America's last veterans of the "Great War"
Editor's note: We have been keeping track of how these vets are doing since writing this story. There are now only four left, as of April 6, 2007. We have learned we needed to add two names to the list we provided below:
None have been forgotten.
On November 8, 2006, we were introduced to the last 12 surviving American WWI veterans. Since then five have passed. We want to introduce you to all 12, and tell you of a bit of history relevant to their war experience. An unknown author once said, "All the arms we need are for hugging." Our surviving veterans of the Great War most certainly need to be hugged, by each of us, if only in our dreams and prayers. Muriel Sue Parkhurst reminds us, "They're the only generation that has gone from outhouses to outer space."
January 8, 2007, updated on June 11, 2007.
Lisa Hoffman, writing "Meet the remaining WWI vets" published by the Scripps Howard News Service on November 8, 2006, provided us brief summaries on the last known living veterans of WWI. She also wrote, "A dozen WWI vet soldier on." We commend both to your attention.
World War One Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, Section 34 near General John J. Pershing's grave. Presented by Arlington National Cemetery.
In her writings, Ms. Hoffman said this:
We decided to see if we could find photos of the surviving American heroes, and then decided to use what little we knew about each to provide you some brief history relevant to their experience. The BBC has a superb map animation that briskly walks you through the entire war. We commend this to your attention as well.
Ms. Hoffman's article was published on November 8, 2007. Since then, and as of this writing, only eight of the 12 remain; four have passed since November, remarkably, two on Pearl Harbor Day. Nonetheless, we present all 12 in this report.
President Woodrow Wilson asking Congress for a Declaration of War against Germany, April 2, 1917. Presented by Founders of America.
The American combat participation in WWI was short. The war began in 1914. The US declared war on German on April 2, 1917. By that time, Germany was already occupying northeastern France, and all of Belgium and Luxembourg, and major battles had occurred, each side suffering incredible losses. The first American troops, from the 1st Infantry Division, arrived in France on June 26, 1917.
General John J. "Blackjack" Pershing, shown here, commanded what came to be known as the American Expeditionary Forces, the AEF.
The Germans surrendered on November 11, 1918. The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, officially ending the war. The US Senate refused to ratify it, and never did ratify it.
Most of the 12 veterans we will highlight served served in 1918. The British, French and Russians already had endured horrendous losses, but they fought valiantly to hold the Germans and prevent them from breaking through France to the sea and to Paris. Indeed the Allies had begun pushing the Germans back a bit when the US arrived.
But there is no question, in this war of attrition, that the US entry was a great boost and tipped the balance. By August 1918, the Germans saw the beginning of the and were driven back. By October 1918, the Germans knew they had lost and were looking for a way out.
It is an honor to introduce you to the last 12 American veterans of WWI to remain alive as of November 8, 2006. We note who has passed with their individual briefs.
We salute these men and all whom they represent.
Lloyd Brown, 106, Bethesda, Maryland.
Mr. Brown served on the battleship USS New Hampshire, later a fireman Engine Company 16. Photo credit: James M. Thresher, The Washington Post. "See Looking Ahead to The Days of Old," by Rita Zeidner. We regret to report that Mr. Brown passed on March 29, 2007.
And take that! This is a photo of the USS New Hampshire (BB-25) firing broadside on the target ship San Marcos in March 1911. She was commissioned in March 1908, the second battleship carrying this name, and in that year carried a Marine Corps Expeditionary Regiment to Panama. She was a "coal-burner."
During World War I, New Hampshire was mainly engaged in training service for gunners and engineers in northern waters along the U.S. coast, and performed convoy escort service during the last months of 1918. She conducted two convoy escort missions, protecting transports going from New York to a rendezvous point off the French coast. She transported troops home during four voyages from France from December 1918 to June 1919.
As you will see in later history briefs, German U-boat submarines were active along America's Atlantic coastline, though shipping in and around the British Isles remained their main target.
Russell Buchanan, 106, Watertown, Massachusetts.
Russell Buchanan, 106, Watertown, Massachusetts. Served in the Navy in WWI at a training base on Bumpkin Island in Boston Harbor (shown by red arrow on the map below). He also served in the Army's 26th Infantry Division, the "Yankee Division," in WWII in Europe. He later served as a veterans' service officer for Watertown, participated in many veterans events, spoke to school children about patriotism, and gave interviews about WWI and WWII. Photo credit: John Tlumacki, Boston Globe. See "Russell A. Buchanan, at 106; veteran of World War I and II," by Gloria Negri, and followup. We regret to report that Mr. Buchanan passed on December 7, 2006.
