Milwaukee County War Memorial

Remembering The Great War

WWI Battle

First Expeditionary Division in the Argonne Forest near the town of Exermont, France in October 1918. Source: Total War Center

April 6, 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I. Only 69-days after President Woodrow Wilson’s call “to make the world safe for democracy,” the first American troops departed for France. It was the first time we had sent our troops “over there,” the world stage.

While the congress debated the process of a national draft, the skeleton military forces that remained over from skirmishes in Mexico, the Philipines, and the Spanish-American War were sent to face the mighty German Army. However, the American armed forces, under the command of General John (Black Jack) Pershing, were quickly filled with volunteer “Doughboys” as they were called and soon we had a significant force on the battlefield in France. It was here that the legendary First Expeditionary Division, which became known as the “Fighting First,” and eventually the “Big Red One” in WWII was formed. In that unit was a young Army captain, George Marshall, (one of my favorite Americans of all time) who later would serve as Army Chief of Staff and FDR’s closest military advisor during WWII.

On November 3, 1917, 300 German troops overran a single platoon of U.S. soldiers near Sommerviller. 11 Americans were captured and three were killed. These were the first American casualties in a world war-but, unfortunately, not the last. Of the 4 million plus Americans that served during the war, 116,516 would lose their lives. In fact, the deadliest battle in all of American history was the Meuse-Argonne Offensive where we lost 26,000 men. Think about that – 26,000 dead. In all, 37 million people died world-wide in the conflict. Closer to home Milwaukee County lost 770 of its citizens to include a first for the military— four nurses.  It was these staggering losses, coupled with the unprecedented destruction of property that led to the moniker “the war to end all wars.” Of course, it wasn’t.

As we have in all wars, we learned some valuable lessons and some good actually came from the bad. The Selective Service Act of 1917 enabled the country to quickly raise an army. We also improved our education of leaders and training for all forces so we were better prepared for war. Strategically, the division became the module for the employment of troops that we follow still to this day.

Finally, perhaps the best known benefit to come from WWI is celebrated in May of each year. In my May article I will highlight this item (of which you all are aware) so watch for this next month.

Learn More!

To learn more about WWI and to watch incredible film footage,  visit The Great War channel on YouTube.

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