Caption: General view of the cemetery and camp Romagne
Location: Today’s Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne, France
Source of Then Photo: French post-war postcard
When the webmaster found this postcard he was immediately reminded of an excerpt from Richard Rubin’s “The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War.” Richard tells the story of Corporal Howard Ramsey, who was assigned as a driver to the 302nd Water Tank Train. After the war, his unit was involved in driving American bodies from their provisional burial sites to the soon-to-be-created cemetery:
“Like many beautiful things, the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery was the product of a hard, dirty, ugly process; in the beginning, Corporal Ramsey recalled, “There were no provisions made for going and coming. So I remember one night, it was cold, and we had no blankets or nothing like that. We had to sleep–we slept in the cemetery, because we could sleep between two graves and keep the wind off us, see?” Still, he was fortunate compared to some, and he knew it. The men of the 302nd Water Tank Train were chosen because they were truck drivers; “we hauled the bodies from the cemetery to the graveyard,” he said. And while the work was unpleasant–“these bodies had been buried, you know, not in coffins or anything like that, just in the ground,” he explained–there were others working who had it far worse. “The colored people did all the work,” he confessed. “We didn’t have to handle the bodies or anything like that. They’d put them on a canvas, put the canvas in the box, and take the box and bury that.” All he and the rest of the 302nd Water Tank Train–every last one of whom were white–did was drive the bodies from one place to another…
I don’t know how we ever got the colored people to—” he said to me at some point, but never finished the sentence.” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, 2013. Pages 227-8. )
The story of the building of the American Cemeteries should be a feature story on this website. But, for now, it will have to be confined to a postcard and a few paragraphs from Mr. Rubin’s book.