”Honor the Past; Deserve the Present“

Ralph S. Gordon

Lt., 66th Field Artillery Brigade

Contributors:  Sarah McMaster, Rachel White

Ralph Semmes Gordon was the son of Burgess and Raphaelita Gordon of Spokane, Washington
Ralph S. Gordon attended Gonzaga University and Harvard
He is related to Admiral Raphael Semmes, Captain (later Admiral) of the CSS Alabama


In College

  • A cartoonist—his cartoons appeared in Harvard publications, including cover of Harvard Lampoon.
  • Attended / graduated from (?) Harvard—knew Quentin Roosevelt. Gordon wrote in diary for July 18, 1918, "Quentin Roosevelt fell today and is reported killed. I knew him at Harvard." [Ralph Gordon, Diary, ts., 18 July 1918]
    • Note—Quentin Roosevelt was the youngest son of former President Theodore Roosevelt. He left Harvard late in April 1917 to train as a pilot at the Long Island, New York, airfield that would later be named for him. As a twenty-year-old pilot in the 95th Aero Squadron Lt. Roosevelt was shot down and killed by a German pilot near Chemery (?), France, on July 14, 1918.

Enlistment

  • Enlisted in Army when U. S. declared war; sent to San Francisco Presidio where he was assigned to the Artillery, "but spent most of his training on a horse!" [Kinyon Gordon, biographical notes, ts, nd]
  • Assigned to 2" Batty., Presidio Training Camp (PTC) in 1917

Departure for Europe

  • January 20, 1918—Departed Hoboken, NJ, on transport S.S. St. Louis. Apparently due to a fear of u-boats, Gordon notes that, "No lights are lit at night. . . ." [Ralph Gordon, Diary, ts., 20 January 1918]
  • Sent to Europe as Second Lieutenant in Field Artillery. He was apparently among the replacement levys without final assignments. The San Francisco Presidio may have graduated a class in late 1917 or early 1918, where some or all of the graduates were sent to France as replacements. [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 25 March 2009]
  • January 28, 1918—"In the morning we passed the grave of the Lusitania. The life boats were swung over, the guns loaded and twice as many eyes as there were passengers searched the sea for periscopes." [Ralph Gordon, Diary, ts., 28 January 1918]
  • January 29, 1918—arrived in Liverpool
  • January 30, 1918—crossed English Channel on board H.M. Transport F. 21 from Northampton to "Harve" [Ralph Gordon, Diary, ts., 30 January 1918]

In France—Training

  • In France, Gordon is trained on 75s and 155s, map reading, and in "French Equitation."

    Instruction in equitation may have taken place because artillery officers were expected to be on horseback some of the time [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 25 March 2009]
  • References to his book—"As usual I spent a great deal of the afternoon and most of the evening writing and drawing in my book" [Ralph Gordon, Diary, ts., 24 March 1918]. In Paris Gordon saw Mr. Bishop, "my publisher" [Ralph Gordon, Diary, ts., 30 July 1918] and then writes two weeks later, "'My book' is on its way at last, that is, it will be soon." He notes that it is insured for 200 Francs, about $800 dollars. "Anyway, I'm hoping, knocking on wood, and praying that my initial artistic venture will be spared from submarines and shipwrecks." [Ralph Gordon, Diary, ts., 12 August 1918]

    The book (manuscript?) was apparently mailed to his father in Spokane, Washington. His father sent a telegram to Ralph Gordon, noting, "Book here today. Not yet released by Customs." [B. L. Gordon, telegram to Ralph Gordon, 31 October 1918]
  • Training in use of gas masks—"It was awful—especially the white cloud which penetrates masks and everything and starts one coughing." Saw demonstration of a fire thrower—"We were shown a practical demonstration of liquid fire." [Ralph Gordon, Diary, ts., 19 April 1918]
    • Note—The AEF grouped "gas and flame" operations and training together. [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 25 March 2009]

