World War I Veterans Records and Photographs
Special Collections & University Archives contains a number of collections related to UNI's relationship to and roles in various military affairs, including World War I and World War II. One such collection is the World War I Veterans Records and photographs. Many members of the Iowa State Teachers College (ISTC, now UNI) community served in World War I in the early 20th century. Following the war's end, college registrar Charles S. Cory wrote to ISTC veterans asking them to contribute to create a library collection. Along with the letter, Cory sent a form for individuals to fill out, along with a request for a photograph of them.
The forms are interesting for a variety of reasons, providing basic information about a veteran's service, including where they were stationed, their reasons for enlisting, where they served, their rank, etc. The form's second page allowed veteran's to elaborate fully on their experiences if they so chose. This page usually includes more detailed notes about battles, travels, and more.
The forms' contents vary considerably, even within the same document. For example, Herbert Pesch wrote that he was "in [the] same convoy, in which the West Gate was when she rammed on Oct 7th, 1918 - 6 lives lost - Bodies not recovered." This is a reference to the sinking of the U.S.S. West Gate, which sank following a collision with the U.S.S. American. Just a few lines after this somber note, Pesch commented that he saw many New York City sights along with Niagara Falls. His account is a mix of his war experience but also includes a bit of lightness when he referred to his sightseeing.
Adrian Garnet chose to write a brief narrative of his service, rather than listing a few highlights like Pesch. Garnet described moving from location to location, both domestically and overseas, before ultimately arriving in France at Chateau-Thierry. He served on the front until the armistice was signed, when he then joined the Allied army of occupation in Germany. Like Pesch, he mentions specific places or dates, which researchers can connect to the broader war.
Over the course of their time at UNI, the veterans forms and their accompanying photographs were separated into two different parts of the University Archives. While working on an unrelated project, we came across the forms and Cory's letter asking for information. We had come across a a variety of World War I soldiers' photos in our general photograph collection. We pulled a few of the forms and went to work checking to see if they had matching photos - sure enough, they did! Each WWI photo includes the person's name on the front, as well as a number and "World War I" written on the back, as a way to classify them as a group.
This is just one example of how both researching and working in archives sometimes requires some extra work to piece together bits of information to gain a more thorough context for a given record. My favorite aspect of this collection is that we can connect a face to the described experiences. The photographs enhance the written records and help humanize the archival experience. They show the real people who served and offer the ability to connect a person to events you might have read about in textbooks.
The World War I Veterans Records and photographs are just one example of SC&UA's many unique military collections. Check out the other collections here.
Contributed by Archival Processor & Reference Associate, Tessa Wakefield, May 2020.
- "American Ship Casualties of the World War Including Naval Vessels, Merchant Ships, Sailing Vessels, and Fishing Craft." Naval History and Heritage Command. Accessed May 13, 2020. https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-...