In 1900, a Boston philanthropist founded a hospital on Bumpkin Island (red arrow) for children with physical disabilities. During WWI, the US Navy took over the island and used it as a training camp, building homes for 1,300 sailors on the island's 35 acres. The island was also used to hold German POWs rescued from the harbor during the war. Military facilities were dismantled after the war, though we understand some remain.
12-inch coastal defense gun and crew, Ft. Andrews, Peddocks Island, Boston Harbor. Presented by Photos of the Great War.
Several islands were used for defensive purposes. Peddocks Island (black arrow above map), for example, housed Ft. Andrews and Coastal Artillery batteries.
It is worth mentioning here that the German U-Boat submarine came into its own during WWI. Most of them operated around the British Isles, but U-151 Korvettenkapitan von Nostitz was the first to operate in US territories. Its mission was to attack shipping along the American Atlantic coast and lay mines off major coastal outlets. She arrived in this area toward the end of May 1918, went up Delaware Bay and planted mines off the Delaware capes, laid mines off Baltimore harbor, proceeded to New York and cut telegraph cables connecting New York with Nova Scotia. She then moved southward to the area of Virginia, where she played havoc. She sunk 23 ships with gunfire and torpedoes in a 94-day period, and another four with mines she had laid. All together, she is credited with sinking 51 ships for a total of 138 tons. She contributed to six shipwrecks off the US coast in one day, June 2, 1918. She safely returned to Germany. Six more U-boats were sent to the US but the war ended before they could accomplish much.
This is a photo of the USS Machigonne (SP-1043), which was a steamer formerly named the Dida. She was chartered by the US Navy in October 1917 and commissioned as the USS Machigonne. She mainly carried people and supplies in Boston Harbor, mostly to Bumpkin Island.
A final note about Mr. Buchanan. While at Bumpkin Island, he came down with the influenza, "the flu." He recovered and remained in the Navy for a time at Norfolk, Virginia.
This was not just any old flu. He was afflicted by the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919, which killed more people than WWI itself, somewhere between 20-40 million. It was known as the "Spanish Flu" or "La Grippe." Those aged between 20-40 seemed to be the worst affected. Of all US soldiers who died in Europe, half of them fell to the influenza. An estimated 43,000 servicemen mobilized for WWI died of the disease. Overall, 675,000 Americans died of the disease. The American GI took the influenza to Europe with him. The disease in that war-afflicted area spread like wild-fire.
Frank Buckles, 105, Charles Town, West Virginia.
We were happy to see World War I veteran, Corporal Frank W. Buckles (right), in the Memorial Day 2007 procession in Washington. He was proudly displaying his US Army lapel pin among his service medals. The Army honored Buckles for his service with a Freedom Team Salute Commendation. Photo credit: PRNewsFoto/Freedom Team Salute
Joined the Army when he was 16. He said "It was the natural thing to do." He served with the First Ft. Riley Casual Detachment and left for Europe in December 1917. The US Army was not organized for a world war, so it had many "casual detachments" which were unassigned, but could be assigned almost anywhere to do almost anything.
We need to mention that a first wave of the Influenza Pandemic discussed earlier that hit the US struck in Kansas and in military camps throughout the US. Camp Funston, a just-built large cantonment area housing 60,000 soldiers, a part of Ft. Riley used for training new recruits, was hit hard. It began there in March 1918. Within a week, there were 522 cases. Forty-six died that spring.
At Fort Riley, the Kansas Building was used to house sick and dying soldiers. Photo courtesy of Fort Riley Museum. Presented by TJohnston.
Lori Goodson, writing "Pandemic" for The Manhattan Mercury on March 1, 1998, said this:
Camp Hospital at Allerey, France. Presented by BYU Library.
Following his stint at Ft. Riley, his unit became Camp Hospital No. 35, located at Winchester, England. Mr. Buckle drove motorcycle sidecars, then Ford ambulances and other cars.
