Dakota Datebook

Draft Registration Day

 

It was a critical day for many young men on this date in 1917.  America had entered the War, but it was lacking the manpower to sustain the type of warfare that had evolved in the trenches of Europe.  While many believed America’s entrance into the conflict would bring a quick end to the war, the current military strength was not enough.  With the enlistment rate inadequate, a draft was initiated.

Each state had a quota based upon population, and North Dakota was expected to register 77,000 men.  June 5th was registration day for all men 21 to 30 years of age.  There was only one day set aside for registration, and anyone who failed to register would be imprisoned. Those who attempted to falsify answers on the registration form faced a more severe penalty, being sent to a prison camp for training before assignment to the front lines.  With Canada already in the war, draft evaders who fled across the border to avoid registration found little sympathy and were quickly arrested and placed in detention camps.

But on this day, patriotism ran high.  At 7:00 AM church bells chimed, factory whistles blew and sirens sounded as draft registration got underway.   Fargo registered over 1,500 men by mid-afternoon with a final registration of 2,100.  Khaki armbands were provided for the 800 registrants in Bismarck who then led a parade when registration ended at 9:00 PM.  In Langdon an impromptu patriotic celebration ensued when the marching bands from Milton and Munich joined with a local band.  Registrants, Red Cross workers, school children, war veterans, and Highland dancers marched in a parade to the opera house for patriotic speeches.

For some communities in North Dakota, draft registration was a mere formality. In Mott almost every man had already signed up for military service – so much so that the town was forced to abandon its baseball team.

All across the state registration went smoothly.  Citizens and noncitizens alike registered.  Single and married men of all nationalities and races, and from all occupations, filled out the forms.  Even those with physical disabilities were required to register.  Exemptions would be determined later.

Nationally, ten million men were registered on that day.  So significant was the number that it led the War Department to issue a statement that read in part, “The manhood of the nation volunteered in mass … it remains but to select the men who are to go to the front.”

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis

Sources:

Courier Democrat, May 24, 1917

Grand Forks Herald, June 5, 1917

The Bismarck Tribune, June 5, 1917

The Hope Pioneer, June 21, 1917

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