From Orange to the Argonne
When war was
declared against Germany in April, 1917, the United States had only a small ill
equipped army. The first action was to nationalize the National Guard troops.
This amounted to 345,000 men who needed to be trained and ready to meet the
professional German Army in the shortest amount of time possible.
A number of
young men from Orange who were members of the National Guard suddenly found
themselves drafted into the regular army. They were mobilized and sent to Camp
Bowie, near Forth Worth, Texas. Camp Bowie would become one of the largest
training camps in the United States, but at the time the Orange troops arrived
there it was only partially constructed.
1917 the camp encompassed 1410.5 acres. The rifle range was 750 acres and the
Benbrook Trench System would cover 125 acres and be 10 miles long. The cost of
the camp would be slightly in excess of $3, 400,000.
Most of the
men from Orange would be assigned to the 141st and 142nd
Infantry Regiments that would, along with the 132nd Machine Gun
Battalion would comprise the 71st Brigade of the 36th
Infantry Division. The 36th Division was comprised of troops from
the Texas and Oklahoma National Guard units.
received some very basic training in regular army maneuvers and trench warfare,
received equipment and clothing as they slowly became available, had to assist
with construction of the camp and by July, 1918 they were deemed ready to go
troopers went by train to Camp Mills, Long Island, New York. The next movements
were to take them to the large port of embarkation in New Jersey and board them
on the troopship Finland for the voyage to France.
that stayed with the men, long after the war, was that they were constantly
seasick and that the food was terrible. Some of them existed mostly on coffee
and water. They landed in Brest, France and went by rail in boxcars called “40
and 8s”; they could carry either 40 men or eight horses. They were to be
further trained in the Bur-sur-Aube area.
J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, was adamant that
American troops would only fight under the direct command of American officers.
This caused friction between Pershing and the English and French general who
believed the Americans to be untrained and unable to fight.
American Army was created on August 19, 1918 and assigned the following
September to be part of the French Fourth Army under the command of French
General Henri Gourard. They would become part of the Muse-Argonne Offensive.
when the French attack faltered at Blanc Mont, the 71st Brigade, and
the rest of the 36th Division was assigned to the Somme-Py sector
and placed in a combined command of U. S. Army and Marine troops under the
command of Marine General John Lejeune. This was the first instance of Army and
Marine troops together under one commander.
distance the boys from Orange could see clouds of smoke, airplanes skimming the
horizon, probably the first time some of them had seen an airplane, and barrage
balloons. Soon the noise of the artillery shells became a reality as the
American and German lines were less than 100 yards apart. At 5:15 a.m. on
October 1, 1918, the attack started.
very heavy. In two days, October 8 and 9 the 71st brigade suffered
1600 causalities, 1300 of these on the 8th alone. The Germans had amassed
massive amounts of firepower in the Blanc Mont area; they were well entrenched
and seasoned troops. In one instance American artillery fire that was supposed
to land among the German troops went over them and left them virtually
untouched when the attack started. The 71st Brigade faced machine
guns that had supposed to have been wiped out by the artillery.
such heavy opposition that in the period of time they were supposed to have
taken seven miles, they were only able to advance 700 yards. They ran out of
water and the best that could be done for them was to find some canned tomatoes
and drink the liquid off those.
The fierce attacks
by the 71st Brigade and the rest of the 36th Division and
their ability to take all that the Germans could throw at them with led to the
Germans finally retreating out of the Blanc Mont front.
Brigade was given a short period of rest when the October 14 attack on Forest
Farm started. They were held in reserve and on October 27, the 141st
Regiment moved into place on the front. After three days of combat October 27
to the 29th, the 141st Regiment along with the rest of
the Division was taken out of combat.
11, 1918, the war was over and the armistice signed.
Division was sent to Tonnerre, on the Paris highway. They were assigned to do a
little road building and general labor work with the rebuilding process in the
area. They did have recreation areas and General Pershing saw that all of the
troops got at least a short period of leave in Paris.
In May, 1919
the 36th Division began to go home. The Orange troops assigned to
the 141st and 142nd Regiments were on different ships.
The trip home was through calmer waters and there was less seasickness. At New
York the 141st had boarded the troopship Yale, due to sail for
Galveston. A case of smallpox was discovered and the troops had to be quarantined
for 17 days, the sent by train to Camp Travis, near San Antonio.
The men from
Orange who were sent to Camp Travis were discharged and sent home with five
cents per mile travel allowance from their home or place of enlistment, plus a
$60 bonus. They were allowed to keep their uniforms, shoes, overcoat, steel
helmet and gas mask.
For men from
Orange who had spent their lives in Orange, their wartime experiences had to be
somewhat of a wonder. For the most part they had only seen wooden ships on the
Sabine River. They went to New Jersey and boarded steel ships, larger than
perhaps they could imagine. They arrived in France seasick, nearly to the man,
and were faced with a different culture than they had ever known. For the men
in the 141st and 142nd Brigades, they fought for their
lives for nearly a whole month of constant combat conditions. Short of water
was nearly a constant condition and the majority of the food was canned beef,
or corned beef. For the first time in their
lives they saw airplanes and saw those airplanes fight to the death in some
journey back to Orange, they may have had more money than they had ever had in
one time in their lives. Arriving back home, they picked up the life they had
left behind to go from Orange to the Argonne and became fathers, grandfathers,
and saw other young men go to other wars.
There are no
longer any living veterans of World War I, but the legacy they left behind is a
lesson in doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done in service to
was first designated Armistice Day in remembrance of the date the armistice of
World War I was signed. After World War II it was renamed Veterans Day to be the
day that we honor all veterans of all branches of service to America.