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Remembering central New York's role in World War I

Onondaga Historical Association
A rally held in Syracuse to welcome soldiers who trained at Camp Syracuse during World War I

A focus this Veterans Day has been on World War I.  It was 100 years ago, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 the guns of World War I were silenced with an armistice. Central New York has been remembering its part in what was once called the war to end all wars.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News
Homer Wheaton of Pompey was killed in World War I and was awarded the American Distinguished Service Cross

About 13,000 Central New Yorkers served in World War I, most of them drafted. Of them, 413 were killed, including Corporal Homer Wheaton. Wheaton was born in Pompey to one of the oldest families in central New York. As an orphan, he volunteered to go to war, and died on a French battlefield. Wheaton was the first recipient of the American Distinguished Service Cross.

"He sacrificed his own life to save his comrades, by dropping his body on a live hand grenade," said Thomas Hunter, curator of collections at the Onondaga Historical Association.

Central New York was not only impacted by the soldiers who left the area, but by thousands who came to Camp Syracuse, at the state fairgrounds. Many of those soldiers at the training camp interacted with central New Yorkers, visiting canteens run by locals and visiting the city for dances and entertainment.

"Those men who came here who were treated well by the local citizens," said Hunter. "Some of those men were the ones who paid for the Rock of the Marne statue in Billings Park on South Salina Sreet in Syracuse. They were very impressed with the people of the community.”

One downside of that interaction was that the soldiers also infected many central New Yorkers with the Spanish Flu outbreak that was sweeping the world at the time. One other tragic note, the Semet Solvay Process Company retooled its limestone quarry at Split Rock into a munitions factory.  An explosion there in 1918 killed an estimated 50 men, and injured 50 others.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.