BARTOW – Thursday marked a significant anniversary: it was 100 years ago when the United States officially declared war on Germany and entered World War I. President Woodrow Wilson called a
special joint session of Congress to “formally accept the status of belligerent which has thus been thrust upon it.”
On Thursday, the Polk County History Center, the Polk County Historical Association, the Polk County Veterans Council and the Polk County Historical Commission announced plans to commemorate the 100th anniversary of America’s involvement in World War I by honoring men and women of Polk County who served in “The Great War.”
The war that started in the summer of 1914 in Europe was one the United States officially entered on April 6, 1917. Later this summer, the Polk County Historical Association will present a glimpse into residents of this county were impacted a century ago.
When the Historical Association holds its annual meeting on June 15 at the Bartow Civic Center. there will be a special program on Polk County in World War I, and then on Nov. 11, the Polk County History Center will open a new exhibit featuring biographical profiles of Polk residents who served in World War I.
The exhibit will include:
· A collection of original letters written by local soldiers, addressed to the Bartow Drug Co., letting friends back home know where they were stationed and how they were doing.
· Reproductions of articles published in 1917 from The Courier Informant, a Polk County newspaper from that era; the articles list the men from Polk who got selected to leave for military training.
· A history of the local division of the Florida National Guard, the 2nd Florida Regiment, which was sent to Camp Wheeler, Georgia, where they were consolidated with other troops and designated as the 124th Infantry, assigned to the 31st Division, also known as the Dixie Division.
· Biographies and achievements of Polk residents who played a crucial role in World War I. That includes General (then Captain) James Van Fleet, Lieutenant General (then Major) Albert Blanding, U.S. Senator (then 1st Lieutenant and Judge Advocate General) Spessard Holland and Dr. Knowles Oglesby, the first Bartow native to be killed in action during the war.
· Archive photographs of Polk County residents during the war, as well as local places from that era, and other WWI artifacts that have never been displayed before.
As part of the launching of this new exhibit, the Polk County Veterans Council will dedicate a new World War I memorial monument at Lakeland Veterans Memorial Park, 150 Lake Beulah Drive in Lakeland on Nov. 11, and the Historical Commission will coordinate a day at historic Oakhill Cemetery in Bartow to clean headstones of World War I Veterans.
The day will include a memorial program to honor the veterans of WWI.
Tickets for the June 15 event are available at the Polk County History Center, 100 E. Main St. in Bartow, which is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Call 863-534-4386 for more information on exhibits and programming. All events and programming are free and open to the public.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Koby’s New Home”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.