Webmaster’s Introduction: The story of Laurie Button, her “adopted” Doughboy, Walter “Wave” Miguel, and their ties to the Village of Louppy-sur-Loison is one of the most interesting stories to emerge from the 2018 Centennial Commemorations. As a result of Laurie’s persistent writing from the U.S. and willing supporters in France, the parties involved organized a Commemoration Ceremony on 10 November that filled the local church and chateau. Those of us who were present will not forget this day of Franco-American unity! Here now, is the story: First from the perspective of Laurie Button, second from the perspective of French historian Antoine Collot, and third (added later) from the perspective of Webmaster and Tour Guide Randy Gaulke.
By Laurie Button
The weather on Nov. 10, 2018 was much like it was 100 years before: It was raining. My husband, Joel, and I stood looking out over the rolling hills and forests that frame the village of Louppy-sur-Loison from the window of a castle built in the 1600s—a place where Louis the XIV once slept. And while it may have been November, the trees were still covered with muted orange, yellow, and red leaves. Joel pointed toward the field a few hundred yards in front of us.
“They think that’s where Wave fell.”
Walter Miguel—better known by family and friends as “Wave”—died in the fight to liberate Louppy on Nov. 10, 1918. With our guide, Randy Gaulke, we ventured there one hundred years to the day after his death to honor his memory. He was killed by a large artillery blast along with five other American soldiers.
You might be wondering how Wave and I are connected. Our relationship isn’t based upon genealogy but simply by chance. In 1990, a fledgling writer’s route to work took her past a small cemetery in Arnolds Park, Iowa. Her imagination was intrigued by a white iron cross with a military helmet bolted to its top. A woman consumed by imagination and insatiable curiosity, one day she finally stopped to investigate. That aspiring writer was me and that day would alter the path my life would follow from that day forward.
Facing a difficult divorce, Wave’s gravesite became my safe haven. It was a place of peace and solitude and being there gave me strength. Plus, I could talk with him about anything and, as impossible as it may sound, I believe he listened.
Many years later, resources available on the Internet and through the National Archives have allowed me to assemble the pieces of Wave’s life and his military service. Henry and Nellie Miguel had four sons; three of them fought on the battlefields of France. Two returned home safely. Their youngest son was also in the Army, but the war ended before he was sent overseas. Too old to enlist, his father wanted to do his part and traveled to Seattle to help build ships for the war effort.
A year ago, when we began making plans to be in France to commemorate the Centenary, it was even more important that we be in Louppy-sur-Loison on the day Wave died, November 10th. I wrote to the village’s mayor asking if they planned to have any special Armistice Day ceremonies. He didn’t respond. When we finally met, Mayor Guy-Joél Chatton admitted he’d assumed my message was “fake news.” After all, why would an unknown American woman want to visit their tiny village? Undeterred, I wrote the mayor again last August. This time I also attempted to contact Antoine Callot who I’d seen giving historic tours on Louppy’s Facebook page. A few days later they both replied.
Thus, began the adventure of a lifetime.
In the weeks that followed, Mayor Chatton and Antoine began putting together a very special commemoration honoring the Americans who had been killed there Nov. 10th. I learned that only 38 of the village’s 300 residents remained during the four years of German occupation. Those allowed to stay were elderly or suffered from some sort of physical disability. As a result, the people know very little about that period in their history. With the help of many friends on the Facebook page Meuse-Argonne.com, we now know much more. During our visit, Joel and I presented Antoine with a 50-page scrapbook containing all of my research and many photographs taken by the U.S. Army Signal Corps during and immediately after the war. We also gave them a uniform once worn by a 5th Division soldier—it was from the 11th Regiment that liberated Louppy. It now hangs in a place of honor in Louppy’s town hall. Together we hope we can keep the village’s history alive for future generations.
The day before the ceremony Randy helped us retrace the path the 11th Infantry took during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. We walked in Wave’s footsteps. As a surprise, Randy ended the day in Louppy. He’d visited the area the day before and knew people were inside preparing for the ceremony. I will never forget the look on Mayor Chatton’s face when he saw four strangers walk into the building. When we announced ourselves, a smile illuminated his face and he began patting his chest as if he was having heart palpitations. Fortunately, it was simply excitement. We will treasure that moment forever.