Combat

  • On May 14, 1918, Gordon wrote, "we were immediately assigned at Brigade H.Q. to the 54th Artillery. I am attached to Battery F and for the first time I have a command." [Ralph Gordon, Diary, ts., May 14, 1918]
    • Note—The 54th FA Brigade was part of the 29th Division, a National Guard formation made up of men from the armories of PA, DE, MD, DC, and VA when it shipped to France. [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 18 March 2009]
    • Note—When the 54th FA Brigade arrived in France, however, it was removed from the 29th Division and spent the rest of the war, in fact, until December 1918, near Poitiers, training men and supplying other artillery units with men and officers. Gordon was assigned to this group. [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 18 March 2009]
  • On August 2, 1918, Gordon wrote in his diary, "We are temporarily attached to fill in a rush order for officers with the 53rd ammunition." [Ralph Gordon, Diary, ts., 2 August 1918]
    • Note—His diary entry may mean that there was a rush order for officers to join the 53rd Field Artillery Brigade's ammunition train (belonging to the 28th Division). Each division had an ammunition train to supply the division's artillery units. [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 20 March 2009]. His attachment to an ammunition train would seem to explain why, as Gordon wrote, "I designed an insignia for all the 53rd trucks and cars. Burned it into H.Q.s and there is a possibility of it being accepted as the official emblem. All of the British and French trucks on the front are decorated with some insignia." [Ralph Gordon, Diary, ts., 9 September 1918]
    • Note—Ammunition trains included trucks, tractors, and horses and mules [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 21 March 2009].
    • Note—Gordon's August 2, 1918, diary entry leaves out the word "train," and no reference is made to the 53rd FA Brigade's ammunition train number. The 28th Division's ammunition train was the 103rd Ammunition Train. That information "would be something a new guy would not know." [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 20 March 2009]
    • Note—Emergency replacements make sense for August since the Division was in "the hot and heavy" at that time. [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi , 20 March 2009]
  • On October 16, 1918, he was assigned to 132nd FA [Ralph Gordon, Diary, ts., 16 October 1918]
    • Note—The 132nd fired 75s [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 20 March, 2009]
    • Note—The 132nd FA Regiment was part of another National Guard Division, the 36th from TX and OK. That Division's artillery brigade, like the 29th Division's artillery brigade, was removed from its regiment and spent the rest of the war training men and supplying other artillery units with men and officers. It was in the vicinity of St. Nazaire in training when the armistice took place. [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 18 March 2009]
    • Note—Captain Harry S Truman commanded 75s in Battery D of the 129th FA, 35th Division , [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 20 March 2009]
  • On October 23, 1918, he took command of Battery D [Ralph Gordon, Diary, ts., 23 October 1918]
  • "He saw much action in France. . . ." [Kinyon Gordon, biographical notes, ts., nd]
  • As Germans retreated, "We passed through Dimboule, Mountzeville, Breuille" [Ralph Gordon, Diary, ts., 1 November 1918]
  • Assignment Date 5-14-1918 8-2-1918 10-16-1918s (?) (?)
    Division 29th 28th 36th 41st (?)
    Comments NG formation made up of men from armories of PA, DE, MD, DC, and VA PA National Guard NG formation made up of men from armories of TX and OK NG formation made up of men from northwestern states (?)
    FA Brigade 54th 53rd 53rd 66th 53rd
    Comments

    Attached to Battery F; "For the first time I have a command."

    But 54th was removed from the 29th Division and spent the rest of the war training men and supplying other artillery units with men and officers

    Assigned to 103rd Ammunition Train; involved in Second Battle of the Marne (?)

    66th FA Brigade was detached from 41st Division when it arrived in France and moved around

    With this some time after 10-16-1918 until war ends; Argonne Offensive

    6th receives orders to be part of Army of Occupation

    On 11-24-1918 receives orders instead to return to U.S.

    Received telegram "reporting the 53rd ready for the port of embarkation. . . ."

    Departed Brest on 1-7-1919

    Regiments (?) (?) 132nd FA (?) (?)
    Comments (?)

    Fired 75mm guns

    On 10-23-1918 took command of Battery D

    (?) (?) (?)

Armistice

  • November 11—"PEACE! I'm writing this at 11:30, the morning of November 11th—the greatest day in history. The armistice has just been signed and the last shot was fired at 11:00. Talk about noise—the men, yelling, cheering, the remaining church bells clanging, every available rifle and machinegun firing. The old refugees crying—oh what a grand an' glorious feeling. 'For it's home boys home, it's home we long to be!' I'll never forget that night when I first heard that! The day is cold, typically November day—a heavy fog and mud!! The end of the war, only my tenth month, while the French have been through 52. I can never describe the feeling today—it's too good to be true—the dawn of a new day and home in sight." [Ralph Gordon, Diary, ts., 11 November 1918]

Army of Occupation and New Orders for Home

  • On November 14, 1918, Gordon wrote, "Heard today we have to go into Germany with the army of occupation. The 66th F.A. was officially ordered to go across to the fatherland, so that means us, I guess."

    The 66th FA Brigade, originally part of the 41st Division, was detached and moved around after it got to France. Gordon was in the 66th FA Brigade by mid-November. [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 26 March 2009]

    On November 17 he notes that the 46th and 148th will also be a part of the army of occupation.

