Reenactor and NYC tour guide Kevin Fitzpatrick worked with the World War I Centennial Committee for New York and various reenacting groups and historians to organize Doughboy Day at Fort Jay, Governors Island on September 17, 2016. New Yorkers were reminded of that long-ago war through a combination of displays and speaking programs. The day ended with a march to Meuse-Argonne Point, where the Webmaster had the opportunity to say a few words about the war, the doughboys and the Meuse-Argonne. His text is published below:
We forget today just what an impact World War One had on the lives of its participants and their families. As I was agonizing over what to say about the war, about the doughboys and about Meuse-Argonne Point, Kevin Fitzpatrick, the organizer, and various internet sites provided a wealth of information that makes the “we forget today” tagline relevant. A few points to consider:
- A New York Times article dated July 29, 1928—ten years after the war—tells how the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division, which was stationed at Fort Jay, “Commemorates its Gallant Dead in Names of Streets and Avenues.”
- One of the two landing docks on the Island is named Soissons Place, in honor of the Division’s fighting around that city in mid 1918.
- Three streets are named in memory of Corporal Gresham, and Privates Enright and Hayes of Co. F, 16th Inf. Regt. These were the first American soldiers to die in action during the war.
- Kimmell Road is named in commemoration of Captain Harry L. Kimmell, who was killed in action near Fleville, in the Meuse-Argonne. He received the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry on July 19 south of Soissons.
- These are just a sample of the traces of WW1 that can be found on the island.
Meuse-Argonne Point itself was dedicated on August 11, 1958. What is the significance of that date, you ask? It marked the fortieth anniversary of the formation of First Army—the U.S. army that fought the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
Fast forward a few months to November 10 1958 and “a fourteen-foot oak sapling taken from the Argonne Forest within six kilos of the stand of the Lost Battalion was planted on Meuse-Argonne Point, Governors Island, New York. Flown to this country as a gift of the French Republic, the tree was planted six feet behind the Meuse-Argonne monument, dedicated last August 11th on the occasion of the First Army’s 40th Anniversary.” (Note: The tree is no longer standing in that location.)
Kevin asked me to say a few words, in part, because of my interest in and my study of the Meuse-Argonne Battle. If this were a scholarly forum, so many questions could be debated.
- Was General Pershing right in still insisting on eliminating the St. Mihiel Salient even after General Foch insisted on the Meuse-Argonne Offensive starting in late September?
- Could the doughboys have won an earlier and less costly victory, if Montfaucon had fallen on day 1?
- Who really bears the blame of some of the battle’s biggest failures?
- Were the reputations lost / gained by individual leaders or units truly warranted?
- What biases creep into classis works such as “American Armies and Battlefields in Europe?”
But today is not an academic day. Rather, it is a day to educate the public—just a bit—about the role the American Doughboys played in the war. It is also a day to commemorate the doughboys that fought in that war and that battle under what we could consider absolutely horrific conditions today. So here at Meuse-Argonne Point let us remember, or re-learn, that the Meuse-Argonne Offensive was America’s largest—but also deadliest—action of the war. Battle deaths, measured on a weekly basis, would spike in late September / early October. Let us also remember that, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the U.S. First Army came of age. Unfortunately, for many of the individuals and units, the learning curve was fast and steep; as green troops and their leaders fought hardened enemy troops.
Hopefully, this marker and the other traces of WW1 found on Governors Island will help us to remember today just what an impact World War One had on the lives of its participants and their families.
I would like to close with a poem titled “One by One,” written by Corporal Chester E. Baker, the “unofficial mother hen” to Company F, 112th Inf. Regt., 28th Division, AEF. He saw action in the Meuse-Argonne with that division.
One by One
One by one old soldiers die,
One by one they are no more,
And their comrades mourn their loss,
As they leave this mortal shore.
Standing by an open grave,
One more flag-draped coffin rests,
Friends and comrades gather ’round,
As they pay their last respects.
When the solemn rites are done,
And the chaplain turns away,
Mournful notes of bugle stir,
Mem’ries of a bygone day.
One by one they drop from rank,
Just as did the blue and gray,
Soldier boys in olive drab,
Destined, too, to pass away.
I look into the newest grave,
Then turn my blurred eyes to the sky,
Battalions of once-living comrades,
Seem to march in my heart’s eye.
Far beyond the field of blue,
I seem to hear the martial strain,
As they march and counter-march,
Phantoms of my tired brain.
Few there are to mourn old soldiers,
Fewer still of them remain,
Who alone seem to acknowledge,
What they gave was not in vain.
I am comforted to know,
They’ll never more need to be brave,
‘Midst the falling shot and shell,
… Or standing by a comrade’s grave.
Source: Baker, C. Earl. Doughboy’s Diary. Burd Street Press, Shippensburg, PA, 1998.