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May 2013

A common enemy of Allied and Central Powers soldiers in the Great War was typhus and trench fever. The course of the war was influenced by those diseases, and though it may be impossible to know to what extent those diseases affected the course or outcome of the war, both civilians and the military feared typhus and trench fever as much as the opposing military forces.

Typhus and Trench Fever in World War I

Washington Times, National Edition, May 4, 1919

[Image Courtesy of Library of Congress]

During the Great War, soldiers on both sides had common enemies at the frontlines. Those enemies included typhus and its relative, trench fever. In Serbia, a typhus epidemic decimated the civilian population and the country's army; on the Western Front trench fever incapacitated large numbers of soldiers on both sides.

In November 1914, about four months into the war, typhus struck with unprecedented deadliness in Serbia. This was not the first typhus outbreak in history, and not the first during a war. A typhus epidemic was first recorded in the Spanish siege of Granada in 1489.1 The Serbian outbreak was, however, the worst in history, producing a record mortality rate among those infected of 70% at its peak.2

The disease Rickettsia Prowazeki, or typhus, is a bacterium transmitted from human-to-human through the vector of the common body louse Pediculus humanus. Symptoms include high fever, headaches, chills, numbness, body pains, prostration, delirium, and in extreme cases, coma and cardiac arrest, likely leading to death.3 In fact, its name is derived from the Greek word for "stupor," due to the delirium infected individuals experience.

Although the disease would spread from Serbia to adjacent Balkan countries, it was first reported among Serbian civilian refugees displaced by the initial Austrian invasion in 1914, and the Serbs would suffer the most.

That lice, commonly called "cooties," were somehow to blame for typhus was known at the time. "If there is any typhus about, the 'cooties' spread it," one writer reported shortly after the war. "Under modern conditions, typhus is almost wholly a war disease. When large numbers of soldiers carrying typhus-bearing 'cooties' travel through a country and are quartered with the population, conditions are ideal for a typhus epidemic. This was just what happened in Serbia late in 1914."4 The lice were a nuisance even without the threat of typhus, as they cost soldiers considerable time removing them from their bodies.5 But the threat of typhus made their removal essential because adults suffered the effects of typhus more than did the young.6

The bacterium enters the human host when he scratches or rubs the lice on his skin. This opens the skin just enough for the bacteria, which is found in the excreta or crushed bodies of infected lice, to enter the host. During an eight- to twelve-day latent period—an asymptomatic period between exposure to disease and the first symptoms—the bacteria multiply in the host's stomach. Lice become infected when they bite an infected host. The lice, too, will die from typhus. Regular bathing and changes of clothing help prevent the spread of the disease, but on the frontlines, both of these otherwise common practices were seldom possible.

Ironically, the same outbreak of typhus that was decimating Serbian soldiers and the Serbian civilian population also served to help the Serbs. The Austrians, who had mounted three deadly, though repulsed, invasions of Serbia in 1914, chose to postpone a fourth invasion because they were fearful of contracting typhus during the Serbian typhus epidemic. Austria and Germany even took the precaution of initiating a program of heavy delousing among their troops.7

Ten months passed before Serbia was invaded again in October 1915—this time not only by Austrian, but also by German and Bulgarian forces. Serbia's ability to repel invasion was by then critically weakened by the loss of manpower in the previous year of fighting and the crippling typhus epidemic which, from January to June 1915, had claimed about 150,000 civilian and military lives.7

British "trenchman belt," not military issue,
advertised as deterring body vermin

[Photograph Courtesy of Imperial War Museum, London]

In some respects, the human cost of the war was greater for the Kingdom of Serbia than it was for any other nation that participated in WWI. Combat, famine, and disease, especially typhus, had taken a terrible toll. About 700,000 civilians and 300,000 military personnel were dead, twenty-five percent of Serbia's population—and nearly 60% of the male population. Only 100,000 Serbian soldiers remained of an army that was, at its peak, more than four times larger. More than 25% of Serbia's military personnel died in the war. To put the human loss in perspective, France, where almost all the Western Front fighting took place, was next in terms of percentage of loss, with about 17% of its military killed.

For unknown reasons typhus did not strike significantly on the Western Front, though trench fever, a relative of typhus, became a comparable threat. Never before medically recorded, this disease became obvious in 1914, the first year of the war, when it reached epidemic proportions on the Western Front, eventually affecting about one million soldiers.8 British Major J. H. P. Graham was the first to note the characteristics of the disease in 1915, but he could not identify the vector. It was not until August 1918 that an American research team in France identified the common body louse as the transmitting agent for trench fever, as it was already known to be the vector for typhus.9

Trench fever—Rickettsia Quintana, or Bartonella Quintana—received the name of Quintana due to the cyclical five day periods of sickness, remission, and recurrence. The disease is known for its short symptomatic periods but numerous relapses. Symptoms included a sudden onset of fever, headache, sore muscles and joints, characteristic shin pains, and outbreaks of skin lesions on one's chest and back. Unlike typhus, few actually died from trench fever. Nonetheless, 80% of soldiers fighting on the Western Front were unfit for duty for three-month periods, the typical length of the disease's cycle.10

Because the disease was believed to be new at the time, lice were not yet suspected as the vector, so no one knew how to stop the disease from spreading. Soldiers commonly removed lice as part of their hygiene, but any effective impact on the spread of trench fever would have required coordinated and comprehensive delousing programs. The doctors and medics on the Western Front did their best to treat the soldiers' symptoms, but they were unable to prevent or cure the disease.

New technologies indicate that the Western Front in WWI was not the world's first outbreak of trench fever. Modern DNA techniques indicate that in 1812 Napoleon's Grand Army suffered trench fever at Vilnius, Lithuania. Bartonella Quintana is evident in a human tooth which was found in Roaix, France, and is dated to c2000 B.C.E.11

By causing the Austrians to delay an invasion of Serbia, typhus impacted the course of the war in the Balkan Peninsula, just as on the Western Front trench fever affected the course of the war by incapacitating one million soldiers who otherwise would have been in the fight. To what extent did trench fever and typhus affect the course or the outcome of the war? Though that question may remain unmeasureable, perhaps an ultimately greater question may be whether bacteria are variables in man's effort to control the earth, or whether humans are variables in bacteria's effort to control the earth.

  1. L Atenstaedt, "Trench Fever: The British Medical Response in the Great War," The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (20 March 2013): ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
  2. David W. Tschanz, "Typhus Fever on the Eastern Front," MSU Entomology Group (27 November 2012): entomology.montana.edu.
  3. "Typhus," PubMed Health, National Center for Biotechnology Information (27 Nov. 2012): ncbi.nlm.nih.com.
  4. Homer Folks, "War, Best Friend of Disease," Harper's Monthly Magazine (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1920): 455-456: books.google.com.
  5. Winston Groom, A Storm in Flanders: the Ypres Salient, 1914-1918: Tragedy and Triumph on the Western Front (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002), p.175.
  6. Tschanz.
  7. Spencer Tucker, ed., The Encyclopedia of World War I (5 Vols; Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2005), Vol. IV, p. 1079.
  8. M. G. Miller, "Of Lice and Men: Trench Fever and Trench Life in the AIF," The World War I Document Archive (27 Nov. 2012): gwpda.org.
  9. Atenstaedt.
  10. Miller.
  11. Alfred Scott Lea, "Trench Fever," Medscape (March 20, 2013): emedicine.medscape.com.

German generals did not expect that Russia would mount an invasion of German territory in the first weeks of the war. Initial Russian successes in East Prussia were, however, erased by humiliating defeats in the Battles of Tannenberg and Masurian Lakes, defeats which forced a Russian retreat from German soil. Ironically, those German victories in East Prussia may have contributed to the simultaneous German failure to defeat France, and defeating France within six weeks was, according to the Schlieffen Plan, essential for a German victory in a two-front war.

Battles of Tannenberg and Masurian Lakes

In August 1914 the Russian First Army, under the command of General Pavel Rennenkampf, and the Russian Second Army, under the command of General Aleksandr Samsonov, invaded the German Empire's East Prussia region (which is today northeast Poland), which was defended by the German Eighth Army, commanded by General Maximilian Prittwitz.

Fearing that his army would be encircled by Samsonov, Prittwitz advised General Helmuth von Moltke, chief of the German General Staff, "I may be obliged to retreat behind the Vistula [River]."1 Von Moltke's response was to reinforce the German Eighth Army with two corps taken from the German forces invading France,2 and replace Prittwitz and his chief of staff with Generals Erich Ludendorff, who just days earlier had captured the Belgian city of Liège, and Paul von Hidenburg, who was called to duty from retirement. The new German commanders immediately began an offensive against the invading Russian armies.

Hindenburg, Kaiser Wilhelm, Ludendorff

[Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

By late August Ludendorff and Hindenburg encircled Samsonov's army near Uzdowo, about twenty miles from Tannenberg. The four-day battle, which came to be known as the Battle of Tannenberg, ended on August 31. One of Ludendorff's staff officers suggested giving the battle the name Tannenberg in order to put the stamp of victory on the location of an old German defeat. It was at Tannenberg in 1410 that the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland had defeated the Teutonic Knights.

Several factors contributed to the German victory in the so-called Battle of Tannenberg. The two Russian armies, separated by the Masurian Lakes, were not able to communicate and thus coordinate with each other effectively. Uncoded Russian radio communications were intercepted. Though both German and Russian aviators were able to spot and report on their enemy's positions, Samsonov ignored his pilots' information, while Hindenburg went so far as to conclude, "Without the airmen no Tannenberg."3 This early WWI battle may also have demonstrated that the airplane could be used for more than reconnaissance purposes alone. Alphonse Poirée, a French pilot who, with his airplane, was in Russia when the war began, volunteered his services to Samsonov, and, having hand-deployed a 42 mm explosive, may therefore have been the first aviator in history to bomb an enemy position.4

German poster, 1914,
illustrating victory at Tannenberg

[Image Courtesy of
Imperial War Museum, London]

Of the 150,000 men in Samsonov's army, nearly 100,000 were taken prisoner; 50,000 were dead or wounded. German casualties numbered only 15,000.5 The magnitude of the disaster caused Samsonov to commit suicide. As a testimony to the awful toll of WWI battles, the number of casualties that drove Samsonov to take his own life was smaller than casualty figures already suffered on the Western Front, and smaller than would take place in campaigns yet to be waged in the war.6

One week following the Battle of Tannenberg, the Russians suffered another humiliating defeat in the Battle of Masurian Lakes, where 125,000 Russian soldiers were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. German casualties numbered only 10,000.7 Rennenkampf was forced back into Russia by mid-September.

In less than a month of their invasion of East Prussia, the Russians had been pushed back onto Russian soil. Three-fourths of the invading Russian soldiers had been killed, wounded, or captured.8

Though the Russian offensive into East Prussia ended in failure, its initial success, which caused von Moltke to reassign two corps of German soldiers from the Western Front to East Prussia, contributed to the German failure to advance on Paris.9 Ironically, by September 1914 the Germans had achieved the opposite of what the Schlieffen Plan was designed to accomplish in the first weeks of the war. France was not defeated and the Western Front was the scene of stalemate; in the east the Russian armies, unexpectedly quick to mobilize and take the offensive on German soil, had forced a much larger commitment of German soldiers than was thought necessary to protect Germany's eastern frontier.

In 1927 Germany's President Paul von Hindenburg, the victorious general at the Battle of Tannenberg thirteen years earlier, dedicated a memorial in Hohenstein (then in German East Prussia, today in Olsztynek, Poland) honoring the German victory at Tannenberg. When Hindenburg died in 1934, he and his wife (she had died in 1921) were interred there. As Soviet troops neared the Tannenberg memorial during WWII, German soldiers removed the Hindenburgs' remains; they were eventually interred in Marburg, Germany. Beginning in 1949 the Polish government began the complete dismantling of the memorial. The site today is a public park.

  1. H. P. Willmott, Historical Atlas of World War I (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1994), p. 28.
  2. Spencer Tucker, ed., World War I: A Student Encyclopedia (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2006), p. 1918.
  3. Lee Kennett, The First Air War, 1914-1918 (New York: The Free Press, 1991), p. 31.
  4. Ibid.
  5. History of World War I (3 Vols; New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2002), Vol. I, p. 157.
  6. John Keegan, The First World War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), p. 149.
  7. History of World War I, Vol. I, p. 157.
  8. Russell Freedman, The War to End All Wars: World War I (Boston: Clarion Books, 2010), p. 44.
  9. B. H. Liddell Hart, The Real War: 1914-1918 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1964), p. 71.

Perhaps nowhere else were the geographical challenges of waging war more apparent than in the Alps separating Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Even in these high altitudes, 8000'-9000', the adversaries dug trenches and waged a war of attrition. But exposure to brutally cold temperatures, sheer precipices, unavoidable enemy fire, and even avalanches made fighting in the Alps a unique story of the Great War.

Italy at War: The Isonzo and the Dolomites

Treaty of London

In the Treaty of London, signed secretly by Italy, Britain, France, and Russia on April 26, 1915, Italy joined the Allies in return for significant territorial compensation should the war end in an Allied victory. Italy would gain Trentino, the majority of whose population was ethnic Italian1, Istria, Trieste, Cisalpine Tyrol, Dalmatia, Valona in Albania, and a share of German and Ottoman territories.

Italy declared war on Austria on May 26, 1915, and on Germany on August 27, 1916.

Battles of the Isonzo

At the time of WWI, the Italian-Austrian border in northeastern Italy was located slightly west of the 55-mile-long Isonzo River, which flows into the Adriatic. On this front the Italians and Austro-Hungarians fought each other in twelve Battles of the Isonzo, the twelfth battle sometimes called the Battle of Caporetto. Under the command of General Luigi Cadorna, the Italian goal was to break through Austro-Hungarian lines, capture Gorizia and Trieste, and then advance toward Vienna. The first eleven Battles of the Isonzo ended in stalemate and horrific loss of life, not unlike the bloodshed and stalemate that characterized fighting on the Western Front. In the Battle of Caporetto (October-November 1917), the last of the Battles of the Isonzo, the Italians were thrown into retreat, establishing a defensive line along the Piave River, about eighteen miles from Venice. Battle lines remained there when, a year later, WWI came to an end.

Dolomite Front

[Photo Courtesy of Sarah Gamble]

Following the May 26, 1915, Italian declaration of war against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Austrian troops established defensible positions in the peaks, cliffs, and rocky faces of the Alpine Mountains Dolomite Range. The Austrians abandoned Cortina d'Ampezzo to fortify themselves nearby on several Alpine mountains—Lagazuoi, Col di Lana, Marmolada, and Sief, for example—and in the Valparola Pass, at Tre Sassi Fort, for example. This area of the Alps in the Dolomite Range became the Dolomite Front during the war. Here, the Italian Alpini brigade, trained for mountain warfare conditions, faced off against their similarly trained Austrian Kaiserjager ("Emperor's Huntsmen") opponents.

The realities of geography and fierce winter climate, which limited human movement, meant that the Austrians could defend themselves and prohibit an Italian advance, even if Italian numbers were greater.2 Though Italian artillery fire from Cinque Torri, peaks held by the Italians, badly damaged Tre Sassi Fort, forcing the Austrians to evacuate it in July 1915, the Italians were not able to advance into Valparola Pass.

