Here come the Yanks: April 6, 1917

4699259077_76e96b94d3_o(2)

The U.S. Congress declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, bringing America into the war that had consumed Europe and dragged in countries on every continent, including Japan.

The National World War Museum and Memorial will commemorate the anniversary today with a ceremony at the museum that will tell the compelling story of the U.S decision to enter into the Great War through a unique multi-media program including significant and representative American writings of a century ago, including selections from speeches, journalism, literature and poetry, as well as performances of important music of the time. Invited participants and guests include the President of the United States, international Heads of State and diplomats, military leaders, veterans’ organizations, and national and state elected officials.

President Donald Trump will not attend as he will be hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping today.

The commemoration will include flyovers by U.S. aircraft and Patrouille de France, the precision aerobatic demonstration team of the French Air Force, as well as the U.S. First Infantry Division Band and Color Guard, Native American Color Guard, and Army and Air Force legacy units that served during World War I.

You can livestream the ceremony at https://www.theworldwar.org/april6.

 

 

 

Pack your little kit, show your grit!

Do your bit! It’s not too late to join up  — on the 2017 trip to the battlefields in France. From Meuse-Argonne.com:

Hello, readers!  Space is still available on the World War 1 Historical Association’s June 2017 Pilgrimage to the Western Front, but the deadline for reserving your seat is December 31, 2016!  So don’t put off your decision-making too long; and please share this post with your friends who might be interested in the tour!!  Details can be found at our website:  http://ww1ha.org/2017-ww1-battlefield-pilgrimage/.

Tour Guide’s Skill Set

This tour is being led by webmaster Randal Gaulke.  Many readers know that Randal has been traveling to the American battlefields of France almost annually since 1986.  In planning the 2017 tour he has been working with Paul Guthrie and John Snow, both directors of the WW1HA, to plan the tour.  Paul has organized / overseen seven tours for the WW1HA and its predecessor organization, and John Snow has traveled to the area frequently, too.  Randal has outlined his experience in an October 8, 2016, blog post that can be accessed here:  http://meuse-argonne.com/?p=1603.)

shb-randy-on-the-map

Randal Gaulke gives a talk in 2007 on the map in the Mont Sec Memorial to U.S. troops in the St. Mihiel Salient. (Blogger’s note: That is Susan in the center of the photo with the suspiciously red hair.)

Endorsement From a 2017 Participant

Through this website, Randal also has the opportunity to help planning trips, including Valerie Young; who is booked on the 2017 tour.  She has written this endorsement:

Randy has been an invaluable resource to me this year in the planning of my personal journey to the Meuse-Argonne to bring to life the grandfather I never knew. His website was my initial introduction to his vast knowledge of the history and geography of the area. His recommendations for books, maps, other websites, and travel insights were tremendously helpful. We then had a lunch meeting where I shared my ideas about an individual journey; his great awareness and input validated my confidence and respect for him, his commitment to the Meuse-Argonne, and his desire to enable others to experience it as he has for so many years.

With Randy’s help, I was able to “follow in the footsteps” that my grandfather took nearly 100 years ago. Randy helped me find a guide/driver and accommodations, and provided important information on specific battlefield monuments and sites related to my grandfather’s infantry unit. His detailed knowledge of the area is essential to anyone planning a trip there. I am now writing about my grandfather’s military journey, and look forward to joining the tour in June 2017.

Making It Personal to the Participant

All of the organizing and presentation of history aside, there comes a time on a tour when a person is just struck by something that resonates with his / her soul–and that is why reading history or exploring Google Earth does NOT provide the same experience as a pilgrimage!

For the webmaster, one such occasion was listening to a Volksbund (German War Graves Association) employee talk about the last (annual) visit of an aging spouse to her husband’s grave at the cemetery.  She knew she would be meeting him again soon.

For two members of the 8th Kuerassier Regiment on the 2005 tour, it was touring Helly Ravine near Fort Douaumont.  Following their visit, they questioned whether reenacting was just playing cowboys and Indians; and they had a new-found understanding of the terrible conditions for the soldiers during the Verdun battle and during the Great War in general.