Then he went on to France where he took on numerous assignments, mainly near large warehouses located in the southwestern province of Aquitaine. We believe he was assigned to the Services of Supply units there, known as the SOS. He then escorted German POWs to Germany following the Armistice. In WWII, he was captured by the Japanese as a civilian working in Manila, Philippines and served three years in a Japanese POW camp. See, "Experiencing the War, stories from the Veterans History Project."
In the above photo, Mr. Buckles is wearing the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor of France. Veterans of WWI who served in France, including female nurses, were admitted to the Legion of Honor in 1998 with the rank of Chevalier. Buckles says the Americans were included in 1999. This was how France chose to acknowledge the extraordinary courage and self sacrifice of the Allied soldiers in a meaningful way on the 80th anniversary of the Armistice.
We'd also like to expand a bit on the Services of Supply (SOS) units with which we believe Mr. Buckles served in France.
Today we see US military forces able to respond to virtually anything on very short notice. They can only do that because they have built up the world's best military supply and logistics systems. Such systems did not exist in WWI. Supplies moved slowly to the AEF. The "Doughboy Center" on the internet has an excerpt from the book, Over there: The American Experience in World War I, by Frank Friedel that is worth your attention. The excerpt that drew our attention was, "Supplying the Troops, The Services of Supply."
You'll learn that WWI saw the real beginning of the military capacity to organize complex logistics systems and move the stuff anywhere, anytime, for any reason. The SOS, as it was known, bought, delivered, and recycled all equipment, uniforms and food for the AEF in Europe. It built a network of hospitals, mostly in France, and ran delousing stations for front-line troops. It also handled telephone operations in French and English, ran motor transport, railroad and port operations, took on construction projects such as building berths for ships to unload in France, and ran depots and warehouses. It is fascinating to learn how this all developed.
James Russell Coffey, 108, North Baltimore, Ohio.
Mr. Coffey served in the Army in Columbus, Ohio, enlisting in October 1918, one month before the Armistice. He entered the Army through ROTC, and achieved the rank of sergeant. He has commented, "It was the patriotic thing to do." He never shipped to Europe, and was discharged in December. He played semi-pro baseball with the Akron Numatics, along with Jim Thorpe. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Ohio State, and a PhD from New York University. He is the oldest active Rotarian in the world. See, "Experiencing the War, stories from the Veterans History Project." Also see, "At 108, Ohio man in select company: those who've touched history," by David Giffels, Beacon Journal columnist.
Samuel Goldberg, 106, Greenville, Rhode Island.
Mr. Goldberg was the last surviving member of the US Army Cavalry stationed on the Mexican border to guard against a possible German invasion through that country. Photo credit: Will Everett. Presented by Scripps Howard News Service. We regret to report that Mr. Goldberg passed on December 10, 2006
When WWI began, the countries of Latin America along with the US hoped to stay away. Canada was called to duty because it was still part of Great Britain. The Latin American countries declared their neutrality and actually benefitted economically from the war. The German Pacific and Atlantic squadrons were active in the region. There were allegations that the Pacific squadron was using ports in Chile.
German Vice Admiral von Spee, shown here, commanded the small German East Asia Squadron when the war broke out. He knew he could not match the Japanese, so he took his squadron to Chile. Chile had a large German population, and von Spee felt he could berth his ships safely there and use Chilean ports as a base of operations.
British and German ships engaged near Cape Horn in November 1914, with the Brits losing two ships in the encounter, and their admiral, Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cook, the rest fleeing to the Falkland Islands. In December 1914, Spee took his squadron into the South Atlantic, and decided to attack the British naval force in the Falkland Islands. Bad decision. The British destroyed his squadron and killed him.
After the US declared war on Germany, Mexico declared its "strict and rigorous neutrality." However, there was evidence the Germans had offered the Mexicans generous financial aid. The US was worried Germany money was flowing into Mexican political coffers. Many Mexicans sympathized with the Germans and many were anti-American, fearing the Monroe Doctrine on intervention, and reeling from General Pershing's Punitive Expedition into Mexico in 1916.
Men from the Machine Gun Company, 35th Infantry, 1917. Presented by 35th Infantry Regiment.
But there were even bigger concerns. Concerns mounted that German agents in the US were encouraging Mexico to declare war against the US. Intelligence indicated that German agents were training Mexicans. There was evidence that Germany had offered to regain lost territories for Mexico, including Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Border patrols were stepped up to stop the flow of arms into Mexico.
