The soldiers of Camp Dodge

This photograph entitled “Human Statue of Liberty” formed by 18,000 posed soldiers, was taken in July 1918 at Camp Dodge, Iowa, as part of a planned promotional campaign to sell war bonds during World War I.

On June 5, 1917, one hundred thirty-four men between the ages of 21 and 31 completed the registration for mandatory enlistment in the military. In Deer River, Reverend John L. Parish and Justice Ed Chill comprised the registration board. It was reported by the Itasca News that in the nearby precincts, the numbers registered were: Oteneagen, 14; Deer River Township, 8; and Deer Lake, 2.

It wasn’t until the end of July that the Itasca County draft board received a list of the names of the first selected men of the draft from the federal government. For the district of Itasca county 271 men are wanted and the list will be gone through from the first as here given [listed in the newspaper] until the required number has been obtained and passed for service. It is possible the 271 may be obtained before the end of the list is reached.”

Camp Dodge, in Johnston, Iowa was initially established in 1907 as a place for the National Guard units to train and is currently the headquarters of the Iowa National Guard. In 1917 Camp Dodge was expanded to become a regional training center for forces getting ready to participate in the First World War. This is where the National Army troops from Iowa, North Dakota, and Minnesota, and those from a middle belt of Illinois were sent.

It was almost two months later when Itasca County was asked to supply their first quota of men for the war. On September 20th, one hundred and seventy-six men were sworn in for service in Grand Rapids and the next day they left on a special train for Camp Dodge near Des Moines, Iowa. “Of the Deer River contingent the following are numbered: John Hursh, Gustav O. Repoel, William Welch, Charles Vollar, Sylvester W. Tomberlin, Axel J. Anderson, Lionell F. Homer, Anton Benson, Garfield Phelps, Lloyd J Williams, Earl W. Walker and Herschel F. Thompson…Those in the Bigfork list were: Victor Lofgren, Cornelius Erickson, John Johnson, George McClean, Tom Flaat and Tom Erickson.” Itasca News 9-22-1917

Autumn 1917

One of these men, Garfield Diamond Phelps wrote a letter home shortly after settling at Camp Dodge. Part of it was published by the Itasca News. “Bill Welch and I are together, so it don’t seem so lonesome. Bill and I went in as car drivers but nothing doing yet. Our breakfast consists of about a spoonful of potatoes, same of scrambled eggs and a green apple. It isn’t so bad; could be worse. We have been inquiring about a layoff and the best we can get is two weeks for Christmas. Herschel and the other boys are in another company; saw them last night; they were not all smiles, either. Best regards to all.”

A week later, the editor states the following: “Letter from Garfield Phelps and “Bill” Welch at Camp Dodge of the same date indicate the boys are getting used to the better side of the soldier life but evidently the two did not compare notes when they wrote, as they differ widely as to the feed. One is starving, while the other says the grub is fine and plenty of it. They also sent The News a copy of the Camp Dodger, the camp’s weekly newspaper, and it is a sprucy sheet of four pages, eight columns.” Itasca News 10-13-1917

Summer 1918

Howard Helm, from Effie, Minnesota was stationed at Camp Dodge in July 1918, and was one of 18,000 soldiers and officers who were part of the iconic photograph of the Statue of Liberty. Mark Anderson, an Effie historian said that Howard Helm recalled the day. He explained that it was extremely hot, especially since they were wearing their wool uniforms. Helm donated a copy of the photo to the Effie Cafe, showing Mark and owner Kathy Powell that he was one of the soldiers in the torch. The photographer, Arthur S. Mole had done other ‘human photographs’ and was doing this one in hopes of promoting war bonds. The photograph wasn’t used, but many copies of it were purchased by the servicemen. Helm’s copy has been on display at the Effie Cafe for over thirty years.

The Iowa National Guard website provided the following information: “On a stifling July day in 1918, 18,000 officers and soldiers posed as Lady Liberty on the parade grounds at Camp Dodge. The design for the living picture was laid out at the drill ground situated in the beautiful valley of the Des Moines River…Thousands of yards of white tape were fastened to the ground and formed the outlines on which 18,000 officers and men marched to their respective positions…The photo was taken from the top of a specially constructed eighty foot tower with an 11 by 14 inch view camera.

“In order to get the dimension, correct, it is actually a distance of a quarter mile from the front row to the last man at the top of the torch. Incredible as it may seem there are twice the number of men in the flame of the torch as in the whole remaining design, while there are eight times as many men in the arm, torch and flame as in all the rest of the figure. It will be noted that the right thumb is five feet longer than the left hand, while the right arm, torch and flame is eight times the length of the body.”

Autumn 1918

Dodge is in Quarantine

Itasca News 10-5-1918

“Dr. Wm. J. Taylor, who was recently transferred in hospital work with his company from Camp George Wright, Spokane, to Camp Dodge, Iowa, is getting some fresh experience in the medical line, especially with the great number of Spanish influenza cases on hand. He writes his brother, M.J. Taylor [the News editor], as follows:

“There are 2,000 cases of Spanish influenza in this camp. The malady is spreading very rapidly, and it gives us much to do at the hospital. We have a base hospital here which provides for about 5,000 patients and in addition to that each regiment has an infirmary of its own, therefore there are many infirmaries there being about 70,000 men stationed here at this time.

“I have been assigned to the Fourteenth Infantry and Machine Gun company hospital. All of our hospital corps have not arrived from the west as yet, there being but sixteen here at the present time. Three hundred men have been sent to the base hospital with the flu. It is our duty to diagnose these cases as they come to us, administer the first treatment, the nasal chamber and throat being sprayed, then the face is covered with a gauze mask and sponge containing an antiseptic agent: after which they are loaded into an ambulance and taken to the base hospital. Each morning we have what is termed ‘sick call.’ This comes at 7 o’clock. At such time we have perhaps 50 to 100 men in an abnormal condition. With the new malady at hand we may expect from 200 to 300 each day, so you may realize something of the significance of the work we will have to do.

“Tonight, the entire camp has gone into quarantine. The YMCAs have all been closed, the canteens likewise. No more movies for the soldier boy here until further orders. Needless to say, it will be a dull life for some time to come.”

If you are a veteran, thank you very much for your service, and if you are a spouse, parent or child of a vet, thank you too. It is because of your commitment that we remain safe. I hope you all get nods of appreciation not only this Monday but every day.

If you aren’t a veteran, please take the time to acknowledge our service men and women with a handshake and a thank you. And if you don’t know any veterans, stop by a local nursing home, where there are always a few on hand. They’d love to know you remember and appreciate them.


Recommended for you

Load comments