Saturday, January 26, 2008
Book exerpt--American Battlefields of World War I
DEDICATION AND REMBRANCE
There will be voices whispering down these ways,
The while one wanderer is left to hear,
And the young life and laughter of old days,
Shall make undying echoes
--- Geoffrey Young
Stars and Stripes, 1918
Generations of Americans born since 1918 scarcely remember or appreciate what their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers experienced in France during World War I. Knowledge of the battles, the battlegrounds, and the American participation in that war is no longer in our national memory. It is a sad commentary that "the war to end all wars" has been relegated to the dustbin of history less than a century after the final shots were fired. During World War I, over four million Americans wore the uniform of their country; two million soldiers went overseas, and 116,708 of them gave their lives--53,513 in combat action and another 63,195 from disease and other non-hostile causes.
This volume is dedicated to all of the American soldiers, sailors and marines who fought so valiantly on land and sea and in the air during the greatest struggle for liberty in the history of the world prior to 1914. 'Lest We Forget', this book is written with a determination that "Time will not dim the glory of their deeds." As such, it is a labor of gratitude and respect for those who served so well.
The American soldiers were not press-heroes; they were young, idealistic men who fought hard for a cause they felt was right. This book does not seek to highlight the glories of war. But this does not mean there is not room to spotlight the courage inherent in war. There is no greater quality than courage, especially when demonstrated in the process of saving one's fellow soldiers. Such selflessness is an endearing quality often formed in the crucible of combat. This selflessness is genuinely one of most important, albeit, unheralded legacies of war. Certainly it is a heritage worth preserving and perpetuating. It is for this reason that the author constantly kept one eye on the list of citations and decorations of the AEF.
Deeds of valor by units and individuals are picked out for description, but no claim is made that these men were the best or bravest on the battlefield. Rather, these descriptions were chosen only as representative samples. Thus, they owe their inclusion herein to the double chance of being on conspicuous record as well as being pertinent to the story. Medal of Honor citations are freely quoted because they give a vivid picture of the fighting and accurately represent many other acts of supreme courage and sacrifice. Citations and decorations are not the final standard by which to judge the service rendered by individuals. For every man who received the Medal of Honor there were thousands of other men who did as much or more than those who were cited or decorated, who performed similar deeds of heroism and received lesser awards or no reward at all. The Medal of Honor recipients given in this book are merely representative heroes of the AEF, those whose valorous deeds were witnessed and recorded. To recognize all the deeds of heroism performed by members of the AEF, recorded and unrecorded, would be like calling the roll of the stars in the sky. Ninety-four men were awarded the Army Medal of Honor during World War I. As the majority of these men were in the infantry, the branch of service is indicated in the text only in case the soldier was affiliated with some other combat arm or branch of service.
Author's note: It is improper and inaccurate to refer to World War I Medals of Honor as the "Congressional" Medal of Honor." Modern Medals of Honor are awarded by the President of the United States and in the name of Congress. During World War I, however, each service issued its own Medals of Honor--the Secretary of War for the Army, and the Secretary of the Navy for the Navy. There were no lower medals for conspicuous bravery at that time.
For the most part, U.S. Marines serving with the AEF were awarded both the Army and Navy Medals of Honor because the Marines were actually part of the U.S. Army in France. No Marine officers of the AEF were awarded Medals of Honor by General Pershing (one, 2d Lt. Talbot got a Navy MOH while flying with the U. S Navy in support of the British Front). Some consider this to have been a blatant slap in the face; at least two marine officers (George Hamilton and Logan Feland) displayed enough mettle to qualify. Ironically, virtually every Navy officer serving in the 4th Brigade at Belleau Wood received the Medal of Honor. Marines of the AEF were not eligible for the Navy MOH because they were under the jurisdiction of the Articles of War; Navy officers attached to Marine units were under Article of the Navy.
After the war, the Medal of Honor was converted to a national (rather than service) award. At that time the word "Congressional" was unofficially added--this was done so all dual (i.e., Army and Navy medals awarded for the same action) Medals of Honor were consolidated into a single award.
World War I, fought between 1914 and 1918, was a significant event in U.S. history because that massive conflict changed our nation forever and set the pattern for America's current dominant role in world affairs. The American Expeditionary Force of almost two million soldiers provided the strategic counterweight that tipped the scales of victory in favor of the Allies. Without American intervention on the battlefield in 1918, no one knows how the "Great War" might have ended or how the course of history might have changed. All we can say for certain is that the "Sammies" (our French allies referred to American soldiers as "Les Amis" [Our Friends], a phrase that the Doughboys mistook to be French slang for "Uncle Sam") went "Over There" and that the Allies emerged victorious within a year and a half of that influx. In 1917 the United States of America entered World War I and left behind forever its role as a bystander in global affairs.