Lest We Forget

I thought about my paternal grandfather this week leading up to November 11. In December, 1916, at the age of 19, my  grandfather enlisted in the US Army.  He was one of the younger offspring in a family of 12 children. His father had died two years before.  His next older brother, Albert, had enlisted in June, 1916 and was in the 136th Infantry.  (Albert was reportedly chasing Pancho Villa around the Southwest with General Pershing.)

Grandpa was sent to Fort Logan, CO and assigned to Company C, 4th Regiment of Engineers, and on April 30, 1918, he sailed for France on the Martha Washington. He was stationed in France on the Western Front, sometimes at the US camp at Allerey sur Saone.  He sent home postcard photos of the camp.  The header photo is of the Allerey camp, too.

Here is a photo of his unit. He is the second one from the left in the back row.

Grandpa was involved in the Second Battle of Aisne-Marne (Summer, 1918), the Battle of Mihiel (September, 1918), the Second Battle of Meuse-Argonne (Fall, 1918) and Alsace-Lorraine (November, 1918).  According to one source I read, The Engineers were in charge of repairing the devastation of the war to expedite troop movements such as surveying, bridge and road repair, constructing buildings, maintaining communication lines, removal of land mines and “booby” traps, digging trenches and constructing shell, gas and splinter-proof shelters, providing clean water and constructing or removing barbed wire. They also launched gas attacks, built hospitals, barracks, mess halls, stables, target ranges, and repaired miles of train tracks. Their extensive and time consuming duties left them little time for rifle practice and drills and they were not relied upon for frontline combat, but the success of the Allied forces depended upon the support of the Engineer Corps.

When he wasn’t digging trenches or building bridges, he was chasing women. He is the man on the left. I have no idea how this photo has survived for 100 years, and why my grandmother never threw it out!

Once Germany surrendered, the 4th was marched into the northern Rhine as an army of occupation. He was near the Mosel and sent this postcard home

He sailed back to the US on July 21, 1919, on the von Steuben, a German ship captured by the US.  He stayed in the army until June, 1920. He was a sergeant. He lived until 1980.

Grandpa had several studio portrait photos taken in France, and it is interesting to see how he changed over the course seven months.  Here are some early ones. He looks so young.

Here is a later one.

Oh, the questions I have after putting this together! I doubt I will ever get them answered.

How did the First World War impact your family?  After reading this, what questions would you have for my grandfather?

 

 

 

21 thoughts on “Lest We Forget”

  1. The earliest memory my father had from his childhood was the spectacle of a flashy parade to celebrate victory in the Great War. That happened in 1919 in Ottumwa, Iowa. Dad was three. That parade was the most stunning thing he had heard or seen.

    Dad’s father (my grandfather) missed the Great War because of dodgy health, but his mother’s two brothers were eager to enlist. They had a bonny war, garnering medals for bravery.

    This would just be family trivia if not for the impact it had on my dad. He grew up with a strong sense of nationalism, duty and reverence for military service. When his country went to war after the assault at Pearl Harbor, my dad was deeply ashamed of himself for not volunteering.

    There were two reasons for that. He was exempt from the draft because his job supported the war (making ponchos for the Army). The real reason, however, was that he and my mother suspected that she was too mentally fragile to raise a family in a war-depressed economy while her husband was fighting a war. My parents both feared she couldn’t handle that, and subsequent events proved them right.

    This is the central story in the book I wrote about my parents’ lives, for it became the central tragedy of our family. Ultimately, my dad did volunteer for WW2. Ultimately, my mother was unable to manage her wartime anxieties and she suffered a mental breakdown.

    This is the story I told in the book I wrote about our family.

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  2. I want to know what Grandpa did in Colorado for the year he spent there before going to France. I know he particpated in the funeral for Buffalo Bill when they buried him near Denver. He shipped out of Hoboken , NJ. I wonder what he thought of New York.

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  3. My paternal grandfather was gassed at Argonne. He survived but was blinded in one eye. My maternal grandfather never was called up. He made a good living digging graves for Spanish Influenza victims.

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  4. Great story about your Grandfather, Renee; thanks for sharing.

    I don’t have any immediate family with military service. My dad was the youngest of 5 boys and 3 of his brothers served and the draft board wouldn’t take him then. He was always sorry to miss out.

    Kelly had an uncle who’s Dad’s twin died in training camp WWI from the spanish flu. Never even got out of camp.

    I’d just want to hear stories from your Grandfather. It’s neat he sent so many post cards and that so many survived!

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  5. WordPress or my internet provider is/are wonky today. My grandfater had no connection to Buffalo Bill save for being in the Army in Colorado when they needed soldiers at the funeral.

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  6. I wonder about the photo with the women. Why get the photo taken in the first place? Why keep it? Who was she? I suppose I could write a tragic historical fiction love story about it.

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  7. As you know, my mother’s family was Irish, and my dad’s presumably (we don’t know who his father was) Danish. Neither Ireland nor Denmark were involved in WWI, so I have no war stories from that war.

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  8. To tell you the truth, Renee, what we learned about WWI in school was minimal, possibly because it had only a minor impact on Danish everyday life. Unlike WWII, where the country was occupied by German forces from April 9, 1940 to May 5, 1945, most Danes weren’t directly impacted by WWI. I never knew anyone who spoke about that war and how it impacted their lives.

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  9. Yesterday, like most everyone I know, I spent time thinking about all the lost souls of WWI, and all wars, really. We’ve all seen the photos, and read the descriptions of unspeakable horrors, but we tend to extend our empathy and sympathy only to those who fought on “our” side of whatever conflict. We would do well to remember that a lot of these young soldiers, on either side of most wars, had little or no choice but to don a uniform and fight.

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  10. It angers me that the allies maintained the blockade of Germany between November 11, 1918 until the Treaty of Versailles was signed in the summer. There was starvation in Germany all those months

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  11. It appears that Denmark profited from its neutrality by selling agricultural goods to the English and the Germans. Some Danes fought for either the Germans or the Allies. Karen Blixen’s (Isak Dineson) brother joined a Canadian regiment and won a Victoria Cross medal for valor in the Battle of Vimy Ridge. I lived for a while in Winnipeg near Vimy Ridge Park, a memorial to all the Winnipegers slaughtered in that battle.

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  12. Fascinating, Renee – and fairly amazing how much detail you have about your grandfather’s war experience!

    Both my mom’s and my dad’s fathers had a young child by 1916, and perhaps that is why they didn’t have to go to war. I plan to ask my mom on one of her “together” days what she remembers about that, if anything. Grandpa had several brothers, and I suspect that some of them might have served, but I’ll probably never know.

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  13. Neither of my grandfathers was old enough to enlist in WWI. However my mother’s father’s name was Von Rump. (Unfortunately when his family, named Rumpf, arrived in America, someone decided to upgrade their name by adding the Von and dropping the “f”.) Having a German name during WWI did not make them popular. My grandfather’s house was egged and vandalized several times during the war.

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  14. My father’s family came here from Germany in 1908, and within a decade Germany was at war with the U. S. Not the greatest timing. I don’t know if they were ever vandalized, though.

    My father was born in October of 1900, and accordingly was just under the age to be shipped off to serve in the military. Had the war lasted another few months or a year, he would very likely have gone.

    I’ve looked in the available records for death certificates of family members around 1917 or 1918, and have found none, on either my father’s or my mother’s side. It seems both families escaped the war and the flu.

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