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Two stories bring light to life during World War I

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Marland Williams, a central part of "With Love to All," standing with his double bell euphonium. Marland was later known as "Doc Williams" to the people of Red Wing, Cannon Falls and Northfield. Photo submitted by Elizabeth Gomoll3 / 3

Imagine traveling back in time to 1918. During World War I, news spread slowly. Soldiers who documented their life during this time give us a glimpse inside this period of history.

The new story "With Love to All" does just that. Authors Elizabeth Williams Gomoll and Frederick L. Johnson bring to life two Minnesota soldiers, both with roots in Red Wing, by collectively illustrating their letters and photographs.

Goodhue County History Center will host a book launch at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 29, for "With Love to All," in addition to "Patriot Hearts," by Johnson. The launch will allow readers to hear the authors give a brief discussion of their collaborative story following a book signing during the event.

Two Minnesota soldiers

Seventeen-year-old Marland Williams and older brother Stanley Williams volunteered for duty in the aftermath of America's April 1917 declaration of war. With more than 100 photos from the two brothers, readers can put themselves in their shoes and view life as a World War I soldier.

Gomoll, a professional genealogist, first received a stack of 89 letters by her grandfather, Marland. The Williams brothers closed each letter, "With love to all."

"The letters are a century old and fragile, and the handwriting is not always easily decipherable," Gomoll said. "As I read them, I felt it was important to transcribe them so others in the family could appreciate them."

Working with Gomoll, Johnson provided the historical context behind the artifacts. With 40 years of writing, Johnson has also written 12 books about Minnesota history, several of which include Red Wing history.

"A great majority of the federal military records for World War I were destroyed by a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1973," Gomoll said. "Their letters refer to friends, family, and neighbors in and around the Red Wing community."

The book also provides an easy-to-read index for readers and researches to find references to their own family members.

Patriot Hearts

Complementary to "With Love to All," Johnson's story, "Patriot Hearts," focuses on Minnesota and Goodhue County during 1917-18.

"If people in Minnesota and the nation feel that the country is deeply divided today, they should have seen what went on (then)," Johnson said. "They will learn about those divisive times in this book."

For two years, Johnson said, those who lived in Red Wing and Goodhue County deeply struggled with ethnic, political and nationalist tensions. This led to U.S. involvement in World War I.

"A U.S. Supreme Court justice claimed Minnesota was the most politically repressive state in the nation," Johnson mentioned. "Red Wing and Goodhue County was in the state and national news with indictments for treason, anti-German violence and a controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision."

During this time, Johnson added, Red Wing was placed under martial law with armed soldiers lining the streets. His research elaborates fully on the local spies, super patriots, seditionists and political radicals in Red Wing, including a kidnapping that happened at the St. James Hotel.

"Citizens of Red Wing and Goodhue County should familiarize themselves with the disturbing events of 1917-18," Johnson said. "I guarantee they will be surprised, even shocked, at what they will discover."

For more information about the event, or to order a copy of "Patriot Hearts" and "With Love to All," visit goodhuecountyhistory.org.

Kit Murray

Kit Murray joined Red Wing Republican Eagle in Aug. 2016, covering government, transportation and public safety. She is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead with a degree in photojournalism and philosophy. 

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