Ken Beaton: 99 years ago on Sept. 26 the battle to end all battles began
In the history of the U.S. Army, what battle had the largest loss of life? Was it the Battle of Gettysburg July 1-3, 1864? No. Was it the Battle of the Bulge Dec. 16, 1944 to Jan. 31, 1945? Nope! The 47-day World War I Battle of the Meuse-Argonne Sept. 26 to Nov. 11, 1918? Twenty-six thousand, two hundred and seventy-seven of our boys were KIA.
For three hours prior to 05:30 hours on Thursday, Sept. 26, 1918, the Allies fired more artillery shells than the North and South combined fired during the entire Civil War. The artillery shells cost $180,000,000, or a million dollars a minute! British, Belgium, French and American troops attacked German troops along the entire Western Front.
One of General Pershing’s staff officers, then Colonel George C. Marshall, planned the battle which involved 1,200,000 American “Doughboys.” First phase, Sept. 26 to Oct. 3, involved from the 28th “Keystone” Division, the 37th “Buckeye” Division, the 79th Division, the 91st “Wild West” Division, the 35th Division’s 110th Engineers, 128th Machine Gun Battalion and Captain Harry Truman’s Battery D, 129th Field Artillery fought on the right flank of the French troops.
The second phase was from Oct. 4 to 28. The 35th, 37th, 79th and 91st Divisions were replaced by the 1st (the Big Red One), 3rd, 28th, 32nd,77th, 82nd and the 92nd Divisions. A Battalion, consisting of three companies, 554 men from the 77th “Liberty” Division had advanced further than the French on their left flank and the 92nd Division on their right. They became the “Lost Battalion.” Of the 554 only 154 were rescued on Oct. 8, 1918, by “Doughboys” from the 28th and 82nd Divisions. 197 were Killed In Action and 150 were either Missing In Action or Prisoners Of War.
The commanding officer, Major Charles Whittlesey, and six others were awarded the Medal of Honor. Apparently, Whittlesey suffered from PTSD. In 1921, he disappeared from a ship. It was ruled a suicide.
The Third phase, Oct. 28-Nov. 11, 1918, the French had advanced 19 miles to the Aisne River by Oct. 31. By Nov. 6 the French had captured Sedan, a critical railroad hub. The American forces had captured the surrounding hills. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the signed armistice silenced the guns of the “Great War.”
Have you thought about what happens after a battle is won or lost? Before the 20th century, the combatants called a battlefield truce. Each combatant would collect their dead to bury. Until the Civil War, there was no effort to identify dead soldiers who were buried near where they fell. General Order No. 33 “specified that field commanders were responsible for identification and burial efforts.” This was unsuccessful because commanders’ first priority was to win battles. After the Civil War, Union soldiers were disinterred and reburied in national cemeteries.
General Order No. 104 was issued on Aug. 7, 1917. The Burial Corps, the United States Army Morgue and the Office of Identification were consolidated into the Graves Registration Service. The GRS consisted of the 301st, 302nd, 303rd and the 304th Grave Registration Units and deployed to Europe. Most of the men in Grave Registration Units didn’t meet the qualifications to serve at the front or they were African-Americans. The U.S. Army was segregated during World War I and World War II.
The changing of battle lines in Korea presented problems for GRS. Beginning Dec. 25, 1950, all U.S. soldiers KIA were immediately returned to the United States, “concurrent return,” which continues today.
America’s largest military cemetery, the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial was established Oct. 14, 1918. The American Battle Monuments Commission is responsible for the cemetery’s 130.5 acres. A staff member is available to answer questions when the cemetery is open,
“How many of our boys are buried in the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery?” Fourteen thousand, two hundred and forty-five men and one woman are buried there. Are you curious about the woman?
Marion G. Crandall was born April 25, 1872, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Being educated at the Sorbonne University in Paris, France, she taught language at St. Katharine’s School in Davenport, Iowa.
In January 1918 she traveled to Paris to aid French soldiers using her language skills and knowledge of France. Twenty-nine days short of her 46th birthday, March 27, 1918, a German artillery shell hit the YMCA where she was a canteen worker. She was buried in a French hospital cemetery in Menehould. Being American, her remains were moved to the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery. Ask questions and discover a story.
Note: Col. George C. Marshall was the Joint Chief of Staff for Presidents Roosevelt and Truman from 1939-1945. He was President Truman’s Secretary of State. His “Marshall Plan” after the War was responsible for Europe’s recovery. Captain Harry S. Truman was the commanding officer of Battery D, 2nd Regiment, 129th Field Artillery. He became the 33rd President of the United States on April 12, 1945 when President Roosevelt passed away.
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.