Coming Home

The “home” that soldiers returned to was quite different than the one they left in 1917-1918. It set the stage for the arts movements of the Roaring Twenties and for better veterans’ services in World War II.


When World War I ended in 1918, the United States had over four million men in uniform, half of which were overseas as part of the American Expeditionary Forces. The unexpected conclusion of the war—the Allies had war plans extending into 1919—meant that the U.S. had to demobilize its military, in the middle of the Influenza Pandemic, without efficient planning. In this chaotic atmosphere, the U.S. Army began demobilizing units located beyond the front lines before those who fought in combat on the Western Front. Men anxious for home were held at hastily constructed debarkation centers near French ports, awaiting ship transports that would carry them back to the United States. Special recreation activities—including the summer 1919 Inter-Allied Games—were put in place to keep restless soldiers active, though that did not quell all discord. The last American combat units finally left France in September 1919, but it took another six months before all American soldiers on the Western Front returned home.

The home that soldiers returned to was quite different than the one they left in 1917-1918. Prohibition, criminalizing the sale of alcohol, was in effect nationwide after decades of advocating by various temperance groups. The majority of women federally gained the right to vote through the 19th Amendment ratified in 1920; additionally, many women were not eager to abandon the economic and social freedoms enjoyed during the war. There was also societal and political unrest with the First Red Scare, labor agitations and violent race riots. Veterans, feeling abandoned by the government that they served and supported, increasingly argued for Congress to assist with their welfare, finally achieving passage of a post-dated bonus bond in 1924. Unfortunately, at the very time when these bonds came due and were needed the most, the country collapsed into the Great Depression. This led veterans to march on Washington, D.C. in 1932, only to be forcibly turned away by the very military they served in during World War I.

Despite many veterans’ difficult transition from military service to civilian life, Americans sought to honor their wartime service. President Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as Armistice Day in 1919; President Warren Harding dedicated the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1921; and thousands of memorials to those that served and died were and continue to be built across the country. This culture of remembrance helped preserve the memory of the World War I generation for today and the future.

Topic Resources

SUBJECTS: U.S. History, Government

GRADE LEVELS: 5-8, 9-12


World War I: Coming Home

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Primary Source

Rules for Discharging Disabled Veterans, 1919

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Lesson Plan

America’s Failed Response to the Armenian Genocide

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Coming Home

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