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As It Was: Military Sends Klamath Lumber Workers to France

As America prepared to enter World War I, military recruiters scoured the West for lumber workers to support the war effort in Europe.

A recruiter for the 20th Battalion, U.S. Engineers, announced he would visit Klamath Falls in September 1917, and urged young men to secure recommendations from lumber company managers.

The recruiter said qualified volunteers could expect to be at work overseas within a month of signing up.  He assured them any task that existed in an Oregon logging camp or sawmill would likewise be found in France.

While the recruiter, Army Maj. S.O. Johnson, readied his recruiting effort in Klamath Falls, 15 young men had already volunteered for other Army assignments.  A farewell gathering at the community pavilion saw the boys off on the eve of their departure.  The ceremony included speeches by a priest and the school superintendent, and a chorus sang an original song titled “Goodbye Klamath, Hello France.”

As the soldiers boarded a train the next morning, each received a comfort bag, a fruit basket, and a red-white-and-blue badge.  The Evening Herald newspaper listed each soldier’s name on the front page under a headline bidding them “Godspeed.”

Sources: "Departing Boys Are Bid God Speed." Evening Herald, 19 Sept. 1917 [Klamath Falls, Ore.], p. 1; "To Recruit for Lumber Regiment." Evening Herald, 19 Sept. 1917 [Klamath Falls, Ore.], p. 1.

Todd Kepple has been a Klamath Basin resident since 1990. He was a reporter and editor the for the Herald and News from 1990 to 2005, and has been manager of the Klamath County Museum since 2005. He enjoys volunteering at Crater Lake National Park, the OC&E Woods Line State Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also a founding member of the Klamath Tree League.