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tv   American Soldiers on the Western Front  CSPAN  August 31, 2018 4:44pm-5:48pm EDT

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state university pueblo professor matt harris discusses the anti-slavery movement before the civil war. sunday at 10:00 a.m. on oral histories our women in congress series continues with former democratic congresswoman barbara kennelly. then at 8:00 p.m., a look at the relationship between george washington and alexander hamilton and the historical accuracy of "hamilton" the musical. and on monday at 8:00 p.m., the white house historical agency's presidential site summit. watch american history tv this labor day weekend on c-span3. you're watching american history tv, follow us on twitter for information on our schedule and to keep up with the latest history news. to join the conversation, like us on facebook. >> up next on american history tv, military historian edward langel on the experiences of american soldiers on the western
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front during world war i. he's the author of the buy "never in finer company: the men of the great war's lost battalion." gettysburg hosted this event. >> good afternoon. welcome to the national historic site. we're at the camp cole weekend. this is an opportunity for the public to learn about camp colt which was a camp training program for tanks at the gettysburg national park as well as world war i re-enactors here at the eisenhower farm. he's from george mason university and received his phd from the university of virginia where he directed the washington
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papers project for many years. he served as the chief historian for the white house historical association until just recently and he's written several books on both george washington and world war i. his latest book will be "never in finer company: the men of the great war's lost battalion" which was published in 2018. he leads history and battlefield tours throughout europe and the united states. he writes regularly for military quarterly, american history and other history periodals as well as appeared on national public radio, fox news, history channel and other media outlets. he also appears on the world war i centennial commissions weekly podcast. ed i want to introduce you to our audience here and have you do your little talk.
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[ applause ] >> good afternoon to all of you, let's make sure i have this in the right place so that you can hear me. am i getting to the folks in the back? can you hear me all right? i want to make sure that i don't go over time and get my clock set up. we're in distinguished company. i was talking to this gentleman over here, the great grand-nephew of calvin coolidge. a retired two-star general. a great nephew. a retired two-star general. >> and also related to admiral sims, we spoke about that as well. i'm an 8th or 9th cousin of dwight d. eisenhower. as i was joking with another gentleman, we pennsylvania germans are all related in one way or another. my dad's family all came from
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reading. i have had a passion for the first world war for the past 30 years. this passion originates, yes, in the study of history. i've always loved history. i am related to alvin c. york, a third cousin of mine on my mom's side. so there's a little bit of a connection there. i had the honor of meeting his family. just a few weeks ago over in knoxville, tennessee. they are great, wonderful people. filled with respect. his grandson is a vietnam veteran colonel. his great-granddaughter still runs the york site there. his son and daughter in law were there. they're wonderful people. for me the connection of the first world war originates with the fascination with the human experience. of warfare. the human experience of the unprecedented. the unfathomable.
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the unimaginable. this was our entry. this was the modern world entry into a century that wreaked terrible devastation. things that we could not even begin to understand. it's true that there were so many veterans of the civil war and the united states that were alive. they would have been in their '70s and 80s who had experienced the trench warfare around richmond and petersburg, but even that dimmed in comparison to the experience of a first world war and how world war i destroyed in many ways, a whole, sorry if i'm swatting the flies away, they're part of the, part of the ambience here. it destroyed a whole civilization in many ways. the very least transformed it. i have to point at tony whenever
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i need to change the slide. world war i brought us into our first experiences of the modern age. we have the marines present here as well as army and navy and other branches of the service. and people from different countries, reenacting germany, britain, and france. and all the rest. the marines were the first in june of 1918. it was something that we just had no means of experiencing. now, if you look at, if you look at the personal accounts, if you look at the memoirs and the diaries, you can begin to understand how, for men and
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women who were over there in europe, how they attempted to process this experience. this new experience. we have a mythology of world war i and what it was all about. that is, has been pervasive and that we're still struggling to deal with today. next slide, please. this mythology is based on a very simple idea. it's the idea that in 1914, and again in 1917, millions of young men, as well as women, entered the service with naive and bold ideas that war was going to be a great adventure, a great testing ground, that it was going to be
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a grand parade, that they were going to be in berlin by christmas, or be in paris by christmas, as the case may be, and that the war was going to be over. and that the experience of mass slaughter on the western front in the trenches, on the western front crushed them, broke them. disillusioned them and caused them to reject everything that they had once believed. created the lost generation or the disillusion, the bitter generation that no longer believed in things like god, country, patriotism and all the rest. that's the mythology. it's a very pervasive mythology, it originates in europe primarily. it originates in literature, that as often as not was produced by civilians. rather than active service soldiers. and it crossed the atlantic and it continues to endure to this
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day. when i talk to americans, present company excepted, general american who is haven't heard much about world war i, they don't know much about it. they roughly know who was involved. they'll say, wow, that was one mass slaurt, wasn't it? that was just guys getting into trenches and getting blown up by the thousands and they never really accomplished anything. and then 20 years later we had world war ii. and doesn't that prove that world war i was just a colossal waste. what's there to learn from that. i think that really gets to the root of why there's so -- even now in the centennial -- there's
