The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 1/Bring back the Kaiser's mustaches


This was the parting message which Bohemian boys of Chicago took away with them, when they left for Jefferson barracks.

The response of Chicago people to the patriotic call for volunteers was remarkable. The Bohemian Alliance and the Sokol Union of America appointed a joint recruiting committee with the idea of enlisting enough men to form at least one regiment. A delegation went to see Captain Franklin R. Kenney in charge of recruiting in the Chicago district, and were informed by him that it would be feasible to have men of Bohemian race kept together, of course under officers assigned to the regiment by the War Department. A mass meeting was immediately arranged by the committee, and after an address by Captain Kenney over forty young men came forward to offer their lives in defense of their country. The Pilsen Sokols turned over rooms in their hall without charge for the purpose of establishing a regular recruiting station, and Captain Kenney assigned the first Bohemian volunteer, John Vosatka, to be the recruiting sergeant in charge. In two days one hundred and twenty young men were enrolled, passed by the physicians and accepted for service in the U. S. army. Only about half a dozen were rejected for physical defects, and the appearance of the Bohemian boys, most of them trained gymnasts, elicited flattering remarks from the army doctors. The first batch were sent away Monday, April 16th. It was a great occasion for the Chicago Southwest Side.

The recruits gathered in the Sokol Havlíček Tyrš Hall, and after impassioned speeches by the Sokol leaders and spokesmen for the boys, the flag of the Society, stars and stripes on one side, Bohemian lion on the other, was presented to the detachment which was looked upon as the nucleus of a Bohemian unit in Uncle Sam’s army. Led by a military band and followed by thousands of friends the recruits marched from the hall to the army office on South State Street and from there to the depot, a distance of seven miles. At the depot American and Bohemian hymns were sung by the crowd that overflowed the platforms, and the train pulled out amid thunderous cheers of “Na zdar” and “Na shledanou”.

A second smaller detachment left Wednesday and another, numbering over one hundred and fifty, the following Monday. The week which witnessed this outburst of patriotism on the part of the Bohemian people of Chicago was the very same week in which crowds of young fellows overran the county building in quest of marriage licenses intending to avoid military service by getting married. Many of our boys also visited the county building, but with a totally different purpose. They went there to make their declaration of intention to become American citizens, in order that they might have the privilege of fighting against Germany.

It is a pity that the policy of the War Department does not permit the formation of special regiments. Adjutant General Robert C. Davis, wrote in reply to a petition of the joint recruiting committee for the assignment of men of Bohemian race to the same regiment as follows: “It is not the policy of the Department to localize regiments or to have any particular regiments composed of men of any particular class or nationality. . . . It is impracticable therefore to authorize the formation of any regiment or regiments composed entirely of Bohemians, nor is it practicable to promise assignments to or continued service of any men or group of men in the same regiment.”

This order will make it impossible to keep track of men of Bohemian birth and descent who enlist in the army without waiting for conscription. It is, however, already certain that the percentage of recruits of Czech race will exceed the percentage of Americans of other stock. Captain Kenney, to whose efforts is due the record of Illinois as the state furnishing most recruits to the regular army, had this to say in a letter addressed to Dr. Jaroslav F. Smetanka, secretary of the joint recruiting committee: “Will you express the thanks of the War Department to the Bohemian National Alliance, Bohemian Sokols and all American citizens of Bohemian birth for the remarkable effort you have made to have your young men join the colors. The response your people have made to my appeal for fighting men has been extremely gratifying. I gladly bear witness to the fact that no class of Americans has come forward to defend their country in time of war with better spirit than Americans of Bohemian birth and descent.”