For the Italians, the disadvantage of fighting uphill against firmly entrenched and strategically well-selected Austrian positions meant heavy Italian casualties, forcing the Italians to engage in tunneling operations for their own protection and to reach the enemy. Both sides dug trenches where they could, and they cut trenches, caves, and tunnels elsewhere out of rock. For both sides the purpose of some of the tunneling was to approach enemy positions and plant and detonate explosives. That was how the Italians were able to gain possession of Col di Lana. An Italian officer described the importance of Col di Lana when he observed, "whichever side holds it not only effectually blocks the enemy's advance, but also has an invaluable sally-port from which to launch his own."3 A three-month tunneling operation, which began in mid-January 1916, allowed the Italians to plant dynamite right under the Austrian position, blowing up a portion of Col di Lana's summit. An unknown number of Austrian lives were lost and Col di Lana was in Italian hands.4

[Photo Courtesy of Sarah Gamble]

The Austrians succeeded in repulsing Italian assaults on nearby Mount Sief. Here, avalanches, a common enemy for both sides on the Dolomite Front, played a role in the Italian failure to take the mountain. Some 60,000 deaths on the Dolomite Front were due to avalanches. Paolo Monelli—a journalist before the war, a member of the Alpine Brigade during the war, and a celebrated journalist and author after the war—described the danger of avalanches when he recalled how "entire platoons were hit, smothered, buried without a trace, without a cry, with no other sound than the one made by the gigantic white mass itself."5

[Photo Courtesy of Sarah Gamble]

On the Dolomite Front, as on the Isonzo, the war dragged on with neither advance nor retreat; the Dolomite Front was stalemated trench warfare, in this case trench warfare in the Alps, and the stalemate was not broken until the Austrian victory in the Battle of Caporetto (twelfth Battle of the Isonzo), which forced the Italians to abandon their Alpine offensive. The Dolomite Range, the scene of so much human slaughter, became silent in the remaining year of the Great War.6

Today, nearly a century since the war ended, many remarkably well-preserved trenches and tunnels in the Dolomite Range can be explored, and helmets, ammunition, weaponry, and even human remains are sometimes revealed in the melting ice of spring.

Treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye

The Treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye, signed by the victorious Allied nations and Austria on September 10, 1919, formally dissolved the Austro-Hungarian Empire and recognized the independence of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (renamed Yugoslavia in 1929), which was created from the former Austro-Hungarian provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Dalmatia, and Slovenia.

Some three million Sudeten Germans were included in the new Czechoslovakia, a source of irritation to Adolf Hitler, who would address the matter in the 1938 Munich Conference.

For Italy, the Treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye only partially fulfilled the promises made in the Treaty of London, ceding to Italy areas that had been under Austrian control—the South Tyrol, Trentino, Trieste, Istria, Friuli, and some of the Dalmatian islands. Contrary to the promises made in the Treaty of London, Italy was not awarded Fiume and control of Albania. Post-war Italian nationalists would point out this apparent injustice.

  1. Spencer Tucker, ed., The Encyclopedia of World War I, A Political, Social, and Military History (5 Vols., Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2005), Vol. IV, p. 1181.
  2. S. L. A. Marshall, The American Heritage History of World War I (American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., 1964), p. 108.
  3. Francis Reynolds, ed., World's War Events (3 Vols; New York: P. F. Collier & Son Company, 1919), Vol. II, p. 56.
  4. Ibid., pp. 63-65.
  5. "Paolo Monelli," Obituary (New York Times, November 20, 1984): nytimes.com; Richard Galli, "Avalanche": worldwar1.com.
  6. Richard Galli, "Tre Cime di Lavaredo": worldwar1.com.

Deadlock on the Western Front and Ottoman control of the Dardanelles Strait, which prevented desperately needed Allied war supplies from reaching Russia on the Black Sea, led to a hurried and ill-fated Allied attempt to knock Turkey out of the war. Following the failure of an Anglo-French naval effort to force the Strait, British, ANZAC, French, and Indian forces engaged in an unsuccessful eight-month-long effort to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula. The Dardanelles Strait remained under Turkish control, and Russia was left arguably doomed to military failure on the Eastern Front and revolution at home.

The Gallipoli Campaign

[Map Courtesy of Australian War Memorial]

Stalemate on the Western Front prompted Winston Churchill, Britain's First Lord of the Admiralty, to promote a naval strategy he believed would hasten an Allied victory in the war. Churchill proposed a naval attack on the Ottoman capital at Constantinople (which would be renamed Istanbul in 1930). He proposed that a combined British and French fleet enter the Dardanelles Strait and bombard the forts guarding the thirty-mile-long passage, then sail into the Sea of Marmara to bombard Constantinople and knock Turkey out of the war.

With control of the Dardanelles Strait, and the Bosporus Strait linking the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea, Allied shipping could bring much-needed military supplies to Russia, whose ability to wage war in the east had suffered crippling setbacks as a result of horrendous losses to the Germans in the Battles of Tannenberg

[Map Courtesy of Australian War Memorial]

(August 1914) and Masurian Lakes (September 1914). Without access to the Mediterranean Sea, Russian imports fell by 95%; imports and exports could only take place at Archangel—which, on the White Sea, was ice-bound for half the year—and Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan, eight thousand miles from the fighting on the Eastern Front.1 Defeating the Turks and opening a supply route to Russia would compromise the ability of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire to continue the war on both fronts. Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, Secretary of State of the German Imperial Naval Office, understood what was at stake. "Should the Dardanelles fall," he wrote during the Gallipoli campaign, "then the world war has been decided against us."2 The Allies also expected that defeating the Turks would encourage Bulgaria, Greece, and Romania to enter the war on the Allied side.3

Churchill convinced Lord Horatio Kitchener, the British Secretary of State for War, and other members of the British War Council, to approve the Gallipoli plan in January 1915. Under the command of British Admiral Sir Sackville Carden, an Anglo-French fleet was assembled and based at the Aegean islands of Lemmos, Mudros, and Tenedos. Naval bombardment of Turkish fortresses overlooking the Dardanelles Strait began on February 19, 1915, though with nominal effect, and weather conditions forced temporary interruptions in the attack. Carden was nevertheless confident in success. He noted in a cable to Churchill on March 4 that he expected to reach Constantinople within two weeks. On March 18 the Anglo-French fleet again entered the Dardanelles Strait. Historian John Keegan would write, "Even in the long history of the Dardanelles, such an armada had never been seen there before."4 But the size and fire power of the fleet was overmatched by Turkish artillery and mines, which Allied trawlers, under heavy fire from shore batteries, were not able to clear, especially at the one-mile-wide Narrows where the mines were concentrated. Three battleships were sunk and two others were incapacitated by mines and Turkish artillery. Seven hundred sailors lost their lives.

ANZACs on Gallipoli Peninsula, May 29, 1915

[Photograph Courtesy of Imperial War Museum, London]

Vice-Admiral Sir John de Robeck, who had replaced ailing Carden as commander of the Anglo-French fleet, decided that the Strait could not be forced by naval action alone. An amphibious landing would be necessary to silence the Turkish guns protecting the Dardanelles Strait. General Sir Ian Hamilton commanded the 70,000 men of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force—British, ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), and French—which was assembled in Egypt. Hamilton's strategy was to land forces on the Gallipoli Peninsula and destroy the Turkish artillery positions. British troops would land on Cape Helles on the southern tip of the Gallipoli peninsula; ANZACs would land on the western side of the peninsula, about ten miles to the north, at Gaba Tepe.

The Gallipoli Peninsula landings began on April 25, 1915, with British and French troops establishing beachheads at five locations at Cape Helles and with ANZAC troops landing at Gaba Tepe. ANZACs went ashore at a place that came to be called Anzac Cove, about one mile north of their intended beach, and they had to climb cliffs before advancing against enemy positions. They were never able to take Chunuk Bair, high ground defended by the Turks. Counterattacks were skillfully conducted by Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal.

To the south at Cape Helles, the Turks pinned British forces to the beaches, and casualties were heavy. The Turks withdrew northwards to a line extending east and west from a point about one mile south of the village Krithia. Three assaults on this Turkish line from late April to early June 1915 all ended in failure, in part because the Turks held high ground positions, and the Turks mounted several counterattacks.

In sum, the Allied forces remained largely pinned down where they had come ashore. Contrary to all intentions, a deadlock in the trenches characterized the Gallipoli Campaign, as it had already characterized the Western Front.

In an attempt to end the stalemate, Hamilton proposed another landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula's west coast, behind Turkish lines at Suvla Bay, about five miles north of Anzac Cove. ANZACs there and at Anzac Cove were to advance against Turkish positions in the hills immediately inland while British troops at Cape Helles were to commence a diversionary attack and advance northward, linking up with the ANZACs. Under the command of Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Stopford, the Suvla Bay landing went unopposed on August 6, but Stopford failed to advance his forces inland. Turkish forces counterattacked and British troops from Cape Helles failed to advance northwards.

Mustafa Kemal

[Photograph Courtesy of
Imperial War Museum, London]

Following the failure of the August offensive, Hamilton's requests for additional forces were denied, and he was relieved of command on October 15, 1915. One day later his replacement, General Charles Monro, recommended evacuating the Gallipoli Peninsula. Churchill, whose reputation suffered as a result of the Gallipoli failure, later commented of Monro, "He came, he saw, he capitulated."5 Under cover of night, withdrawal began in early December 1915; the last of the Allied troops departed from Cape Helles on January 9, 1916. Remarkably, no lives were lost in the evacuation.

Some 28,000 Britons, 10,000 ANZACs, 10,000 French, and 1,500 Indians lost their lives, as did 66,000 Turks.6 British General Sir William Robertson, who replaced Lieutenant General Sir Archibald Murray as Chief of the Imperial General Staff during the Gallipoli Campaign evacuation, judged the Gallipoli campaign "A wonderful example of gallantry and endurance by men and a calamitous display of mismanagement by authority."7 The Allied failure at Gallipoli meant the stalemate would continue on the Western Front and Russia would almost certainly face more military losses on the Eastern Front.

There were repercussions at home. In November 1915 Churchill, an early advocate of the Gallipoli campaign, resigned from his position as First Lord of the Admiralty, and Kitchener offered to resign, though Prime Minister Asquith refused to accept it. The next month David Lloyd George replaced Asquith as prime minister. Meanwhile, Mustafa Kemal, a hero of Turkish defense on the Gallipoli Peninsula, enjoyed increasing popularity; in 1924 he became the first president of the Republic of Turkey. Ten years later Turkey's parliament bestowed on him the title Ataturk, "Father of the Turks."

In 1934 President Kemal unveiled a monument at Anzac Cove, inscribed with his words of comfort to nations that had been former enemies.

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives—You are now living in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.

  1. Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August (New York: Ballantine Books, 1994), p. 161.
  2. Alfred von Tirpitz, My Memoirs (2 Vols, New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1919), II, p. 369: books.google.com.
  3. National Archives, UK, "Battles: The Gallipoli Campaign": nationalarchives.gov.uk.
  4. John Keegan, The First World War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), p. 238.
  5. Quoted in Lloyd Clark, World War I: An Illustrated History (London: Bounty Books, 2004), p. 66.
  6. National Archives, UK, "Battles: The Gallipoli Campaign": nationalarchives.gov.uk.
  7. Quoted in S. L. A. Marshall, World War I (np: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987), p. 193.

The Austro-Hungarian declaration of war on Serbia took place one month following the June 28, 1914, assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. International tension in the month of July, which came to be called the July Crisis, ended with Vienna choosing to risk the possibility of a general European war in order to discipline its troublesome neighbor, Serbia, which Vienna suspected of complicity in the assassination.

"July Crisis," Ultimatum, and War

[Image Courtesy of Library of Congress]

How would Vienna respond to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand? Influential political and military figures in Austria had long expressed their anger at anti-Austrian agitation in independent Serbia. For them the assassination provided an opportunity to act, and their confidence to act was emboldened on July 8, 1914, when Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany offered the Austro-Hungarian government what was later referred to as a "blank check," its support however Vienna chose to proceed with Serbia.

Existing treaties and agreements meant that any attack on Serbia would run the risk of bringing Russia to Serbia's defense, and France was bound to come to the support of Russia if Russia were to be at war with either the Austro-Hungarian Empire or Germany; Britain would go to the defense of France if France were at war with Germany.

If Vienna were to declare war on Serbia, what would prevent other nations from fulfilling their treaty obligations? How might a general, even global, war be avoided? Thus began the July Crisis.

Emboldened with the support of Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire's Foreign Minister Count Leopold von Berchtold composed an ultimatum which he expected the Kingdom of Serbia would reject, a rejection which would thus give the Austro-Hungarian government the excuse that it had no recourse but to declare war on Serbia. Vienna expected a quick and limited war, thus ending at last all anti-Austrian agitation in Serbia.

The ultimatum was made up of ten demands. In sum, the Serbian government would have to suppress anti-Austrian publications, dissolve anti-Austrian organizations, replace anti-Austrian government officials and military personnel, and allow Austrian officials to enter Serbia to conduct their own investigation into the assassination.1

At 6:00 p.m. on July 23, about three weeks following Archduke Franz Ferdinand's assassination in Sarajevo, Bosnia, Baron Giesl von Gieslingen, the Austro-Hungarian Empire's ambassador to Serbia, delivered the ultimatum to the Serbian foreign minister's office in Belgrade, and demanded a response within forty-eight hours. Time was of the essence. If, as Vienna expected, Serbia would not comply with the ultimatum, then a quick military campaign against Serbia would be necessary in order to avoid also having to fight Russia, which Vienna expected to come to Serbia's defense.2

News of the ultimatum spread an alarm across Europe. While Serbia was determining how to respond to the ultimatum, Winston Churchill, England's First Lord of the Admiralty, considered the ultimatum "the most insolent document of its kind ever devised."3 British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey commented, "Any nation that accepted conditions like that would really cease to count as an independent nation."4

At 5:58 p.m. on July 25, just two minutes before the 48-hour time limit had elapsed, Serbian Prime Minister Nicola Pasic delivered Serbia's response to Austro-Hungarian Ambassador von Gieslingen who, following instructions from Vienna, immediately boarded a train from Belgrade to bring news of Serbia's response to Vienna.

Serbia's response fell short of unconditional acceptance. The Serbian government was willing to comply with all the ultimatum's demands, except for those allowing an Austrian investigation on Serbian soil.

The [Serbian] Government considers it its duty as a matter of course to begin an investigation against all those persons who have participated in the outrage of June 28th and who are in its territory. As far as the cooperation in this investigation of specially delegated officials of the [Austro-Hungarian] Government is concerned, this cannot be accepted, as this is a violation of the constitution and of criminal procedure. Yet in some cases the result of the investigation might be communicated to the Austro-Hungarian officials.6

Though Serbia proposed that the issue be submitted to the International Tribunal at the Hague,7 Austria judged Serbia's conditional response unsatisfactory and on July 28, one month following the assassination in Sarajevo, Bosnia, declared war on Serbia.

In only two more weeks, a system of alliances brought other European nations and their imperial subjects into a conflict so broad in geographical scope that it was called the Great War, the World War.

  1. Laurence Lafore, The Long Fuse: An Interpretation of the Origins of World War I (Philadelphia and New York: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1965), p. 226.
  2. "July 23, 1914: Austria Issues Ultimatum to Serbia": http://www.history.com.
  3. Mary Soames, ed., Winston and Clementine: The Personal Letters of the Churchills (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2001), p. 95: http://books.google.com.
  4. David Fromkin, Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914? (New York: First Vintage Books, 2005), p. 188: http://books.google.com.
  5. B. H. Liddell Hart, The Real War: 1914-1918 (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1930), p. 26.
  6. "The Serbian Response to the Austro-Hungarian Ultimatum": http://wwi.lib.byu.edu.
  7. Jere King, The First World War: A Volume in Documentary History of Western Civilization (New York: Walker and Company, 1972), p. xxx; S. L. A. Marshall, The American Heritage History of World War I (New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1964), p. 41.