There is some absorbing history tied up in all this. For example, the Army's Radio Intelligence Service (RIS) was created during WWI for the sole purpose of supporting intelligence through radio intercepts. Most of its activities were on the US-Mexican border, monitoring the threat of a Mexican-German alliance.
10th Cavalry soldiers standing inspection, Ft. Huachuca, circa 1918. Excerpted from "The Buffalo Soldiers at Fort Huachuca," Huachuca Illustrated, by James P. Finley, presented by BYU.
Furthermore, the 10th Cavalry Regiment "Buffalo Soldiers" were assigned the mission of guarding the border during WWI. It had companies stationed at Nogales, Arivaca and Lochiel. Ft. Huachuca, Arizona served as its home base. The 35th Infantry Regiment was also assigned there, many assigned to the area of Nogales, where intelligence and rumors in 1918 predicted a Mexican attack against Nogales. The 35th later pulled out and fought in Europe, while the 10th Cav remained and carried the load.
It must be noted here that the men of the 10th Cav were champing at the bit to fight in Europe. The 10th was not sent because of prejudices that argued Blacks could not fight in this kind of war, even though the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 10th Cavalries demonstrated repeatedly they could fight. Nonetheless, the 10th remained along the border and did its job.
Moses Hardy, 112, maybe 113, Aberdeen, Mississippi.
Moses Hardy, 112, maybe 113, Aberdeen, Mississippi. Mr. Hardy is America's second oldest living WWI vet, and the oldest living American veteran to have ever served in combat. Served in France with the 805th Pioneer Infantry. See Answers.com. We regret to report that Mr. Hardy passed on December 7, 2006, the second of our living WWI vets to pass on that day.
The 805th Pioneer Infantry was an all Black outfit, referred to in those days as 805th Pioneer Infantry (Colored). These kinds of outfits were used to help engineer regiments, but they could be called forward on a moment's notice to fight. They were, after all, infantry. Much like the 10th Cav, however, the 805th, while it went to France in fall 1918, never saw WWI combat. The outfit was stripped of its machine guns and retained only rifles.
US stevedores listening to band concert at Marseilles. Presented by Photos of the Great War.
Chefs aboard US hospital train. Presented by Photos of the Great War.
It was relegated to unloading ship cargo as stevedores, its men served as cooks, and were tasked with other labor tasks, such has handling burial details. The 805th was commanded by white officers.
That said, many Black Americans were commissioned as officers, and many trained at a new all-Black facility at Ft. Des Moines, which produced a total of 1,400 by war's end. Most commanded labor battalions, but others did serve in combat with distinction along with Black enlisted men.
US Troops of the 92nd Division moving toward the front in the Argonne. Presented by Photos of the Great War.
While most Black-Americans in the Army did not see combat, many did. The 365th through 368th Regiments of the 92nd Infantry Division, and the 369th through the 372nd Infantry Regiments of the 93rd Infantry Division, were the dominant ones. The 369th Infantry "Harlem Hellfighters" from New York are among the more celebrated. Interestingly, the four regiments of the 93rd Division were sent to the help the French, they fought so well the French would not let them go, and they remained attached to the French through most of the war. The French did not share American prejudices against Blacks.
Joseph Linzy's book, Beyond Glory, documents the service of Black Americans in WWI. He has written that the Mr. Hardy's 805th headed to Europe with 3,526 men and 99 officers. The regiment included:
The unit repaired roads, constructed an ammunition dump, worked railroad details, conducted battlefield salvage operations, filled trenches, and, through some clever maneuvers, organized a band. Jazz was their favorite.
803rd Pioneer Infantry Band on the USS Philippines troop ship headed to France, July 18, 1919. Photograph: Gladstone Collection. Presented by African American Odyssey.
Organizing bands in WWI was a big deal. It was a way to route pent-up emotions from the rigors of war. It was a very big deal in many all-Black units. The became very good at jazz.
Lt. James Reese Europe, shown here, was among the more famous musicians who composed and recorded music based on his experiences in the war. He organized and led the 369th Infantry's Band. His wartime band made many recordings inspired by their WWI experiences. His band became such a hit that it was soon withdrawn from the front lines and sent on morale boosting missions at the camps and hospitals throughout France.
We have seen estimates that about 404,000 Black Americans served in WWI.
