Missourians were well represented in each branch of the Military during World War I. Approximately 174,085 men and women from Missouri served our country with 156,232 serving in the Army; 14,132 in the US Navy; and 3,721 serving in the Marine Corps. About half of these were sent overseas with the rest remaining in the U.S. at training locations. Missouri suffered 11,172 casualties during the length of the war.
During World War I, St. Louis had an Army training encampment of the 12th Engineers named "Camp Gaillard." The camp was located along the Mississippi River in what in now the location of North Riverfront Park, a St. Louis City park. No tents were available to house the soldiers so the men were housed in "quarter boats" that were moored on the river. The soldiers of the 12th Engineers were trained to build, operate and to maintain a light railway system which would supply the front lines of the British and American forces with additional troops, supplies and artillery. Camp Gaillard was occupied from May 25th until July 25th, 1917 when troops were ordered to New York where the soldiers would then be sent to France. The Camp was named in honor of Col. David Du Bose Gaillard who commanded the 3rd U.S. Volunteer Engineers from the Spanish American War that was also organized in St. Louis.
St. Louis was also the home to another type of training during World War I. In April of 1917, the Missouri Aeronautical Society was established in St. Louis to train balloon pilots for war. The Missouri Aeronautical Society Balloon School was the first training school in the nation to be officially recognized by the War Department as a training school for the United States Army Aeronautical Corps.
Scott Field, now known as Scott Air Force Base, was built during World War I and was one of the first aviation stations in the United States. Construction was completed on the base in August of 1917 and the 11th and 21st Aero Squadrons of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Services were the first to arrive. Scott Field was used as a flight instruction base. Because of the demand for pilots in wartime, the airmen's flight instruction only lasted several weeks. Scott Field was well received by the community and dances and receptions were held for the soldiers, even establishing a library branch on the field. In return, Scott Field hosted sporting events and Scott's first Air Show was held on August 17, 1918 with the community invited.
St. Louis had a medical unit during WWI that sent volunteer doctors and nurses to France, the St. Louis Base Hospital Unit, No. 21. The Barnes Hospital Unit was organized by the St. Louis Red Cross and went to France in the Spring of 1917 with 500 beds. Of 1,499 volunteer doctors, 496 of them being from St. Louis, a fourth of them went to France while the rest cared for the wounded in the United States. The Army officers that staffed Unit 21 were doctors from the Washington University Medical School. The ambulance service in France was operated by doctors from the University of Missouri. Unit 21 suffered 15 casualties during WWI, 6 of them being nurses.
A special group of military troops were sent from Missouri to France to aid in the war. The Missouri mule was used during World War I in France to move heavy field artillery. The mule was exported there and was considered the world's best breed for this type of duty.
Missouri had many distinguished soldiers in the World War I. Some of their names are well known today because of what they went on to become. Harry S. Truman was a captain of Battery D, 129th Field Artillery who later became the 33rd President of the United States of America. Walt Disney called Missouri home for a time and even though he was too young to enlist as a soldier, he still went to France and enlisted with the Red Cross and became an ambulance driver. He was the founder of the Disney "empire." William H. Danforth served with the YMCA in France caring for the wounded and distributing supplies. He later started the Ralston Purina, now known as the Nestle Purina corporation in St. Louis and served as its president.
St. Louis has a World War I memorial in downtown. The Soldiers Memorial Military Museum was opened on Memorial Day, May 30, 1938. It was built as a memorial honoring all the men and women of Missouri and St. Louis that died in World War I. Today, the Memorial honors all Missouri soldiers that have given the ultimate sacrifice in all the wars the United States has been involved in.
Soldiers Memorial Military Museum-South side