    • Note—The 148th FA Regiment was a component of the 66th FA Brigade. The reference to the 46th is apparently a typographical error. The 146th FA Regiment was a component of the 66th FA Brigade. Reference to the 46th could be a reference to the 46th Coastal Artillery Regiment, which arrived in late October 1918, but soon returned to the U.S. [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 25 March 2009]
  • On November 24 he received new orders and wrote, "we aren't going with the army of O. but instead, we are going HOME!!!" [Ralph Gordon, Diary, ts., 24 November, 1918]
  • On November 16, 1918, Gordon and some other men "took the day off and went all over the front. It was much more satisfactory than seeing the same under shell fire. . . . One interesting place was the 'lookout' and H.Q. of the Crown Prince on top of Montfaucon. There he watched the battles—a wonderful view." [Ralph Gordon, Diary, ts., 16 November 1918]
  • Three days later some officers from the 99th Aero Squadron invited Gordon and others for a ride above the Argonne. Gordon's pilot was Lt. Anthony. They reached an altitude of 1,850 meters. "We could even see Metz in the distance." [Ralph Gordon, Diary, ts., 18 November and 19 November 1918]
  • On December 13, 1918, Gordon received a telegram "reporting the 53rd ready for the port of embarkation. . . ." [Ralph Gordon, Diary, ts., 13 December 1918]

Departure from Brest

  • On January 7, 1919, Gordon departed Brest aboard the USS Pueblo. "There was little cheering. The men all crowded on deck with self satisfied grins of relief spread over their faces." [Gordon Diary, date not given; entry is part of larger segment he began writing on December 26, 1918]
  • On January 19 Gordon wrote, "Many of those who were with me when the first pages of this diary were written are now at rest 'in Flanders Fields' so I can not be too thankful for what has been my fate and my little part in a war." [Ralph Gordon, Diary, ts., 19 January 1919]
  • Gordon returned to the U. S. on January 20, 1919, exactly one year after he had departed, tying up at Pier 2. "At 9 o'clock Long Island appeared on our right. From then on the cheering and yelling started." A welcome ship "crowded with people" came out and from the ship came the music "Home Sweet Home." "I will never forget it, never, and I'll bet that there was a big lump in everyone's throat." New York City buildings "seemed alive with waving handkerchiefs and the pier was a mass of people. The Red Cross band was playing. . . ." After disembarking, "we paraded through Hoboken. Capt. Donner, Lt. Greif and myself at the head of the column and, if I say it myself, the 3 proudest officers in the A.E.F. were at last home." [Ralph Gordon, Diary, ts., 20 January 1919]
  • Most memorable incident was when he and Lt. Byron Stover of Bend, Oregon, were trapped, finding cover in an abandoned chateau. They spent several days there until it was safe for them to leave. While there they enjoyed Chateau d'Yquem Sauterne from the wine cellar. "In later years he found some in a Danville, CA, store for $10. In 2008 the same bottle went for $200!" Stover and Gordon became life-long friends; Stover was best man at Gordon's wedding. [biographical notes of Mr. Kinyon Gordon, based on conversations with his father, Ralph Gordon, Jr., son of Lt. Ralph Gordon]

First employment after the War

  • Immediately after the war Ralph worked with his father at his father's wholesale grocery business in Spokane, WA. His son remembers his father saying that he "hated that." He worked fewer hours with his father and worked part-time as a writer for the Spokane, WA, Spokesman Review newspaper. [Ralph Gordon, Jr., telephone interview by Frank Mazzi, 3 May 2009]

Marriage

  • In 1924 or 1925 he married Mary White; they had met in Spokane, WA, before the war
    • Note—Mary had written to 2nd Lieut. Ralph Gordon from Reed College, on November 5, 1918, "Neither of us are children any longer Ralph, and if the war has done anything it has made everyone the decider of his own fortunes." [M. J. White, letter to Ralph S. Gordon, 5 November 1918]
    • Note—Mary's father was also in the wholesale grocery business
  • They would have two children, a son (Ralph Semmes Gordon, Jr.) and a daughter (Mary Virginia Gordon)

The Depression and WWII

  • As a result of the Depression the wholesale grocery business failed and Ralph found a full-time position with the Seattle Times newspaper
  • He moved to Los Angeles and was employed by the Los Angeles Examiner
  • In 1940 he and an acquaintance bought the Chico Record (now Chico Enterprise Record) newspaper, though they sold the newspaper during WWII when advertising income fell dramatically.
  • Ralph then moved to Oakland, CA, and was employed as automobile editor by the Oakland Post Enquirer, then Oakland's second most subscribed newspaper, the other being the Tribune.
    • Note—Ralph never lost his cartooning interest. Some of his cartoons were published in King's Features Syndicate [Ralph Gordon, Jr., telephone interview by Frank Mazzi, 3 May 2009]
  • He also worked on a "Victory Party," loading Victory ships during the war.
    • Note—Both Ralph's children served in the Navy during the war. Ralph, Jr., served on the U.S.S. Ticonderoga as Signalman, Third Class; Mary Virginia served in the WAVES

After WWII

  • Following the war Ralph became the public relations manager for the Ford Motor Company in San Francisco

Death

  • Ralph died in 1974 at the age of 79; Mary died in 1983 at the age of 83

Observations

  • Lt. Gordon's experience in so many units may be unique. [Mike Hanlon (Great War Society), e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 25 March 2009].
  • Lt. Gordon served solely in National Guard Divisions.
(rev.5.19.09)