The World War I veteran generation founded the American Legion, the GI Bill of Rights, and the modern civil rights movement, making the war a landmark moment in the nation’s political history. The war was also a pivotal personal life event for the men and women who served. Letters, memoirs, and diaries provide a window into the extraordinary experiences of those who left everything familiar behind to do their bit. Would military service be the jumping off point to a better life? Would love endure the test of time and distance? Could Black soldiers overcome the obstacles racial prejudice created? Would one meet the test of battle? Were their sacrifices worth it?
The United States and the First World War, by Jennifer D. Keene
Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America, by Jennifer D. Keene
Freedom Struggles: African Americans and World War I, by Adriane Lentz-Smith
Mobilizing Minerva: American Women in the First World War, by Kimberly Jensen
Love and Death in the Great War, by Andrew J. Huebner
1. What key commonalities versus differences are there in the soldiers’ experiences in World War I? How did class, race, or ethnicity factor in shaping one’s wartime experience?
2. Why did soldiers write letters home? Given that censorship existed, are memoirs most revealing?
3. The memory of war was powerful, and veterans left a strong mark on American politics. Why is their story and their impact so little remembered today?
4. Can you connect any of your own family members’ experiences to these stories–either relatives who served in World War I or in other conflicts?