Battlefield letters tell soldiers’ stories of World War I
CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. (AP) — The War to End All Wars ended a century ago.
The brash Americans through sheer numbers and individual heroics ended the stalemate of World War I trench warfare in western Europe.
“We got there in the nick of time to stave off the attack,” said retired Col. Doug Mastriano, a retired military historian living in Fayetteville. “Even British historians will admit the war could not have been won without the Americans.”
The Russians quit the war in 1917 and freed up a million German troops to leave the Eastern Front to fight the French and British. The U.S. entered the war in April 1917.
Communities across the U.S. answered President Woodrow Wilson’s call to make the world safe for democracy. The young men fell in the Argonne Forest and at St. Mihiel and Chateau Thierry.
In little more than a year, 116,708 American military personnel died from combat, wounds or influenza. About as many died from the flu as died in combat.
Franklin County lost 91 people to the war, including six nurses. More than 160 county residents died of the Spanish flu, which the war had bred.
World War I was an introduction to modern war tactics and structure, according to Mastriano.
Machine guns lay waste to vain Napoleonic charges. Armored tanks accompanied infantry assaults. Airplanes strafed troops and observation balloons. Truck convoys moved to replace horse-drawn wagon trains. Both sides used poison gas.
The mechanized war signaled the end to chivalry, but not without a final bow.
“The American Expeditionary Force was the most sentimental outfit that ever lived,” John T. Wintinnly wrote in the introduction of a book of Doughboy poems. “Most of it - so it seemed to anyone who served on the staff of The Stars and Stripes - wrote poetry.”
Civilians, too, were drawn into the war.
“Everyone is considered a belligerent,” Mastriano said. “Everyone pulled together in supporting the troops.”
For U.S. civilians that meant sugar rationing, gasless Sundays, fuelless Mondays, meatless Tuesdays and wheatless Wednesdays.
The war is “generally relegated to the dustbin of history,” Mastriano writes in his most recent book, Thunder in the Argonne. “Yet, this national amnesia misses the fact that World War I thrust the United States onto the world scene as a dominant economic, political and military power.”
Mastriano is hard on Wilson for failing to prepare the nation for war.
He also criticizes Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing for relying on costly frontal assaults that cost thousands of soldiers their lives in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The operation remains the U.S. military’s largest and bloodiest fight ever. More than 1.2 million Americans fought in the battle that eventually routed the Germans.
Archie Monn of Waynesboro was one of the 122,093 U.S. casualties and was awarded a Purple Heart.
Second Lt. Philip Evans Kriechbaum of Chambersburg was among the 26,277 killed in action.
The Germans suffered more than 100,000 casualties.
The armistice was signed on Nov. 11, 1918, and a ceasefire declared at the “11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.” The conflict formally ended when Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.
The Americans who returned to their homes in rural Pennsylvania had seen the horrors of the Great War and the sophistication of Paris. They led ordinary lives:
—Duffield Winger Varden, a 21-year-old taxi driver before the war, served two years in France. He returned to live in Mercersburg and work at Fairchild Corp., Hagerstown, Md. He died at the age of 74.
— James H. Craig I of Greencastle enlisted at the age of 24. He served a year in the Army Medical Corps and rose to the rank of sergeant. After the war in 1922, he bought the business of J. Lesher & Son and dealt in plumbing, heating, roof tinning, spouting and stoves. He retired in 1972.
Below are stories from the battlefields about other local soldiers.
The namesake of the American Legion 373 in Greencastle taught math before the war, but Sgt. Franklin L. Carbaugh is remembered for his poetry.
Carbaugh, 22, died on Aug. 1, 1918, in a hospital in France from wounds he suffered in the Second Battle of the Marne. He wrote “The Fields of the Marne” on his death bed. Appearing first in the Army’s newspaper “Stars and Stripes,” the poem was published in 1919 with 83 others by American Doughboys in “Yanks; A.E.F. Verse.”
Carbaugh joined the Army on July 15, 1917, and served in the Sanitary Detachment of the 7th Machine Gun Battalion.
His parents, George and Alice Carbaugh, in May 1921 met the train that brought their youngest son’s remains back to Pennsylvania. He is buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Antrim Township.
“No mother ever reared a braver boy,” according to a story written about his death.
The story, whose source is not known, recounts that the cheerful Carbaugh never talked much about himself.
