On a recon trip before the Western Front Association USA Branch 2007 tour I penned the following forward:
25 February, 2007
Hotel du Commerce, Aubreville
It’s 23h30 and I cannot fall asleep. The countless sites, roads, experiences of the past two days run through my mind.
This area of France has been calling me since my first visits in the early 1990s, yet how do I tell the story of American participation in 1918?
I reenact, but I’ve never experienced the terror of a real artillery barrage. I left a message for my wife on my GSM world phone. I do not have to worry about a cut in the wire, nor do I have to wait weeks for a reply letter. I drove up the Aire River Valley in the comfort of a 2007 automobile. I was warm, dry and, most of all, not under fire. So how do I tell the story?
Better researchers, writers and historians have told all or portions of the story; each with varying degrees of success. What can I add?
This tour is also operating with several limitations: Time is not sufficient to tell every soldier’s or every unit’s experience. Traveling by bus and the age of most participants places severe limitations on the selected route. So how do I tell the story?
In addition to the yet-to-be-written background material, I have chose a 3-pronged approach. First, I plan to retrace key portions of the battles themselves. Second, we will take advantage of the many restored and recreated sites, museums and cemeteries in the area. Third, I will include a variety of then and now media, such as photographs, trench maps, and letters home.
It is my hope that some portion of this tour will move each of its participants; much as I can almost feel the spirts of the Doughboys of I Corps, marching through Aubreville on their way up to the line.
It is eleven years later and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and this region of France still call me. I began to make serious plans for living in France in June / July 2014; when the World War One Centennial Commission hosted an open house in Washington, D.C. This led to me quitting my “real job” in March 2017 and moving to France in May 2017. Over the last two years–thanks to a wonderfully supportive and understanding Wife, Laurie Gaulke–I have had the opportunity to spend eight months in France as a freelance tour guide and researcher. This has allowed me to tell the story to many people; and to bring distant parents, grandparents, great uncles, etc. to life again as my clients walk in their footsteps. The latter has been especially fulfilling!
The time in France has also allowed me to explore the region more fully; to find hidden treasures, etc. And it has given me the time to view and scan the Griffin Group Photos of early 1919; which allow one to “see” the American battlefields just months after the end of the war.
For those who have not yet made it “Over here,” I would extol the importance of visiting the American battlefields of WW1. There is an experience that one gets walking the ground the Doughboys walked that one cannot get via reading, watching a film or playing a computer game. I cannot say how many clients have been made similar comments. Come, and experience the battlefields for yourself!