Joe

Hint: He is German, born in Cologne in 1862. Still nothing? OK, now peek.

 

Kaiser Wilhelm? Oh, that’s an excellent guess if you made it, and you played right into my hands. Exxxxcellent. But wrong.

His name was Joseph Havertz, Sr. We came across Mr. Havertz in our research for our book, No Peace with the Dawn: A Novel of the Great War. We wanted to know what life was like in a college town in the first years of WWI, how the war changed that life, and why so many college-age students would drop everything and volunteer to serve, both at home and overseas.

Finding Joe Havertz was one of those rare moments historians treasure, a little slice of America as actual people experienced it. Joe converted to the LDS faith in the 1890s, and then emigrated to the U.S. in 1893 with his family. He was sponsored by the missionaries he met in Germany, and he moved to Logan, Utah, to begin a new life in Zion.

We found Joe in the campus newspaper, mentioned in little snippets students put in the paper about funny things that happened. He comes up again and again, always with a tone of affection. Joe was a campus custodian, and the students often commented on two things.

First, Joe rang the campus bell in Old Main to signal the end of one class session and the beginning of another. The students nicknamed him “The Kaiser,” because he looked vaguely like Kaiser Wilhelm. He rang the bells with such precision that students swore he could play Deutschland Uber Alles on them.

Joe also acted as umpire for “friendly” base ball (two words in those days) games on the quad behind Old Main. It’s unlikely Joe had ever played base ball, so his calls must have been rather uneven, uttered through his thick German accent. There is one account of him at a game that went something like this: “Kaiser Havertz goose-stepped in a circle, planted his feet firmly in American soil, and gave the salute, sending the second baseman off the field of battle.” Some of those terms sound more appropriate for WWII don’t they? “The salute,” or “Goose-stepped.” But they are absolutely appropriate for WWI as well, just like the terms “D-Day,” and “H-Hour.” It just reminds us how much WWII history has sort of blotted out WWI.

It’s clear from reading these snippets that the students loved Joe. Being called “Kaiser” in 1915 was not intended as an insult, not at all. While many were troubled with the actions of the German government, Americans admired many things German – their thrift, industry, and efficiency to name a few. It was not clear yet that Germany was “the enemy,” not to Americans. If you lived in this period and were asked to name America’s greatest rivals (and threats) you may have listed Germany, but also Japan, and, most surprisingly, Great Britain!

As the war progressed though, attitudes began to change. Outrages committed by the Germans multiplied, and attacks on American-flagged ships in the Atlantic drew us firmly into a war few Americans could imagine in 1914. Growing anti-German sentiment played out here in the Cache Valley in unpleasant ways. Mandatory registration of German-born citizens, the banning of teaching German in Utah schools, even the closing of the German-speaking LDS ward here. The loyalty of German speaking people was questioned, and it didn’t matter if they were German, Swiss, Austrian, etc. Emigrants who had been invited to move here were no longer as welcome as they had been.

In 1917, Joe asked a student to insert a snippet into the paper on his behalf. He no longer wished to be called “Kaiser.” He was a loyal American, he said. He had never so much as tipped his hat to Kaiser Wilhelm, and he had bought as many Liberty Bonds as he could. What makes this so fascinating for me is that it is one thing to understand that the social environment was changing in the abstract, but here is one little slice of someone’s life where you can see it, almost experience it. Wonderful when you find stuff like this.

Joe Havertz was most certainly a loyal American. I tracked down his grandson in hopes of learning more about him. Joe forbade the speaking of German in his home, which was hard on his wife since she did not speak much English and did not work outside the home. He said, “We are Americans now, and we will speak English.” And Joe lived the American dream. His son graduated from Utah State and became a career U.S. Army officer, including fighting in WWII. His grandson, Dr. David Havertz, is Emeritus Professor of Zoology at Weber State University. He also served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force. Dr. Havertz was not aware of any of the stories about his grandfather’s days as bell ringer and umpire, and it was a delight telling him about it. I felt like I had preserved just a little thin slice, a small sample of the life from a story lost to history.

My book with E.B. Wheeler is fiction, but we used real characters in several places because it made the work more authentic, and because we had a chance to tell great stories like Joe’s. He appears in a base ball game where several of our main characters meet for the first time. Play ball!