World War I in Lawrence: ’60 per cent ask army exemption’

In spite of a big storm affecting the western part of Douglas County, the Journal-World reported that 1,621 men had turned out for the military draft registration on June 5. It was considered possible that a few in the storm-affected area had missed the registration, but all in all, the event had been “without incident” with “no trouble of any sort,” and the lists were assumed to be mostly complete.

A few days later, however, a different view was presented in a front-page article with the angry headline “60 PER CENT ASK ARMY EXEMPTION – All Kinds of Excuses are Placed on Parade – Taking Care of the Old Folks Suddenly Assumes Great Importance Among Eligibles.” After checking the numbers, county officials were shocked to learn that over 60% of those registering had claimed exemption “on one ground or another,” in spite of the fact that no question concerning exemption had been asked. Claims of disqualifying conditions came from 950 men, and the claims “ranged over a large field” with “all reasons for an excuse from service imaginable” given. Each of the three sons in one family “suddenly conceived that it was his duty” to “support the old folks.” Theological students reportedly stated they “couldn’t see why they should serve.” One young man demanded exemption on the grounds that “the war was entirely uncalled for.” On the other hand, 819 men were deemed “foot loose, physically fit, and ready and anxious to do their bit at once.”

An editorial note suggested that town vagrants be rounded up “to find slackers.” The writer cited reports from officers in other towns who had noticed that some men, “neater and cleaner than the professional hobo,” had been “‘bumming’ on the railroads since registration day. Most of these men are unable to show registration cards.”