Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Memorial Day 2006

Only 77 World War I Veterans Remain Alive Worldwide; Honor Them This Veteran's Day With an Armchair Trip to Château-Thierry

SAN MATEO, CA: When the last World War I veteran dies, a chapter of world history doesn’t have to close forever. The 77 remaining veterans of the War to End All Wars—including just 20 Americans—are at least 105 years old; soon they won’t be able to tell their stories of living in damp foxholes, mounting an offensive using ancient and deteriorating equipment and inadequate supplies—and altering the course of history.

But their stories and images will live on in a remarkable new book that will make sure this history is passed down: the saga of how in 1918 the American army turned back the German invaders along the Marne Salient, and especially in the village of Château-Thierry—and saved Paris from enemy occupation.

Part military history, part travel guide, part a collective memoir and photo album of hundreds of soldiers, and all heart, American Battlefields of World War I: Château-Thierry—Then and Now uses the actual words of soldiers and eyewitnesses, along with 258 photos, 58 drawings and illustrations, and 22 maps, to capture a moment that changed the world—the first time U.S. soldiers defeated a conquering invasion army in Europe.

Made up largely of the writings and photos of the soldiers themselves, the book makes real and relevant these accounts of nearly 90 years ago. Here, for example, a U.S. Army reporter describes the exodus of local refugees after the area had fallen behind German lines, as it looked to the approaching American soldiers:

…Lacking animal friends to aid them, men and women tug at the traces of wagons or push baby carriages and wheelbarrows along; while others, with no means of transport save their own poor bodies, struggle wearily on afoot, burdened to the limit of their strength. Loaded down with whatever they were able to rescue—bits of furniture, bundles of clothing and food, bottles and casks of wine, chickens, canary birds in cages, kittens and puppies, etc.…(p. 78)

And in this passage that could have almost been written about today’s Iraq, a soldier describes his brave company’s response to inadequate fuel:

Trusting to luck that the Model Ts would manage the few remaining miles without refueling, the convoy up-anchored and squeaked its way out of Conde-en-Brie. But luck played a dirty trick, for shortly after leaving town the head of the column encountered a steep grade. The gravity feed, coupled with the low gas supply, proved too much for the 1918 Fords; they took a look at the hill, uttered one or two despairing gasps, and died with their boots on. The men detrucked and in approved Doughboy fashion hiked the last four miles carrying their guns and a limited supply of ammunition.

Homsher’s book, which can be previewed at www.battlegroundpro.com, has won high praise from several military historians. It has also won two book awards for best Military Book of 2006.

For example, Matthew J. Seelinger of the Army Historical Foundation and Editor of On Point: The Journal of Military History, said, “While invaluable to anyone traveling to France to view the battlefield up close, this volume should also appeal to anyone hoping to gain a greater understanding of America’s role in the Great War.”

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