Due to stubborn drizzle, the carefully planned ceremonies on Nov. 10th were moved inside the church. It’s estimated at least 230 people were crowded into the pews. It should be noted that the population of Louppy is just 131. There was a piper, a drummer, a bugler, reenactors in uniform, and more flagbearers than I could count. Among the speakers were dignitaries from other towns and organizations in the region, as well as a Dutch ambassador and an admiral who once served as head of the French Navy. I was privileged to speak as well. In addition, there were eight other Americans seated in places of honor at the front of the church. At the end of the program, a plaque was unveiled listing 17 Americans who died liberating the area. The mayor and I read their names together.
Following the ceremony there was a formal procession to the castle where its owners Antoine de Roffignac and his wife, Isabelle, hosted a champagne luncheon. The property has belonged to the family for more than 300 years. The greetings we received from everyone present were so warm and heartfelt, it was truly overwhelming. Most people of our nation may have forgotten WWI, but the French have not.
Perhaps Antoine Collot offered the most poignant statement about the experience we all shared. In an email several days after the ceremony he wrote: “Who would have thought that Walter, with your help, could have gathered so many people one hundred years after his death. I think we could not give him a better homage.”
To most it would seem I’ve come full circle when it comes to my relationship with Wave, but not so. Thirty years ago, he was there for me and I refuse to let his sacrifice be forgotten. I’ve been able to share my research with Wave’s family and will continue to do so. It’s my hope that his grandniece, who has become a treasured friend, will travel with me to Louppy next fall. And, about a month ago, in an obscure document from the National Archives I finally discovered the names of the five soldiers who were killed with Wave. As I type this, I’m waiting for the burial files of those soldiers to arrive. With those documents in hand I hope to learn their stories as well. Their lives ended much too soon, but they each have a story that needs to be told. They cannot and should never, ever be forgotten.
By Antoine Collot
If history can appear as an abstract and inaccurate subject, it remains no less than a social science, which approaches a very concrete and almost tangible aspect in this time of memory of the First World War Centenary.
And so is the story of a small village in the Meuse, called Louppy-sur-Loison, located in the East of France, lost between the Ardennes and Belgium, and which was, as many others, occupied by the German Army during the First World War. It’s history during the conflict was fairly unknown until recently. Indeed, like all villages in the north of Meuse, a great amount of Louppy residents had been exiled as soon as the German troops had progressed. The village was considered as a German background logistics base, located forty kilometers behind the front of Verdun.
Some years ago, a fortuitous discovery was made and changed our perception of this period of history. While working on the roofs of the Castle of Louppy, a worker who was checking the state of the floors, lifted a floorboard and accidentally let his screwdriver fall. He went to the room downstairs to retrieve it but could not find it, so he asked the owner of the Castle if he could remove some more floorboards to find it. To his great surprise, he found a secret room, between two floors, without any window or door to reach it. On the ground, a collection of German typed papers, dating back to 1917, were exhumed. The owner of the Castle put those papers aside, quite disappointed not to have found the historical and family archives of the Castle, which were sent to the German Archives in Berlin in 1917 and have been lost.
A few years later, in 2016, by chance, we came across a collection of German photographs previously unseen, in an auction sale, which attest of the strategic role of the village from 1916, as the main logistics base for the German Army on the battlefield of Verdun. Indeed, these photographs show that Louppy-sur-Loison was not just used as officers’ quarters like the villages nearby.
Louppy was also home to a military office, settled in the castle to coordinate the German strategy for the battlefield of Verdun. During spring and summer of 1917, a political office is settled as well. Indeed the photographs testify of meetings taking place during several months, with all the German dignitaries, including the Kaiser himself, Hindenburg, Ludendorff, and also an Austro-Hungarian diplomat, Count Czernin. The presence of the latter could be explained by the proceedings of peace negotiations of which Czernin had been given the responsibility by Charles 1st, Emperor of Austria and Hungary. Researches are in progress to explain this event more precisely.
That is how our village, for more than a year now, is reconstructing its forgotten past.
