WWI Victory Celebrations and Homecomings

11, November 2017

World War I ended on November 11, 1918, with the declaration of an armistice. The four-year fight claimed millions of lives and displaced millions more. The United States played a brief yet pivotal role in the war, spearheading the Meuse-Argonne Offensive that forced Germany’s surrender.

Sepia-toned photograph of Armistice Day celebration in downtown St. LouisArmistice Day celebration, looking north on Olive St. from 12th St., November 11, 1918. Missouri Historical Society Collections.
Color photo of banner welcoming the 89th Division in St. LouisBanner welcoming the 89th Division to St. Louis, 1919. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

News of the armistice reached St. Louis on November 11. Despite bans on public gatherings prompted by the Spanish influenza epidemic sweeping the globe, St. Louisans poured into the streets of downtown to celebrate, but as it turns out, this wasn’t the first time they had done so. Four days earlier, a false announcement of an armistice had been reported. The mistake was quickly rectified—but not before revelry had spread throughout the city.

With the war officially over, the process of returning 2 million American service members from overseas began. Over the course of the next six months, passenger ships, transports, and battleships carried troops home from France to the United States. The heroes of World War I were welcomed back with open arms and grand parades.

In April and May 1919, St. Louis honored the 12th Engineers, 35th Division, and 89th Division with parades through downtown. The route stretched from present-day Grand Center to St. Louis City Hall, where families were reunited with their loved ones. Interestingly, the parades ended just blocks away from the future site of Soldiers Memorial, which opened in 1938 as a memorial to the more than 1,000 St. Louisans who gave their lives during the war.

Sepia-toned photograph of 89th Division's welcome home parade following World War I89th Division passing through the Court of Honor near St. Louis City Hall, 1919. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

The return of the 35th Division coincided with the first domestic caucus of the American Legion, and St. Louis’s own 138th Infantry Regiment marched outside the Jefferson-Schubert Theatre where the caucus was being held. Men of the 35th Division, which included many St. Louisans, received a commemorative lighter from the City of St. Louis. It featured the Apotheosis of St. Louis on one side, along with the division’s insignia; on the other side were personifications of America (Columbia) and France (Marianne) jointly holding a sword and piercing a German soldier’s helmet.

Color photo of front and back of ceremonial lighter presented to members of the 35th Division by the City of St. LouisThis commemorative lighter presented to members of the 35th Division by the City of St. Louis is on display in the Missouri History Museum exhibit World War I: Missouri and the Great War through June 17, 2018. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

Following the parades, the troops were loaded onto trains and sent west to demobilize at Camp Funston in Kansas before immediately re-boarding their trains and, at long last, returning to their homes.

—Patrick Allie, Military and Arms Curator

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