A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Our Rich History: As World War I is declared, first local man is selected for the army

By Paul A. Tenkotte
Special to NKyTribune

The Cincinnati Post of Wednesday, August 1, 1917 was crystal clear that Cincinnati history had just been made by Asa Williams, of 755 State Avenue. Williams, a welder at the Globe-Wernicke Co. in Norwood, Ohio, became — as the Post noted in all-capital letters—the “VERY FIRST CINCINNATI MAN SELECTED FOR THE ARMY.”

It was the Great War — World War I — and Cincinnatians were about to take their places in a war to “make the world safe for democracy.”

The nation, and President Wilson, had initially been reluctant to pursue war. Wilson’s campaign slogan in the presidential election of 1916, in fact, was “He Kept Us Out of War.”

However, increasing hostilities against American shipping and the Zimmermann Telegram, led to the US Congress declaring war against Germany on April 6th. On April 28th, the House and Senate passed the “Selective Service” act, that is, a mandatory draft. The first national registration date, for men aged 21 through 31, was June 5th.

With only about 300,000 men in both the army and the National Guard combined, the US was woefully unprepared for a military engagement in Europe. The draft was literally a military necessity, but the entire process of selecting, training, and transporting men abroad would require months.

Asa Porter Williams was born in 1892 in Rockdale, Kentucky. According to his draft registration card, he was of medium height and build, with dark brown hair and eyes.

Williams officially enlisted in the army on September 4, 1917. He served in Co A of the 330th Infantry and in Co A of the 9th Machine Gun Battalion. He was honorably discharged on August 23, 1919. Williams lived a long life, dying in the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Cincinnati on March 16, 1979, at age 86.

The second and third Cincinnati men selected were: Clifford W. Wiebold, a commercial artist of 422 Considine Avenue, and Bernard H. Bley, a machine assembler of 2204 Gest Street.

Clifford Wiebold was born on July 19, 1893 in Cincinnati, Ohio. According to his World War I draft registration card, he was single, tall and slender, with dark brown hair and light brown eyes.

Wiebold officially enlisted into the army a year later, in August 1918. He served in the Ordnance division of the army, and was honorably discharged on January 13, 1919. He died on April 3, 1962, and was buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Cincinnati.

Bernard Henry Bley was born on April 20, 1892 in Ohio. According to his draft registration card, he was tall, of medium build, with dark hair and brown eyes. Bley officially enlisted in the army on December 18, 1917. He was promoted to Corporal in July 1918, and served in the Artillery Corps until January 8, 1919. He died on November 24, 1944 and was buried in Livonia, Michigan.

Fortunately, all of the first three Cincinnatians selected for the draft survived the war.

In all, more than 4 million Americans served in a military capacity during World War I, and of those, more than 53,000 died in battle.

We want to learn more about the history of your business, church, school, or organization in our region (Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky). If you would like to share your rich history with others, please contact the editor of “Our Rich History,” Paul A. Tenkotte, at tenkottep@nku.edu. Paul A. Tenkotte, PhD is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Public History at NKU.

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