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World War I Navy Uniform

Joe Price's navy uniform, World War I.American involvement in World War I is usually associated with soldiers on the battlefields of France.  One Kansas sailor wore this uniform during a unique experience patrolling the west coast of the United States.

Joe Price, a young man from Effingham, Kansas, enlisted in the U.S. Navy on July 26, 1918, 18 months after the United States declared war on Germany.  Price was assigned to the USS Vicksburg, a ship ordered to patrol the U.S. west coast.  While this assignment may have seemed far from the action in Europe, it actually was in response to the possibility of an attack on the continental United States.

Before 1917, the United States remained neutral despite attacks on ships by German submarines that resulted in American deaths.  The most famous attack sunk the Lusitania in 1915, a disaster in which 128 Americans died.  In January 1917, Germany gave the U.S. an unavoidable reason to enter the war.  Arthur Zimmermann, the German Foreign Minister, sent a coded telegram to the German ambassador in Mexico.  In it, Zimmermann suggested a German-Mexican military alliance if it appeared the U.S. would enter the war.  In return for their cooperation, the Germans would help Mexico regain the lost territory of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  British intelligence intercepted the message and alerted American officials.  With the potential of a direct threat from Germany, the U.S. could not remain neutral. 

Joe Price in his Navy uniform.

Though Mexico declined Germany’s offer, the U.S. was fearful that Germany would use Mexican waters to stage an attack.  To prevent this, the USS Vicksburg patrolled the Pacific, looking for signs of German submarines.

The patrol was uneventful for most of the war; however, on March 17, 1918, the Vicksburg received intelligence that a schooner carrying Germans was leaving Viejo Bay, Mexico.  The Vicksburg chased down the schooner and found five Germans, eight Mexicans, and an American spy, as well as arms, ammunition, and a German flag on board.  Though this was the patrol’s only significant find, the ship continued to protect the west coast until October 1919 (almost a year after the war's end).  The Vicksburg also escorted American ships going to Russia as part of the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War.

The uniform shown here belonged to Joe Price, a sailor on the Vicksburg from 1918 to 1919.  View an image of the back of the uniform.  His children donated it to the collections of the Kansas Museum of History in 2009.

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Entry: World War I Navy Uniform

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: October 2011

Date Modified: July 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.