Remembering Livonia's Veterans In The Great War
This year’s Veterans Day, Nov. 11, will be observed in its traditional way against a historical backdrop, the 100th anniversary of the United States of America’s entry into World War I on April 6, 1917. Our country entered the Great War 21/2years after it began July 28, 1914.
Like all towns and cities throughout Michigan and the nation, soldiers and citizens from Livonia Township joined in all aspects of World War I efforts and answered the patriotic call to defend their freedoms. The Livonia Veterans Park, with its Wall of Honor, dedicated to those who were killed in action, wounded in action, missing in action or prisoner of war, honors our military veterans. On this wall is the name of World War I veteran Henry J. Rattenburg (1917-18). Another area World War I veteran, U.S. Marine Sgt. Myron Beals, who was killed in action, was born in Plymouth. Livonia’s American Legion Myron Beals Post 32 on Newburgh Road was named in his honor. A short historical biography and his photograph is located inside the post’s main entrance.
The record of the totality of township veterans who were involved in World War I is still open to ongoing historical research. All men in certain designated age groups, in several World War I registration periods, were required to register. Not all of those who registered for the drafts were called to active duty. Additionally, many who registered and served were listed as residents of Wayne County. The formal city of Livonia did not yet exist. What we do know for certain is that many men from Livonia did register and serve in World War I. According to research by local historian, cemetery “surveyor” and preservationist Kathy Bilger, we know, as much as can be determined at this point in time, the names of those who are buried in Livonia cemeteries who served in World War I or who registered during one of the draft periods.
In a discussion with noted Michigan historian and Livonia resident Dr. James McConnell, it would be worthwhile research to further study the draft registration and military service records to identify other Livonia veteran names who were involved in World War I.
McConnell was one of the principal supporters for the creation of a Michigan World War I Centennial Commission. Legislation for the commission (S.B. 248) was introduced by state Sen. Rebekah Warren. On Oct. 9, Gov. Rick Snyder signed her bill into law.
During World War I, Livonia Township residents supported the war efforts. Being a large agricultural and farming community, Livonians had much to contribute in goods and services. In each Michigan county, a War Preparedness Board was created, consisting from three to 10 members who, in like manner, organized the townships of the county. With such an organization, it was possible to reach all areas of Michigan, enlisting every man, woman and child in various World War I campaigns and efforts.
One of the first acts of the overall War Preparedness Board was the creation of a War Food Preparedness Committee. This committee was of great assistance to the farmers of Michigan and Livonia Township in securing seed for the crop year of 1917. When World War I was over, the U.S. had a great responsibility to honor veterans who were killed and to the thousands who were wounded and to meet their physical needs. In the aftermath of World War I and to “fulfill our promises to the men and women who served,” the Disabled American Veterans of the World War was officially created. Its first national convention was held June 27, 1921, in Detroit.
The organization’s name was later changed to the Disabled American Veterans. The author is honored to serve as the Americanism chairman for the Disabled American Veterans Livonia Chapter 114, located at 30905 Plymouth Road, Livonia. Our commander is Alan R. Stranyak. The chapter’s general telephone number is 734-770-2253. The chapter services veterans and their families through benefits counseling and supports other community events. The Livonia chapter is considered one of the best in Michigan. It received the David E. Smith Outstanding Chapter of the Year award for 2016-17.
In closing, I would like to mention that the Friends of the Livonia Library, to help mark the 100th anniversary of the U.S. participation in World War I, will be hosting a free program by Livonia resident Richard VandenBrul. His talk will be at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12, at the Robert and Janet Bennett Civic Center Library. His presentation is titled “World War I Still Impacts Us” and the great history of the Polar Bears unit of World War I.
So this Veterans Day, take a few minutes to remember the Livonia veterans who fought and died in World War I and the veterans of all wars by visiting their graves and the Livonia Veterans Park. Take along a small American flag or some flowers to show them we still are forever grateful and remember their sacrifices. This Veterans Day is a Saturday, an ideal time to bring along your children and grandchildren to help in the observance.
Joe Neussendorfer is a Livonia hHistorian and Americanism chairman of Disabled American Veterans Livonia Chapter 114. He is also a member of the Livonia Historical Society, the Historical Society of Michigan and founder of the Alfred Noble Historical Society.