As was true from coast to coast across the United States, McLean County men from all walks of life answered the call to arms when the country entered the Great War on April 6, 1917. Over 5,000 men served in the military—half of whom volunteered; half of whom were drafted. An additional 675 faculty, students, and alumni from Illinois State Normal University also answered the call of duty. However, men were not the only ones who pledged themselves to the war effort. At least 35 McLean County women, with an additional eight women from ISNU, served as Army nurses at U.S. military bases and overseas in Europe during the war. Several of these women served in mobile hospitals or hospitals near the front lines and were decorated for their service.
As part of the commemoration of the centennial of the U.S. entering World War I, the Museum took on the monumental task of identifying veterans of the First World War who are buried in Evergreen Memorial Cemetery. After pouring over more than 6,000 names of individuals from McLean County and students who attended Illinois State University (known then as Illinois State Normal University) who served in the war, we have successfully identified 180 soldiers and nurses buried in the cemetery. With the help of Evergreen Memorial Cemetery, Museum volunteer Milan Jackson, and members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary John H. Kraus Post #454, the graves of these individuals have been marked with American flags and poppies for the duration of this year’s Evergreen Cemetery Walk. Inspired by the World War I-era poem “In Flanders Fields,” use of the “remembrance poppy” as symbol for military personnel who died in war was first adopted by the American Legion in the 1920s. The list of names that have been identified are available on the Museum’s website, and will be published in the playbill that attendees receive at the Cemetery Walk. The * next to several of the names symbolizes they died during the war of various causes. Names with a † symbol mean they served as a nurse during the war. This is an ongoing project. If you know of a veteran of World War I that is buried at Evergreen Memorial Cemetery and is not on our list, please contact the Museum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 309-827-0428.
Museum staff, volunteers, and members of the VFW Post #454 Auxiliary will be setting up flags and poppies on each grave at Evergreen Memorial Cemetery on Wednesday, September 27 at 2:00 p.m. This activity will be open to the media and interviews will be available.