The Day When the Serbian and U.S. Flags Flew Together Over the White House

Relations between Serbia and the United States of America during World War I, the “Great War,” were as friendly allies. July 28, 1918, however, was especially important for Serbs and Americans. On this day America marked the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the Great War, when, according to the words of U.S. Secretary of State Robert Lansing, “honorable Serbian people were forced to defend their country and their homes against an enemy who wanted to destroy them,” and when the Serbian people, “sacrificed everything for freedom and independence.”

Americans clearly expressed their support and sympathy for the Serbian people from the very beginning of the Great War. During 1914, 1915 and 1916, enormous financial support and thousands of tons of humanitarian aid were provided to the Serbian people from the United States. There was money for food for civilians, for refugees, to fight typhoid, seed to plant for the next harvest, agricultural tools, and even funding to lease refugee transport ships.

Serbian Ambassador Mihajlovic sends detailed report to the Serbian MFA on the Serbian Day in Washington, including the description of the Serbian flag being raised above the White House.

The United States of America officially celebrated July 28, 1918 as “Serbia Day.” On July 27, U.S. Secretary of State Robert Lansing called on every American citizen to, “gather on Sunday, July 28 in their churches in order to express their sympathies toward this enslaved nation (Serbia) and their oppressed brothers in other countries and to invoke the blessing of the almighty God for them and cause that they are fighting for.”  Thanks to a report by the Serbian Ambassador to the United States and an article published in Detroit News, we know today that, “over the White House and other public institutions waved the Serbian flag for the first time.” Other than the American and Serbian flags, only one other has been flown over the White House. That was the French flag, on the 131th anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, on July 14, 1920.


Diplomatic Correspondence between The United States and Serbia

June 1st, 1918

“Dear Mr Phillips,July 28th, 1918 is the day when the Central Powers declared war on the civilized world. That very day Austria – Hungary attacked small Serbia, because she did not agree to forfeit her independence. This attack inaugurated German – Magyar aims to subjugate the small nationalities and to effect with the tombs of these peoples a plan for the domination of the world. Serbia and the Yugoslavs had first to be crushed. And yet, brutal force did not succeed to destroy the revolutionary spirit of the Yugoslavs and of the other Slavs in Austria – Hungary.”
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(New York Times archives)

June 6th, 1918

“I did not fail to take up with the President the matter of your personal letter to me of June 1st. The President is much impressed with your suggestion regarding the 28th of July and asks me to assure you that he is taking under careful consideration.”

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(The Archive of Serbia)

July 26th, 1918

“I hope you will not object if I take the liberty to send you the last herein enclosed suggestion for July 28th. If you find that it is advisable to send it to the White house. I trust that you will understand my lively interest for this day, not only as a Serbian, but also as a participant in this common work of ours.”
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(The Archive of Serbia)

July 11th, 1918
Colonel Theodore Roosevelt writes to Serbian Minister Mihajlovic

“Therefore July 28th is the most important date in this war. Nor is it important only because it marks the beginning of the war. It possesses an infinitely greater importance because the crucial question to be determined by the war is the dealing of the world with the dual empire of Austro-Hungary. The independence and the enlargement of the great Jugo-Slav state is vital to the future peace of the world; and so also the independence (not nominal, but real) of the Polish commonwealth, and of the Czecho-Slovak commonwealth…”

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(The Archive of Serbia)

July 23rd, 1918
Serbian Minister Mihajlovic responds back to the Colonel Theodore Roosevelt

“I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of July 11th , and thank you very much for the same. I will not fail to forward the original of your letter to my Government, and also see to it, that it be given extensive publicity for the benefit of my co-nationals. I beg to remain, with high consideration,”

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(The Archive of Serbia)

July 31, 1918

“Your telegram sent on July 28 has met with a very heartning [sic] response in my own heart and I am sure it will meet with an equally warm response in the hearts of everybody in the United States. We know the deep waters of suffering through which Serbia has passed and our sympathies not only, but our profound friendship and an eager desire to help, follows your courageous people throughout every stage of the present tragic course of the war. I am sure that justice to Serbia stands at the very top of any program of justice in the thoughts of every thinking and patriotic man in the United States. Please accept my warm personal greetings.

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(The Archive of Serbia)
(transcript of the document published in “The Papers of Woodrow Wilson”, Volume 49, July 18 – September 13, 1918, published by Princeton University Press in 1985)

August 2, 1918

 Serbian Ambassador Ljubomir Mihailovic, confirming receipt of Lansing’s July 20th note

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(The Archive of Serbia)

Serbian Government Correspondence

June 25th, 1918

 

“Through a friend employed in the U.S. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I made a proposal to make, on the 28th of July – the day when Austria – Hungary declared war on Serbia, a manifestation regarding the first day of the war when the two principles started to fight – the first one being the principle of violently governing other nations and the other one being a principle of freedom for all nations. Austria as a representative of the first principle and Serbia as a defender of the second were the first countries that started to  fight. Serbia sacrificed everything in that fight. This manifestation, organized by allies, would clearly mark their goal and would have enormous influence on the enslaved nations.”

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(The Archive of Serbia)

July 24th, 1918

“Here will be held a holy ceremony on the day of Austria – Hungary’s declaration of war. Please, do whatever it takes to publicize the great Serbian sacrifices and efforts shown in this war, and also Serbia’s loyalty and allegiance.”

