San Diego Goes to War

On April 6, 1917, the U. S, Congress voted to affirm President Woodrow Wilson’s request for a declaration of war against Germany. This brought the United States into the First World War, which had been raging in Europe since June 1914.

When news of the vote reached San Diego, Mayor Edwin Capps issued a proclamation calling on all citizens to gather in “a great patriotic rally and demonstration” on the afternoon of Monday, April 9, “in the exposition grounds at the organ pavilion.”

According to the proclamation, printed in the April 6 San Diego Evening Tribune, the event was to be arranged “under the auspices of the United Spanish war veterans, that organization now being established by congressional recognition as the nation’s ranking civilian patriotic body since the retirement of the G.A.R. from active official participation in patriotic work.”

At that point in time, the Spanish-American War had been fought just 19 years previously. The initials G.A.R. stood for Grand Army of the Republic, which was the organization of Civil War veterans. So that reference in the proclamation tells us something about the state of those two veterans organizations.

It would be the first of many rallies. In just the first week after the declaration of war local papers reported rallies in San Diego, Coronado, Escondido and Chula Vista. Some 6,000 people participated in a mass meeting April 12 outside the U. S. Grant Hotel, where many signed up to volunteer at a naval recruiting office.

“Not since the early days of the Spanish-American war has this city witnessed such an outburst of patriotism,” stated an article in the April 12 San Diego Union. “Recruiting offices were crowded all day, bands played, flags fluttered, automobiles filled with sailors or soldiers wheeled through the streets exhorting the sons of the Southland to rally to the defense of their country…”

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers and chronologies of World War I from the CNN Library and Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary.

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