Additional Information on the Guide

In addition to presenting the events and their significance, the battlefield tour guide must become quite proficient in logistics:  One has to schedule visits, hotels, bus timing, etc.  To do this, one has to know the region and its people and be able to speak the language.  One also needs to be organized, to be financially savvy and to understand how to model / consider risks.

Randal has all of these qualifications.  He has arranged many details  for the second half of the 2007 Western Front Association USA Branch’s tour and other tours.  Randal was the coordinator for the WW1HA’s 2015 Symposium in Lisle, Illinois; which featured eight speakers and almost 100 participants over two days.  Randal’s profession as a high-yield bond analyst and his work as Treasurer of the Great War Association, Chairman of the Finance Committee at his previous church and Treasurer of Troop 56 BSA Millington, NJ has also helped him develop the skills necessary.

Again, it needs to be emphasized that Randal worked with the WW1HA and its directors to plan the trip.

Take Action Today!

Please reserve your space today;  Please tell your friends about this opportunity;  and please contact Randal with any questions:  lavarennes@meuse-argonne.com or 908-451-0252.

 

News from the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission

The U.S. World War I Centennial Commission has picked ‘THE WEIGHT OF SACRIFICE” for the new national World War I Memorial project.

“THE WEIGHT OF SACRIFICE” was selected from a group of five Finalists and culminates an open, international design competition that has run since May 2015. The Commission’s decision endorses the recommendation of the design competition’s independent jury.
“We were thrilled by the quality and creativity by all the submissions in this competition,” stated Commissioner Edwin Fountain, who directed the competition. “This selected design concept reflects a high level of professional achievement.”
Imagery of “THE WEIGHT OF SACRIFICE,” and of the other four Finalists, can be found here  www.ww1cc.org/selection
The design concept was submitted by Joseph Weishaar, an architect-in-training currently located in Chicago, Ill., and collaborating artist, veteran sculptor Sabin Howard, of New York. Mr. Weishaar received his professional architecture degree at the University of Arkansas in 2013.
Mr. Weishar’s full professional team, necessary to implement the design concept, includes the Baltimore architectural firm GWWO Inc.; landscape architect Phoebe Lickwar, and engineering consultants Henry Adams LLC, Keast & Hood and VBH.
Regarding the World War I Memorial, Commission Chair Robert Dalessandro stated, “Those five million Americans who served in uniform during World War I literally changed the world. This new landmark in our nation’s capital will be a worthy expression of their great legacy.”
The location for the new World War I Memorial is Pershing Park, in downtown Washington, DC, bounded by Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th and 15th Streets NW. The park is one block from the White House, adjacent to the Willard Hotel and the District of Columbia’s Wilson Building.
This site was designated by Congress in 2014. The Centennial Commission is a Congressional Commission set up in 2013 to ensure a suitable observation in the United States of the centennial of World War I.

Book review: Freedom Struggles

Crowds waiting for the parade of the famous 369th [African American] Infantry, formerly 15th New York regulars, New York City. From the U.S. National Archives.

Crowds waiting for the parade of the famous 369th [African American] Infantry, formerly 15th New York regulars, New York City. From the U.S. National Archives.

Review by Len Shurtleff, WW1HA president

Freedom Struggles: African-Americans in World War I. Adriane Lentz-Smith, Harvard, 2009, 318 pages, illustrations, index, notes, ISBN978 0 647 03592 8, $35 cloth. The author is a Professor of History at Duke University.

This is an elegant yet powerful social history of a crucial point in America’s history. The author identifies the decade of World War I as a watershed in black America’s fight for political equality and social justice.

Heeding the call of leaders such as W.E.B. DuBois, African Americans volunteered in large numbers for military service in hopes of validating their claims to full citizenship. As many as 200,000 served overseas in WWI mainly as laborers, construction workers and stevedores. Unfortunately, the Army enforced the segregated Jim Crow social norms of the Southern and border states, both at domestic training camps and overseas in France.

