Soldier’s Mail for July, 1916 and 1918

July, 1916: South on the Border

In July, 1916 Sgt. Sam Avery and the rest of the Massachusetts Brigade were stationed at Camp Cotton (the “City of Tents”) outside of El Paso, Texas. In addition to adjusting to the high desert climate, the troops found themselves under fire and in a state of war with Mexican forces along the Border.

Read the page South on the Border to learn more about the events of the Mexican Revolution that made American military action necessary. Read Sam’s compelling account of his journey South from New England to the “North Shore of Hell”. Read the page July, 1916 to learn more about the mission of the Massachusetts National Guard as some of the first troops to defend American soil from foreign invasion since the War of 1812. Read Sam’s correspondence for July as he battles homesickness and the elements along with the enemy.

July, 1918: Champagne-Marne Defensive and Aisne-Marne Offensive

During the first half of July, 1918 Sam Avery found himself under heavy fire with the 103rd Infantry in Belleau Wood which the 26th Division took over from the Marine Brigade. Read about the Champagne-Marne Defensive here. On July 18, the Second Battle of the Marne (Aisne-Marne Offensive) commenced with the 103rd Infantry attacking in line with other Allied units. In a week of fighting, the 26th Division captured 17 kilometers of ground in the first real advance made by an American division as a unit, but at the cost of 20% casualties including Sam who was severely gassed.

Read the page Aisne-Marne Offensive to learn more about the action in late July, 1918. Also, read Sam’s correspondence for July and learn more about the experiences of the 103rd Infantry during grueling combat conditions.

The Soldier’s Mail correspondence is published here according to the sequence in which it was written. Therefore, letters are organized in “reverse order” with the most recent at the top. To read them chronologically, readers should start at the bottom and work upwards.

Soldier’s Mail for June, 1916 and 1918

The collection of Soldier’s Mail written by Sgt. Sam Avery has now been published in its entirety on this site. While a book by the same title is in progress, this post begins a new series of Editorials which recaps the collection for each particular month and helps readers more easily access all of Sam’s writings while at the Front during American involvement in the Great War from 1916-1919.

The Soldier’s Mail correspondence is published here according to the sequence in which it was written. Therefore, letters are organized in “reverse order” with the most recent at the top. To read them chronologically, readers should start at the bottom and work upwards.

June, 1916: South on the Border

The Avery Collection begins in June, 1916 when Sgt. Sam Avery and other members of the Massachusetts National Guard were federalized by President Woodrow Wilson and dispatched to defend the Mexican Border from guerrilla incursions during the Mexican Revolution. Ironically, the “Mexican Question” remains as much a problem of national security now as it was then. However, similar decisive action is lacking today due to pervasive political correctness which promotes hand-wringing about “militarizing” the Border rather than robustly protecting American sovereignty.

Read the page South on the Border to learn more about the events of the Mexican Revolution that made American military action necessary. Rather than simply a footnote to early 20th Century American history, the Punitive Expedition and associated Border defense was actually the first American military action taken in the larger context of the Great War. Read the page June, 1916 to learn more about the mobilization and deployment of the Massachusetts National Guard as some of the first troops to defend American soil from foreign invasion since the War of 1812. Read Sam’s first letter here as he begins the Great Adventure.

June, 1918: Toul Sector

During the month of June, 1918 Sam Avery found himself under fire in the Toul Sector. While this sector had been officially designated a “quiet sector” by the French Army (because no major offensive operations were occurring in the area), it proved to be anything but quiet for the men of the 26th “Yankee” Division. Read the page Toul (Boucq) Sector to learn more about the action in early Spring, 1918. Also, read Sam’s correspondence for June and learn more about the experiences of the 103rd Infantry.

Soldier’s Mail for May, 1918

May, 1918: Toul (Boucq) Sector

The La Reine (Boucq) Sector (also known as the Toul Sector) was the southeastern aspect of the St. Mihiel salient which was a bulge in the Allied lines remaining from the original German advance in 1914. This salient continued to threaten Verdun and Toul along with the entire right side of the Allied front (See detailed maps of this salient in the “Map Room”). The principle feature of the terrain in this sector was a ridge east to west from Flirey to Apremont with a highway running along it. The front line was anchored on the towns of Seicheprey and Xivray-et-Marvoisin, continuing into Bois Brule where it linked up with lines held by the French. The Germans had the tactical advantage of both observation and attack as the Allied front could be penetrated through several shallow ravines. In addition, the Allied trenches were in very poor condition and had drainage problems. The entire length of the La Reine Sector front was 18 kilometers and this was the first time an entire sector was completely entrusted to an American division.

During the month of May, the sector was enlarged on the right side to include Jury Wood and Hazelle Wood near Flirey. Relief of front line battalions occurred every fifth day when the men would be moved to rest billets in the rear where baths and steam delousing stations were available.

On May 10, at 0115 hours in a heavy fog, the Germans detonated 1,141 gas projector bombs containing over 20 tons of phosgene on the south slope of Hill #322, Bois de Apremont, St. Agnant and the surrounding trenchworks which were occupied by the 103rd Infantry. Additional incoming gas, trench mortar and high explosive fire was taken by the 103rd at 0525. A total of 33 men were killed, 12 wounded and 162 hospitalized due to gas from the night’s work. The 103rd Regimental HQ was relocated to Laigne from May 22-27 and then to Royaumeix.

