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Columns

July 28, 2012

Men got ready for military camp in August 1917

Emotions were starting to run high as the calendar was changed over to August 1917, regarding the local preparation of men heading off to Europe for World War I. Some were doing whatever they could to go fight, while many read in the newspapers how others did all they could not to fight. It was a month when Oneonta's Company G sent its first men for military mobilization camp and was given an enthusiastic farewell from our area residents.

Our area read in The Oneonta Star of Aug. 4 how groups of armed men, numbering almost 400,000, had gathered in south central Oklahoma to forcibly resist their selection as soldiers under the new draft law.

Meanwhile in our area there were very few who became draft deserters. Some men could become legally exempt from the draft, if they applied, in cases such as business owners or farmers.

"You need not make out any exemption papers for me," said Lewis Fink of Schenevus on Aug. 2. "I know that I am exempt under the rules, but my affairs can be taken care of and I want to go." Fink was given a physical examination, passed and was ready for the military to call.

Willis S. Warner of Gilbertsville had applied several times for enlistment, but had always been rejected. Warner was a musician and had only one good eye, but begged the board of examining physicians to find some place for him in which he could enlist.

The days were fast approaching for the departure to camp of the men of Oneonta-based Company G. Both planned a military field day to raise needed funds. It was set for Friday, Aug. 10, at the Oneonta Fairgrounds, where the Belmont Circle neighborhood is today.

About 2,500 showed up for a series of track, baseball and wrestling contests. Company D, based in New York City, swept Oneonta's Company G in all contests.

Just a week later, Company G departed for mobilization training camp in Spartanburg, S.C. The men gathered at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 18, at the armory on Academy Street, first for a drill and then a march to the D&H Railroad depot, today's Stella Luna Ristorante on Market Street.

"Early in the day friends from about the county commenced to arrive," the Star reported, "by motor car chiefly but on train and trolley as well, and hundreds if not thousands, including many from Cooperstown, were added to the city residents who turned out enmasse to give them a farewell that attested the appreciation and admiration of their fellow citizens."

The march from the armory and the scene at the railroad station took longer than anticipated.

The men stood side by side in line for nearly a half hour at the station, "and there were more goodbyes, it being impossible to restrain the crowd of friends who could not refrain from a handclasp and other more demonstrative tokens of affection.

"Here and there remained a tear stained or drawn face that watched with loving eyes until the train disappeared beyond the viaduct and the loved ones were gone."

Sidney residents then gathered en masse at the O&W Railroad station, to welcome and cheer not only the Company G men, but those from Company H of Binghamton. From Sidney, the full train departed for New York, making a stop in Walton to pick up Company F men, complete with its 3,000 well-wishers at the railroad depot.

Once in New York, Company G marched through the city streets to its temporary camp at Van Cortlandt Park. After participating in a grand parade of all state soldiers on Broadway on Saturday, Sept. 1, it was off to camp in Spartanburg.

On Monday: Local life and times in July 1987.

City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www. oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.

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