June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to Austria-Hungary’s throne, and his wife, Sophie, were visiting Sarajevo; Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated the couple. A month later, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.
Within days, other countries got into the fray, including, Germany, Russia, France and United Kingdom; US President Woodrow Wilson announced the US would remain neutral.
After the German sinking of the British passenger ship Lusitania in May 1915 (which killed 1,201 people, including 128 Americans,) Wilson sent a strongly worded warning to Germany. After attempts to broker peace, then sinking of the American cargo ship Housatonic, Wilson broke off diplomatic relations with Germany.
With German submarine warfare continuing unabated, the final straw came on April 1, 1917, when the armed merchant ship Aztec was sunk off the northwest coast of France by U-boat 46 under the command of Leo Hillebrand. The Aztec was on its way from New York to Le Havre, France with a cargo of timber, copper, steel, chemicals and machinery.
All twenty eight members of the crew were killed, including Boatswain’s Mate First Class John I Eopolucci, a Naval Armed Guard – the first US Navy sailor killed in action in World War I. The attack on the Aztec was the final straw and led to America’s intervention into World War I.
“There are five Hawaiian boys thought to have been killed along with 16 Americans when the American steamer the Aztec was sunk.”
“This ship was sunk outside of the seas of France by the German submarine without being given prior time for the captain and his sailors to prepare themselves on the previous Sabbath.”
“Amongst the Americans who are thought to have died are some sailors of the navy which the government placed aboard the ship ….”
“These are the first sailors of the navy to become victims of the Prussians as they attacked without giving time for them to distance themselves from the calamity of the sea placed upon them, and it is believed that Germany is at fault for breaking the pact with America by Germany starting its massacre with its submarines.”
The Hawaiian boys killed on the Aztec by the Germans were: Julian R Macomber, Honolulu; Charles Pinapolo, Honolulu; Ekila Kaoki, Hawai‘i Island; Tato Davis, Hawai‘i Island and HK Price, Hawai‘i Island.
“When (Charles G) Macomber, the father of Julian Macomber, one of the Hawaiian boys whose bones were left at sea, heard the news, the father said:”
“‘My dear son as an American sailor, and a Hawaiian sailor, died a desirable death and I am happy. My son returned the other month in July of last year …’
“‘… and I told him that if he returned to the Atlantic coast, his life would be in danger, but he said that he was an American sailor so he was not frightened to go someplace, because he will only die once, and that he will die sometime. He was not going to be scared by Germany; I am a Hawaiian and an American sailor.’”
“This father repeated that he was happy to hear this news, but not over the death of his son.” (Aloha Aina, April 6, 1917)
On April 2, 1917, President Wilson appeared before Congress to deliver his historic war message and asked for a declaration of war against Germany.
Then as Congress convened, two more ships were sunk, the large freighter Missourian and the schooner Marguerite, with no casualties aboard either ship. On April 6, 1917, after twenty-nine months of official neutrality, the US declared war on Germany, formally entering World War I.
Support grew for an event to mourn the loss of Hawaiʻi’s first war dead. In a memorial service for the five, held April 22, 1917, “The dead were eulogized as heroes who lost their lives while maintaining the right of the principle that the seas are free to all. About a pavilion platform that was decorated with the Star Spangled Banner and the flag of Hawaiʻi … more than 2000 gathered …”
“That the Hawaiians died in the service of their country in upholding American right of legitimate commerce at sea was emphasized by the presence on the platform of the heads of the military and naval service in Hawaiʻi, and there was a solemn martial atmosphere to the gathering to remind even casual spectators that this was a memorial service in war time.” (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April 23, 1917)
“Senator HL Desha speaking in Hawaiian delivered an oration appropriate to the occasion. He spoke of the five brave men who died doing their duty and declared that for all we know on this earth, these men might have sacrificed their lives for the peace of the whole world.” (Hawaiian Gazette, April 24, 1917)
“An incident of unusual interest took place just prior to the reception. Colonel ʻIaukea had told Lili‘uokalani of the sinking of the Aztec, resulting in the death of five Hawaiian sailors, and asked her if on that account she would like to raise the American flag over her home.”
“She replied, most emphatically: ‘Yes. Have you a flag?’ When he said, ‘No’ an army officer who happened to be present offered to procure one. On its arrival the Queen went into the yard to watch the ceremony of raising the Stars and Stripes for the first time over Washington Place.” (Kihapi‘ilani; Ola o Hawaii, June 21, 1917)
“For the first time in its long and picturesque history, Washington Place, home of Queen Liliʻuokalani, was decorated today with an American flag.”
“It was the occasion of the visit of the legislators to pay their respects to the aged queen and in view of the extraordinary crisis in international affairs and the prospect of patriotic war action by congress …”
“… the queen allowed the flag to be flown in honor of the government which years ago was responsible for her loss of a monarchy.” (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April 3, 1917) (Reportedly, the American flag continued to fly over Washington Place.)
Lorrin Andrews delivered an oration on what the American flag represents, “There is a Flag floating over this building which symbolizes to all of us that which we hold most dear.”
“It was conceived in a struggle for liberty against oppression. It presided over the birth of the greatest republic that the world has ever seen, and it has always represented honor, freedom and justice.” (Hawaiian Gazette, April 24, 1917)
Liliʻuokalani continued to occupy Washington Place until her death later that year (November 11, 1917.)