History & Profiles

November open house for World War I exhibit

San Benito County Historical Society hosts a new exhibit honoring local men who served in the Great War.

This article was contributed by Susan Echaore-McDavid with the San Benito County Historical Society.

The San Benito County Historical Society invites the public to an Open House at the Wapple House Museum on Sunday, Nov. 10 from 1 to 4 p.m., to view its new exhibit honoring the local men who served in World War I.

The exhibit will include WWI artifacts and photographs, including the recently acquired photographs of the community send-off for the second group of draftees. Also to be featured is a display about Home Hollister, an orphanage in Belgium that was established in 1919 with funds raised by local residents led by Gertrude Wapple.

World War I, also known as the Great War, was the first global war. The United States remained neutral until April 6, 1917 when it declared war on Germany, partly in response to German submarine attacks on U.S. vessels.

The U.S. entered the war with around 200,000 men in the Army, Navy, and National Guard. Within the first several weeks, 73,000 volunteers enlisted in the military. Needing at least one million soldiers to be an effective force, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Selective Service Act on May 18, 1917 to create a national draft lottery. All men between the ages of 21 and 31, whether U.S. citizens or aliens, were required to register for the draft. By the end of the war, over 24 million men were registered and about 2.8 million had been inducted into the National Army, also known as the American Expeditionary Force, under the command of General John. J. Pershing.

According to the August 15, 1917 issue of the Free Lance, 975 men in San Benito County registered for the first draft. The local draft board was required to certify 112 men for military duty. For this first draft, the board called 354 men to determine their eligibility and fitness for service.

The San Benito County draft board consisted of George Wapple (chairman), Dan McClosky, and Paul F. Brown. Local physicians Dr. J. M. O’Connell and Dr. L.C. Hull served as medical examiners.

The draftees left Hollister by train in five groups, from September to November. The fourth group was designated for the sole African American soldier, Lewis Gilmore. The community gave each group a big send off. A brief presentation was made at the courthouse by local officials, followed by a procession in decorated automobiles through downtown Hollister. It ended at the train depot where a huge crowd gathered to cheer and give well wishes to the new soldiers.

Photographs of the September 21, 1917 send-off of the second contingent of draftees will be on display at the World War I Exhibit. Recently, the Gilroy Museum sent digital scans of the pictures to the San Benito County Historical Society, according to Sharlene Van Rooy, a longtime volunteer with the group and the museum. “We are very thankful to the Gilroy Museum for thinking of us.”

Over 2,000 people gathered that September morning to bid farewell to the 41 young men who left for Fort Lewis, Washington, under the command of Gaston B. Ashe and Eugene H. Sharp. They included: Gaston B. Ashe, Manvil H. Ayers, Ernest Bailey, Manuel Bernal, Frederick James Bowen, William T. Brown, Louis V. Castro, Ernest William Clapp, Joaquin Duran, Frank R. Echeveria, and Andrew Fernandez.

Harry Gavin, Roy H. Gilbert, Francisco S. Gomes, Louis B. Goodin, Frederick J. Handlan, Everett F. Henderson, Dan John Higuera, Hugh D. Hooton, Lyle D. Hunkins, Henry F. Kruse, William Libao, George Loer, George N. McClintock, Joe Netto, and Joaquin L. Ojeda.

Frank L. Pearson, Thurston Petterson, Arthur E. Rey, Eugene H. Sharp, Fred D. Steinbeck, Karl Steinbeck, Joe Stokes, Enos Subia, Albert P. Sullivan, Evadista Vera, Frank Villegas, and Lowell Withrow.

Thomas Fontana, Philip J. Gaxiola, Michael Higuera, and Thomas Nolan were alternates.

The local historical society welcomes the public to find family members among the pictures.

“Help us identify the men included in these rare photos,” said Van Rooy. “One of them could be your great-grandfather!”

The WWI Exhibit open house will take place the day before Veterans Day. Originally, this holiday began as Armistice Day on November 11, 1919, to commemorate the first anniversary of the end of World War I. The name was changed in 1954 to honor all military veterans.

The Wapple House Museum is located at 498 Fifth Street, next to the San Benito County Free Library.


Susan Echaore-McDavid