How much can a single event change the apparent course of history? The June 28, 1914, assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, qualifies as one of the most significant events leading to a war some expected but few believed would be as terible as it became.


[Image Courtesy of Library of Congress]

The 1878 Treaty of Berlin granted Austria administrative control over Bosnia and Herzegovina, which, until then, had been controlled by the Ottoman Empire. Those areas were populated mainly by Serbs, Croats, and Muslims, Serbs being the largest group. Many Bosnian Serbs looked forward to the day when Bosnia might be united with their neighbor Serbia.

When the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908, South Slavs ("Yugoslavs")—Croats, Serbs, and Slovaks—protested what amounted to the replacement of one imperial power, the Ottoman Empire, by another, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The annexation stood in the way of a pan-Slavic goal, voiced most noticeably in Serbia, which was to create a "Greater Serbia," the expansion of Serbia's borders to include all South Slavs on the Balkan Peninsula. Serbia saw its leadership in the pan-Slavic movement as paralleling the leadership role played by Prussia in the unification of Germany and by Sardinia and Piedmont in the unification of Italy.1

On June 25, 1914, Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Inspector General of the army, arrived in Bosnia-Herzegovina to inspect Austrian troops and oversee a demonstration of Austrian military maneuvers. Three days later a four-car motorcade that included Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in the back seat of an open car, made its way through the streets of Sarjevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, en route to City Hall for an official reception. Generally jubilant crowds lined the motorcade route, but in the crowds were several Bosnian Serb members of a radical Serbian nationalist organization known as the Black Hand, which had conspired to assassinate the archduke, an act that would demonstrate the degree of resentment some Serbs had for Austrian control in the Balkans.

Serbian resentment toward Austro-Hungarian imperial control may have been aggravated by the date of Ferdinand's visit. Though June 28 was the tenth anniversary of the imperial couple's marriage, it was also the date when, in 1389, invading Ottomans defeated the Serbs in the Battle of Kosovo, an event which brought Serbian provinces under Ottoman control. Centuries of foreign rule came to an end when Serbia gained full independence from the Ottomans in 1878, but Serbian nationalists since that date dreamed of eliminating all foreign control over Serbian people in the Balkan Peninsula; for Serbian nationalists June 28 symbolized the beginning of foreign oppression, and the new oppressor was the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

As the archduke's motorcade proceeded through Sarajevo, one of the conspirators, Nedjelko Cabrinovic, threw a bomb at the car bearing Ferdinand and Sophie. The bomb missed its mark, exploding under a following car and injuring a number of people, one of the car's passengers, for example, who was taken to a hospital.2 The would-be assassin was arrested and, in spite of the violence, the motorcade proceeded to the city hall for the official reception. The archduke was shaken and voiced his anger at the burgomaster that such an event could have happened, but the reception took place as planned.

Following the reception Ferdinand asked to be taken to the hospital to visit those who were injured. On that drive the chauffeur took a wrong turn and was backing up when one of the conspirators, Gavrilo Princip, stepped into the street and, only a few feet away from the car, shot both Ferdinand (in the neck) and Sophie (in the stomach) with a pistol. While police apprehended Princip, the chauffeur sped to the governor's residence, where both Ferdinand and Sophie were pronounced dead upon arrival.3 The next day the embalmed bodies in their caskets were placed on a train for Vienna.4

Besides Princip and Cabrinovic, others were soon implicated in the crime, and their trial took place in October 1914. Princip and Cabrinovic, each nineteen-year-old Bosnian Serbs, were minors and could not be sentenced to death; they and a third Bosnian Serb conspirator, nineteen-year-old Trifko Grabez, all received twenty-year prison sentences but died in prison of tuberculosis—Cabrinovic in January 1916, Grabez in February 1916, and Princip in April 1918. Fourteen others were found guilty and received sentences ranging from three years in prison to death by hanging.

  1. Jere King, The First World War: A Volume in Documentary History of Western Civilization (New York: Walker and Company, 1972), pp. xvii-xviii.
  2. S. L. A. Marshall, World War I (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1964), p. 12; John Keegan, The First World War (New York: Vintage Books, 2000), p. 49.
  3. Robert Donia, Sarajevo: A Biography (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006), p. 123: http://books.google.com
  4. Ibid.

When the United States entered WWI, an already popular song in Army artillery units became a hit song nationally. That song was “The Caisson Song,” composed in 1908 by Lt. Edmund Gruber, an artillery officer stationed in the Philippines. Gruber was a relative of the Austrian organist and composer Franz Gruber who, in 1818, had composed “Silent Night” (“Stille Nacht”). The story of “The Caisson Song” is a story of an enduringly popular melody that, rewritten as a march by John Philip Sousa in the year the United States entered WWI, eventually became the official song of the U. S. Army.

“The Caisson Song”

While stationed in the Philippines in 1908, field artillery First Lieutenant Edmund L. "Snitz" Gruber wrote the music for a song he entitled “Caisson Song,” and he and two fellow officers wrote the lyrics. A caisson, a two-wheeled cart attached to a horse-drawn field artillery piece, typically carried ammunition and other supplies.

Over hill, over dale,
We will hit the dusty trail,
And those Caissons go rolling along.
Up and down, in and out,
Counter march and left about,
And those Caissons go rolling along,
For it's high high he,
In the Field Artillery,
Shout out your number loud and strong,
For wher-e’er we go,
You will always know,
That those Caissons go rolling along.
Six-Horse Team with Caisson and Limber, 1938
[Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

Little did Gruber and his assistant lyricists know how popular—and how quickly popular—that song would become. Robert Danford, a lieutenant when he helped write the song's lyrics, later recalled how the music was composed: “A guitar was produced and tuned and—in what seemed to us a few moments—as if suddenly inspired, Snitz fingered the melody of the now famous song.” Danford recalled that “Its popularity was instantaneous, and almost in no time all six of the regiments then composing the U. S. Field Artillery adopted it.”1

For Edmund Gruber, “The Caisson Song” would eventually add to the legacy of the Gruber lineage, as he was related to the Austrian composer Franz Gruber who, in 1818, had composed the immortal music “Silent Night” (“Stille Nacht”). But the growing popularity of “The Caisson Song” somehow out-paced the public knowledge of the song's composer, and for a number of years the increasingly popular melody seemed to have come out of the distant rather than recent past, composer in any case unknown.

Thus, the U. S. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels and Lt. George Friedlander (306th FA, Army) felt no legal hesitation when in 1917 they asked the celebrated band leader and composer John Philip Sousa to transform the popular melody “Caisson Song” into a march for the Army's field artillery units. As far as they knew the music was an old traditional American song with no known composer.2 Sousa’s stirring march, “U. S. Field Artillery,” was the result, a hit during WWI.

Gruber eventually emerged as the original composer and years of litigation followed in the courts as Gruber unsuccessfully attempted to win royalties from Sousa’s march, music by then so long in the public domain that it was being used in radio commercials.

During his military career Gruber would compose a number of additional songs, but none proved as memorable as “The Caisson Song.”

While still in active service, Brigadier General Edmund Gruber died from natural causes at age 61 in 1941. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

In 1948 the Army sponsored a contest for an official song. None of the entries qualified as a winner, and four years later Secretary of the Army Frank Pace reopened the competition. This time there was a winner—“The Army’s Always There,” composed by the popular American song writer Sam Stept—but the melody, which seemed too similar to a then popular English song, lost the Army's support. In 1956 Secretary of the Army Wilbur Brucker proposed that the Army consider what was still one of the most popular tunes in its repertoire, Gruber's melody “Caisson Song.” With new lyrics by Harold Arberg, and re-titled “The Army Goes Rolling Along,” the Army had at last decided upon its official song, soon to be popularly known as “The Army Song.”

First to fight for the right,
And to build the Nation’s might,
And The Army Goes Rolling Along
Proud of all we have done,
Fighting till the battle’s won,
And the Army Goes Rolling Along.


Then it's Hi! Hi! Hey!
The Army's on its way.
Count off the cadence loud and strong
For where e’er we go,
You will always know
That The Army Goes Rolling Along.
Valley Forge, Custer's ranks596,
San Juan Hill and Patton's tanks,
And the Army went rolling along
Minute men, from the start,
Always fighting from the heart,
And the Army keeps rolling along.

Men in rags, men who froze,
Still that Army met its foes,
And the Army went rolling along.
Faith in God, then we're right,
And we'll fight with all our might,
As the Army keeps rolling along.

In accounting for how Gruber’s music, a hit during World War I, was selected in 1956 as the official Army song, former Secretary of the Army Frank Pace recalled in 1972, “whenever I walked into a dinner and they played the ‘Halls of Montezuma’ everybody jumped up and down and shouted and I said, ‘By gosh, we've got to have an Army song that will move people the way that song does.’” He recalled how even the most famous song writers of the day, including Lerner and Lowe, “came up with zip . . . nothing.” The Army selected “The Caisson Song” because, as Pace concluded, it had “come out of a great heart and sense of spirit.”3

  1. http://bands.army.mil/music/soldierssong.asp.
  2. Frederick Fennell, “The Sousa March: A Personal View,” Library of Congress: Performing Arts Encyclopedia, October 23, 2007: http://lcweb2.loc.gov.
  3. Jerry Hess, “Oral History Interview with Frank Pace, Jr.,” (transcript of tape-recorded interview, 25 February 1972, Washington, D. C.), p. 132: http://www.trumanlibrary.org.

What proved to be one of the most enduring songs of the Great War might never have been published had its composer and lyricist gone with their first instincts, that it was a "dud" and worthy only of being filed away. But they half-heartedly entered the song in a contest which, to their great surprise, they won, and the song soon became an international hit, uplifting spirits on both sides in the war.

"Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag"

American Record Featuring the Song
[Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

In 1915, two brothers, pianist Felix Powell and actor George Powell, both employed in British music hall productions, collaborated in composing a song that would inspire British soldiers going off to fight in the Great War, which was then in its second year. Entitled "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag"—music by Felix Powell with lyrics written by George Powell, who used the pseudonym "George Asaf"—the song became one of the most memorable songs produced in England during WWI and arguably one of the most memorable songs produced by any nation during WWI, and it was sung on both sides of the conflict. Shortly after its publication in England and two years before the American declaration of war, "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag" sheet music was available for purchase in the United States through Chappell & Co., Ltd., in New York City. A hit song in the United States and with American doughboys, the music was even sung by German soldiers following the Armistice in November 1918.1

Though "Pack Up Your Troubles" was an immediate hit, neither the composer nor the lyricist had thought the song worth publishing. As Felix later recalled, "I played the tune over to George. He, without hesitation, pronounced it piffle. Having mutually agreed it was rubbish, it was consigned to a drawer labeled 'Duds,'" but when the Powell brothers entered the song "as a joke" into a marching song competition, it won first prize. Felix recalled how that news "gave George and me the best laugh of our lives. . . . We were as amused as we were delighted to hear thousands of troops singing it en route for the docks."2 Perhaps the words of the chorus served to ease the transition soldiers knew they would have to experience, leaving the security of home and facing the uncertainties that lay ahead.

Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag,
And smile, smile, smile,
While you've a lucifer to light your fag,
Smile, boys, that's the style.
What's the use of worrying?
It never was worth while, so
Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag,
And smile, smile, smile.

The song's celebrated composer enlisted in the army and used his musical talents to entertain the troops at the front; George was a pacifist, and a conscientious objector.

Though the song added significantly to the brothers' income, Felix eventually felt an emotional burden from making so much money while so many of his countrymen, singing his song, were marching off to war and dying in combat. According to Felix's grandson Aubrey Powell, Felix "was singing and encouraging them to fight with this song, and I think it got to him. By all accounts he had a kind of nervous breakdown in the trenches. He found it unbearable." Aubrey concludes, "I think the song, and the proceeds of the song, haunted him."3

Following the war the Powell brothers opened the Lureland theater in Peacehaven, England, but financial reverses eventually took their toll, and despite Felix's concerted efforts, he never again succeeded in composing a hit song, royalties from which would have paid his mounting debts.4 At sixty-four years of age, Felix committed suicide on February 10, 1942.

World War II, in its third year at that time, renewed the popularity of "Pack Up Your Troubles," and, ironically, royalties from the music allowed Felix's widow to pay off the debts that had made her husband so tragically despondent.5

George Powell died in 1951.

  1. Gerard Gilbert, "Chapter and Verse: The Surprising Story of the Song 'Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag'," The
    (London: November 4, 2010): http://www.independent.co.uk/arts.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Jim Mulligan, "The Collected Interviews of Jim Mulligan," 2006: jimmulligan.co.uk/Interviews.
  5. "Chapter and Verse."

He was a pacifist and wrote on his draft registration, "Don't Want to Fight." How did this reluctant doughboy become one of the most famous American veterans of World War I, and how did his wartime experience influence his life after the war?

Sergeant Alvin Cullum York

Alvin Cullum York was born on December 13, 1887, in Pall Mall, Tennessee, and grew up in poverty in a subsistence farming family. When his father died in 1911, York, then twenty-four years of age, became the head of the family, supporting his eight younger brothers and sisters, since his two older brothers were already married and supporting their own families. York worked in railroad construction and logging, and, he admitted, drank, gambled, and got into fights.

Sgt. Alvin York, LOC
Sergeant Alvin Cullum York
Note Medal of Honor and
Croix de Guerre over Left Pocket
[Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

York's mother, a devout Methodist, eventually turned Alvin's attention to salvation. 1 By his late teens, York was attending church regularly. At age twenty-seven York attended a Church of Christ in Christian Union revival meeting, an experience that would put York on a life-changing path. The denomination forbade drinking, dancing, and movies, and it was pacifist. York committed himself to the denomination and hence to pacifism and abstinence from the drinking and rowdy behavior that had marked his earlier years.

Following the U. S. declaration of war against Germany in April 1917, York registered for the draft, but next to the draft card's question, "Do you claim exemption from draft (specify grounds)?" York wrote, "Yes, Don't Want to Fight". The draft board did not recognize the Church of Christ in Christian Union as a legitimate Christian denomination, 2 and York was drafted in November 1917. At that point York struggled between his sense of duty to his country and his commitment to pacifism. York later recalled,

My religion and my experience . . . told me not to go to war, and the memory of my ancestors . . . told me to get my gun and go fight. I didn't know what to do. . . . .   I was a heap bothered. It is a most awful thing when the wishes of your God and your country . . . get mixed up and go against each other. One moment I would make up my mind to follow God, and the next I would hesitate and almost make up my mind to follow Uncle Sam . . . .   I wanted to follow both but I couldn't. 3

York was stationed at Camp Gordon in Atlanta, Georgia, where two officers tried to help York out of his conundrum by citing passages in the Bible. York eventually concurred with them that war was sometimes necessary to establish peace, and the verse "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Book of Matthew, Chapter 5, Verse 9) could be read in that way. York also saw in a Bible verse how he could be justified serving in the defense of his country.

Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them . . . his blood will I require at the watchman's hand" (Book of Ezekiel, Chapter 33, Verses 4-6).