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(The Archive of Serbia)

July 26th, 1918

“Take the initiative for all Serbian priests to hold services on July 28th about the meaning of the WWI anniversary. Report about the results to the Jugo-Slav office.”

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(The Archive of Serbia)

July 29th, 1918
(dated July 16th, as Serbia was using the Julian Calendar at the time)

Secretary of State Lansing proposed that all churches in the United States celebrate Serbia Day, saying, “Sunday, the 28th of this month, will be exactly four years since the day when heroic Serbia refused to obey to humiliating Austro-Hungarian demands which led to the declaration of war that made Serbia defend its territory and [the] homes of its citizens. Serbs nobly responded to their duty and resisted the attacks of a country which was ten times bigger than Serbia. They managed to resist Austrians three times and only when Germany and Bulgaria helped Austria, were they forced to retreat to Albania.

July 30, 1918

dated July 17th, since Serbia was using Julian Calendar at that time

“Mr. President,

US ambassador to Rome, Mr. Nelson Thomas Page, forwarded to me a statement by U.S. Secretary of State Mr. Lansing, regarding the four-year anniversary of Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war on Serbia. Mr. Page received this as a circular telegram for his information and was kind enough to forward it to me with his personal letter in which he expressed his admiration for our nation.

I thanked him for this and I have the honor to forward those two attachments to you in this letter. ”

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(The Archive of Serbia)

July 30, 1918
(dated July 18, as Serbia was using the Julian Calendar at the time)

“28th of July observed here as Serbia Day. Besides the appeal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, all American newspapers talk about the importance of this event. In many articles with sympathy. On a government building was our flag. In Washington a public ceremony was organized with speeches and singing, but due to bad weather was postponed until Wednesday. In the next mail I will send a more detailed report

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(The Archive of Serbia)

August 6 1918

“In order to highlight Serbia’s participation in the Great War, as well as the importance of the Yugoslav question, I tried to interest President Wilson and the United States Government in celebrating the 28th of July as a “Serbia Day.” Accordingly, I sent a proposal on the 1st of June and I attach a transcription of that proposal. Our friend Mr. Phillips, Assistant Secretary of State, shared this proposal with President Wilson.”

“The Serbian flag was raised over the White House…for the first time.”

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(The Archive of Serbia)

Newspaper Clippings and Books

There was the Serbian flag floating over the President’s House in the United States of America. What did it mean?… the meaning of the Serbian flag up there beside the Stars and Stripes …is the meaning of the alliance within our borders of the three and thirty alien groups who are helping us win Democracy for their brothers overseas.

July 27, 1918

U.S. Secretary of State Lansing’s appeal

“It is fitting that the people of the United States, dedicated to the self-evident truth that it is the right of the people of all nations, small as well as great, to live their own lives and choose their own Government, and remembering that the principles for which Serbia has so nobly fought and suffered are those for which United States is fighting, should on the occasion of this anniversary manifest in an appropriate manner their warm sympathy with this oppressed people who have so heroically resisted the aims of the Germanic nations to master the world.”

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(provided by The New York Times Archive)

July 27, 1918

“Serbia Day at Ellipse”

“Washington, with the rest of the nation, will tomorrow observe “Serbia Day,” the fourth anniversary of that nation’s heroic refusal to submit to the arrogant demands of Austria-Hungary. There will be a great public gathering on the Ellipse at 5 o’clock tomorrow. The Serbian Minister is expected to be present and may speak. The Marine Band will furnish the music and Professor Peter Dykema will lead a chorus of several hundred voices. The exercises will be under the auspices of the War Camp Community Service. The speaker will be announced today.”

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(provided by The Library of Congress)

July 28, 1918

“Serbia Day on Ellipse”

“The fourth anniversary of the beginning of the World War is to be officially observed at the vesper service on the Ellipse at 5 o’clock this afternoon. “Serbia Day,” as the anniversary has been styled, is to be recognized by the presence as principal speaker at the service of Dr. Aldala, of the Serbian Legation.  F. E. Keppel, Third Assistant Secretary of War, is to speak for the United States.”

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(provided by The Library of Congress)

July 30, 1918

“Serbia Day Observance “

“Serbia Day Observance” services which were to be held on the White House Ellipse Sunday afternoon and then postponed to last night at the Sylvan Theater were again postponed until tomorrow evening on account of rain.”

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(provided by The Washington Post Archive)

August 3, 1918

“Serbia Day Observed”

“Serbia,” said Mr. Georgevitch, “was the first State attacked in the prosecution of the German plans for world conquest. Three times the enemy succeeded in entering Serbia and three times bitterly repented it, and it was only when Austria obtained the help of Germany and Bulgaria that the Serbian army was forced across into the Albanian wilderness where it was reorganized by France to fight on the Salonica front to the end. Mr. Georgevitch expressed appreciation and thanks on behalf of Serbia for the great assistance of the United States since the beginning of the war and for our friendship.”

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(provided by The Library of Congress)

“Appeal of the Secretary of State had significant influence on public, thanks to media, which reported on its content and published appropriate articles. On July 28, the Serbian flag flew over public institutions and the White House. There was a public meeting planned in Washington which had to be cancelled due to bad weather conditions.”