The Swedes in the US Army in WW1 – The story from a journalist in 1918

I am still in my fact finding phase in my project about Swedes at the Western Front, and one source that I look into now is in the old Swedish-American newspapers. They are a great source when trying to find names, stories about the individuals that I already have, but also read about the things that happened during that time, in the Great War, between 1914 and 1918.

This evening I just look through an article by the Swedish journalist, Gunnar Cederschöld, who went to one of the American Training camps in USA at that time, to search for Swedes, both those who had emigrated, but also for those Swedes who were born over there, the Second generation Swedes.

I decides to transcribe the article as I think it gives a bit of insight about who those Swedes were, what they thought about, and what made them join the army and be prepared to go out in war., even if it is just a small glimps, and may not cover all of the Swedes who participated.

The article is from a newspaper from August 7th, 1918, called Omaha-Post. I have adjusted his lanhuage a bit as it was written in old Swedish, but the core in still intact. Below you can read it in English. Please understand that some of the men had values from that time, who may not reflect the common Swede today, but it is still interesting.

... The next day I came to an artillery brigade. And there I found better hunting grounds. The general gave me a Swedish corporal and a soldier and with them I went from battery to battery and looked through the scrolls. And on each battery we found several Andersson, Karlson, Lundström, Lindgren, etc. And if there was no other, there was a Christensen or Pedersen.

Then it was an easy thing to find them. The occasional Anderson we saw was an angry Scotsman, but the vast majority willingly admitted that they were either born in Sweden or by Swedish parents. And the most gratifying thing was that they were proud of it. In these regiments, which in part came from the Middle West, it seemed to be considered a merit to be Swedish. Nearly half of the countrymen, both first and second generation, were corporals or sergeants. Some were “Military Policemen”, a occupation reserved for solid and steadfast men with influence over their comrades and accustomed to dealing with drunken people.

You certainly did not have to be ashamed of your countrymen out there. You didn’t have to look for more handsome men. Those Swedes born or raised in the U. S. A. were often giants nearly two meters tall, blond, broad-shouldered, and confident, but awake and alert. With surprise, I found that most of those who were born in the states spoke good Swedish or at worst understood completely. The children of New York Swedes seldom admit that they know the language of their fathers.

I had come to ask them a lot of things. But I did not get much opportunity for that. They had so many questions to ask me.

How are things in the old country, they must have a hard time with food?” was almost always the first question.

Do they have coffee? Do they have bread?”

I almost broke in tears at breakfast, when I think of the old people, who might be eating “bark bread”, said a northerner. “Do you have any Swedish newspapers with you?” I bitterly regretted not bringing a bundle of trade newspapers. They would have been more than welcome out here.

“Is it possible to send a couple of pounds of coffee to my family in the old country?”

“Is it true that there are Swedes in the French army? How have they managed?”

What I had to say about the Swedish legionaries interested them. “I knew that Swedish boys can fight”, said the former railway man. – We’ll probably be able to cope with what we bring with us when it is our turn! -There are no Swedes with the Germans, are there?

I must admit that although there were a couple of officers there, there was very little risk or chance that they would come across them. However, there were some Swedes in the English army and several companies among the Canadians. That’s good to know, they said.

The American-born Swedes showed more international views on their issues. They wanted to know, if there was any risk or chance , that Sweden would be involved in the war and on which side. If the Socialists gained ground during the war. What the new government went for. If industry and finance suffered much from the war. -How high was the dollar in Sweden?

Do they know at home that there are many thousands of Swedes in the United States army? That a large part of them are volunteers? In these regiments, everyone was a volunteer. Only a few had been soldiers before 1917.

Among them was an old corporal (or possibly sergeant, I do not remember for sure) Berg from Stockholm, who despite over twenty years of service in the US Army, spoke genuine Stockholm dialect and was delighted to talk about his Stockholm memories .

But about his father the watchmaker in Stockholm, I could sadly not give him any fresh news.

A very sympathetic acquaintance was the Swedish lieutenant E, a calm serious man. He had an advance – from non-commissioned officer and served as a first lieutenant.

The vast majority of the Swedes had volunteered when America declared war, many of them had signed up the day after the declaration of war. Some were very young and came directly from agricultural schools, universities or technical colleges. Others were already mature men, who had abandoned their farms, workshops or shops to go out and fight for Uncle Sam. I hardly met a single one who became a soldier because he failed in civilian life. Nor was the desire for adventure what drove them. The vast majority had taken the rifle for the same reason as the Swedes in the Foreign Legion.

Pure idealism, Violated sense of justice, resentment against the breaker of promise and the child and woman killer. – “Right should be right” is the core of the Swede’s view of life, on whatever latitude he lives. And one who violates the law, he should be beaten. Their national selfesteem about American subjects had also contributed, both among the Swedish-born and those of the second generation. They could not stand with their hands in their pockets and watch as the emperor stepped on Uncle Sam’s toes.

They need to go out and teach the world respect for Stars and Stripes.

In the first place, they feel like Americans. But the awareness that they are of Swedish blood gives them a certain self-confidence. They know that their ancestors fought well against Germans, Moscovites and others. They feel the responsibility to carry on the Swedish warrior tradition.

Now that I know them, I trust that they will do so with honor and that we will be honored by our countrymen.

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