BISMARCK — It started as a list.
But it turned into a massive research project commemorating North Dakotans who served in World War I.
This Nov. 11 marks the centennial for the end of the Great War, which the North Dakota Historical Society wanted to document for an exhibit at the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum.
The supposed “war to end all wars” took the lives of nearly 1,400 North Dakotans, according to the research by the state’s Historical Society.
The exhibit compiles letters, photos and data to honor fallen North Dakota soldiers who served in the war.
Dr. Barbara Handy-Marchello is a historian and was in charge of continuing to find names of other fallen soldiers by WWI North Dakota Centennial Committee Chairman Darrell Dorgan.
The process wasn’t simple.
“It’s like so many projects. It started by accident,” Handy-Marchello said. “I thought it was going to be a typing list, but it turned out to be a long process of researching,”
“The Ancestry.com research tool has some enlistment papers, checked the census, Adjutant General list in 1930. Sometimes there were other records like the transport list of every man who went to Europe, sometimes I used relatives on the list to find their hometown. The most difficult were men who maybe were drifters, 12, maybe 15, and often don’t get counted by census.”
(INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC. Story continues below. Dots on the counties in the second map are links to letters and pictures. Click on different areas and images of the graphic for the experience.)
Dorgan says this research to find new names has progressed over time.
“The numbers started at 700, and then in the '80s, they updated it and got it up to 1,300. Barb Marchello did more research and now the number is nearly 1,400. Fourteen-hundred people who died basically in a six month period,” said Dorgan.
Both Dorgan and Handy-Marchello also show it’s important to recognize the immigrants and Native Americans that served the country in large numbers.
“It’s also important to know not all were citizens, they signed letter of intent where they plan to live in U.S. Many were of German descent and they understood their position was to align themselves with new country. They made a choice and chose to defend it,” Handy-Marchello said.
“Many weren’t U.S. citizens. Many were immigrants," Dorgan said. "They became homesteaders they wanted to preserve their right to democracy. Another group, Native Americans, they were some of the most patriotic people in the country. They stepped forward in incredible numbers."
Dorgan has hope this Veteran’s Day can be one that helps people remember their history and those who sacrificed their lives just 100 years ago.
“It was the forgotten war, “The war to end all wars”, but it has become the forgotten war. We are trying to bring it back,” Dorgan said.
On Sunday, Nov. 11, all churches throughout North Dakota are encouraged to ring their bells 11 times at 11 a.m. The WWI North Dakota Centennial Committee has requested county veterans' services officers work with local veteran’s organizations to read the names of the more than 1,300 North Dakotans who died in WWI.
They are encouraged to read the names of those who died from the steps of their county courthouses or a place of public gathering, in their county of residence, when the bells are done ringing.