The Chief Engineer for whom the 805th worked forwarded the following commendation to be delivered to all men and officers of the 805th:
Haywood Hardy, Moses Hardy's son, has said that his father's division stayed on after the war to clean up the battlefields and remove the dead. There is an interview by NPR on the internet at Treehouse Productions.
Mr. del Toro underwent training in Panama where he was on Armistice Day. Photo presented by wikipedia. See senorboriqua.net. We regret to report that Mr. del Toro passed on January 24, 2007 of natural causes.
The US Army's arrival for duty on Panama began in October 1911, when the 10th Infantry set down. The 5th Infantry came later that year. The Marines, who arrived in 1903, left in 1914 and the Army took charge of defense of the canal, just as the construction project was wrapping up. That same year, WWI broke out in Europe. The US declared the Canal Zone sector of Panama to be neutral, and outlined actions that would be taken against shipping in the area considered to be hostile.
At about the same time, the US established a command called the US Army Forces in the Canal Zone, and assigned a general officer as commander. Coastal artillery sites were set up at each end of the canal, Atlantic and Pacific, and infantry troops manned multiple forts.
Saturday troop inspection, 1917, Ft. Sherman, Panama Canal Zone. Presented by History of Ft. Sherman.
By 1917, the US considered the Caribbean to be an American lake. There was great concern that German U-boats would operate there, though records we have seen indicate no U-boat ever entered the area. The US Navy was very active in the Caribbean to guard against the threat. Protection of the canal was paramount. Large amounts of shipping started using the canal in the period 1917-1919, much of which was vital to the war effort, such as Mexican petroleum and Chilean nitrates. By the time the US entered the war, there were about 5,000 US troops there.
The major headquarters at Quarry Heights opened in 1916. The Panama Canal Department was set up within the Army in 1917. In 1918, a portion of the Isthmus was declared a military reservation.
One has to wonder what Emiliano thinks of this poster!
Antonio Pierro, 110, Swampscott, Massachusetts.
Antonio Pierro, 110, Swampscott, Massachusetts. The last living U.S. veteran to have seen action at the bloody Meuse and Argonne offensives. We regret to report that Mr. Pierro passed on February 8, 2007 of natural causes.
The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the final offensive action of WWI, and was the largest operation for the AEF in the war. We commend the web site we have linked to your attention. This was a very complex and bloody operation. It took place in the Verdun sector of France, between September 26 - November 11, 1918. General Pershing led ten US divisions of the US First Army. They joined with the French 4th Army, the British 4th Army, and Belgian forces.
A support line of the 64th Infantry Brigade, 32nd Division. U.S. Army Signal Corps photograph, from U.S. Official Pictures of the World War. Presented by the 32nd Infantry Division.
The AEF launched the first phase. It went up against about 40 German divisions. The Allied objective was to cut the main German supply line. The offensive stopped when the armistice went into effect on November 11, 1918.
The AEF lost 26,277 troops killed in action, 95,786 wounded. The Germans suffered 126,000 total casualties.
Ernest Pusey, 111, Bradenton, Florida.
Mr. Pusey served aboard the battleship USS Wyoming. See "Veterans Portrait," by Nina Greipel. We regret to report that Mr. Pusey passed on November 19, 2006.
USS Wyoming steaming at high speed, circa 1912-13. Presented by wikipedia.
During the months before she sailed to the North Sea, the USS Wyoming (BB-25) served in the Chesapeake Bay as an engineering ship. She left for the British Isles with the battleships New York, Delaware, and Florida designated as Battleship Division 9. Two other battleships, the USS Texas and Arkansas were also selected to serve but the rotations were in fours. Their purpose was to fill gaps in the British fleet following the retirement of five Edward VII class battleships.
Upon arriving in British waters in November 1917, the division became the Sixth Battle Squadron of the British Grand Fleet. The New York served as the flagship for Rear Admiral Hugh Rodman. The British commander-in-chief was Admiral Sir David Beatty. The squadron patrolled off the British Isles, guarding the sea lanes against the German High Seas Fleet. The American ships never made contact with the Germans, but did help escort the German High Seas Fleet into the Firth of Forth for internment after the Armistice, to a place known as the Scapa Flow.