Company G, 328th Infantry, 82nd Division, of which York was a member, arrived in France in April 1918. About six months later events took place which would make York one of the most famous veterans of the war. On the morning of October 8, Cpl. York and sixteen other Americans were ordered to advance upon a German machine gun position. Six Americans were killed and three wounded when they came under fire. With seven men guarding German prisoners, York advanced alone upon the German position, killing some twenty-five German soldiers and taking others as prisoners. York later explained how a German officer they had taken prisoner played a key role in the American capture of additional German soldiers.

I . . . told [the German officer] if he didn't make them stop firing I would take off his head next. And he knew I meant it. He told me if I didn't kill him, and if I stopped shooting the others in the trench, he would make them surrender. He blew a little whistle and they came down and began to gather around and throw down their guns and belts. 4

York and the seven remaining Americans led their captives back to the American lines. Whenever York encountered any Germans along the way he "told the major to blow his whistle or [he] would take his head off and theirs too." Remarkably, York and the seven other Americans arrived at the American lines at Varennes with 132 German prisoners. 5

York's unprecedented achievement brought about his promotion from corporal to sergeant. He was awarded the Medal of Honor on December 31, 1919. His other decorations included the World War I Victory Medal, the Distinguished Service Cross, the French Légion d'Honneur, the French Croix de Guerre with Palm, the Italian Croce di Guerra, and the Montenegrin War Medal.

Following the war York married Gracie Williams, whom he had met before going off to war, and they tried to live a quiet life at home in Pall Mall. But York was a famous war hero, and he was frequently asked for interviews, endorsements, and public appearances. Though he wanted refuge from the public, he also understood that anonymity would be impossible. "I knew that I had changed," he wrote. "I knew I wasn't like I used to be. The big outside world I had been in and the things I had fought through had touched me up inside a powerful lot . . . .   I was sort of restless and full of dreams and wanted to be doing something and I didn't understand." 6

York felt that what he had experienced in the war had placed a burden on his heart. God had protected him from harm so that he could go on and do something meaningful for others. "Before the war I felt the mountains isolated us and kept us together as a God-fearing, God-loving people. They did that, too, but they did more than that. They kept out many of the good and worthwhile things like good roads, schools, libraries, up-to-date homes and modern farming methods." York resolved to do something to help the disadvantaged people in the Cumberland Plateau area where he had grown up by improving educational opportunities. York led a fund-raising campaign to establish a school in his home county of Fentress, Tennessee. That school, located in Jamestown, Tennessee, opened its doors in 1929. Due in part to financial demands brought on by the Depression, the state of Tennessee took over operation of the school in 1937. The York Institute has served as a public high school since that time.

York also hoped to establish a bible school. An opportunity to build one arose when Warner Brothers Pictures proposed making a film about his life. York was initially uninterested, not wanting to glorify his wartime experience or violate his church's view that movies are sinful, but Jesse Lasky, who was then working for Warner Brothers Pictures, convinced York to give his consent, suggesting that the money York would make from the movie could be used to build the bible school he had first dreamed of twenty years earlier. The contract stipulated that York would receive a payment of $50,000 and 2% of the receipts. 7Gary Cooper was York's personal choice to portray him.

The movie "Sergeant York," a Warner Brothers film co-produced by Jesse Lasky and Hal Wallace, premiered at New York City's Astor Theater on July 2, 1941, and Gary Cooper, Alvin York, and Colonel George Buxton, commander of the 82nd Division, were among the guests of honor. For his portrayal of York in the movie, Gary Cooper won the 1942 Academy Award for Best Actor. The film, now considered a Hollywood classic, also won the Academy Award for Best Film Editing, and was nominated in nine other categories, for example, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Original Screenplay. "Sergeant York", playing in movie theaters when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, inspired countless young men to enlist. Proceeds from the film, helped York open his bible school, but it remained in operation only until the 1950s, when it closed its doors forever. The building still stands, but it has remained abandoned. 8

While the movie was in production, war raged in Europe and Asia. York, who had been a fervent pacifist and was still very religious, believed Hitler was the personification of evil and agreed that the United States should enact a peacetime draft in the event the United States were to go to war.

Following the Pearl Harbor attack, York tried to reenlist, and though he was rejected because of his age (he was 54), and being overweight, he was given the honorary rank of colonel in the Army Signal Corps and toured the country supporting bond drives and visiting military training camps.

Throughout his adult life York faced periodic monetary difficulties, for example in financing his educational projects, and managing his family's expenses. In 1951 Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn (D, TX) and Congressman Joe Evins (D, TN) addressed this famous American patriot's debt crisis by establishing the York Relief Fund, which raised $100,000 to settle York's taxes and gave York an additional $30,000 for his family's use. 9

York had a stroke nearly ten years before he died that caused his health to decline rapidly and confined him to his bed for the remaining part of his life. York died of a cerebral hemorrhage on September 2, 1964, and was buried with full military honors at the Wolf River Cemetery in Pall Mall, Tennessee. Gracie died in 1984 and is buried beside her husband.

  1. John Perry, Sergeant York (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2010), p. 5.
  2. Michael Birdwell, "Sergeant Alvin York," The Great War Society: www.wsorldwar1.com.
  3. Judith Bronte, "The Christian", Sergeant York Patriotic Foundation: www.sgtyork.org.
  4. Alvin York, Diary of Sgt. York, 1917 - 1919 (Pall Mall, Tennessee: York Patriotic Foundation, 2011), p. 27.
  5. Ibid., pp. 28-29.
  6. Bronte, "The Christian."
  7. David Welky, The Moguls and the Dictators: Hollywood and the Coming of World War II (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), p. 256: http://books.google.com.
  8. Birdwell, "Sergeant Alvin York."
  9. Ibid.

The United States was the victim of numerous acts of apparent sabotage in the nearly three years the Great War was in progress before the U. S. declaration of war against Germany on April 6, 1917. The most destructive took place at a munitions depot in Jersey City, New Jersey, on July 30, 1916.

The Black Tom Munitions Depot Explosion

The Circle of Flags at Liberty State Park, Jersey City, New Jeresey, Site of Black Tom Explosion

strong>The Circle of Flags at Liberty State Park,
Jersey City, New Jersey, Site of the Black Tom Explosion

[Photo Courtesy of C. Karnoutsos,
New Jersey City University Digital Project:
“Jersey City: Past and Present”

Until the late 1800s there was a Black Tom Island about a mile off the Jersey City shore in New York Harbor. A causeway eventually connected Black Tom Island and the Jersey City shore, and in the early 1900s landfilling enlarged the site to accommodate warehouses of the National Dock and Storage Company. The Lehigh Valley Railroad Company owned the warehouses and dock and railroad facilities at the depot, from which a variety of cargo was shipped to ports around the world.

With the outbreak of the World War, munitions manufactured in the northeast were transported by railroad to the Black Tom depot for trans-Atlantic shipment. Black Tom became the largest munitions depot in the United States, selling to the belligerents, though British command of the seas soon blocked Central Powers access to American ports. The result was Central Powers resentment that the neutral United States was effectively abetting the Allied cause.

About nine months before the United States declared war on Germany, an act of apparent German sabotage took place at the Black Tom munitions depot. Early on Sunday morning, July 30, 1916, small fires ignited shrapnel shells stored in railroad cars, warehouses, and barges at the site. More than 1,000 tons of TNT produced the fierce explosions that followed, breaking windows as far as twenty-five miles away; the explosions were heard as far away as Connecticut and Maryland.1 Shrapnel struck the clock on the Jersey Journal building, freezing the time at 2:12 a.m. Only about one mile away from the Black Tom explosions, rivets popped on the Statue of Liberty's uplifted right arm; even with repairs the arm and hand-grasped torch have to this day remained closed to visitors. The explosions killed at least six people, as an unknown number of immigrants who lived on barges in New York Harbor also perished.2 Hundreds of others were wounded. Damage estimates at the time were about $20 million, an amount that would equate to almost $500 million today.3

Michael Kristoff, an 1899 Slovakian immigrant from the Austrian Empire became a suspect in the ensuing investigation, but his guilt was never determined. He enlisted in the U. S. Army during the war and died in 1928.

Black Tom was only one of many examples of apparent sabotage in the United States. For example, on January 18, 1915, six months before the Black Tom explosion, a fire destroyed (without loss of lives) much of John A. Roebling's Sons Company in Trenton, New Jersey. The company made anti-submarine netting, artillery chains, and armaments. On January 11, 1917, six months following the Black Tom explosion, a fire broke out at Canadian Car and Foundry, an ammunition plant in Kingsland (today Lyndhurst), New Jersey, detonating thousands of shells, which had been shipped to Kingsland from east coast factories.4 On April 10, 1917, four days following the U. S. declaration of war on Germany, a fire at the Hercules Powder Company in Eddystone, Pennsylvania, killed over one hundred employees, mostly women and children.

In 1921, three years following the Armistice, the Treaty of Berlin, which formally ended the state of war between Germany and the United States, provided for the creation of the Mixed Claims Commission, through which settlement of U. S. claims against Germany might be made. The Black Tom and Kingsland cases would be the most prominent brought before the commission. The commission's charge was to decide whether the explosions were due to accident or sabotage. In 1939 the Commission concluded that the German government had authorized sabotage and ruled that Germany would have to pay $50 million dollars in restitution to Black Tom and other claimants5, but WWII, which began in Europe that year, interrupted any possible settlement of the issue.

About eight months before the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of War Henry Stimson appointed John McCloy, one of the U. S. attorneys who litigated the Mixed Claims Commission case in 1939, as Assistant Secretary of War. Following the U. S. declaration of war against Japan, McCloy was in attendance in the Oval Office during a discussion of the internment of Japanese-Americans. FDR, who had been Assistant Secretary of the Navy during WWI, commented that internment was necessary to avoid an event such as had taken place at the Black Tom munitions depot a quarter century earlier.6 FDR's Executive Order 9066, issued on February 19, 1942, began the Japanese internment program.

Settlement in the Mixed Claims Commission suits finally came in 1953, eight years following the end of WWII, when the Federal Republic of Germany agreed to a payment of $95 million for a number of war claims, including those arising from the Black Tom munitions depot explosion. The Federal Republic of Germany made its final payment in 1979.7

Today, the site of the Black Tom munitions depot explosions is at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey. Markers and flags are dedicated to the memory of the event.

  1. cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence; njcu.edu/programs/jchistory
  2. George Mason University's History News Network, "Chad Millman Talks About His New Book Detonators…," July 23, 2006: hnn.us
  3. Gilbert King, "Past Imperfect: Sabotage in New York Harbor," November 1, 2011: smithsonianmag.com
  4. lyndhursthistoricalsociety.org
  5. cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence
  6. “ ‘The Detonators’: A Nearly Forgotten New York Attack,” National Public Radio transcript, July 27, 2006: npr.org
  7. cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence

Doughboys in France and First American Combat Deaths

Magazine Illustration, Americans Arrive in France
[Image Courtesy of World War One
Historical Association]

I. Pershing and the First American Soldiers in France

When the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, the U. S. Army numbered only about 125,000 men. By the time the war ended in November 1918, about four million men had served in the U. S. Army, another 800,000 in the Coast Guard, Marines, and Navy. Of the four million in the U. S. Army, half, known as the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), were deployed to France under the command of General John J. Pershing. At two million men, the American Expeditionary Force was comparable in size to the British army (1.8 million) and French army (2.2 million) fighting in France.1

Prior to World War I the United States had never sent soldiers abroad to defend foreign soil. The vanguard of those two million men—General John Pershing and about two hundred soldiers and civilian staff members—arrived at Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, on June 13, 1917. They were the first American soldiers ever to be sent to continental Europe. A week earlier they had been the first to land in England. On June 26, 1917, about two weeks after arriving in France, Pershing greeted about 14,000 men of the First Division as they disembarked at Saint-Nazaire, France. To welcome the arrival of this first sizable group of the AEF in France, a parade took place in Paris on July 4, Pershing and a battalion of the First Division's 16th Infantry Regiment participating. On that day Pershing and his staff visited the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette, the French aristocrat whose voluntary service in General George Washington's Continental Army heralded the Franco-American Alliance during the American War of Independence. Pershing spoke of the American mission to "battle and to vanquish for the liberty of the world."2 Lt. Col. Charles Stanton, a Quartermaster officer who was fluent in French, delivered a speech implying an American obligation to repay an old debt when he proudly proclaimed, "Lafayette, nous voilà" ["Lafayette, we are here"].

II. "Teddies" become "Doughboys"

Gerneral John Pershing and Staff at Tomb of Lafayette
[Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

Shouts of "Vive les Teddies" welcomed the American soldiers who had come to help save France, but Pershing did not like the sobriquet, and an American correspondent's proposal that they be called "Sammies" did not gain support among American soldiers.3 Among the proposals resulting from First Division Commander Major General William Sibert's call for suggestions were "Yank," "Yankee," "Johnny Yank," and "Doughboy." The suggestion of "doughboy" took hold, a name of uncertain meaning, one theory being that the name came from one soldier who facetiously asked another if the caked white mud on his boots was the result of walking in dough.4

III. First American Combat and First American Combat Deaths

Following four months of training on French soil, units of the First Division took up a position near Nancy, France. There on October 21, 1917, Cpl. Robert Bralet of the Sixth Artillery fired a 75mm gun at a German position. That was the first shot fired by an American in the Great War.

On the night of November 2-3, 1917, a German raid on an American trench position near Bathelémont-les-Bauzemont resulted in the deaths of three American soldiers of Company F, 16th Infantry, First Division. Pvt. Thomas Enright of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Cpl. James Gresham of Evansville, Indiana, and Pvt. Merle Hay of Glidden, Iowa, were the first Americans to die in combat in the Great War. They were buried on November 4 where they were killed, and, in their memory, the French government later erected a monument at the site. In 1921, three years after the war ended, they were disinterred and brought to the United States for burial in their hometowns. Enright was buried at St. Mary Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Gresham was buried in Locust Hill Cemetery in Evansville, Indiana. Hay was buried in West Lawn Cemetery, later renamed Merle Hay Memorial Cemetery, in Glidden, Iowa.

Burial of First Three American Doughboys Killed in Action

[Photo Courtesy of State Historical Society of Iowa]

By November 1918 when the war ended, about 116,000 Americans had given their lives. Their sacrifice and the commitment of the 4.7 million Americans who served in the Armed Forces in those years helped bring the war to an end. American participation in the war arguably doomed the Central Powers. The British military historian John Keegan proposes, "Rare are the times in a great war when the fortunes of one side or the other are transformed by the sudden accretion of a disequilibrating reinforcement. . . . President Wilson's decision to declare war on Germany and its allies had brought such an accretion to the Allied side."5

  1. Hew Strachan, The First World War (New York City: Viking, 2003), p. 310.
  2. Heywood Brown, The A. E. F. with General Pershing and the American Forces (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1919), p. 35: http://archive.org.
  3. Ibid., pp. 34 and 38-39.
  4. Ibid., pp. 39-40.
  5. John Keegan, The First World War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), p. 373.

Before the United States entered the Great War in April 1917, the French fortress city of Verdun in northeastern France, about 140 miles east of Paris, had been the scene of what would prove to be the bloodiest and longest battle of the entire war. Though the Battle of Verdun came to symbolize the carnage and horror of trench warfare, the battle also became emblematic of French courage and determination to resist invasion and preserve its institutions.
As the photos below show, the landscape still bears witness to that battle which took place nearly a century ago.

