," "Comrades of the Legion," and "Who's Who in Navy Blue."

Sousa was relieved from active duty in January 1919, and promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander thirteen months later.8 Though no longer in the Navy, Sousa continued to conduct his own Sousa Band still proudly wearing his Navy uniform until his death in 1932. The last music he rehearsed with his band remains his most famous, "The Stars and Stripes Forever," which, in 1987, Congress designated "the national march" of the United States.9 Sousa is buried at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D. C.

  1. John Philip Sousa, Marching Along: Recollections of Men, Women, and Music (Westerville, Ohio: Integrity Press, 1994), p. 310.
  2. Paul Bierley, The Incredible Band of John Philip Sousa (University of Illinois, 2006), p. 31: books.google.com.
  3. United States Navy Band, Washington, D. C: navyband.navy.mil.
  4. Navy Band, Great Lakes, Illinois: navy.mil/nstc/navyband.
  5. Sousa, p. 314; navyband.navy.mil; Paul E. Bierley, John Philip Sousa: American Phenomenon (Miami, Florida: Warner Bros. Publications, 2001), p. 78: books.google.com.
  6. Sousa, p. 319.
  7. Ibid., p. 321.
  8. Ibid., p. 320.
  9. uscode.house.gov.