The Doughboy Center has a terrific article on-line, "The Grand Fleet's Sixth Battle Squadron and the Surrender of the High Seas Fleet," by Alan Weatherley, a must read. The American squadron, anxious to fight, came pretty darn close to encountering the German High Seas Fleet in Scandinavian waters and one can only wonder what the outcome might have been.
But perhaps more interesting is the description of the surrender of the German fleet to the British and Americans. Here is one excerpt to whet you appetite. It is the account of Lt. Francis T. Hunter, aboard the New York:
The German High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow. Presented by Maritime Quest.
Surrenders are not easy to execute. Quite a bit of thought went into the planning for this one, and many, many precautions were taken. For example, the manner in which the Allied ships escorted the German ships left room for the Allies to open fire at will, should the Germans show any hostility. Men wore their gas masks. Admiral Beatty vowed that he would not be sucked into a Trojan Horse situation.
Howard Ramsey, 108, Portland, Oregon.
WWI Veteran Howard Ramsey in the drivers seat of the Oregon Military Museum’s W.W.I Liberty Truck, January 2006. Sitting next to Mr. Ramsey are Sgt. Mark Stevens OMM Detachment on the right, Tracy Buckley OMM Curator and Steve Greenberg OMM volunteer on the left. Standing behind are members of the OMM Detachment: rt. To left. Bob “50” Frasco, PFC Dave Wilson and Ricky Roselle. Photo credit: Richard Elwood Larson. Presented by G503.com
We regret to report that Mr. Ramsey passed on February 22, 2007.
Mr. Ramsey was an Army driver, and, among other duties, brought water to the troops in the trenches. Men who knew how to drive, and like Mr. Ramsey, knew how to do it very well, were scarce and in high demand by the Army in those days. Not many people knew how to drive back then. It was his ticket into the Army and into the war, assigned to Company C of the 302nd Water Tank Train, staging out of Commercy, France, a motor transport center for the AEF. See "107 Year Old Corporal Howard V. Ramsey Joins Tualatin Veterans of Foreign Wars."
The Army used motorized trucks during the Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1916, to great advantage, but maintenance was a major nightmare.
Pershing's Forces were dependent on the Army wagon during World War I, as is evidenced in this photo, which combines mules and motorized vehicles. France, 1918. Presented by the US Army Transportation School.
Less than half the vehicles used by the AEF was manufactured in the US; most were European. The AEF had 294 different makes, an operating and maintenance challenge to say the least.
Production of the Liberty Truck began in 1918. Over 118,000 trucks were produced through the end of the war, but only 51,554 were sent overseas. General Pershing thought he only needed about 50,000 trucks, but that was way too few. He didn't have enough trucks and he didn't have enough men to drive or repair them.
Liberty Truck. Presented by the US Army Transportation School.
Nonetheless, the introduction of the Liberty Truck was a very big deal for the AEF. She was a 4x2, three-ton truck, with a 425 cube L-head engine, 4 cycle, 52 bhp, manufactured by Continental Hinkley of Waukesha, Wisconsin. The US Army Transportation School has a nice web site about the Liberty Truck, along with some great letters from the troops who drove them.
One wonders whether Howard Ramsey saw this poster! Not many in those days knew how to drive. Howard did, and he did.
Albert Fred "Jud" Wagner, 107, Smith Center, Kansas.
Governor Sebelius of Kansas paid special tribute to the family of Kansan Jud Wagner, the oldest living U.S. Marine in the country, November 11, 2005. His family features three generations of veterans. Mr. Jud Wagner was unable to make it.
We regret to report that Mr. Wagner passed on January 20, 2007.
Mr. Wagner is the oldest living US Marine. He served in France and Germany attached to the Army. He arrived at the Rhine River, ready for combat, the day before the Armistice. A local Marine Corps detachment serenaded him with the Marine Corps Hymn at his 106th birthday. He loved it, as all Marines would. Two sons , JS and Robert, joined the USMC before WWII. His son, J S Wagner, is a WWII and Korean vet, and a Marine officer. Grandson Jim Wagner now serves in the Army. See "Among the last Marines."