Read about the Toul (Boucq) Sector here. See original film of the steam disinfection process for uniforms here. Also, read Sam’s May correspondence from the Toul Sector as he continues to live under fire in the trenches.

The Soldier’s Mail correspondence is published here according to the sequence in which it was written. Therefore, letters are organized in “reverse order” with the most recent at the top. To read them chronologically, readers should start at the bottom and work upwards.

Original Portrait of Sgt. Sam Avery by Jack Skinner

1st Sgt. Samuel Avery, Hdq. Co., 103rd Inf., 26th “Yankee” Division

It has long been my desire to have an original painted portrait of my great-uncle Sam to accompany the book project which is a companion to this website. I turned to my colleague, friend and skilled New England artist Jack Skinner to assist in this endeavor. Over nearly two years, Jack rendered this astonishing work in acrylic paint based on some old photos and painstaking historical research.

This work pictures 1st Sgt. Sam Avery seated in front of the door to a French farmhouse in the Vosges region of France, his Springfield 1903 rifle propped behind him. On the front of Sam’s uniform blouse can be seen ribbons for the World War I Victory Medal with 5 Campaign Stars and the Mexican Border Campaign. Below the ribbons is the Sharpshooter’s Medal. On the left sleeve is found the 26th Division’s “YD” shoulder patch, 1st Sergeant’s chevrons, and Overseas Service Stripes (1 for every 6 months overseas) along with a “Sammy Star”  indicating Sam’s arrival among the first 100,000 AEF troops in France. In Sam’s lap is shown his M1917 helmet bearing the 103rd Infantry helmet mark.

Click here to discover other captivating original artwork by Jack Skinner available at FineArtAmerica.com.

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 49,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 11 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

The YD’s Birthplace: Apremont Park, Westfield Mass.

The 26th “Yankee” Division was formed in August, 1917 at Camp Bartlett in Westfield, Mass (Read about the 26th Division here). In Westfield today, Apremont Park memorializes the sacrifice of the 104th Infantry Regiment during the Great War.

Following is a collection of photos courtesy of reader Donna (Anderson) Blews that show the beauty and detail of this memorial park.

Apremont Park Dedication (Donna Anderson Blews)

Apremont Park Memorial Walkway (Donna Anderson Blews)

Approach to Apremont Memorial (Donna Anderson Blews)

Detail of Apremont Memorial (Donna Anderson Blews)

Close-up of Apremont Memorial (Donna Anderson Blews)

Detail of Apremont Memorial WWI Flag Staff (Donna Anderson Blews)

Close-up of the Apremont Memorial WWI Flag Staff (Donna Anderson Blews)

Epilogue: Corporal Joseph Maus

The Somme Offensive was launched on September 24, 1918 with the objective of breaking the Hindenburg Line. As part of this operation on September 27, the 105th Infantry moved forward in attack and made initial gains near Quennemont Ferme, Guillemont Ferme, and fortified heights called “The Knoll”, before being driven back by German counter-attack. On September 29th, the 105th Infantry attacked “The Knoll” again but was checked with heavy casualties. It was during this attack that Corporal Joseph Maus was killed in action, one of 1,609 casualties in the ranks of the 105th Infantry during the war.

Grand Parade in Boston, 4/25/1919

On April 25, 1919 the men of the 26th “Yankee” Division participated in a hero’s homecoming parade in Boston. The painted helmet markings worn by the men helped distinguish the various units for the onlookers. The Boston Globe even published a Helmet Insignia reference chart for parade watchers:

Insignia Chart from The Boston Globe, April, 1919

The parade began at Beacon & Charles Streets and took the following route through the city of Boston: Beacon St., Park St., Tremont St., Boylston St., Arlington St., Commonwealth Ave., Charlesgate, Berkeley St., Boylston St., Massachusetts Ave., Columbus Ave., ending at Park Square. The wounded of the Division were driven in a phalanx of open-topped cars. Following is a set of photos which captures the event, found inside an old collector’s photo album and shared with the readers of Soldier’s Mail courtesy of Gretchen Gudefin.

26th Div. On March; Mass Ave, Boston, 4/25/19

26th Div. Parade Rest; Mass Ave, Boston, 4/25/19

26th Div. Wounded; Mass Ave, Boston, 4/25/19

(Special thanks to Gretchen Gudefin for sharing the above Parade photos.)

Here also is a 12-page tabloid insert from The Boston Traveler newspaper specially prepared for the event which featured songs for all spectators to join in singing. Also contained in this collectible was the parade route and other information on temporary billeting arrangements for the various units where banquets were held for the men and their loved ones.

Parade Bulletin from The Boston Traveler, 4/25/19 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 2 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 3 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 4 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 5 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 6 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 7 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 8 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 9 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 10 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 11 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 12 (Shane Colledge)

(Special thanks to Shane Colledge for sharing the above Parade Bulletin photos.)