Many thousands more black people moved north to escape segregation, work in war industries and seek new educational opportunities, sparking racial tensions there as well.

The Wilson administration was not sympathetic to the calls of the newly founded (1909) NAACP for full citizenship for black people and, indeed, proceeded after 1913 to segregate the federal government, which had previously largely integrated its work force and opened post office and other patronage jobs to black people in the South. Though France had its own peculiar racial mores and barriers,white Army officers and politicians feared that French men (and particularly women) would undermine their efforts to keep black Americans under Jim Crow regimens.

Service overseas brought young African Americans in contact with many other men of color from Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean, widening their horizons and opening their minds to the concept of a vibrant African diaspora. Returning home in the “Red Summer” of 1919, black veterans found little had changed in American society.

The Red scare, which came in the wake of the November 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, was accompanied by widespread racial violence. Some 38 violent riots rocked American cities from Detroit to Omaha. Black soldiers were lynched in the South. The Ku Klux Klan rode again in the North and Midwest. Expectations of birth of a new freedom for African Americans were crushed.

On the positive side, it was also a period during which African Americans developed the sophistication they would need to expand the fight for equal rights. What was hoped for after 1919 was demanded and won after 1945 by determined and patriotic African Americans who had learned from the Great War.

Book Review: “War’s Waste”

amputees blogOn Nov. 11, while the rest of the countries involved in WWI hold Remembrance events, the United Sates celebrates Veterans Day. Sometimes there are parades or ceremonies honoring the flag; sometimes the day passes only with the banks and post office being closed and kids getting  day off school.

Caring for veterans is a serious concern for any country. Here Len Shurtleff reviews Beth Linkner’s book about the aftermath of WWI.

War’s Waste: Rehabilitation in World War I America, by Beth Linker, University of Chicago, 304 pages, photos, tables, index, ISBN 978 0 2264 8253, $35.

Review by Len Shurtleff

In post-Civil War America, veterans’ pensions were the largest line item in federal budgets, taking up some 50% of that budget by 1900. By 1915, these pensions had cost $3 billion, more than the cost of the war itself. According to Linker, this created a virtual pork-barrel welfare state for Union veterans of about $3 million annually.

These pensions and an accompanying system of national soldiers’ homes had support from the politically powerful Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the Union veterans’ organization upon whose patronage Republican politicians depended for votes and campaign funding. Progressive Era reformers saw this as wasteful of public funds and a disincentive to productive work and self-improvement among veterans.

The outbreak of World War I prompted progressive reformers to apply their social gospel and work ethic ideals to veterans’ benefits in an effort to reduce the drain on the public purse. The War Risk Insurance Act of 1914 created a new board to adjudicate claims for war damage or loss that was independent from the corrupt Treasury Pension Bureau.

The system grew in complexity with America’s entry into the war in 1917, adding provisions for mandatory allotments for dependents, life and disability insurance, and mandatory restorative rehabilitation for wounded troops.

The aim became one of rehabilitation; returning wounded men to productive civilian lives, teaching them new skills if necessary and providing amputees with serviceable prostheses.

As a result of this dramatic turnaround in treatment of wounded veterans, the Army Surgeon General’s Office constructed some 149 new hospitals with 100,000 beds with ample facilities for treatment and long-term rehabilitation. Amputee veterans were looked upon not as objects of pity, but as candidates for total rehabilitation and reintegration into civilian life as productive wage earners and husbands and fathers rather than swelling the welfare rolls.

Still, this new effort saved no money. By 1920, the federal government was spending as much on World War I veterans it was on Civil War survivors, and veterans benefits still took up half the federal budget.

By 1935, New Deal recovery programs had, of course, vastly reduced this share as federal budgets expanded mightily.

This system now is a complex mix of war risk insurance, physical rehabilitation and vocational training managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The several iterations of the post-World War II GI Bill have added both benefits and costs that dwarf any previous veteran pension scheme dating back to the War of 1812.