When the US declared war on Germany in 1917, there were 462 commissioned officers, 49 warrant officers, and 13,214 enlisted men, totaling 13,725 men in the US Marine Corps. The 5th Marine Regiment, the 5th Marines, had 70 officers and 2,689 enlisted men and was the first Marine unit dispatched to France, in June 1917. These Marines made up 20 percent of the AEF in Europe at the time. The Sixth Marines followed shortly thereafter along with the Sixth Machine Gun Battalion. Together, they and the machine gun battalion formed the 4th Marine Brigade. The 5th Brigade would be formed later, also in France.
5th Marines disembarking at French port, June 17, 1917. Presented by Photos of the Great War.
US 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, Maj T. C. Holcomb commanding, resting after Belleau Wood. Presented by Photos of the Great War.
The 4th Brigade is especially well known, for having fought as part of the Army's 2nd Infantry Division in eight battle operations, suffering 12,000 casualties. The Marines' most famous battle occurred at Belleau Wood in 1918.
Given that Mr. Wagner arrived at the Rhine River ready to do business, the day before the Armistice, we assume he was with a unit of the 4th Marine Brigade. While one might think that life was easy because the Armistice was declared one day after he arrived, such was not so.
Once the Armistice went into effect, at 1100 hours, November 11, 1918, all Allied forces were ordered to hold in readiness, organize for further resistance, and prepare for further advance. The 4th Brigade was ordered to hold the front line, and relieve any part of the 3rd Brigade (Army) now on the front line. The troops were told in no uncertain terms that all that was on the table was an armistice, not a peace. There was to be no relaxation of vigilance. Each unit was instructed to certain positions. As we indicated in the surrender of the German fleet earlier, surrenders are not easy; neither is withdrawal.
Enemy forces did start to withdraw, some escaped to Allied lines, but there were many disorganized stragglers. Weather, especially visibility, was not good, and ammo dumps were being blown up, adding to "nerves." Information about the exact locations of withdrawing enemy forces was hard to obtain. It was known that the German force was in great disarray, assaulting officers, and refusing to salute them. That said, the Germans did not harass the locals and eventually got themselves a little better organized.
On or about November 18, the 2nd Division and its forces began moving forward toward Germany, toward the Rhine. Early on, our troops met with friendly people. As they drew closer to Germany, it became less "warm," but then as their advance to the Rhine continued, welcome signs were everywhere for the Americans.
The Americans held at the Reisdorf-Beaufort-Berdorf line, with the Germans on the east side of the Sauer River (marked by red arrow), a river which travels through Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany, forming the border between Luxembourg and Germany for the last 50 km of its course, before emptying into the Mosel River in Germany. US and British forces then crossed into Germany on December 18, 1918.
US troops crossing the Moselle into Germany. Presented by Photos of the Great War.
WWI did not officially end until June 28, 1919.
Charlotte Winters, 109, Boonsboro, Maryland
Charlotte Winters celebrating her 109th birthday in November 2006 at the Fahrney-Keedy home near Boonsboro, Maryland. The photo at right shows Winters in line with other female yeomen during World War I. Photo credit: Ric Dugan, Herald Mail
Ms. Winters served in the WWI Naval Reserve, known as "Yeomanettes." She is known as "A tough lady. A beautiful lady, but a tough lady." See "Female WWI Vet celebrates 109th birthday," WBAL TV presents a very nice video of Ms. Winters on-line. We regret to report that Ms. Winters passed on March 27, 2007 of natural causes.
The Naval Reserve Act of 1916 enabled the Navy to begin enlisting women in mid-March 1917. Nearly 600 were on duty by the end of April 1917. That number grew to over 11,000 by December 1918, shortly after the armistice.
Yeoman 1st Class (F) Joy Bright, February 1918. Presented by the Naval Historical Center.
These women were popularly known as "Yeomanettes," more technically, Yeomen (F). They all held enlisted ranks, they served in support positions, mainly secretarial and clerical, which is what a Yeoman does, and almost all served in the US. Many worked in government and naval offices, in defense companies, and hospitals. They were all released from active duty in July 1919. Two of them ultimately became naval officers, Captain Joy Bright Hancock, USNR (shown above as a Yeoman 1st Class), and Lt. Eunice Whyte, USNR, the only two WWII WAVES eligible to wear the WWI Victory Ribbon. Several achieved top NCO status, Chief Yeoman (F).
The Naval Historical Center has a good section on the Yeomettes.
God's speed to all.
Opening photo credit: Men of the US 33rd Division in German trench, drinking from captured beer steins. Presented by Photos of the Great War.
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