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Miguel “Mike” Ontiveros, son of Alejandro Miguel and Viviana Antonia (Ruiz) Ontiveros and great grandson of Juan Pacific and Martina (Osuna) Ontiveros, was born May 23, 1892 in Sisquoc.

The couple had 10 children (seven boys and three girls), one of whom (Francisco Porfirio “Porfy”) married Erlinda Ontiveros, author of the highly acclaimed book “San Ramon Chapel Pioneers and Their California Heritage.”

Not much is known about Mike’s early years, except that he grew up on the family ranch in Sisquoc.

Mike was only 22 years of age when trouble began in Europe in July of 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in Sarajevo, Bosnia, an incident that sparked a fire that resulted in a chain reaction that led to the mobilization of Europe’s great powers, and inevitably to the outbreak of war.

During the conflict, Germany, Austria- Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire (the Central Powers) fought against Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy and Romania.

In the meantime, the United States was maintaining strict neutrality.

That was about to change when Germany created a naval blockade of England and friction with Germany intensified, hindering England's trade with the U.S.

By 1915, Germany announced that it would attack any ships trying to run the blockade. In early 1915, Germany sank the William P. Frye, which was a private U.S. ship. Germany later apologized and called the sinking a mistake. However, by February of 1917, Germany resumed attacks on shipping vessels, one of which was the American ship, the Housatonic, which was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat. By this time, the United States sensed that war was on the horizon and began to make preparations to step in and fight. Within a month, Germany had sunk four more American merchant ships.

On May 7, 1915 the RMS Lusitania, a British passenger ship located off the coast of Ireland, was sunk by torpedoes fired from a German U-Boat, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,200 passengers, 128 of whom were American. Within six months, another German U-Boat torpedoed an Italian ship, killing 17 Americans who were on board.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came when a telegram sent by Germany’s foreign minister to Mexico, promising them that, in exchange for their support during the war, Germany would help to retake the U.S. territory Mexico had lost during the Mexican-American War. Although the telegram was intercepted by the British, it wasn’t turned over to the Americans right away as they didn’t want Germany to know that they had broken their code. However, when Germany continued to attack American ships, the British used the telegram to persuade the Americans into joining the war on the side of the Allies.

The Zimmerman telegram, along with suspected German sabotage on U.S. docks, plus unrestricted submarine warfare by Germany, forced President Wilson’s hand in asking Congress for a declaration of war against Germany on April 5, 1917. It was then that the Senate voted to declare war by a vote count of 82 to 6, and the House of Representatives endorsed the declaration by a vote of 373 to 50. War was declared on April 6, 1917 and the United States fought alongside the Allied forces until the war ended.

With an army of 200,000, of which 80,000 were National Guard’s men, the United States was totally unprepared for war. The first act of Congress was to pass the National Defense Act, changing the numbers of soldiers in the army to 175,000. By the war’s end, the U.S. had 4-million men in uniform with half of them in Europe. Most had arrived too late to fight. It was a Herculean task, but the United States did it!

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On May 18, 1917, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, requiring men between the ages of 21 and 30 to register with the local draft boards. President Wilson signed the bill into law.

Mike Ontiveros registered for the draft on June 5, 1917 when the total number of registrations for the county of Santa Barbara was 4,578 with 2,003 claiming exemptions.

The next article that I was able to find about Mike Ontiveros was on June 28, 1918 when he was being shipped overseas on the commercial steamer, Nestor, from the port of embarkation in Hoboken, New York.

Four months later, on October 19, 1918, 26 years-old Pvt. Mike Ontiveros was killed in the line of duty during the Meuse Argonne Offensive, the largest and bloodiest operation of Word War I for the American Expeditionary Forces. He was buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne, France. A memorial stone was later placed in the Ramon Ontiveros Burying Grounds. Twenty-three days after his death, an armistice was signed with Germany.

World War I, the “war to end all wars,” ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919. However, the Third Army was formed from existing units and stayed there to insure that Germany did not re-arm. The war finally ended in January of 1923 when U.S. forces left the Rhineland and were replaced by the French, who stayed until 1930. Adolph Hitler reoccupied the Rhineland in 1933 after coming into power … and the rest is history.

World War I, plus the outbreak of the Spanish Flu in 1918, claimed the lives of more than 16 million people, soldiers and civilians alike.

Many thanks to Jim Zemaitis, who has done much research relative to the history of World War I and was willing to share it with me.

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