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Harold Brown, Kern County's first recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, with his wife, Grace.

Courtesy of Kern County Museum

When the United States entered World War I, Kern County's 50,000 residents were in a unique position to contribute with their gold and silver mines, oil fields and a growing agriculture industry.

The oil fields blossoming north of Bakersfield along the Kern River and on the west side of Kern County in the even larger Midway-Sunset Oil Fields were drawing in workers from all over the world for the good wages. The railroads of the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe were hauling the oil north and east out of Kern County to support the growing war effort.

Due to the large number of men needed, many men emigrated from Ireland, Scotland and England to work in Kern's oil fields. With so many British citizens living in Kern County, Congress allowed the British and Canadian armies to open recruiting offices across the nation, including on 18th Street in downtown Bakersfield.

Seven men from Kern County were killed while serving in the Canadian Army and one was killed while serving in the British Army during World War I.

Kern County's effort during the Great War was organized and planned under the leadership of Judge Milton T. Farmer the Kern County Council of Defense. By June of 1917, a Women's Council of Defense for Kern County was formed to register local women under a national food preservation and conservation plan so they could systematically take up efforts proposed by state and national organizations.

Kern County did not just contribute with its vast natural resources, but with its women and men.

Harold Brown was Kern County's first recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, the military's second-highest medal for valor after being killed in action for volunteering for a patrol to reconnect the "Lost Battalion" with reserve troops.

Born in Buttonwillow and raised on a farm off Union Avenue, he was living with his wife, Grace, and daughter, Alta, at 1205 G St. in Bakersfield when he joined the Army in 1917.

In the summer of 1918, Brown went "over there" with the 40th Division -- the "Sunshine Division" -- made up of men from the southwestern U.S. After three days in England, the men were broken up and sent to eight other American divisions as replacement troops.

Brown was killed fighting with men of the 308th Infantry, 77th Division, a battalion made up of working-class men in the "melting pot" of the Lower East Side of Manhattan in a neighborhood of recent immigrants to America.

During World War I, the women of Kern County contributed to the war effort by serving in France as Red Cross nurses. They were Mary B. Williams, Florence Mclsaacs, M.F. Birmingham, Emma Nixon and Emma Lynch.

Answering their country's call for Red Cross nurses in Italy were Florence McCart, Theresa Corti and Josephine Butler.

During World War I, Kern County had men serve in different capacities and assignments: one as a camp tailor, one in the balloon corps, several as mule skinners -- they drove wagons -- and another from Lost Hills as an ace fighter pilot.

When the war was over on Nov. 11, 1918, 78 Kern County servicemen would pay the ultimate sacrifice for their flag and country.

Ken Hooper is president of the Kern County Historical Society, historian for the Kern Veterans Memorial Foundation, and a U.S. history and archiving teacher at Bakersfield High School.

This first appeared in a Californian special publication, "The story of us," Aug. 6, 2016.

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