- Associated Press - Sunday, November 22, 2015

LAWTON, Okla. (AP) - Lawton was transformed from a sleepy town to a bustling city in June 1917 when Camp Doniphan was established at Fort Sill, where thousands of soldiers were trained before they went “over there” to finish World War I.

“Its population is doubled and is augmented every evening by thousands of soldiers from the fort, who visit the city’s cafes, cabarets, picture shows and theatres. The city, which formerly closed its doors at 9 p.m. and was asleep at 10, is now the playhouse of the soldier boys,” a 1918 Constitution article reported.

“Since the arrival of the first big contingent of troops, it may be said that Lawton has not been asleep. The music of the jazz bands mingles with the martial airs of the military organizations, while the hurdy-gurdy of the merry-go-rounds vie with the electric pianos of the drink emporiums. ….”

The Lawton Constitution (https://bit.ly/1MqgRno ) reports that the city, which a year ago boasted a half dozen soda fountains, three picture shows and three cafes, now has three picture shows, two vaudeville houses, scores of soft drink emporiums and many cafes.”

In the midst of all that activity, Lawton citizens jumped into war work.

“That the work undertaken by the local chapter of the Red Cross Society will soon become the popular pastime of the women of the city, both the younger and elder, is a prophesy easily believed when the progress the society has made in the short time it has been organized is made known. Picture shows, card parties, teas, dances and like social affairs with which many are wont to pass the time, will soon be in the discard to be replaced by constructive work of the Red Cross society,” according to a May 1917 Constitution article.

“Starting with a total membership of a little less than 50 … the chapter has grown to a membership of nearly 150, in the past two or three weeks. There have been two different departments organized here. One the first aid and the other the hospital supply department. The first aid class limited to 25 members meets each week to receive instructions. One class was found to be inadequate … so another class is being formed.”

“The hospital supply department is composed of 50 active members at present and probably 50 inactive. The active members assist in the preparation of supplies such as sheets, pillow cases, bath robes and other necessary articles … The inactive members … contribute financial support,” the 1917 article stated.

The life of a Lawton High School student was also completely changed by the declaration of war on April 6, 1917.

“Our high school life jogged along at an even pace until we were juniors,” Margaret Fullerton wrote in Great Plains Journal, Vol. 21. “Suddenly in April 1917, our lives were shattered when the United States entered World War I.”

“Starting by marching in Lawton’s first big patriotic parade, we joined the nation in our attempt to make our world safe for democracy. At least, we believed that was what we were doing.”

“That summer thousands of extra troops were sent to train at Fort Sill. We high school students continued to attend classes, but all our activities were devoted to win-the-war projects. We helped build and maintain a club house for the entertainment of the troops.”

“I played the piano there for the boys to sing,” Fullerton wrote. “In one evening I was introduced to three different soldiers, each of whom was allegedly the composer of ‘There’s a Long, Long Trail a-Winding.’ It was the new hit song that season.”

Almost every family in town, including the Fullertons, opened their homes to families who were visiting their sons in camp. Mabel Watson Fullerton, Margaret’s mother, also arranged for guests to stay in their home and have dinner with their folks.

“In our home economics department, we packed thousands of lunches for troop trains,” Fullerton said. “We adopted a French baby and sent clothes to the Belgians. Everyone planted Victory Gardens and helped with endless bond drives. By the time we graduated, practically every boy who had ever attended Lawton High School had enlisted. We showed a star for each one on our honor roll when we graduated in May 1918.”

Some of those boys may have been among those who never made it home.

“Approximately 2,000 Camp Doniphan trainees gave their lives in the September to Nov. 11, 1918, Meuse-Argonne campaign, the historic Allied offensive drive which helped end the war,” according to the Jan. 5, 1969, Fort Sill Centennial Edition of The Lawton Constitution-Morning Press.

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Information from: The Lawton Constitution, https://www.swoknews.com

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