Tuesday, July 8, 2008

4th of July - a license to preach and a call to duty

Over the Fourth of July weekend 90 years ago, the City Council of West Point, Nebraska passed a resolution that citizens were not to hold "assemblages not in sympathy with the war" or to distribute literature "out of harmony with the war."

Anti-German hysteria was sweeping the nation, particularly in places like Nebraska where large numbers of German immigrants lived. West Point's Fourth of July resolution was in keeping with recent laws passed at the state level. On March 20, 1918, a special session of the Nebraska State Legislature had passed the Sedition Law, which included the stipulation that "no alien enemy may act in the capacity of preacher... without having first filed an application in district court... The applicant must show when he came to this country, what places he has been, what steps taken toward completing naturalization and what contributions he has made toward winning the war."

With the Sedition Law now in effect, the local paper in West Point reported on April 19th that three Catholic priests and one Lutheran minister "were not permitted to preach last Sunday," because they were not yet citizens.

According to subsequent reports, Fathers Grobbel, Roth, and Brasch and Pastor Mangelsdorf "appeared in court the next week. Each stated his sympathy to the American cause and stated they were in the process of becoming citizens. They were granted licenses to preach... Area residents who had not completed all necessary paperwork to become U.S. citizens fell into the category of possible enemy aliens." [source]

Father Peter Anton Grobbel was born in 1873 in Milchenbach, Westphalia, Prussia, Germany and was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1905. He was immediately sent overseas to serve the German-speaking parishes of eastern Nebraska and by 1918, he had been pastor for five years at St. Anthony's Parish in St. Charles, Nebraska, which was located four miles southwest of West Point.

At the same time Fr. Grobbel was assuring his parishoners and neighbors that he was "sympathetic to the American cause", his 4th cousin - whom he had never met because his cousin's grandfather had emigrated to Michigan back in 1849 - was receiving his induction notice and getting ready to fight for that American cause . Clement Anthony Grobbel, born in 1895 in Warren Township, Michigan, arrived in Camp Custer on June 27th after a train ride from Detroit on the Michigan Central Railroad.

One of the first things he did after arriving was to write a short message to his younger brother, Leo. On the front of the post card below he wrote, "

Dear Bro., Ar. safe and sound. Left Detroit 2 o’clock arrived 3:30, the train was about 15 minutes late. We are going on a big hike tomorrow. Best regards to all, Clem

Camp Custer post card