Epilogue

photo by Michael St. Maur Shell

After safely returning to the Port of Boston aboard the USS America, Private First Class Sam Avery traveled by train to Camp Devens in Ayer, Mass. where he was billeted with the rest of the 26th Division pending discharge from service. Following a Division Review by the New England Governors at Camp Devens on April 22 and a parade in Boston on April 25, the officers and men of the 26th Division received their discharges on April 28-30, 1919.

Sam returned to his former employment at the Bristol Patent Leather Company in Boston, eventually married and became a father. After the onset of the Great Depression, the Bristol Patent Leather Co. closed its business operations and Sam was fortunate to find a Civil Service position as a janitor at Bridgewater State College.

When the United States entered the Second World War, Sam reenlisted in the Massachusetts State Guard at the age of 50 and once again served as a First Sergeant with the 10th Co., 25th Mass. Infantry on the Home Front until his final discharge on August 31, 1945.

At the same time, the next generation of the 103rd Infantry Regiment continued its distinguished battle history as part of the 43rd “Winged Victory” Infantry Division (New England National Guard) starting in February, 1941. During that year, the 103rd Infantry trained at Camp Blanding, Florida and participated in maneuvers in Louisiana, North Carolina, Fort Shelby Mass., and Fort Ord, California. The regiment deployed overseas to the Pacific Theater in September of 1942, exactly 25 years after it had first sailed “Over There” to France with the AEF. The 103rd Infantry fought in the bloody Pacific campaigns at Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, New Guinea and Luzon, taking part in the amphibious assault at Lingayen Gulf. The 103rd Infantry was one of the first units to land in Japan after the cessation of hostilities in August, 1945. After serving several weeks of occupation duty, the regiment returned home to the United States and was mustered out of Federal service in late October, 1945.

Meanwhile, the 26th “Yankee” Division was reorganized as a “triangular division” based on three infantry regiments and saw combat action once again on the battlefields of Europe. Shipped directly to France in August of 1944, the 26th Division landed at Cherbourg and Utah Beach in early September. In October of 1944, it fought over familiar ground during the Lorraine Campaign as part of the Allied drives on the Saar River and Metz. In December, 1944 the 26th Division participated in the Ardennes Breakthrough during the Battle of the Bulge and remained on the advance across the Rhine River. The division then moved into Austria by early April, 1945 where it helped liberate the Mauthausen-Gusen Concentration Camps. After advancing as far East as Czechosloviakia, following the surrender of Germany the 26th Division returned home to the United States and was mustered out of Federal service on December 21, 1945.

Telling War Stories in Camp, 1940's

Sam lived in Bridgewater and remained working at Bridgewater State College for twenty seven years, eventually becoming Chief Custodian until his retirement in December, 1961. Ever a believer in self-improvement, Sam could be frequently found auditing college classes in his spare time as an informal drop-in student. His humor and wisdom made him well-liked by students and faculty alike over the years.

Sam remained an active member of several veterans’ organizations including the American Legion until his death on March 21, 1974 at the age of 82. After a long struggle with emphysema from years of smoking, Same died peacefully at his home in the company of his wife Marion and was buried with full military honors at Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett, Massachusetts. Today, Sam and Marion continue to rest there together on scenic Celosia Path.

Woodlawn Cemetery, Everett Mass.

In commemoration of his military service, Sam was posthumously awarded a Presidential Memorial Certificate signed by President Richard M. Nixon which reads as follows:

The United States of America

Honors the Memory of

Samuel E. Avery

This Certificate is awarded by a grateful nation

in recognition of devoted and

selfless consecration to the service

of our country in the Armed Forces

of the United States.

Richard M. Nixon

President of the United States

As Sam himself would say, “Nuf Ced.”

 

Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1918

By the President of the United States : A Proclamation

“It has long been our custom to turn, in the autumn of the year, in praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God for his many blessing and mercies to us as a nation. This year we have special and moving cause to be grateful and to rejoice. God has, in His good pleasure, given us peace. It has not came as a mere cessation of arms, a mere relief from the strain and tragedy of war. It has come as a great triumph of right. Complete victory has brought us, not peace alone, but the confident promise of a new day, as well, in which justice shall replace force and jealous intrigue among the nations.

Our gallant armies have participated in a triumph which is not marred or stained by any purpose of selfish aggression. In a righteous cause they have won immortal glory, and have nobly served their nation in serving mankind. God has indeed been gracious. We have cause for such rejoicing as revives and strengthens in us all the best traditions of our national history. A new day shines about us, in which our hearts take new courage and look forward with new hope to new and greater duties.

While we render thanks for these things, let us not forget to seek the divine guidance in the performance of those duties, and divine mercy and forgiveness for all errors of act or purpose, and pray that in all that we do we shall strengthen the ties of friendship and mutual respect upon which we must assist to build the new structure of peace and goodwill among the nations.

Wherefore, I, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate Thursday, the twenty-eighth day of November next, as a day of thanksgiving and prayer, and invite the people throughout the land to cease upon that day from their ordinary occupations, and in their several homes and places of worship to render thanks to God, the ruler of nations.”

Woodrow Wilson, President

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