VIDEO VAULT | The Las Vegas homefront during World War I

Troops at LV Train Station UNLV Special Collections

This Sunday, Nov. 11, marks 100 years since the armistice was signed that ended World War I, or The Great War, as it was called at the time, which involved 32 countries.

A new exhibit, which is a collaboration between the Nevada State Museum and the Las Vegas Springs Preserve, brings together artifacts, articles, photographs and more with a distinct perspective.

"So, we wanted to focus on how it was experienced in Nevada," explains Crystal Van Dee, co-curator of the exhibit along with the Nevada State Museum's Ilana Short.

When the United States entered the conflict in 1917, the city had only existed for 12 years as a dusty railroad stop on the route between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.

"You have to remember that Las Vegas itself was maybe around 2,000 people in the whole city, and then Clark County would have been a couple thousand more," explains Van Dee.

Uncle Sam set up a draft for each community according to its size.

Van Dee notes, "We did meet our quota. There was a draft quota and an enlistment quota, and Las Vegas met that quota as well."

Hundreds from Clark County made the journey "over there."

Enlistees can be found proudly posing for a photo on the front page of the Las Vegas Age, one of two weekly newspapers serving Clark County.

Other editions listed the draftees by name and lottery number.

In addition to manpower, the war effort needed produce, which was grown here in the valley and elsewhere.

In the area that is now Sunset Park and Wayne Newton's Casa de Shenandoah, Japanese immigrant Yonema "Bill" Tomiyasu was raising a variety of crops.

In the nearby Moapa Valley, different types of melons were being farmed on a large scale.

President Woodrow Wilson called on farmers to contribute to the war effort, sending out a "National Preparedness Train" which made a stop in Las Vegas on May 16, 1917, six weeks after Congress had passed a resolution to go to war against Germany.

"There was a worldwide food shortage during the war," says Van Dee. "So Nevada was still very agricultural. We were able to participate a lot that way."

As the war progressed, locals scanned the Las Vegas Age and Clark County Review for details, long before television or even radio had arrived here.

"What people were getting in the newspaper, that was it, and letters home," says Van Dee.

Decades later, in what became an annual parade down Fremont Street before the canopy began construction in 1993, News 3 spoke with veterans of The Great War.

"That was in July 1918 when I enlisted," said veteran Jose Montoya during the 1992 procession. "Then I was active duty until February 1919."

"I remember back 65 years ago when I was standing in the mud in France," noted an unidentified veteran on Fremont in 1983. "Today, I'm under sunshine in Nevada, which is a blessing."

What did he think of most when recalling the conflict?

"The first thing: I'm glad I'm alive," the veteran replied with a smile.

Weapons weren't the only thing to be afraid of as the United States poured troops into Europe.

A deadly worldwide flu, which eventually killed more people than the war itself, started several months before the armistice was signed, and impacted Las Vegas directly.

"The earliest outbreaks were toward the summer," says Van Dee, referring to a graph showing the number of flu cases. "Then, they slumped off and peaked again in the winter. So, they kind of went through 1919 after that."

Articles referring to the flu and safety measures can be found in local newspapers, but there was not much in the way of statistics, which might have dampened morale.

"You didn't have to report flu deaths to the health department at the time, so we don't really know exactly how many people in Nevada died of the flu," said Van Dee.

The 100th anniversary exhibit is actually in two parts.

The display at the Nevada State Museum concentrates on the conflict was seen in the Silver State ("The Homefront"), while its counterpart at the Origen Museum looks at the war from more of an international perspective ("The Western Front").

Both exhibits are located within the Las Vegas Springs Preserve on Valley View at Meadows Lane.

For more information, visit the Nevada State Museum's website.

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