His fellow patients “did know that the sergeant lay out in the open a long time after he was wounded,” the story shares. “Medical records show that, his left leg was badly slashed, and they operated at the first hospital he reached. But gangrene had set in, and four operations had followed, in an effort to save him. They have had lots of brave patients that doctors and nurses and patients admired alike in that hospital, but never one just like the sergeant, who said little, was always joking and cheerful, and never had a complaint.”
The story quotes Wagoner John Trask: “Our sergeant is gone. Why, I loved that fellow like my own brothers. I’ve seen other fellows go but I never felt like this.”
Bonnie Shockey, president and CEO of the Allison-Antrim Museum in Greencastle assembled Carbaugh’s history. Annually around Veterans Day the museum exhibits uniforms and memorabilia of local veterans who served in World War I.
Carbaugh was wounded near Chateau Thierry in one of the first battles for the American Expeditionary Force. The 7th Machine Gun Battalion rode 110 miles in 30 hours by truck and repulsed the Germans on the banks of the Marne River, according to historian David Homsher. The world press followed the battle closely.
About two weeks after Carbaugh’s death, another local soldier camped near Chateau Thierry.
Pvt. Lawrence E. Funk of Chambersburg remarked the village “wasn’t shot up as bad as I thought.”
Funk’s remount unit, following the front line, had camped in a wheat field.
“Germans are buried nearby, only a few feet from tent,” he wrote home on Aug. 17, 1918. “We had to cover them up with more dirt as one of the dead soldier’s hand was sticking out of the ground. The guns are roaring on the front.”
The Remount Squadron 302 was a combination veterinary and blacksmith service for Army supply lines.
Horses and mules proved more reliable than the newly invented mechanized transportation. An estimated 8 million of them died on the Western Front.
Funk’s family ran the A.M. Funk’s Grocery Store at 422 N. Second St. in Chambersburg. He is the great uncle of local historian Mike Marotte III, who compiled Funk’s wartime story.
Funk recounts the emaciated condition of German prisoners of war and having to boil his clothes to get rid of cooties (body lice; not the imaginary kind).
On the day after the Meuse-Argonne Offensive started, he was about 25 miles behind the line when he wrote his mother:
“We’ve been giving it to the ‘Boche’ for the last couple of days. They started about 12:30 in the morning and there was no more sleeping that night for us. The ground just shook like an earthquake. I saw four balloons come down in flames. We could see the men jump out with a parachute and our men brought down the two German airplanes near here. The German Pilots weren’t killed only wounded.”
The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the largest and bloodiest operation of World War I for the American Expeditionary Force. The inexperienced Americans quickly learned the futility of frontal attacks in modern warfare, but not without suffering major losses.
Second Lt. Philip Evans Kriechbaum of Chambersburg fell in the battle for the Argonne Forest on Oct. 2, 1918.
Kreichbaum, 24, was working as a trainman for the Cumberland Valley Railroad when he was drafted.
“Lieutenant Kriechbaum had fallen a victim of the Huns’ bullets,” his brother, Roy, wrote from Paris. “Lt. Kriechbaum was about 20 feet ahead of his company leading it into the thick of battle when he fell.”
Roy was recovering from battle wounds he suffered on Aug. 9.
Roy served with the 112th Infantry and left France in April 1919 for the states. He died at age 74 after a fall at the U.S. Veterans Hospital at Perry Point, Md.
Their brother, Casimer, also was drafted and served during the war.
Cooties and heroes
After his Army career, Claude M. MacPhee lassoed the kids on North Street in Waynesboro.
He showed them his pistols and his rope tricks from the time he was a cowpoke in the West. A veteran of the Great War, MacPhee had moved to Waynesboro after spying a thresher with “Frick Company, Waynesboro PA” printed on it.
“He figured that was closer to his home in New York, so he came here and got a job at Frick Company,” said Pat Heefner of Waynesboro. Heefner’s parents met because of “Uncle Mac.”
MacPhee’s letters home from the front in France were nearly as colorful as his adventurous life -- whether about body lice or the combat death of a friend.
He wrote to his mother on Oct. 19, 1918:
“As I happen to have a few leisure moments thought I would just knock off a few lines just to let you know I am still in the land of the living. Just now for the first time in France I am in a room with a bed in it. Can you imagine that? Just think of it; a bed. Just today I had a fine hot bath not exactly my first since our arrival, but just the same it is worthy of note. I started a fire under a big cauldron then pulled the fire and climbed in. Did you mention “Cooties” in one of your letters? Well I must confess I have them and plenty of them at that. During the day I have to pile rocks on my blankets to keep the playful little insects from dragging them away. I plan on bringing a few dozen home with me so you won’t have to take my word as to their size or ferocity.”
