New Jersey’s Vital Role in World War I

The New Jersey State Library’s three month commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of World War I culminated on Wednesday, November 15 with James Hockenberry discussing New Jersey’s Role in World War I: Sabotage Target and Key State in the War Effort. Hockenberry gave the last in a four lecture series on New Jersey’s role in the “War to End All Wars,” providing tidbits about the period and stories about why and how New Jersey became a main sabotage target of the Germans.

New Jersey played a key role in America’s efforts during the war. Seventy-five percent of troops sent overseas were trained here at Camp Merritt, Cresskill, and Fort Dix and shipped out of Hoboken. There was also a training center for women entering the Signal Corps.

New Jersey’s economic strength, both as a manufacturing force and shipping hub, started because of World War I, and was vital to the Allies’ success. Although proclaiming neutrality, the United States accepted the blockade of Axis countries and increased trade with the Allies. NJ supplied 40 percent of Allied material; 50 percent of all munitions. Without the United States and New Jersey, Germany would have won the war. This increased manufacturing and trade was a boon, but also had a down side. It made New Jersey a target of German sabotage, most notably the attack on Black Tom Island (now part of Liberty Park) in New York Harbor. The New York Times has described this incident as “the most destructive terrorist attack in America before 9/11.”  That explosion of 2 million pounds of explosives at the munitions plant registered 5.5 on the Richter Scale and made the Statue of Library glow orange. The talk described the events around this and other key incidents, such as the Henry Ford Peace mission, destruction of the Kingsland plant and other explosions at the Roebling plant in Trenton, and a plant in Haskell.

A career financial executive with a BA from Lafayette College and an MBA from Columbia University, Hockenberry has redirected his life to thriller writing with his planned “World War One Intrigue” series. The change has allowed him to interweave three of his long-time passions: history, literature and his German-American roots. His award winning first novel, Over Here, set in 1915-16, dramatizes the little known but extensive undeclared war Germany fought on American soil.

Hockenberry provided an interesting handout on the “59 Things You Didn’t Know about World War I” that he compiled.