“And We Were Young” update

Minolta DSCHere’s the news from “And We Were Young” film animator/director Andy Smetanka:

After two and a half years, I am 93% finished with the animation: just four more Super 8 cartridges to get through (that’s about 12 minutes). Compared to the three hours of footage I’ve already filmed, it hardly seems like anything at all. Three hours of Super 8 animation equals approximately 216,000 individual frames. The film will be between 80 and 90 minutes long.

Mustard gas. Monkey meat. Nerve-shattering bombardments, scything machine gun fire, furious hand-to-hand combat. Urban fighting, woodland fighting, headlong plunges through golden grain fields. If it was in the experience of the average American Doughboy in WWI, it’s in my movie, made entirely out of paper and filmed one frame at a time.

The battles — Cantigny, Belleau Wood, the Meuse-Argonne — are thoroughly filmed at this point. What remains is a good detail of detail work (adding more horses and airplanes, basically) and fleshing out the Transatlantic voyages to and from France. Almost everything I need is already designed and cut out. I just need another month or so to to film it all. It was a good idea (though completely accidental) that I decided not to shoot the film in chronological order; I’ve gotten better as I’ve gone along, and the opening scenes should be much stronger for that.

Next (meaning hopefully by September) comes the “sound phase” of the project begins. I don’t know how long it will take composer Jason Staczek to complete his work, but for me things should start going a whole lot faster with the animation out of the way. Christmas? Not out of the question. My solemn vow is to have some version ready to show at our local (Missoula, Montana) documentary film festival in February.

What is this paper-puppet-and-tissue paper war movie actually going to look like? You can see some scenes here, nestled toward the end of my online demo reel. As you’ll notice, I’ve had some other things keeping me busy these past 2.5 years as well:

https://vimeo.com/86969052

I urge interested persons to get in touch with me at the address below to request a more extensive private peek into the work-in-progress. I would also encourage people interested in supporting this project (which has so far scraped by on a successful 2012 Kickstarter campaign and a small grant from the state film office) to contribute in the coolest way imaginable: by buying a custom-made silhouette cameo. There are two ways to do this: by purchasing the service in my And We Were Young-themed Esty shop linked here, or by contacting me directly at the e-mail address below.

https://www.etsy.com/listing/194201877/be-a-silhouette-character-in-my-animated?

What could be better than the combined satisfaction supporting the most amazing movie ever AND getting to make a personal silhouette appearance in it? But the offer won’t last: when I set down my X-acto knife at the end of August, the window is closed.

andwewereyoungfilm@gmail.com

Somewhere In France, 6/9/1918

Here are letters I can read.

Soldiers' Mail

Somewhere in France

June 9, 1918

Dear Mother and Father:

We have changed our location since I wrote you last. As I told you in my last letter we didn’t expect to stay where we were very long. We were there just a week. We didn’t do anything but loaf around there. When we came there the camp was crowded with the soldiers that came across with the same convoy that we did. After the camp itself was filled they put the new arrivals out in the nearby fields. We were about the last to leave of the men that came over with us. But as we came away there were other ships in the harbor unloading men. Men are coming over as fast as they can be taken care of, and faster than I had any idea of.

It is a little over a week ago that we packed…

View original post 971 more words

Fightin’ Friday: Mon Plaisir Farm

St-Mihiel_map

The Lightnings’ First Strike, reprinted from Camaraderie

By Neil M. Burns

On the night of Sept. 15, 1918, the green 78th “Lightning” Division relieved the veteran 2nd Division north of Thiaucourt. The St. Mihiel offensive had just wound down, and the 2nd handed over little more than a collection of recently gained rifle pits in the Bois de Montagne.[i]  After some days spent consolidating their position, orders came down on the 21st from the U.S. IV Corps calling for a raid in the early morning of the 22nd.[ii]

This rather short notice made preparations difficult for the Division’s first real offensive operation. Mon Plaisir Farm was the hastily chosen target, about 800 yards away from the 78th’s position, just inside the Hindenburg Line. The farm was a well-fortified observation point for the Germans, and the raid was to both gather prisoners and destroy the defensive works at the farm.[iii] The 310th Infantry Regiment was to make the raid.