Battle of Verdun

Fort Douaumont, Verdun
[Photo Courtesy of Michael St. Maur Sheil,
Western Front Photography]

German Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn claimed in his memoirs, written after the war, that he had proposed a concentrated German attack on Verdun, including the numerous fortresses in the immediate area, believing that the French would defend at all costs their historically significant fortress city. Falkenhayn's goal, as he claimed in his memoirs, was not necessarily a breakthrough, but a siege that would "bleed France white." The French army would be so decimated that France would have to capitulate.

Under the command of Crown Prince Wilhelm, heir to the throne of Germany, the Battle of Verdun began on February 21, 1916, with a punishing ten-hour artillery bombardment along an eight-mile front.

Early German successes in capturing several Verdun area forts—Fort Douaumont to the east of Verdun on February 25, for example—may have been unwittingly facilitated by French commander-in-chief Joseph Joffre's decision, made before the Verdun siege began, to remove many of Verdun's guns in order to augment French artillery power in other areas.

Liouville, part of Verdun fortifications,
[Photo Courtesy of Michael St. Maur Sheil,
Western Front Photography]

On the day Fort Douaumont fell Joffre gave command of Verdun to General Henri-Philippe Pétain, replacing General Fernand de Langle de Cary. Pétain would boldly—and memorably— promise, "Ils ne passeront pas!" ["They shall not pass!"]. Over the ensuing months Petain realized that the defense of Verdun required safeguarding and improving Verdun's only source of supplies for its 500,000 French soldiers, a narrow road, later referred to as La Voie Sacrée [the Sacred Way], and a parallel railroad, both connecting Verdun with Bar-le-Duc, about forty-five miles to the southwest. Pétain also regularly furloughed front-lines divisions, replacing them with new ones. In this manner, about 75% of all French soldiers would eventually participate in the Battle of Verdun.

On May 1, 1916, Pétain was promoted to command the Army Group Centre, which included Verdun. General Robert Nivelle was Pétain's replacement as commander of Verdun's defense.

By June the siege of Verdun had become a battle of attrition, neither side giving ground, and casualty figures strained the confidence and commitment of both sides. June marked the fourth month of the siege of Verdun (the siege would go on for six more months) and Falkenhayn's position as Chief of Staff was already in jeopardy.1

Ouvrage de Thiaumont, Verdun

[Photo Courtesy of Michael St. Maur Sheil,
Western Front Photography]

The German assault upon Verdun was undermined when, from June-August 1916, the successful Russian Brusilov Offensive against the Austrians necessitated the reassignment of German troops from Verdun to the Eastern Front. Likewise, the July 1916 Battle of the Somme—a Franco-British offensive against German forces at the Somme River, about 125 miles northwest of Verdun—required the withdrawal of some German artillery from the assault on Verdun.2 German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg had meanwhile become increasingly critical of Falkenhayn's failure to capture Verdun and on August 28 Kaiser Wilhelm II replaced Falkenhayn with a new Chief of the General Staff, Paul von Hindenburg. Falkenhayn was given command of Central Powers units fighting against the Romanians, who had entered the war that month.

Meanwhile, command of the Verdun defense had passed to General Charles Mangin, who became a national hero when, on October 24, the French recaptured Fort Douaumont (which had fallen on February 25) and, on November 2, recaptured Fort Vaux (which had fallen on June 7). By the third week of December the French had retaken most of the ground which had been lost to the Germans since the battle began in February.3

Pile of human bones, Verdun

Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

The ten-month Battle of Verdun ended with both the French and German positions back to where they had started, and France and Germany had each suffered more than one-half million casualties; some 350,000 French and 350,000 Germans were killed, the highest density of deaths per square yard of any battle fought during WWI.4 Falkenhayn had failed to force French capitulation and, ironically, the number of deaths the Germans had suffered in trying to bring about French collapse lead to Falkenhayn's reassignment and German abandonment of the Verdun sector. The Battle of Verdun came to symbolize the horrible toll that trench warfare would take in the Great War. Remarkably, the scars of that battle have never disappeared. Twenty-six million artillery bombardments5 over a ten-month period had stripped the Verdun area of its trees and re-contoured the land with countless craters of all sizes, a transformation of the landscape still evident today, nearly a century later. The bones of heretofore undiscovered soldiers surface from-time-to-time, and are added to the bone piles of the 130,000 other unidentified French and German soldiers in the Douaumont Ossuary memorial.6

  1. John Keegan, The First World War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), p. 286.
  2. Donald Murphy, Turning Points in World History: World War I (San Diego, California: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2002), p. 90.
  3. Tom and Sara Pendergast, World War I Almanac (New York City: Gale Group, 2002), p. 51.
  4. Murphy, p. 90.
  5. http://www.verdun-douaumont.com/en/index.html
  6. Ibid.

More than two years before the April 1917 U. S. declaration of war, Jane Addams and other American pacifists organized the Women's Peace Party in Washington, D.C.  WPP goals included ending the war raging in Europe and finding a way to avoid the potential outbreak of war in the future. President Woodrow Wilson may have been influenced by the Women's Peace Party proposals and those of the subsequent International Congress of Women when he drafted his Fourteen Points nine months following the American declaration of war.
For Women's History Month we decided to investigate—

"The Mother Half of Humanity": The Women's Peace Party and the Great War

With the beginning of the Great War in Europe, and two and one-half years before the United States entered the conflict, American social worker and suffragist Jane Addams called for the convening of a woman's peace conference. The two-day conference would take place on January 9-10, 1915, in the ballroom of the Willard Hotel in Washington, D. C.

MS Noordam

[Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

The 3000 delegates in attendance organized the Women's Peace Party (WPP); Jane Addams was elected the WPP chairman. Arguing that "the mother half of humanity" had an obligation to end the war, WPP resolutions opposed militarism in the United States and favored international reduction in armaments and the formation of a body of neutral nations which would pursue "continuous mediation" as a means of ending the war.1

Three months later, Aletta Jacobs, a Dutch suffragist and anti-war advocate, invited the Woman's Peace Party to attend a three-day International Congress of Women, to convene on April 28 in The Hague in the Netherlands. Forty-seven women from various American peace organizations, most of the women being members of the WPP, accepted the invitation, and paid their own expenses, departing on April 13, 1915, on the Holland-America ship MS Noordam, bound for Rotterdam, Holland, where the International Congress of Women would take place in The Hague, with Jane Addams serving as chairperson. About 1,300 delegates from ten belligerent and neutral European countries and Canada and the United States were in attendance.

American Peace Delegates aboard MS Noordam

Jane Addams is standing directly behind banner, second from left

[Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

The three-day conference, which founded the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace, later renamed the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), produced twenty resolutions, for example proposing international disarmament, freedom of the seas, and "continuous mediation" of international disputes by a commission of neutral countries made up of Denmark, Holland, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. The Congress selected thirty delegates to visit fourteen European capitals in May and June 1915.

Meanwhile, the Dutch pacifist and suffragist Aletta Jacobs, who was visiting the United States, and American pacifists Carrie Catt, Emily Balch, and Jane Addams met with Secretary of State Robert Lansing, presidential advisor Edward House, and President Woodrow Wilson to discuss the International Congress of Women proposal for a "League of Neutral Countries" to mediate the war. According to Aletta Jacobs, Wilson indicated that he could not endorse the women's proposal because his own attitude toward peace could change daily, depending on the international situation.2 The May 1915 sinking of the Lusitania may also have sunk any possible interest Wilson had had in the idea of mediation at that time.

Though Wilson was unwilling to support the WPP and WILPF mediation proposals, automobile magnate Henry Ford offered to finance American attendance at another Hague peace conference [See our "Feature Story" for January 2012]. That conference, held in January 1916, led to the creation of the Neutral Conference for Continuous Mediation, which met in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1916 and 1917.

When the United States went to war in April 1917, the WPP remained pacifist, but supported Wilson's Fourteen Points, including Point Fourteen's proposal to create "a general association of nations," which WPP members may not have seen as too different from the "continuous mediation" goals they had proposed three years earlier. The WPP endorsed the "general association of nations," formally named the League of Nations, but condemned the decision not to include Germany when the League was formed in 1919.

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Jane Addams in 1931 and to Emily Balch in 1946. Both had been among the U. S. delegates to the first meeting of the International Congress of Women in April 1915. The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), which they helped organize at that conference, remains active today, with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

  1. Jane Addams, Peace and Bread in Time of War (Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1960), p. 6: http://media.pfeiffer.edu.
  2. Aletta Jacobs, letter to Jane Addams, 15 September 1915, quoted in John Chambers, ed., The Eagle and the Dove: The American Peace Movement and United States Foreign Policy (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1991), p. 67: http://books.google.com.

Last October our "Feature Story" examined how the Great War affected major league baseball. With February being Black History Month we turn our attention to how the Great War impacted the racially segregated African-American baseball teams of that era. As we had with white major league baseball players in our October 2011 "Feature Story," we here acknowledge the professional black baseball players who served in uniform during the Great War.

African-American Baseball During WWI

John Donaldson

[Photo Courtesy of Negro Leagues Baseball Museum]


Until major league baseball was integrated in the mid-twentieth century, racial segregation in American society was reflected in the game of baseball. Beginning in the late 1800s black players had formed their own teams and played each other. When the United States entered the Great War in April 1917 many professional baseball players, white and black, were either drafted or enlisted, almost all black Americans becoming members of the segregated 92nd and 93rd divisions.

John Donaldson was a pitcher for the Kansas City All Nations, an interracial team, when he was drafted in 1917. When the draft took many of his teammates the team was disbanded for the duration of the war.1 Donaldson served as a private in the 164th Depot Brigade at Camp Funston, Kansas. Following the war he rejoined the All Nations, whose owner, James Wilkinson, renamed the team the Kansas City Monarchs, a name Donaldson suggested. The Monarchs were charter members of the Negro National League which began in 1920.2 Donaldson played for the Monarchs until his retirement in 1934. Donaldson died in 1970.

Dave Malarcher

[Photo Courtesy of Negro Leagues Baseball Museum]

Outfielder Jimmie Lyons and infielder Dave Malarcher both played for the Indianapolis ABCs when they were drafted in 1918 and served in the 809th Pioneer Infantry in France. After the war Malarcher joined the Chicago American Giants and Lyons joined the St. Louis Giants. Malarcher's last season playing baseball was in 1934. He died in 1982. Lyons's last season was with the American Giants in 1925; he died in 1963.

Spotswood Poles

[Photo Courtesy of Negro Leagues Baseball Museum]

Spotswood Poles was an outfielder for the New York Lincoln Giants when, following the U. S. declaration of war, he joined the Army. Sgt. Poles earned five battle stars and a Purple Heart during his service in the 93rd Division's 369th Infantry Regiment, the celebrated Harlem Hellfighters.

When Poles was discharged in 1919 he rejoined the Lincoln Giants, and ended up playing for several other teams that year—the Hilldale Daisies of Darby, Pennsylvania, the Hellfighters (as player and manager), and the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants. Poles returned to the Lincoln Giants in 1920, playing for them until his retirement in 1923. Poles died in 1962 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery (Section 42, Site 2324).3

Wilbur Rogan

[Photo Courtesy of Negro Leagues Baseball Museum]

Between 1912 and 1914 Wilbur Rogan had served in the all black 24th Infantry Regiment, stationed in the Philippines and then the all-black 25th Infantry Regiment stationed in Hawaii, where he played outfield and pitched for the regiment's Wreckers baseball team. Furloughed for several months in 1917, Rogan played for the Los Angeles White Sox, the Kansas City Giants, and the Kansas City All Nations, before returning to duty. In 1918 the 25th Infantry Regiment was moved to Camp Stephen D. Little in Nogales, Arizona. Rogan was discharged in 1920 and went on to play for the Kansas City Monarchs until his retirement in 1938. Rogan died in 1967.

Lewis Santop

[Photo Courtesy of Negro Leagues Baseball Museum]

Lewis Santop Lofton, who usually went by Lewis Santop, was a catcher for the Hilldale Daisies when he was drafted in July 1918. When Santop failed his physical exam—doctors noted that his arm appeared to have been broken in the past and twisted—he was reclassified, later entering the Navy in November 1918. He was stationed at Naval Air Detachment in Newport News, Virginia, just before the Armistice.

With the end of the war Santop was discharged and returned to the Hilldale Daisies, whose fans, noting his homerun-hitting reputation, nicknamed him Big Bertha, after the long-range German WWI artillery piece. Santop's last season playing baseball was in 1926. He died in 1942 at Philadelphia naval hospital and was buried at Philadelphia National Cemetery.

Two black baseball players gave their lives in the war. Pearl Webster, a catcher and outfielder for the Hilldale Daisies, was drafted and served as a corporal in the 807th Pioneer Infantry. Webster contracted the Spanish Flu and died in France five days following the Armistice. Norman Triplett, a pitcher and center fielder for the Hilldale Daisies was a private first class in the 803rd Pioneer Infantry in France. He died in France—cause unknown—in October 1918.

The participation of black baseball players in the U. S. military in WWI does not appear to have advanced the prospect of racially integrated baseball following the war. Instead, a formal Negro National League was created in 1920, one year after the Treaty of Versailles was signed formally ending the war between Germany and the Allied Powers. Integrating major league baseball—and all professional sports—did not begin until after World War II, when Jackie Robinson was signed in 1947 to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

  1. Andy Hewitt, "A Midwestern Pastime: A Look at Race, John Donaldson, and Baseball in the Midwest," p. 5: johndonaldson.braveheart.com.
  2. http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/history/mlb_negro_leagues_teams.jsp#kcm.
  3. http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/History/Sports/Sports.aspx

More than a year before the United States entered the Great War, American automobile maker Henry Ford thought he could help bring about an end to the horrific conflict. He assembled a delegation of peace negotiators, chartered a passenger ship to transport them across the Atlantic, and looked forward to what a conference of neutral nations might be able to accomplish as they convened at The Hague in Holland in January 1916.

Henry Ford Peace Ship

Henry Ford (at left) interviewed
on December 2, 1915

[Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

In November 1915, American pacifists Jane Addams and Louis Lochner met with U. S. automaker Henry Ford—who earlier in the year had spoken publicly about his opposition to war—to discuss whether the neutral United States might join with other neutral countries to mediate an end to the Great War, which was then fifteen months in progress. Addams was then serving as president of the American Women's Peace Party and had served as chairman of the International Congress of Women, a three-day conference which took place at The Hague in Holland seven months earlier. Ford saw promise in The Hague resolutions, which called for a permanently sitting peace commission comprised of neutral nations.

Ford, Addams, Lochner, and Rosika Schwimmer, a Hungarian pacifist visiting the United States, decided to appeal to President Woodrow Wilson—as had Addams following the Hague conference—to take up the cause of mediating an end to the war. At a meeting with Wilson on November 22, 1915, Ford advised the President that he had, at his own expense, already chartered a ship (the Scandinavian-American passenger liner Oskar II) to transport U. S. delegates to a peace conference of neutral nations at The Hague in Holland, and he hoped Wilson would appoint the delegates. As had been the case with Addams, Wilson declined giving support to Ford's effort at independent diplomacy, a rejection that prompted Ford to comment to Lochner as the two exited the White House, "He's a small man."1 Ford then announced that he would take it upon himself to organize a peace mission. On November 24, 1915, Ford confidently predicted, "We are going to get the boys out of the trenches by Christmas." He then sent telegrams to political and business leaders and anti-war advocates whom he hoped would agree to serve as peace delegates.

