Who’s Who: Some of America’s Most Influential WWI Veterans

America's Most Influential WWI Veterans
American official photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In it’s modern form, Veteran’s Day is when we honor and give thanks to the men and women who have served our nation in the military. But it is also Armistice Day – the end of the Great War, World War I.

“The Great War” is one that we don’t talk a lot about anymore. But what may not be widely remembered is that some of America’s most influential citizens were veterans of that war. Their time serving in the war changed them in many ways that shaped what they did for the rest of their lives. 

Those Americans come from many different walks of life, but their contributions to American society were immeasurable. So who are these influential veterans of the great war?

The first: President Harry S. Truman. Truman was the only future president to see combat during the war, commanding an artillery unit in France. Truman’s unit also supported George Patton’s tank brigade. Dwight Eisenhower was in the U.S. military at the time, but he served at home in a non-combat capacity.

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Sports Heroes Contribute To The War Effort

We have all heard stories of baseball players who left successful careers to enlist and go overseas during World War II, but one of baseball’s first heroes also served in World War I: Christopher “Christy” Mathewson.

He played 17 seasons in the major leagues, some of that time spent with the New York Giants, where he practically invented the “screwball,” and amassed a strikeout record that stood for nearly 50 years.

Mathewson was a bit late in joining the military at 38 years old. But he volunteered to serve his country and went to France. While still in training at Chaumont, he inadvertently inhaled mustard gas. While in combat in Belgium at Flanders Field, he was exposed to mustard gas a second time. 

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Hollywood And Journalism Does Its Part, Too

The Hollywood community was also famous for its support of America during the Second World War, but even in its infancy, Tinseltown had its share of patriots. Walter Brennan, one of Hollywood’s most successful actors, saw combat in France as a young soldier.

Brennan enlisted in the military, serving in France from November 1917 to April 1919. He fought in several major campaigns including Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne. Brennan was also exposed to mustard gas which resulted in his losing a number of teeth, and damaging his vocal cords permanently effecting his voice.

We have all heard of the Hubble Telescope, and looked at amazing photos of the universe captured by the telescope. But prior to his famous discovery that the Earth’s galaxy, the Milky Way, was just one of many, Edwin Hubble served in World War I. Hubble served as a major in the 86th Infantry Division, but his service was brief, not getting to France until September of 1918.  

Rounding out the most influential World War I veterans is Robert McCormick, editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. But before McCormick would become one of the champions of journalism and rights of the press, he also served in France as part of General Pershing’s staff.

He eventually became the commander of the 5th Field Artillery of the First Division. His unit was instrumental in providing artillery support to other first Division troops in the Battle of Catigny, the first American victory of the war. By the end of his career, he had risen to the rank of Colonel.   

This is just a partial list of the many Americans who made huge contributions to American society, who started out their adult lives, as doughboys “over there.”

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