Even today French locals, other Europeans and Americans find themselves drawn to the Meuse-Argonne region of France. Once drawn there, many return time and again; often working on a multi-year research or preservation project. In this irregular interview series, the webmaster hopes to introduce readers to some of these individuals and their labors of love.
1) What are your name, nationality and occupation?
Connie Ruzich, American, University Professor of English at Robert Morris University and author of the blog Behind Their Lines (forgotten voices in poetry of the First World War)
2) Which languages do you speak, and how fluently do you speak them?
My first language is English – I speak halting French and tourist Italian.
3) When was your first visit to the Meuse-Argonne
In July of 2015, my husband and I visited the Meuse-Argonne to trace the footsteps of TW Culbertson, an AEF soldier who fought with the 318th Regiment (80th Division) and who was killed on Hill 274 outside Nantillois
4) When did you really find yourself drawn to the Meuse-Argonne?
When I read Culbertson’s letters home to his mother, written while serving with the AEF in France from May 1918- October 1918 (when he was killed.)
5) What is your primary interest in the region?
The Blue Ridge Division (80th) and the 318th Infantry Regiment
6) Approximately how many times and/or how often do you visit the Meuse-Argonne?
2015 was my first and only visit, but we’re already planning to return.
7) What do you do when you visit?
We enjoy the museums in the region, but for me, walking the cemeteries and reading the names and inscriptions on headstones is very moving (not only American cemeteries, but French, German, etc.). As well, nothing evokes the history of the war like walking the fields and woods with a guide.
8) What research or preservation projects are you working on currently?
I’m working on three projects:
- a biography of Culbertson (he also was a volunteer ambulance driver in 1916 with the AFS and worked extensively in support of the French at Verdun),
- blog posts on Behind Their Lines. I plan to write weekly posts through Armistice 2018, sharing each week a short piece on a “lost poem” of the war. The blog is particularly aimed at those who think they don’t like poetry, and I include historical context and background in my posts. As well, the poems I choose are typically different from those studied in school – they may be more sentimental, more patriotic, more religious, and/or more accessible.
- an academic article that I am co-writing with a British scholar comparing and contrasting the ways in which the Commonwealth War Grave Commission and American Battle Monuments Commission worked with families of the dead in their burial/commemoration practices.
9) What research or preservation projects have you completed in the past?
From August 2014 – January 2015, I was awarded a Fulbright Award to study the commemoration of the First World War in the UK. That’s when I began my blog, and just last week, I completed my 100th post on Behind Their Lines.
10) What is your favorite spot in the Meuse-Argonne, and why?
Nantillois is my favorite spot because it’s where Culbertson was killed, leading his men on an attack of the Bois des Ogons. As well, Maarten Otte’s museum, 14-18 Nantillois, is small but very evocative.
11) History aside, what is your favorite thing to do in the Meuse-Argonne?
Enjoy the wonderful food and visit with those who live there.
12) Schedule permitting, would you consider being a tour guide for individuals or groups traveling to the sector?
I’d be happy to be a guide, but my expertise is in the poetry of the war (extending all along the Western Front, with a primary focus on the British lines).
13) How can readers contact you for assistance or for more details?
14) Any other comments?
I wish that First World War centenary commemorative efforts in America were better organized, funded, and supported.