The U.S. Declares War on Germany
Even before President Woodrow Wilson went before Congress on April 2, 1917, asking for a declaration of war against Germany, in Ocean County preparations were being made for the upcoming conflict. The Asbury Park Press of Feb. 8 stated, “A third detachment of United States marines has arrived at the big wireless station at Tuckerton, four miles from here. They are under command of Lieutenant E.A. Richtenstein, and have established a continuous patrol about the plant which covers about 100 acres. The station is now in complete control of United States forces, all the German operators having been relieved by Americans.”
On March 10, the tower was again in the press.
“No attempts have been made to injure the huge German wireless station at Tuckerton according to a statement made by Mayor Howard Kelly of the place. He said that the army officers in charge since the severance of diplomatic relations with Germany and especially since numerous plots against munition works have been brought to light within the past few days, have doubled the guard around the plant.
“There are now 30 enlisted men of the navy watching the plant. It is being constantly patrolled and additional guards have been placed at the huge anchors which serve to hold up the steel work of the great towers. … The army officers are not taking the slightest chance to have the plant injured by Pro-German sympathizers and are taking every precaution to guard it.”
The day that Wilson submitted his request to Congress, the Trenton Times showed its support for the war when it published on the front page “Pledge of Loyalty – I declare my absolute and unconditional loyalty to the Government of the United States and pledge my support to you in protecting American rights against unlawful violence upon land and sea, in guarding the Nation against hostile attacks, and in upholding international right.
“Cut this out, paste it at the top of a sheet of paper and get your neighbors and friends to sign their names and addresses. After obtaining as many signatures as possible, mail it to the Times.”
The campaign was designed to influence the debate in Congress, while papers across the nation rattled sabers saying, “New York Times. No government of a great people was ever subjected to such a terrific indictment as that which President Wilson, with the full sanction and support of the American people, brings against the imperial government.
“The World. President Wilson has driven straight to the heart of the issue, and Congress must respond. There can be neither hesitation nor halting.
“The Sun. So the day has come for us, like others, to do our full part to make possible an enduring peace on earth.
“Philadelphia Public Ledger. In taking this course the President has met the expectations of the nation and has stated the case with a force and decision that leaves no room for doubt as to his precise meaning and less room for questions.”
From the halls of Congress came some calls for peace. Sen. George Norris of Nebraska said that Wall Street’s loans and business interests with the Allies were behind the declaration. It would “place the dollar mark upon the American flag and we are going into war upon the command of gold.”
The declaration passed 80 in favor to 6 opposed. It then went to the House of Representatives, where there was more heated debate, but on April 6, 1917, the Press announced, “War between the United States and Germany became an actuality today immediately upon President Wilson’s approval of the war resolution adopted by a vote of 373 to 50 by the house a few minutes after 3 this morning.
“This action will set in motion the government’s newly planned machinery for mustering the military, naval and economic forces into an aggressive war against Germany.”
Within hours of the formal declaration, the President issued “Now, therefore, I Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim to all whom it may concern that a state of war exists between the United States and the Imperial German Government, and I do specially direct all officers, civil or military, of the United States that they exercise vigilance and zeal in the discharge of the duties incident to such a state of war, and I do, moreover, earnestly appeal to all American citizens that they, in loyal devotion to their country, dedicated from its foundation to the principles of liberty and justice, uphold the laws of the land and give undivided and willing support to those measures which may be adopted by the constitutional authorities in prosecuting the war to a successful issue and in obtaining a secure and just peace.”
His first action was aimed at “subjects of Germany, being male, of the age of fourteen years and upward, who shall be within the United States and not actually naturalized, who for the purpose of this proclamation and under such sections of the Revised Statutes are termed alien enemies.”
The same day the editor of Toms River’s New Jersey Courier ran this on the front page: “Personally I had hoped against hope for peace – hoped that there would be one big nation left as the champion of peace – hoped that the Gospel of Christ would find among all the nations which progress to be guided by it, one people that could see clearly and act wisely in the interest of all the warring nations, of both hostile camps.
“But war it is. And in war, all must sacrifice. Opinions that we might flaunt in times of peace, indeed that it was one’s duty to proclaim while there was hope of peace, are now of no avail.
“Young men must offer their bodies, their all, their lives.
“If war lasts, there will be lean times. Our present hardships, in the form of high prices, will be but the beginning, unless the government uses a firm hand.
“War is not, as might have been supposed for the past month, a matter of waving flags, of hurrahs and music – it is a life and death matter, grim and painful.
“Our rules have decided on war – we must face it. Then face it with thought and with action, like men.”
The editor never realized just how fast things would change. The same day, the Press reported that Ellis Island, the symbol of hope for immigrants, was now a prison for illegal aliens who had been on German ships in the harbor seized by the government “early this morning and their 1,500 men and officers were transferred under military guard in government barges to the immigration station on Ellis island. Later today navy experts are to begin an examination. … At Ellis island each man will be subjected to the same examination given all immigrants and further disposition of them will depend upon resolutions adopted by the government as to the treatment of Germans in this country.”
On the 8th, the Times reported the war had come to Ocean County.
“Five Germans, formerly employed at the Tuckerton transatlantic wireless station, a part of the German wireless system installed in this country, were arrested at Tuckerton, N.J., by Federal agents yesterday. The agents refused to discuss the arrests. The men were near the plant when taken into custody.
“The prisoners are Lieutenant Emil Meyers, Second Lieutenant Bruner, John Schmeil, an expert electrician; Paul Seidles, and Fritz Wilhelm. Lieutenant Meyers was formerly in command of the Tuckerton wireless station. Seidles and Wilhelm were asleep in a hotel when surprised by the agents. The prisoners were placed aboard a train for Philadelphia.”
The talking was over. The war had begun, and there are only two sides … for us or against us.
Next Week: Draftees and spies.