More than 14,000 New Mexicans served in uniform during World War I, and thousands more contributed to the American home front. Yet today in New Mexico, as elsewhere, the Great War and the lives it affected are scarcely remembered. Lest We Forget confronts that amnesia. The first detailed study to describe New Mexico’s wartime mobilization, its soldiers’ combat experiences, and its veterans’ postwar lives, the book offers a poignant account of the profound changes these Americans underwent both during and after the war.
By focusing on New Mexico, historian David V. Holtby underscores the challenges New Mexicans faced as they rallied support at home, served in Europe, and came home as veterans. Income disparity, gender divisions, political factionalism, and conflict between rural and urban lifeways all affected the war and its aftermath. Holtby shows how New Mexico responded to these problems even as it coped with federal action and inaction.
In more than 1,500 eyewitness statements collected in Spanish and English not long after the war ended, New Mexicans described the murderous effects of shrapnel and gas warfare, the impact of the Spanish influenza, and the many other challenges they faced on the front as members of the American Expeditionary Forces. Lest We Forget recounts the background of these soldiers, but it also tells the often-overlooked story of what happened to New Mexico’s veterans after the war. Theirs is a story of resilience in the face of unfulfilled government promises, economic reversals, partisan politicizing of the state’s American Legion posts, and the challenges the newly created Veterans Bureau faced as it was overwhelmed by cases of shell shock (known today as PTSD).
Although New Mexicans’ wartime efforts were in some ways unique, their story ultimately provides a revealing glimpse of the experiences of all Americans during World War I. A timely reminder of the courage and tragedy that accompany full-scale modern warfare, Lest We Forget reminds us of the enduring legacy of a vast international conflict that had keenly felt and long-lasting repercussions back home.
“In Lest We Forget, David V. Holtby, one of the foremost historians of twentieth-century New Mexico, gives voice to veterans of the Great War who chose to speak of their experiences, and evokes the poignant silence of those who could not put into words the horrors they had lived. This is a deeply moving book, meticulously researched and beautifully written. The only comprehensive study of New Mexico's participation in World War I, it could well serve as the model for histories of other states’ participation in the Great War. Unquestionably, this is one of New Mexico’s most important histories.”—Rick Hendricks, State Historian of New Mexico
“David Holtby’s Lest We Forget, a well-written and thorough analysis of New Mexico’s significant contribution to the American effort in 1917–1918, is a worthy addition to World War I historiography and comes highly recommended.”—Mitchell Yockelson, author of Forty-Seven Days: How Pershing’s Warriors Came of Age to Defeat the German Army in World War I