He wrote to his mother of his fallen comrade, Jack Holham, on Nov. 1, 1918, after postponing the chore more than a month:
“On the 29th day of September our company went over the top and as we had been bereft of our officers the preceding day the responsibility for the success of our operation fell entirely upon our sergeants.
“The platoon of which Jack was in command has as its objective one of the most difficult of access of the whole movement, and I might say of the whole war, so upon his courage and presence of mind rested the success of the whole movement, so to speak.
“And it was successful, for it broke the Hun’s famous stronghold, and those who participated in it their names will go down in history, with other heroes if our country.
“But such a wonderful victory cannot be won without paying a heavy price, and I lost the best friend and brother that any man ever had.”
MacPhee grew up in Rochester, N.Y. He served with Gen. John J. Pershing at the Mexican border in pursuit of Poncho Villa. He was a sergeant during World War I with the Machine Gun Company, 108th Infantry Regiment, 27th Division.
Three ways to die
The battlefield wasn’t the only place to die in service of your country.
Consider three early causalities from Franklin County:
— Charles Russel Jones, 19, was the first to die in the war effort. Jones died Sept. 11, 1918, while trying to rescue people from a burning hotel in Port Arthur, Texas.
— Alvin Sheets, 23, fell and broke his arm on a ship. He was hospitalized in Brest, France, where he caught the flu and died on Sept. 17, 1918.
— Harry E. Lackhove, 24, was wounded in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and was transported to the Mesves Hospital where he died on Oct. 13, 1918. The American Legion Post 517 in Mercersburg bears his name.
The flu in the trenches and at home
The Spanish flu, the killer bug of 1918, killed about as many U.S. soldiers as died in combat.
The flu also came home. The virus killed civilians thousands of miles from the battle zone. An estimated 50 million people worldwide, and possibly up to 6 percent of the world’s population, died from the illness.
Some epidemiologists contend that the trench warfare in France incubated the influenza virus into a pandemic killer.
The disease spread rapidly. The main wave of the flu was introduced to the U.S. on Aug. 27, 1918, at the Boston docks. Within six weeks soldiers were deathly ill at training camps in California and Washington state.
Franklin County had its first influenza case in late September, according to research by Chambersburg genealogist Pam Anderson. Gladys Jackson saw her doctor on Sept. 26, 1918, and died the next day. She was 21. Her cause of death was initially “lobar pneumonia,” but by November local authorities considered her death the first in the flu epidemic.
Gladys and her 24-year-old sister, Mary, were living at their parents’ home possibly because Mary was pregnant or was caring for Gladys, according to Anderson. Mary gave birth to a son on the day Gladys died. Mary died on Oct. 2 of “lobular pneumonia due to influenza.” The sisters’ obituaries appeared side by side, but family mourned alone because public gatherings were restricted. Gladys and Mary are buried in Norland Cemetery.
The flu killed 88 people in Chambersburg, 72 in Waynesboro and more elsewhere in the county, according to Anderson.
Sickness forced factories and grocery stores to close. Chambersburg Mayor J.F. Wingert canceled Halloween because a fifth of the population was sick from the flu or in recovery.
The flu in October also claimed the life of Florence Matthews, a Red Cross nurse from Chambersburg. She was treating the wounded at Crozer Hospital in Chester.
Matthews was one of five local nurses to die of the Spanish flu during the war, according to local researcher Sue Burkey. Another died of spinal meningitis. Their names are listed among the 86 names on Chambersburg’s Doughboy stature on Lincoln Way East.
Burkey arranged on Sunday for a World War I veteran marker to be placed at Matthews’ grave in Cedar Grove Cemetery.
The flu killed about 45,000 U.S. troops, nearly 30,000 of them before they got to France, according to Carol Byerly writing for the National Institutes of Health. About 20 to 40 percent of Army and Navy personnel were stricken September through November 1918, coincidentally the height of the American involvement in the conflict.
More than 53,000 Americans died in combat in World War I, according to the Veterans Administration.
More than 675,000 Americans died of the flu in 1918, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Information from: Public Opinion, http://www.publicopiniononline.com