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Waukesha World War I Heritage Trail

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This is a contributing entry for Waukesha World War I Heritage Trail and only appears as part of that tour.Learn More.
This house, located on Maria St., was the home of the WWI veteran Ernest Gerald Kline. Born to German parents in Elba, Wisconsin, Ernest moved to Waukesha, where he likely faced discrimination for being German-American. Becoming a cement finisher after school, Ernest would eventually find his way into enlisting into the U.S. Army during WWI. Although forgotten, Ernest was a perfect example of a first-generation German-American proving his loyalty towards the United States despite facing discrimination in Waukesha.

Ernest Kline's childhood home

Ernest Kline's childhood home

Ernest Kline's childhood home in 2020

Ernest Kline's childhood home in 2020

Ernest Kline's Military Service Record

Ernest Kline's Military Service Record

Born February 18th, 1888 in Elba, Wisconsin, Ernest Gerald Kline was the son of two German immigrants Charles G Kline and Augusta Kline. As a young child, Ernest and his family (except for his father) moved to Waukesha, Wisconsin where he received an eighth-grade education (which was normal at the time). Afterward, Ernest went to work for the cement company C A Dailey & Son where he became a cement finisher. Ernest was affiliated with the Methodist church where he likely attended camp meetings at the Metropolitan Church tents in Waukesha. Most German-Americans were not affiliated with the Metropolitan Church so it is possible that Ernest assimilated into the Metropolitan Church. Being a German-American, Ernest would face harsh discrimination due to the tensions between the United States and Germany. Xenophobic citizens of Waukesha would be suspicious of people who they suspected were German when they heard an accent or saw any German cultural characteristics. This is partly because of the 1913 German law that gave citizenship to Germans living in other countries. German-Americans were both citizens of the United States and of Germany which highly increased the suspicions of German-Americans. Due to increasing suspicions, it is very possible that most people within Ernest’s community accused him of being a spy for the Germans. Xenophobic citizens of Waukesha verbally abused German-Americans by accusing them of being “slackers” which was used to describe them as disloyal to the United States and slackers were reported to the public officials. The term “slackers” is not used as a serious insult today but in the 1910s, it was a very strong and harsh insult. Like many Germans and German-Americans were doing during WWI, Ernest enlisted in the U.S. Army on July 26th, 1918 possibly to prove his loyalty to the United States. 

Ernest Kline traveled to Louisville Kentucky, presumably by train, where he trained at Camp Zachary Taylor which housed over 60,000 other soldiers. During Ernest’s time at camp, he underwent very demanding training. Every morning, he would be abruptly woken up at 5:45 am by a blaring horn, go to an assembly at 6:00 am, and eat breakfast at 6:30 am. The remainder of his day at camp was tough training where he would learn how to march and salute, use guns (using wooden bayonets instead of real guns), and use hand grenades until 10:30 pm. Ernest enjoyed foods like steak, beans, pork, corn, bread, greens, potatoes, and much more. He was able to enjoy these foods because families around the United States changed their diets to provide more food for soldiers. Outside of training, Ernest was able to take advantage of the YMCA which offered religious, educational, and physical services for soldiers. Ernest passed time by doing anything from reading and learning about the war, health, and science, to playing sports like football and baseball. Ernest was able to take advantage of the Soldiers’ Club in downtown Louisville where he could go bowling, play pool, watch silent films, and reconnect with family and friends if they were to visit him. 

After Camp Zachary Taylor, Ernest was appointed to the Infantry branch where he served in Company 12, 1st Wisconsin Regiment. Although it is unclear exactly what Ernest did as he did not go overseas to fight in the war, he more than likely served in the National Guard. In the National Guard, he would have prevented enemy invasion, stopped people from rebelling, and/or being an enforcer of the law. It is unclear if Ernest was promoted during his service but it seems like he remained a private throughout his military career. Ernest’s service ended on June 12th, 1919 as he was demobilized at the end of the war. 

After the war, Ernest moved in with his brother-in-law Joseph Kramer and reconnected with C A Dailey & Son where he continued with his career as a cement finisher. Ernest didn’t live long enough to start a family of his own as he died on May 10th, 1930 at age 42. He was buried in Prairie Home Cemetery in Waukesha, Wisconsin. 

Ernest Kline might not have become famous but he was still a very brave and influential man. Despite being German-American and facing discrimination, Ernest stayed loyal to the United States and proved his loyalty by enlisting and serving in the U.S. Army in WWI. He continued to work after the war as a cement finisher until the day he died. Through all of Ernest Kline’s accomplishments, he has proven loyalty to the United States and lived an inspirational life that inspired the people he knew and loved.

A City's New Horizon. YouTube video, 12:20. Posted by “City of Waukesha,” 9 Jun. 2015.

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Department of Commerce - Bureau of the Census. United States Census, 1920. Scan of original census. Family Search. (accessed March 3, 2020).

Department of Commerce and Labor - Bureau of the Census. United States Census, 1910. Scan of original census. Family Search. (accessed March 3, 2020).

Donnelly, William M. “The Root Reforms and the National Guard.” U.S. Army Center of Military History. 2001. (accessed March 5, 2020).

Gross, Robert N. “‘Lick a Stamp, Lick a Kaiser’ Sensing the Federal Government in Children’s Lives during World War I.” Journal of Social History. Summer 2013, 974-978.

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Michaelis, Patricia. “Crisis of Loyalty: Examples of Anti-German Sentiment from Kansas Memory.” Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains, Vol. 40, Spring 2017. 23.

United States War Department Headstone Application for Ernest G. Kline, 1930. Scan of original application. Family Search. (accessed March 3, 2020).

United States World War I Draft Registration Card for Ernest G. Kline, 1917. Scan of original registration card. Family Search. (accessed March 3, 2020). 

U.S. Veterans Bureau. Veterans Administration Master Index, 1930. Scan of original card. Family Search.

Waukesha County. Military service record for Ernest G. Kline. Original card. From the Waukesha County Historical Museum (accessed March 3, 2020).

Wright Directory Co.. Wright’s Waukesha Directory Volume XII, 1919. Manuscript. From the Waukesha County Historical Museum (accessed March 3, 2020).