[Image Courtesy of Library of Congress]

With only a month to achieve what seemed an unlikely goal, American newspapers ran stories generally belittling Ford's "Peace Ship" diplomacy as idealistic, unrealistic, and amateurish.2 When the Oskar II departed Hoboken, New Jersey, on December 4, 1915, eighty-three delegates were on board, thirty of whom were college students.3 Secretarial staff and newspaper reporters and photographers accounted for an almost equal number of additional passengers. Among the few nationally recognizable delegate names were Governor Louis Hanna of North Dakota and Samuel McClure, publisher of McClure's Magazine. Illness kept Jane Addams from joining the delegation.

Three days into a voyage meant to bring about peace in Europe, the delegates were alarmed to learn that President Wilson had spoken before Congress earlier that day on the topic of preparedness, calling for an increase in the size of the Army. A day later an on-board newspaper reporter wrote an account of a meeting of the delegates during which one of them proposed, despite Wilson's potentially disruptive stance on preparedness, "Who knows but that we ourselves may bring those diplomats and rulers and statesmen around their table, face to face, to talk things over quietly a little sooner than they would have done if Henry Ford had not brought us upon this ship?"4

Oskar II arrived first at Christiana (renamed Oslo in 1925) Norway, on December 18, 1915, where Ford, at least ostensibly ill from a cold, boarded another ship for a return to the United States. Oskar II then continued to Stockholm, Sweden, and then to Copenhagen, Denmark, boarding peace delegates at each location. From Copenhagen, Denmark, the delegates boarded a train for The Hague in Holland. With delegates representing Denmark, Holland, Norway, Sweden, and the United States in attendance, the conference convened in January 1916, but to the dismay of Schwimmer and Lochner, who directed the conference, the absence of Ford in the proceedings caused some European participants to abandon further attendance.5 No representatives of the belligerent nations attended.

On January 11, 1916, most of the American delegates departed Holland for a return to the United States. The remaining delegates designated Stockholm, Sweden, as the permanent site for the Neutral Conference for Continuous Mediation. That body, with representatives from Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States, held meetings throughout the war.6

Ford terminated his financial support for the American delegates early in 1917,7 and when the United States entered the Great War in April 1917 Ford converted his automobile factories for the production of war materials—airplane engines, tanks, and trucks, for example. His transition from anti-war advocate to war supporter was not unique among the Peace Ship participants. Many of the college delegates joined the military when the U. S. entered the war. One was William Draper, who had been chairman of the student delegation at The Hague and later became a U. S. Army general.8

On the fiftieth anniversary of Ford's peach ship journey, 79-year-old Louis Lochner, one of the peace delegates of 1915, commented, "Well, the peace ship was a stunt but the welfare of humanity was in our thoughts. We felt that somebody ought to do something to end the war, and we did our best." As for long-term effects, he added, "Maybe it all came to nothing in the end, but who knows? Perhaps the Neutral Conference for Continuous Mediation germinated the idea which grew long after into the United Nations."9

Though appeals to the warring nations had failed to bring about the desired mediation, the Neutral Conference for Continuous Mediation arguably served as a forerunner of Wilson's League of Nations and, later, the United Nations.

  1. Peter Collier and David Horowitz, The Fords: An American Epic (New York: Summit Books, 1987), p. 74.
  2. John McCool, "1916: Giving Peace a Chance, Sort of," This Week in KU History, January 31, 2007: http://www.kuhistory.com.
  3. Ibid.
  4. "Peace Ship Jarred by Wilson Message," New York Times, December 9, 1915: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive.
  5. McCool, "1916: Giving Peace a Chance, Sort of."
  6. Melvin Holli, The Wizard of Washington: Emil Hurja, Franklin Roosevelt, and the Birth of Public Opinion Polling (New York City: Palgrave, 2002), p. 32: http://books.google.com/books.
  7. Steven Watts, The People's Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century (New York City: Vintage Books, 2005), p. 235: http://books.google.com.
  8. Jerry Ness, "Oral History Interview with General William H. Draper Jr.," Washington, D. C., 11 January 1972, ts, Harry S. Truman Library and Museum: http://www.trumanlibrary.org; "50 Years Ago Ford Launched 'Peace Ship'," Ludington Daily News, 5 December 1965, page 4, col. 6: http://news.google.com/newspapers.
  9. "50 Years Ago Ford Launched 'Peace Ship'," Ludington Daily News, page 4, col. 6.

In December 1918, less than a month after the Armistice, a quarter-million U. S. Army soldiers had become an Army of Occupation in Germany. Their first Christmas following the war was spent in the land of their former enemies.

Army of Occupation

United States Flag flying over Coblenz, 1919; bridge is visible in the distance on left

[Photograph Courtesy of Library of Congress]

In accordance with the armistice terms of November 11, 1918, Germany had fifteen days to evacuate France, the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine—which France had lost to the German Empire as a result of French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870—and Belgium and Luxembourg—neutral countries which Germany had invaded at the beginning of the Great War. On the heels of German evacuation, the Allied Powers would occupy Luxembourg and the left bank of the Rhine River. The U. S. Third Army, organized on November 15, 1918, under the command of Major General Joseph Dickman, was assigned the American share of Allied occupation duties. Allied occupation forces entered Germany in the first week of December 1918.

Coblenz Bridge, postcard, c1900

[Image Courtesy of Library of Congress]

About 250,000 Army of Occupation doughboys were deployed to the Rhineland area of Germany, another 50,000 to Luxembourg, with Third Army Headquarters at Mayen, about eighteen miles west of Coblenz. A key responsibility of the American occupation forces in Germany was to safeguard the bridges across the Rhine River at Coblenz, Engers (about five miles to the north of Coblenz) and at Remagen (about twenty miles north of Coblenz) so that German forces could not use those bridges to re-invade France should Germany refuse to sign the peace treaty then being composed in Paris. The British and French armies had similar responsibilities in their own occupation areas. The Belgian occupation army was stationed in Aachen. In addition to securing bridges across the Rhine, occupation forces took possession of German war materials, such as machine guns, rifles, aircraft, and military vehicles.

On April 20, 1919, Lieutenant General Hunter Liggett took over command of the Third Army from Major General Dickman. Reflecting the uncertainties of the peace negotiations then in progress, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the General-in-Chief of the Allied Armies, sent orders to Liggett to march on Berlin and Weimar should Germany refuse to sign the Versailles peace treaty.

Following the signing of the Versailles Treaty on June 28, 1919, the U. S. occupation forces were reduced to a single regiment, and the remaining 6,800 men were re-designated American Forces in Germany (AFG). The last American occupation forces remained in Germany three more years. Because of the U. S. Senate's objections to the League of Nations clauses in the Treaty of Versailles, the U. S. did not ratify the treaty, and the U. S. technically remained at war until late August 1921, when the U. S. signed separate peace treaties with Germany, Austria, and Hungary. The AFG's occupation duties finally came to an end in January 1923, when the remaining 1000 American doughboys returned to the United States, some with German wives. In all, about 1,200 doughboys married German women during the occupation period.1 The military policy forbidding fraternizing with the enemy went apparently unenforced.2

Among those who served in the Army of Occupation were George Clark, who became head coach of the Detroit Lions, Medal of War recipient William Donovan, who later served as Director of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and former President Theodore Roosevelt's sons Kermit and Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.

Reflecting its WWI "Army of Occupation" experience, the shoulder patch still worn by the Third Army displays an "A" inside the letter "O," a design the Third Army adopted in December 1918.

  1. Peter Bosco, World War I (New York City: Facts on File, Inc., 2003), p. 133.
  2. Kathryn C. Weigel, "WWI Occupation of Germany Captures Author's Interest," Fort Lee Traveller, October 20, 2011 (http://www.ftleetraveller.com/features/article_c6340aa4-fa88-11e0-a8e6-001cc4c002e0.html).

November 11 is Veterans Day, originally called Armistice Day, the day World War I came to an end in 1918. On Armistice Day 1921, three years to the day following the end of the war, America's "Unknown Soldier" was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. What we today call the Tomb of the Unknowns or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has its origins in that ceremony.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Horse-drawn caisson with Unknown Soldier, en route to Arlington National Cemetery, November 11, 1921

[Photograph Courtesy of Library of Congress]

Among the thousands of Americans buried in France during and immediately after World War I, hundreds were unidentifiable and were therefore buried in unmarked graves.

On March 4, 1921, three years and four months following the end of the Great War, as WWI was then known, Congress passed a resolution providing for the burial in Arlington National Cemetery of one of America's unidentified WWI soldiers. In compliance with procedure outlined by the War Department, the remains of four unknown American soldiers were brought to Châlons-sur-Marne, where the honor of selecting one of them as America's "Unknown Soldier" was given to Sgt. Edward Younger, a decorated American who had been wounded in action. The casket bearing this unknown soldier was brought to the United States on board the USS Olympia, a Navy cruiser which, during the 1898 Spanish American War, had been Admiral George Dewey's flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay. The Olympia arrived at the Washington, D. C., Navy Yard on November 9, 1921. The casket containing the "Unknown Soldier" was then taken by horse-drawn caisson from the Navy Yard to the Capital, where it lay in state in the Capitol rotunda for two days, until Armistice Day, November 11, when the casket was taken to Arlington National Cemetery and, following a ceremony held at the recently completed Memorial Amphitheater and officiated by President Warren G. Harding, was placed in a marble sarcophagus.

[Photograph Courtesy of Arlington National Cemetery]

In 1926, five years following the burial of the Unknown Soldier, Congress appropriated $50,000 for completion of a tomb to mark the grave site. The tomb, designed by Thomas Hudson Jones and completed in 1932, bears the solemn inscription, "Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God."

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as it unofficially came to be called, marked the burial spot of a single unknown American until 1958 when two plaza-level marble slabs were emplaced at the foot of the monument, marking the crypts of unknown soldiers from wars subsequent to WWI. One marks the burial site of an unknown WWII soldier, the other an unidentified soldier of the Korean War. A third slab, which had been emplaced in 1984, once marked the burial site of an unknown soldier from the Vietnam War, until the advent of DNA testing made possible his identification in 1998. That serviceman was then buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery near St. Louis, Missouri, while a new slab replacing the original was installed bearing the inscription, "Honoring and Keeping Faith with America's Missing Servicemen." Today, what was once known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is referred to as the Tomb of the Unknowns.

The Tomb of the Unknowns, hallowed ground and the most visited burial site in the country, reminds us that every life has great and irreplaceable value.

October is a month when major league baseball players and fans welcome the World Series, capping another baseball season. The excitement of the World Series caused us to wonder how major league baseball may have been impacted by World War I. We were surprised by what we learned.

Major League Baseball During WWI

The U. S. entered the World War in April 1917, the same month the 1917 baseball season began, and when the first draft law was enacted one month later, many professional baseball players enlisted or were drafted.  Baseball owners were, however, subject to criticism from those who felt that it was unpatriotic to allow some men to play baseball while others went off to war.

The war had its most obvious impact on the 1918 season.  As prescribed by the War Department, Provost Marshall General Enoch Crowder, who directed the military draft, announced in May 1918 that, effective July 1, 1918, draft-eligible men employed in "non-essential" occupations must be employed in war-related industries or enlist or be subject to the draft.  That "work or fight" rule would go into effect on September 1, thus requiring a shortened baseball season, 128 games instead of 152. Some players were employed in defense industries, playing for their company teams, though some fellow workers derided them as "slackers."1

Given the War Department's 1918 "work or fight" rule, the 1919 baseball season might have been cancelled had not the war ended in 1918.  The attitude of the Army, that baseball and baseball fans could wait, was reflected in a Stars and Stripes headline reading, "Secretary of War Can See But One League—France." The article noted that "baseball looks to be doomed until Germany is whipped."2

Team owners nervously watched some of their star players leave for the war.  By the winter of 1917 twelve Red Sox players had joined the Army or the Navy, causing Red Sox owner Harry Frazee to write the Commandant of the Boston Navy Yard asking for the release of Red Sox players from the Navy Reserve.  Frazee proposed that the Red Sox could hold exhibition games donating gate money to the Naval Relief Fund.  When the commandant refused the offer, Frazee appealed to Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, who, in turn, appealed to the Commandant.  "In view of the President's statement that he hopes that professional baseball may be continued during the war, I feel that we have a good deal of reason for helping Mr. Frazee."3 The press investigated the story, suggesting that players then in uniform might be able to return to baseball in the 1918 season.  The uproar that resulted caused embarrassment to the players involved, and none returned to his team.  Harry Frazee's fears meanwhile proved unnecessary; even without the players who had left for war, the Red Sox won the American League championship and defeated the Chicago Cubs four games to two in the 1918 World Series.

Babe Ruth, New York Yankees, 1921
[Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

America's patriotic spirit was demonstrated unexpectedly in game one of the 1918 World Series at Chicago's Comiskey Park. In what proved to be a historically eventful seventh inning stretch, the band played "The Star Spangled Banner," and a few spectators immediately sang along; but before the anthem was finished, thousands of fans were joining in the singing.  The anthem ended with an ovation from the nearly twenty thousand fans in attendance.  Singing "The Star Spangled Banner" took place in each of the remaining games, and a tradition was born.  By-the-way, the winning pitcher in game one of the 1918 World Series was George Herman "Babe" Ruth, who allowed six hits in a 1-0 shutout.

World War I may have facilitated the making of Babe Ruth into one of the greatest baseball players of all time. When the Boston Red Sox lost a number of key players to the war, players from other teams were acquired to take their places, and pitcher Babe Ruth was assigned to the outfield when he was not slated to pitch. Ruth, who had registered for the draft but was not called to duty, went 13-7 with a 2.22 ERA, but more impressively, in 317 times at bat, he had 66 RBI, hit a league leading 11 home runs, tying Tilly Walker of the Philadelphia Athletics (who had 414 at bats), and sported a .300 batting average. After hitting 29 home runs with a .322 batting average in 1919, the value of Ruth as a full-time batter, rather than as a part-time pitcher and part-time batter, was obvious to everyone. In a transaction that remains controversial to this day, the Boston Red Sox sold Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920, and the Yankees played him in the outfield. Ruth went to bat 458 times in the 1920 season, his first with the Yankees, hitting a record 54 home runs with a .376 batting average. For the third consecutive year, and his first with the Yankees, Ruth was the American League home run champion. Remarkably, Ruth would be the American League home run champion twelve times in the fourteen seasons from 1918 to 1931. The pitcher who had become the "sultan of swat" retired from baseball in 1935.

Eddie Grant, New York Giants, 1914
[Photographs Courtesy of Library of Congress]

Larry Chappell, Boston Braves, 1914

Two hundred twenty-seven major leagues players served in the military during WWI4, five of them dying in the service of their country. Eddie Grant, who had retired from baseball following the 1915 season with the New York Giants (he was the team captain) and was a lawyer when he enlisted in the Army in 1917, was commissioned a captain (Company H, 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Division). He was killed in action in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive while part of a rescue operation attempting to reach the Lost Battalion.  Alex Burr, who played one day in the outfield for the New York Yankees in the 1914 season, enlisted in the Army and died ten days before the Armistice in a plane crash in France while serving in the Army Air Service.  Robert Troy, who pitched one game for the Detroit Tigers in 1912, was killed in action in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  Ralph Sharman, who played thirteen games with the Philadelphia Athletics before being drafted at the end of the 1917 season, drowned at Camp Sheridan, Alabama, while swimming in the Alabama River. Larry Chappell played last with the Boston Braves, and at the end of the 1917 season he enlisted in the Army.  Three days before the Armistice ended the war, Chappell died in France at age 28, a victim of the influenza pandemic.