It was past noon on Sept. 21st when runners from the 310th Infantry’s Regimental Headquarters at Thiaucourt arrived summoning the 310th’s battalion commanders. Once the battalion commanders arrived, Col. Babcock outlined the plan for the Third Battalion along with two platoons of the machine gun company, to attack on a 600 yard front.  Engineers were to clear paths through the barbed wire entanglements. A rolling barrage would precede the advance and the battalion would attack from a position 100 yards in front of the Bois de Montagne. During the raid a box barrage would isolate the German defenders by laying down a wall of shellfire to their rear and flanks. [iv] The battalion was to advance 100 yards beyond the farm and hold their position for 20 minutes. During this time, Company C of the 303rd Engineers (78th Division) were to destroy the defensive positions at the farm.[v]

Receiving the orders in midafternoon left little time for a proper reconnaissance. Regimental and battalion operations posts were established; the commander of the engineer company went over the terrain to request the proper supplies needed to clear the wire and destroy the pillboxes of the farm.[vi]

By 9 P.M.  Sept. 21st the Second battalion had moved forward allowing the First battalion to relieve the Third battalion in the front line. At 11 P.M. the 3rd battalion was assembling to the rear of their jumping off position. Midnight found the infantry ready and in position, but the engineers “failed to appear”.[vii] Apparently, there was some delay in reaching the assembly point, most likely due to the hurried nature of the raid. The loss of the engineer support removed half the original intention of the raid: the destruction of the farm’s defensive positions. Despite this, there seems to have been no serious thought of delaying or canceling the raid.

Following the rolling barrage at 1 A.M., the infantry moved up the slope to Mon Plaisir Farm. German flares shot up, calling for defensive artillery fire which began to fall on the First and Second battalions holding the U.S. lines. Companies L and M were in the first wave with company K in support and company I in reserve.[viii] Despite the uncleared barbed wire in their front, in some areas 20 feet wide, the 3rd battalion managed to drive the Germans from the farm buildings by 1:20 A.M., clearing the trenches at bayonet point. The Germans, cut off from aid by the box barrage, were fighting hard but giving ground.

For 20 minutes the Third held their position until the withdrawal signal at 1:40 A.M. It was during the withdrawal that things began to go wrong. German machine guns on the flanks opened fire on the withdrawing infantry. Simultaneously, the German troops hurried to reoccupy the undestroyed defensive positions at Mon Plaisir Farm. This meant the retreating raiders were taking fire from three sides; thus, casualties began to mount. Thanks to the efforts of Sgt. Lawless and Corp. Amling of the attached machine gun company, some of the German machine guns were silenced.[ix]

Sgt. Lawless was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during the withdrawal. His citation reads:

“During a raid Sergeant Lawless bayoneted the men at 2 enemy machine guns which were firing upon our raiding party and put several others out of action with hand grenades.”

Casualties were heavy and included Lt. Corey and 29 men missing from the battalion. Sixteen men were killed, five officers and seventy-two enlisted men were wounded.[x] Total casualties for the entire 310th were 191killed and wounded; this included casualties from the German artillery fire.[xi] Lt. Corey died of his wounds in German hands. At least one of the missing men, Cpl. William C. Crouch, was later listed as killed in action, although his body was not recovered.[xii]

The Third battalion brought back between eight and eleven prisoners.[xiii] Members of the experienced 31st Division, they appeared well fed and seemed glad to be out of the war once they had overcome their initial fear of being captured by Americans. A review of their correspondence revealed no unusual conditions on the German home front.[xiv]

Not surprisingly, the division and regimental histories were sure the Third had inflicted heavier casualties than they’d suffered. The raid was praised as being made “with splendid spirit and dash”.[xv] The night of Sept. 23rd, the 310th sent out patrols to find any sign of the missing men, but nothing was found. The regiment assumed they were captured.[xvi]

Overall, the 78th’s first attack had been less than successful: Mon Plaisir Farm was still a formidable defensive position, 191 casualties were suffered and a handful of prisoners were taken.