More recently, a few weeks ago, an American woman, Laurie Button, living in Colorado, contacted us to inform us that she wished to come in Louppy. She then proceeded to tell us her personal story, which brought her interest for our village.
That story starts in a very trivial way, thirty years ago…
For Laurie Button, it is the start of a long-term undertaking. Thirty years of researching soldier Walter M. Miguel, killed in Louppy-sur-Loison, brought her to us. But she had yet to deliver the last episode of this conflict for our village, the arrival of the American troops in 1918.
According to the few known facts we had, we knew that the Americans had arrived in Louppy in November 1918 after having fired 14 shells, as tradition requires, on the Castle where the last German soldiers had taken refuge. But as we spoke with Mrs. Button, on the 7th of September 2018, we learned with surprise that there was not just an artillery fire but a complete offensive which was launched by the 5th Infantry Division of the US Army, led by Maj. General Hanson E. Ely, who had recently conquered back many territories in the Meuse on the last months.
On the 10th of November, the division threw the last offensive, less than 24 hours before the signature of the Armistice. The combat was tough facing this last string of resistance from the Germans. At least 17 American soldiers were killed during this fateful day and 6 of them were temporarily buried in the village before their bodies were sent to the American cemetery of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon. Some soldiers, like Walter Miguel, will be exhumed once again, and the body of Walter will leave Romagne-sous-Montfaucon in 1921 to rejoin at last his native Iowa.
On the 10th of November 2018, at 11AM, the residents of Louppy-sur-Loison will join Laurie Button and 6 of her travel companions, accompanied by political and military representatives to pay tribute to those American soldiers, killed in the course of action, for the liberation of our village, in a powerful message of Franco-American lasting friendship. For us, those four years of memory have brought us more answers for the understanding of our history than the last decades.
Part 3–Added in April 2019
By Randy Gaulke, Webmaster and Tour Guide
During the A.E.F. Centennial years of 2017 and 2018 I spent eight months in France working as a freelance tour guide to the American battlefields of WW1. Laurie Button first contacted me in early- to mid-2018, stating her desire to be present–100 years to the day later–at the location where her adopted soldier, Walter Miguel, fell on 10 November, 1918. As emails progressed, it became evident that the town of Louppy-sur-Loison was planning a MAJOR ceremony for 10 November, and that there would be little to no time for the “5th Division battlefield tour” that I was supposed to provide. Recognizing this, I suggested that we modify our schedules to include a half-day tour of the 5th Division sites the afternoon of Friday, 9 Nov. in addition to plans for a full-day event in the village on 10 November. That seemed to work with everyone’s schedule.
The 5th Division entered the line around Cunel in mid October 1918; and it stayed in the line until the Armistice. Thus, there was a good distance of ground to cover between Cunel and Louppy-sur-Loison. On Thursday, 8 Nov. I performed a recon of the areas that I did not know well. That reconnaissance drive ended in Louppy; giving me the insight that the “locals” were busy preparing for 10 November in the local church.
I met Laurie and Joel and their friend Bob at their hotel in Verdun around noon on Friday and the tour began. Four or five hours does not give one much time to hit sites in depth; but we did OK. As I recall, it was getting dark as we pulled into Louppy and stopped at the church. There were still cars outside. My clients were not quite certain what to expect when I suggested that we walk into the church on Friday night. The “locals” were not expecting us to visit that night either. After an introduction and brief explanation in French it was wonderful to see the chemistry that developed and that Laurie describes in Part 1.
The commemoration service on Saturday was wonderful, and has been well documented above.
But the story does not end on 10 November 2018. In mid January members of the Mayor’s family visited New York City, and I had the chance to spend a wonderful afternoon and evening with them. I have written this up in the blog section of the website: La Vie en France #40: Building Bridges Across the Atlantic. Also, Laurie has just disclosed that she will be continuing her research and travelling to Louppy again in 2019. This is the way transatlantic exchanges are supposed to work! I was so honored to be a part of these events!!
I will close with a photo of a 5th Division marker. “The 5th Division A.E.F., did they fight?” is the standing joke. This is because the Division managed to be the most prolific builder of battlefield markers–surpassing even the 1st Division.