As was the case for doughboys in general, some baseball players came back physically and emotionally devastated by the war experience.

Branch Rickey, St. Louis Cardinals, c1917
[Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

Branch Rickey, vice president and general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals when the U. S. entered WWI, enlisted in the army and was commissioned a major, commanding a chemical warfare unit that included some of baseball's most famous players. His unit included George Sisler, pitcher and first-baseman for the St. Louis Browns who had enlisted in the Army and was commissioned a second lieutenant, Ty Cobb, outfielder for the Detroit Tigers who enlisted in the Army and was commissioned a captain, and Christy Mathewson, a New York Giants pitcher who had retired in 1916 and then managed the Cincinnati Reds, before enlisting in the Army, being commissioned as a captain. 

Ty Cobb, Detroit Tigers, 1917
[Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

In a badly managed gas mask training exercise in France, Mathewson and Cobb were exposed to poison gas. Both men survived the deadly and chaotic incident (eight men died), but Mathewson's lungs were so badly damaged that he contracted tuberculosis. Mathewson, who had won 373 games in a seventeen-year career, including three consecutive 30-win seasons, returned from the war as a coach for the New York Giants and then as president of the Boston Braves, but he was increasingly debilitated by the tuberculosis he contracted from his exposure to poison gas. He died from the disease at age 47 in 1925.

Grover Cleveland Alexander, Philadelphia Phillies, 1917
[Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

Following the war Rickey returned to baseball, in both managerial and executive positions. Sisler returned to the game, his fifteen-year career, which ended in 1930, producing a .340 batting average.  He remains one of only three players to bat over .400 more than once, and he held the record for most hits in a single season with 257 until 2004 when Ichiro Suzuki, outfielder for the Seattle Mariners, broke the record with 262 hits.  Cobb led the American League in batting (.382) when he enlisted in October 1918.  He returned to the game, retiring in 1928 with a 24-year career .362 batting average. Three times he had a season batting average over .400. Remarkably, in his last season (1928) he hit .323 (114 hits in 353 at-bats). Grover Cleveland Alexander, pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, was drafted into the Army, served in an artillery unit, and returned from the war suffering from shell-shock, deafness in one ear, a damaged right shoulder, the result of repetitious pulling of the howitzer firing lanyard, bouts of epilepsy that were worse than ever before, and a growing dependency on alcohol.  Following the war, he pitched for the Chicago Cubs and then the St. Louis Cardinals, retiring from baseball in 1930. His twenty-year career is highlighted by a 2.56 career ERA and more than 2000 strikeouts.  It is a testament to his athleticism that half his 373 career wins came after the war, notwithstanding his injuries and the alcoholism that resulted from his wartime experience.

The sensitive question of whether professional baseball should be played in wartime came up again when the United States entered WWII following the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Baseball commissioner Kenesaw Landis, who remembered the debate over baseball in WWI, wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt offering to suspend baseball during the war.  In what has become known as the "Green Light Letter," President Roosevelt emphasized the recreational benefit that baseball provided millions of fans, a recreational benefit especially welcome in wartime.  Though players of enlistment age would be expected to serve in the military, the April-October baseball season during the war years, 1942-1945, remained unchanged. As was the case in WWI, many premier young players went off to war. Among them during WWII were Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees, Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians, Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers, Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals, and Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox.

  1. Geoffrey Ward, ed., Baseball, An Illustrated History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), p. 131.
  2. "Khaki or Overalls for Ball Players," Stars and Stripes (Paris, France), 26 July 1918, p. 6, col. 1.
  3. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Letter to Captain William R. Rush, 24 January 1918 (National Archives, www.archives.gov/northwest/boston/featured document/red-sox-nation.html).
  4. Ward, p. 131.

Monday, May 30, is Memorial Day, a national holiday. What is Memorial Day? Here's an explanation from the St. Helena High School WWI Research Institute—

Memorial Day

[Image Courtesy of National Archives]

Even before the Civil War had ended in 1865, civilians in the north and south were decorating the graves of soldiers and sailors who had died in combat. Three years following the end of the war, on May 5, 1868, the Union veterans organization Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) proclaimed a national "Decoration Day." The GAR commander, General John Logan, advised the GAR membership that May 30, two and on-half weeks hence, "is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion. . . ."

On that May 30 a Decoration Day ceremony took place at Arlington National Cemetery, attendees placing flowers at the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers.

Annual May 30 Decoration Day events took place in a growing number of places in the following years, but the GAR's role in the origins of the event caused southern states to honor the Confederate dead on days other than May 30.

In 1873 New York became the first state to designate Decoration Day as a formal holiday. By 1890 all the northern states had set aside May 30 as either Decoration Day or Memorial Day, the latter name soon gaining preference.

During World War I Memorial Day was, apparently, celebrated even amidst the fighting in France. With the approach of Memorial Day, 1918, the following was reported in The Stars and Stripes newspaper:

"The French will join with the Americans in the observation of Memorial Day, long set aside in the American calendar for the decoration of those graves where our soldiers and sailors are buried. At many a post in the A.E.F. there will be reverent ceremonies, reminiscent of the old-fashioned Decoration Day observances back home."1

World War I was a turning point for southern states which, up to then, had refused to honor a May 30 Memorial Day. Following WWI, when Memorial Day came to honor Americans who had died in any war, southern states accepted May 30 as Memorial Day, even though many southern states additionally set aside a Confederate Memorial Day to honor Confederate soldiers and sailors who had died in the Civil War.

The 1971 National Holiday Act sets aside the last Monday in May as Memorial Day, a national holiday.

  1. "French Will Join in Memorial Day," The Stars and Stripes (Paris, France), 24 May 1918, p. 2, col. 3.

For Women's History Month...

Evangeline Booth, the Salvation Army, and the "Doughnut Girls"

[Image Courtesy of Library of Congress]

In 1865, William Booth, a Methodist minister since 1852, and his wife Catherine founded in London, England, The Christian Mission, an evangelical organization which, thirteen years later, became the Salvation Army. Instead of preaching from a pulpit, The Christian Mission's strategy was to bring God's word and acts of Christian charity directly to the poor and homeless.

The Booths founded The Christian Mission in the same year they became parents of their seventh child, Eveline Cory Booth. The Booths would call her Eva, reflecting their admiration for Eva (Evangeline) St. Clare, the loving Christian heroine in the American novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe (published in book form in 1852). The Booths would have eight children; remarkably, all would become active in the Salvation Army.

In 1896 William Booth appointed Eva to lead the Salvation Army in Canada, and eight years later Eva, who would choose to go by the name Evangeline, became the National Commander of the United States Salvation Army.

Following American entry into the Great War in April 1917, Booth sent about 250 Salvation Army women to France to staff infirmaries, hostels, and canteens, some of which were located adjacent to the front lines.1 When American Salvation Army canteens added doughnuts to their menus, enthusiastic American soldiers cheerfully referred to those who served them as the "Doughnut Girls." The hospitality of the Doughnut Girls and the selfless relief work of other U. S. Salvation Army volunteers in France, did more than any other Salvation Army program to bolster the organization's reputation in the United States.2 In 1919, the war-time humanitarian work of the Salvation Army inspired President Woodrow Wilson to award Evangeline Booth the Distinguished Service Medal. The Distinguished Service Medal, authorized by Congress a year earlier, honors any person for exceptionally meritorious wartime service.

Evangeline Booth, who became a U. S. citizen in 1923, remained the Commander of the United States Salvation Army until 1934, when she returned to London to serve as General of the world-wide organization of the Salvation Army.

Following her retirement in 1939 Booth returned to the United States, living in Hartsdale, New York. She died of arteriosclerosis at age 84 in 1950, and is buried in Kensico Cemetery, in Valhalla, New York. Though Evangeline Booth had never married she had adopted four children, one, Pearl, becoming an officer in the Salvation Army.

  1. Spencer Tucker, ed., World War I Encyclopedia (5 Vols; Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2005), IV, p. 1048
  2. "Evangeline Cory," The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre, 2003, 29 March 2011, http://www.salvationarmy.org/heritage.

Mr. Frank Woodruff Buckles

February 1, 1901 - February 27, 2011

For Black History Month...

We remember James Reese Europe

[Photo Courtesy of National Archives]

James Reese Europe was born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1881. His father was a former slave, his mother a free-born African American. When James was ten years of age his family moved to Washington, D. C., where he and his sister took violin and piano lessons from the assistant director of the Marine Corps band. At age twenty-two James moved to New York City, finding employment as a nightclub pianist.

In 1910 this talented and increasingly popular musician, whose musical style was a blend of ragtime and jazz, organized and became president of the Clef Club, an employment agency for African American musicians. On May 2, 1912, the Clef Club Orchestra made history as the first jazz group and the first African-American musical group ever to perform at Carnegie Hall. A year later Europe formed the Tempo Club, which employed black musicians to play at dancing venues.

In September 1916 (seven months before the U. S. entered the Great War) Europe enlisted as a private in the 15th New York Infantry, an African American National Guard regiment, and, following officers training, he was commissioned as a lieutenant. When the U. S. entered the Great War in April 1917 the 15th New York Infantry became part of the African American 369th Infantry, later known as the Harlem Hellfighters. Europe organized and led the 369th regimental band.

When General John Pershing assigned the 369th Infantry to a French division, Lt. Europe led a machine gun company in combat. Europe thus became the first black officer to lead doughboys in combat in WWI. While in a hospital recuperating from exposure to gas, Europe wrote the lyrics for "On Patrol in No Man's Land," based on his combat experience. He later wrote "All of No Man's Land Is Ours," a song about an African American soldier's return to the United States after the war.

In the summer of 1918 Europe and his 369th U.S. Infantry "Hell Fighters" Band were removed from combat in order to tour France entertaining U. S. and French soldiers and civilian audiences. While in France the band recorded its music at Pathé Brothers.

When the war ended Reese and his Hellfighters band planned a music-performing tour of the United States. In Boston, Europe and his drummer Herbert Wright had a disagreement during which Wright fatally stabbed Europe in the neck with a pen-knife. The next day's New York Times noted the death of a man who had "won fame for 'jazz" music."1 New York City gave an official funeral for Reese, a procession from Harlem south on New York City's west side to St. Mark's Episcopal Church. Europe was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Europe's musical and military career had helped bring dignity to African Americans during a time of bigotry and racial prejudice; his musical career had also broadened American acceptance of jazz music, a musical style that would become increasingly popular in the 1920s.

  1. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F00B17FF3D5E157A93C2A8178ED85F4D8185F9

To Mr. Frank Buckles...

Happy Birthday

Mr. Frank Buckles, Cpl. Frank Buckles during World War I, is an inspiration to all of us. Today is his 110th birthday. With Happy Birthday wishes, we salute you, Mr. Buckles!

[Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

Mr. Frank Buckles was born one-hundred ten years ago on February 1, 1901, in Bethany, Missouri. When the United States entered the Great War in April 1917 Mr. Buckles convinced army recruiters he was the necessary minimum age of twenty-one when he enlisted at age 16 in August 1917. At Fort Riley, Kansas, he received training for theArmy's ambulance service, and with fellow members of the

[Student Artist: Georgia McClain]

Fort Riley Casual Detachment Buckles shipped off to Europe in December 1917 aboard the RMS Carpathia, the ship which had rescued Titanic survivors five years earlier. Arriving first in England Buckles eventually went to France assigned to ambulance duty.

When the war ended he was assigned to returning German POWs to Germany. Cpl. Buckles returned to the U. S. in February 1920 and was discharged at Camp Pike, Arkansas.

WWI Research Institute Museum Grand Opening!

[Photo Courtesy of Mrs. Candace McCorkell]

More than 100 enthusiastic visitors attended the Grand Opening of the St. Helena High School World War I Research Institute Museum on Monday, January 10, 2011. The museum collection, which we hope will continue to grow, is on permanent exhibit in a dedicated space of the St. Helena High School library.

Museum items—which the public has so generously donated or loaned to us—include uniforms, awards and medals, diaries and journals, letters and postcards, photo albums, scrap books manuscript recollections, military equipment and the personal effects of men and women who served in uniform during the war.

[Photo Courtesy of Mrs. Candace McCorkell]

The evening's activities included a showing of the student interview of Mr. Frank Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of the war (he will be 110 years of age on February 1), a performance of WWI-era songs arranged and sung by members of the class, student reports on some of their research projects, an explanation of the class website (www.ww1institute.org), and even a film interview station where guests were invited to share family memories about WWI.

If you are interested in donating or loaning items to the St. Helena High School WWI Research Institute Museum, please contact Mr. Frank Mazzi at fmazzi@sthelena.k12.ca.us

Red Cross Christmas

[Image Courtesy of Library Of Congress]

The American Red Cross played an instrumental role--actually, many instrumental roles--during WWI. As our Winter Holiday approaches, we are reminded how Americans in record numbers joined the Red Cross, answering the Red Cross Christmas Roll Call, a fund-raising campaign to help the American cause.

In December 1917, seven months following the United States declaration of war on Germany, the American Red Cross began what became, for the next quarter-century, an annual Christmas Roll Call, where Americans were encouraged to donate at least one dollar to become a Red Cross member. The campaign proved a resounding success. Where Red Cross membership numbered about 500,000 Americans when the U. S. entered WWI in April 1917, membership rose to about 31 million by November 1918 when the war ended.

The Red Cross Christmas Roll Calls and the Red Cross War Fund drives of 1917 and 1918 raised hundreds of millions of dollars in support of the many services the Red Cross provided during the war. Among the critically important services provided by the Red Cross were the building and volunteer staffing of base hospitals and canteens in Europe.

Armistice Day - Veterans Day

On September 27, 2010, the U. S. Senate passed Resolution 648, designating the week of November 8, 2010, as National Veterans History Project Week. The resolution notes that 2010 marks the tenth anniversary of the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, and encourages Americans to interview veterans and contribute to the Library of Congress oral history archive. The week of November 8 includes Veterans Day on November 11, a date that was once celebrated as Armistice Day.

Armistice Celebration, Broad Street,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, November 11, 1918

[Photo Courtesy of National Archives]

The Great War, as WWI was once known, began in August 1914 the United States entering it in April 1917 and came to an end with an armistice, which, signed at about 5:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918, was to take effect six hours later. Memorably, hostilities ceased at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918.

Nearly five million Americans served in the Armed Forces in WWI; 116,000 gave their lives. The Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919, formally concluded the Great War. Five months later President Woodrow Wilson commemorated the first anniversary of the November 11 Armistice ìwith pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service, noting the opportunity [the war] has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations. . . .

By 1926, when twenty-seven of the forty-eight states were observing November 11 as a legal holiday, Congress passed a resolution requesting the U. S. President issue a proclamation . . . inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places. . . . On May 13, 1938, Congress made Armistice Day a legal holiday. On June 1, 1954, nine years following the end of WWII and one year following the end of the Korean War, Congress redesignated Armistice Day as Veterans Day, a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

"Razzle Dazzle"

With Halloween, traditionally a day when we might, for light-hearted reasons, don a mask, we remember that, for very serious reasons, Allied ships troop transports and naval vesselsówere masked during WWI. The masking was called raze dazzle or dazzle, a then novel style of camouflage intended to confuse the enemy enough that their shelling or torpedoing would miss the intended target.

Destroyer USS Robinson,
New York Harbor, 1918

[Photo Courtesy of Naval History
& Heritage Command]

Troop Ship Leviathan, 1918

[Photo Courtesy of Naval History
& Heritage Command]

Razzle dazzle was a camouflage of stripes and geometric patterns originally proposed by Norman Wilkinson, a British artist and naval officer. Though the effectiveness of this camouflage technique in WWI is debatable, the intent was to confound the enemyís ability to determine accurately a ship's direction, speed, and distance.