Much of the fault lies with the IV Corps ordering a raid by largely inexperienced troops to be carried out within 24 hours. By the time the 310th had ordered the raid, there were only a few hours of daylight to plan. No doubt this was a key factor in the failure of Company C 303rd Engineers in reaching the jumping-off position in time. There seems to have been no attempt to delay or cancel the raid, or to adequately protect the flanks of the retreating raiders. The actions of the men in the machine gun company seems to have saved a number of lives, but seems to be attributable to the personal heroism rather than an effective plan to cover the withdrawal.

Despite claims that they gave better than they received, it would appear the more experienced Germans had called in artillery fire and then simply fallen back before the American raid, rushing back to fire on the retiring raiders.

The raid on Mon Plaisir Farm was quickly lost in time as the events of the Meuse Argonne Offensive overshadowed it. But for the draftees of the 310th Infantry, it was an attack they would never forget.


[i]  “Squandered Victory,” James Hallas, page 215-217

[ii] “The 78th Division in the World War,” Thomas Meehan, page 75

[iii] Ibid, page 75

[iv] A History of the 310th  Infantry of the Seventy-Eighth Division U.S.A. 1917-1919, Association of the 310th Infantry New York, page 74

[v] 78th Division Summary of Operations of the World War. page 13

[vi] A History of the 310th., page 75

[vii] Ibid, page 75

[viii] Ibid, page 75

[ix] Ibid, page76

[x] Ibid, page 76

[xi] Ibid, page 227

[xii] New York State Archives Summary of Service Card, William C. Crouch, Rochester,  N.Y.  Cpl Crouch is commemorated by the American Battlefield Monuments Commission on the Tablets of the missing at St. Mihiel American Cemetery, Thiaucourt, France.

[xiii] The History of the 78th, page 75 states 8; The History of the 310th, page 77 states  11.

[xiv] “Squandered Victory,” page 215

[xv] The History of the 78th, page 75

[xvi] A History of the 310th, page 77

ABMC St Mihiel American Cemetery, Thiacourt, France

On the Meuse-Argonne battlefield

The Allies, including the Americans, attacked on the Meuse-Argonne in France on Sept. 26, 1918, and fought on there till the end of the war.

One of the most famous incidents of the battle was the losing of the Lost Battalion (not a battalion and not lost, as Clive Harris, Battle Honours guide, likes to shout).

Here’s a good link about that aspect of the battle.

http://www.homeofheroes.com/wings/part1/3_lostbattalion.html

And here’s the memorial:

Lost Battalion

(OK, this is a serious story of perseverance, etc., but isn’t it amusing that there’s a memorial to the Lost Battalion marked with an arrow?)

Here is the monument to honor the American capture of the high ground at Montfaucon, about six miles from the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. The monument has 264 steps up to a 360-degree observation platform.

Montfaucon memorial

The memorial towers over the ruins of the church — all that is left of the village.

Ruins at Montfaucon

America loses its first soldiers

The first three Americans fighting for the U.S. who were killed in combat died in a German trench raid Nov. 3, 1917. Corporal James Gresham and Privates Thomas Enright and Merle D. Hay were members of the 1st Division, assigned to a quiet sector in Lorraine, east of Nancy, alongside the French, who were to train them in trench warfare. A patrol of Germans crossed No Man’s Land to get a look at the Americans everyone had heard so much about, and in resulting hand-to-hand fighting, 12 men were taken prisoner and Gresham, Enright and Hay killed.

The French buried them on the battlefield, though their remains were returned home in 1921. The large cross erected Nov. 3, 1918, to honor them was destroyed by the Germans in 1940 and, after WWII, replaced with a solid slab. A poster nearby describes the three young men and the early actions of the U.S. in the war.

American soldiers killed

Poster re Americans who died for France