Rangefinders required the operator to align two images of the intended target. Ships camouflaged in razzle dazzle supposedly made that task more challenging since the rangefinder's operator, who had to align a divided image of his target, in this case had to align two images with differently shaped patterns or lines. U-boats fired torpedoes in a direction ahead of the Allied vessel, with calculations of the torpedo's contact based on the Allied shipís assumed speed and distance, both presumably more difficult to calculate if the ship were painted in raze dazzle camouflage.

A ship masked in raze dazzle was, according to those who promoted the camouflage technique, more likely to escape from disaster than if it were not.

Our Museum will have a fall semester grand opening!

The St. Helena High School WWI Research Institute Museum, located in a dedicated space of the high school library, includes eight very handsome display cases to accommodate the growing inventory of WWI materials that are being donated to the WWI Research Institute. Early in the fall semester students in the class will prepare the displays for a grand opening. In the meantime, some of our Museum collection is viewable on our Website’s "Our Museum"

Gold Star Mothers

Mother's Day reminds us how much we appreciate the love and protection we, as high school students, are provided by our mothers. We can only imagine the heartache of mothers (and fathers) who learned of the deaths of their sons and daughters in war. A selfless organization was founded shortly after WWI dedicated to uplifting and inspiring those in mourning

When the U. S. entered the Great War in 1917, 23-year-old George Seibold of Washington, D. C., enlisted as an airman, receiving training in Canada since the United States did not have a pilot training program in place at that time. Lt. Seibold was eventually assigned to a British aero squadron in France. Seibold's mother Grace meanwhile volunteered in Washington, D. C., area hospitals to aid injured and emotionally traumatized doughboys who had returned from Europe.

In October 1918 the Seibold family received official notice that Lt. George Seibold had been killed in combat. In an effort to avoid depression, George's mother Grace decided to rededicate herself to her hospital work, and comforting grieving mothers who had lost their sons in the war. In January 1929 she helped form the American Gold Star Mothers, incorporated in the District of Columbia. The organization was dedicated to (1) comforting mothers who lost their sons in war and (2) caring for veterans whose conditions required their confinement to hospitals

The gold star of the Gold Star Mothers derives from a decision made by President Woodrow Wilson in May 1918, that service flags—flown from, for example, homes, businesses, and churches—should have one blue star for each member serving in the war and one gold star for each member who died in the war.

About 116,000 U. S. military personnel died in WWI and most of them were buried in Europe. In 1919 the War Department advised next-of-kin that eight cemeteries would soon be built in France, Belgium, and England for Americans buried there during the war, and families of those veterans had the option of leaving the body in Europe for burial in one of the new cemeteries or returning the body for burial in the United States. Ultimately, about 33,000 American WWI veterans remained for burial in Europe.

In the decade following the war mothers and widows of veterans buried in Europe lobbied Congress for assistance in providing a means for them to visit their sons' or husbands' graves. In 1929 Congress finally passed a measure providing for two-week pilgrimages under the direction of the Army Quartermaster Corps. About 6,700 women participated in the pilgrimages, which took place between 1930 and 1933. Sadly, American segregation attitudes of the time were reflected in this government-sponsored program. African-American gold star mothers and widows traveled on separate ships and trains, and were accommodated separately.

Today, Gold Star Mothers embraces (a) mothers who have lost their sons or daughters in any war and (b) husbands and wives who have lost their spouses in any war.

As designated by President Franklin Roosevelt in June 1936, the last Sunday in September is observed as Gold Star Mother's Day.

In April 1917 President Woodrow Wilson hoped to make the world "safe for democracy"

Wilson's War Message

Color Film Copy Transparency

Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

Despite the defensive steps Wilson had taken in arming American merchant vessels, there could be no guaranteed safety for Americans at sea following the German government's announcement that, beginning on February 1, 1917, it would resume unrestricted submarine warfare. One day before Wilson went before Congress asking for authority to arm U. S. merchant vessels, two more American lives were lost in the sinking of a British passenger ship. Then, in March, American vulnerability resulting from unrestricted submarine warfare became increasingly evident when five American vessels were attacked with the loss of more American lives. Wilson called for a special session of Congress.

Poster: It's Time for Every Boy to be a Soldier

Image Courtesy of Library of Congress]

German violation of U. S. neutrality and the Zimmermann Telegram, which outraged the American public, prompted Wilson to ask Congress for a declaration of war against Germany. In his war message to a joint session of Congress on April 2, President Wilson described Germany's submarine policy as "warfare against mankind." The United States would enter the war because "The world must be made safe for democracy."

The joint congressional resolution declaring a state of war against Germany passed on April 6. The vote was 82-6 in the Senate and 373-50 in the House of Representatives. The resolution was signed by President Wilson that day.

A joint congressional resolution declaring a state of war against the Austro-Hungarian Empire passed on December 7 with one dissenting vote. The resolution was signed by President Wilson that day.

Because the United States went to war as an "associated power," a member of the Allied and Associated Powers, the United States was therefore able to restrict the scope of its involvement in the Great War. Like the Allied Powers, the United States was at war with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire; unlike other Allied Powers the United States was not at war with the Kingdom of Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empir.

For Women's History Month, We Remember...

Women in Uniform in WWI

Women Pointing at Something15

Yeomen F, U.S. Navy

[Photo Courtesy of Indiana Veterans of WWI]

Both the U. S. Army Nurse Corps and the U. S. Navy Nurse Corps were organized in the early1900s, prior to the outbreak of WWI. Women who were not eligible to be nurses found that the Naval Reserve Act of 1916 gave them an opportunity to serve in the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard in a capacity other than as a nurse. In an apparently unintended oversight, the language of the 1916 measure did not appear to bar women from enlistment in the Navy Reserve. Recruitment was open to "all persons who may be capable of performing special useful service for coastal defense."1

Consequently, one month prior to U. S. entry into WWI naval district commanders received instructions indicating that women could be recruited as "radio operators, stenographers, nurses, messengers, chauffeurs, etc., and in many other capacities in the industrial line." As a result women joining the Navy could be yeoman (with the added designation "F" for female); they were no longer limited to service as nurses. The Marines and Coast Guard followed suit. Women Marines were referred to as Marinettes, those in the Coast Guard as Yeomanettes.

About 13,000 women joined the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. Almost all were assigned clerical duties in the continental United States; some had clerical assignments at U. S. naval bases outside the U. S.—Hawaii and the Panama Canal Zone, for example. About 17,000 women joined the Army; almost all were nurses. About 300 women who were bilingual in English and French served as telephone operators in the Army's Signal Corps. When the war ended, and despite not completing the originally prescribed four-year period of service, women in uniform were discharged, and Congress revised the Naval Reserve Act to specify recruitment was thereafter limited to males.

While a total of about 30,000 women served in uniform in the Great War, thousands of other women volunteered to work overseas with the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and YMCA and YWCA. On the home front thousands more worked in factories, farms, and stores in positions that men would have held had no war taken place.

The roles played by women in WWI helped bring about a constitutional amendment guaranteeing at long last that women had the right to vote. President Wilson was encouraging ratification of the 19th Amendment when he wrote to the U. S. Senate in September 1918, still two months before the end of the war, "Are we alone to ask and take the utmost that our women can give, service and sacrifice of every kind, and still say we do not see what title that gives them to stand by our sides in the guidance of the affairs of their nations and ours? We have made partners of the women in this war; shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toll and not to be a partnership of privilege and right?"2

  1. National Archives (http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2006/fall/yeoman-f.html)
  2. National Women's History Museum (http://www.nwhm.org/spies/12.htm)

For Black History Month, We Salute. . .The Harlem Hellfighters

Following the Civil War the segregated U. S. Army had four black regiments, the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments and 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments. Those four regiments of "buffalo soldiers," all commanded by white officers, were in service when the U. S. entered the Great War in April 1917, but racial prejudice prevented those regiments from being shipped to Europe for combat. Racial prejudice in the military reflected white American racial attitudes of the time, and blacks in the military were always segregated and almost always assigned to menial duties or heavy labor in support of white troops. White soldiers often refused to salute black officers and black officers were denied admission to officers' clubs. The experience of black enlisted men was far worse.

When the U. S. entered the Great War, blacks who were drafted or enlisted initially saw no opportunity to go into combat until the War Department created two all-black divisions, the 92nd and the 93rd. Those divisions had some black officers, though white officers dominated the command structure. From those two divisions, one regiment, the 369th Infantry Regiment, later known as "the Harlem Hellfighters," is perhaps best remembered.

The history of the 369th Infantry Regiment began in 1913 when the New York state legislature called for the creation of an African-American National Guard regiment. That volunteer regiment, the 15th New York National Guard Infantry Regiment, was not actually organized, however, until 1916. When the U. S. entered the Great War a year later the 15th New York, with both black and white officers, was federalized and its troops trained at Camp Wadsworth in Spartanburg, South Carolina. During training the regiment was subjected to racial harassment from white soldiers and white residents in the surrounding area.

In December 1917, the 15th Infantry was attached to the 185th Infantry Brigade. One month later the 185th Infantry Brigade was assigned to the 93rd Division, and the 15th Infantry Regiment was re-designated as the 369th Infantry Regiment. All the enlisted men and some of the officers were black.

Anxious to have Americans contributing to the fighting on the Western Front, France pressured General Pershing to commit U. S. troops. In early April 1918 Pershing released the four regiments of the 93rd Division to be further trained and then commanded by French officers in the French army's 161st Division. Those African-American doughboys were trained to use French weapons and they wore French helmets. With French colonial soldiers from Africa already fighting alongside the French on the Western Front, French soldiers, unlike white American soldiers, readily accepted African Americans as worthy fellow soldiers. The 369th, which saw action in, for example, Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood, earned the nickname "the Harlem Hellfighters," and the French helmet became the official patch of the unit. When the war ended, the 369th's 191 days in combat went on record as a longer period in combat than was experienced by any other U. S. military unit in WWI, and for "gallantry in action" the French government awarded the Croix de Guerre to 171 officers and men of the 369th Infantry Regiment.

The 369th Regiment's assignment to the French 161st Division ended one month after the Armistice, and the unit, demobilized at Camp Upton in Yaphank, New York, in February 1919, was returned to the New York National Guard.

Nearly 400,000 African-Americans had served in WWI, mostly in the Army, some in the Navy. None was permitted to enlist in the Marines. Of the 400,000, about half were sent to France, but only about 40,000 of those saw combat. All African-Americans who served in uniform had reason to take pride in their military service. Despite racial discrimination in their own country and in the military itself, they had demonstrated their patriotism and their faith in a nation that would hopefully turn away from racial discrimination.

To Mr. Frank Buckles, the last surviving U. S. veteran of WWI, we say... Happy Birthday!

A Birthday Card for Frank Buckles

Mr. Frank Buckles was born one-hundred nine years ago on February 1, 1901, in Bethany, Missouri. When the United States entered the Great War in April 1917 Mr. Buckles convinced army recruiters he was the necessary minimum age of twenty-one when he enlisted at age 16 in August 1917. At Fort Riley, Kansas, he received training for the Army's ambulance service, and with fellow members of the Fort Riley Casual Detachment Buckles shipped off to Europe in December 1917 aboard the RMS Carpathia, the ship which had rescued Titanic survivors five years earlier. Arriving first in England Buckles eventually went to France assigned to ambulance duty. When the war ended he was assigned to returning German POWs to Germany. Cpl. Buckles returned to the U. S. in February 1920 and was discharged at Camp Pike, Arkansas.

Having had the honor of interviewing Mr. Buckles in November 2008, we believe that the wartime and post-WWI experiences of Mr. Buckles are lessons in the enduring value of exemplary personal character. Thank you, Mr. Buckles!

A Holiday Story about Bravery and Humanity:

The Christmas Truce of 1914

It was a cold Christmas Eve on the Western Front in 1914.  In the area of Ypres, Belgium, British and German soldiers had their feet deep in mud.  The grim evening scene was, however, made oddly comforting as German soldiers began singing Christmas carols.  Surprised by the singing, the British were further surprised when they next observed that the German position was lined with small candle-lighted Christmas trees, gifts to German soldiers from the German government. The British listened to the Germans singing and the Germans listened as the British responded with Christmas carols of their own, and each song was met with applause from both sides.

Soon, and spontaneously, both sides climbed out of their trenches and began fraternizing on a battlefield otherwise known as "no man's land."  Incredibly, the horror of war had been, at least momentarily, interrupted by songs of peace, and soldiers who had been trying to kill each other only a short while earlier were now sharing photographs of their wives and children and gifting each other cigarettes, chocolate, and gum.  For this Christmas the British government had sent its soldiers brass tins containing, for example, candy and tobacco.  These were the tins (see an example in "Our Museum") whose contents were shared with German soldiers on that very unique Christmas Eve of 1914.

As Christmas Eve became Christmas Day both sides, using make-shift balls, competed in games of soccer.  As Christmas Day came to an end, both sides returned to their trenches, and on the day after Christmas the guns of war began firing again.

The German and British governments, both embarrassed about this spontaneous act of humanity on a battlefield of war, made sure such an event would never happen again, and the story of the 1914 Christmas Truce was censored by both the British and German governments for many years even after the war ended.

In the most unexpected of circumstances the peace of Christmas had transgressed a world of bitterness.  For both sides, even if briefly, the Christmas Truce of 1914 was a uniquely brave act on a wartime battlefield.

An explanation of our emblem:


In the WWII movie "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) U. S. Captain John Miller (played by Tom Hanks) is among the Allied soldiers who, on D-Day, land on the beaches of Normandy to begin the liberation of Nazi-occupied France.  His responsibilities soon change when he is put in command of seven men for a unique rescue mission.  Miller and his men must find, remove from combat, and return to the United States a Private James Francis Ryan, who does not know that all three of his brothers have been killed in action during the war.  In a heroic rescue operation, which follows the loss of many lives, Captain Miller, mortally wounded, utters his last words to Private Ryan, "James, earn this.  Earn it."  A half-century later, when an aged James Ryan returned to France to visit the grave of Captain Miller, he wondered at long last if his life had been worthy of the sacrifice made by Miller and all those who had perished in that long-ago war.

Both Captain Miller's last words and the haunting self-doubts of the aged James Ryan influenced us in the WWI class as we endeavored to develop a motto that would reflect how we feel about the sacrifice of the Americans who served in WWI and our own sense of responsibility.  The words that came to us, which appear on a banner in Latin, are "Honor the Past; Deserve the Present."

Poppy and Fleur-de-Lis

A poppy, a "Flanders Poppy," is paired with our school's symbol, the fleur-de-lis.  Our class website's "Topic Summaries" explains the significance of the Flanders Poppy—

Unusual quantities of red poppies appeared along the Western Front in northern France and Flanders in the first year of the war, in the spring of 1915, apparently because artillery fire disturbed the soil and brought to the surface additional poppy seeds that otherwise would have remained deeply buried and dormant. The Canadian doctor Lt. Col. John McCrae immortalized the red poppy in a poem he was moved to write, following the death of a friend in battle near Ypres. That poem, "In Flanders Fields," is one of the most enduring poems of the war. About eight months after he wrote it, McCrae died of pneumonia in Boulogne, France. In the United States and elsewhere the red poppy quickly became a symbol of remembrance used by, for example, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.