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so little interest in world war i. it's a miserable, depressing, ugly story. and there's nothing to learn about it. they envision the trenches. they envision the mass slaughter and they think that's really all there is. if, however, you take the time to to hear the stories of the individuals, of the people, to look at the personal testimonies of the men, the women from different perspectives, you see there is no one war experience. that that stereotype of millions going off to war, being massacred in huge numbers and being broken and disillusioned is really just that. it's a stereotype. it's a mythology. in fact, every story is an individual story. every man and woman came to this
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war from a different perspective, carrying a different set of values, carrying a different set of experiences and they left this war carrying different lessons. if you look at -- broadly speaking, this applies not just to the americans and german and british and french. if you look, broadly speaking, at the experiences of those in the military and the conclusions that they drew when they came out, there are a good number on one side who say yes, this is such a terrible experience, i know longer believe in god or my country. i no longer believe in any of this stuff. there are probably an equal number on the other side whose stories we don't listen to who say this war convinced me that my country is right and i
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believe in religion, believe in my country even more passionately than i did before. i believe in traditional values even more passionately than i did before. there were many veterans who took away that sense. and if you look at them, you can't say, oh, well, the guys or the gals, as the case may be, who left the war feeling more patriotic, they didn't experience the bad stuff. if you look at it, they did just as much as everybody else. the mass of soldiers are somewhere in between. men and women veterans are somewhere in between. their conclusions usually were, this is true for americans about whom i'm going to be speaking this afternoon. their conclusions were yeah, this war is a terrible thing. it was a terrible experience, i saw things i can never forget. i saw things that i have trouble dealing with, that i have trouble communicating to my family, to my friends, when i come home, but i also forged
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comradeships, friendships that nobody else can understand. i learned the meaning of unity. i learned the meaning of cooperation. i learned the meaning of how to have fun. i saw a whole new world. and when i look back at war and i think about the possibility of another war, most of them say this. it's a terrible thing. we should avoid it if we can. but if i had to do it again, i would. that's broadly speaking the conclusions that most soldiers drew. so you think about that how do you jibe the idea of just a simply a one-dimensional mass slaughter, where everybody dies, they all go, they all get blown up and they die, with this broader perspective of -- men and women having very complex conclusions and ideas that they bring back with them. i got, i had the pleasure of
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speaking to a group of high school kids up in middleburg, virginia, from the national history academy a few weeks ago. and we approached the topic of world war i, and i thought, okay, well, how do i approach this with you. what i did, i said, okay, young men, young women, a very diverse group, white, black, asian, all the rest. how many of you have family members who are veterans, who came back from iraq and afghanistan? a good two-thirds of them raised their hands. i said tell me about your family experiences. tell me about your dad, your brother, your uncle, your cousin as the case may be. tell me about how he felt when he came back? and i heard every young man or woman gave me a different story. you can't generalize about them. i said every one of those
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stories i've heard in one way or another, about the doughboys coming back. attempting to readjust and living with their families. there's a personal connection here that you can understand if you take the time to look at it. next slide, please. how many of you have been to the battlefields? a good number, that's great. so if you go over, you've probably had experiences like this. i was talking to a young man over in an exhibit over here, looking at a nice german potato masher grenade. i was remembering what it looks like when you find these things when the handle has rotted off. this one, has only partially rotted off. you can still tell it's a grenade. i was there about eight years ago with my son and i, i was leading a tour group and i told everybody -- don't touch anything. my son is like hey, dad, look at this tin cup that i found. and i went over and he immediately put it in my hand
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and it was, it wasn't, this isn't a picture of it. but it was like that. it was the top of a potato masher grenade with the explosive still in it. you can certainly see and i put it gingerly down. but not until everybody else in the tour group came up and took a picture of me holding it. you can find certainly gas cannisters, which are incredibly dangerous. 75's, 155 shells everywhere, grenades. you find boxes of grenades that had been bury under the ground and just coming up. cartridges, spent cart rimgs, everything imaginable there. you get a sense of immediacy and the american battlefields near
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misa gan are very much as they were at the time. you can see the trenches, can see the individual gun pits. i went to the site of the lost battalion. which i'll be talking about in a little while. you can see the pits that the soldiers dug when they were surrounded in the pocket. i kicked away some leaves. i did not use metal detectors, but just kick away some leaves and out rolls a cartridge. out rolls a piece of a flare pistol that they were using to signal. imagine finding something like that in north america. of course, they don't allow it on nps sites, rightfully so. it's very difficult to find things like that. you go over there to the world war i battlefields, it's very immediate. you get the sense of what it was like to be there. and the last group i led, we found the remains of a soldier. near a demolished bunker.
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who was either a german or an american soldier. my guess is probably german. in this case it was probably a field burial. it was a piece, it was a pelvis and a femur, probably the lower part of a body of somebody who had been hit by a shell and they just buried that piece of the body there. you're still turning up things like that all the time. the opportunity to go over there, to go over to france and see it is one you should never pass up. next slide, please. however, and i'm looking forward to hopefully going over there later this year and to see if things have changed during the centennial commemorations. however, for the most part, by my experiences, leading up to this year, americans don't visit these world war i sites. and that's especially jarring, at a place like the mes-argonne cemetery at armand.
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nobody knows the largest american military cemetery in europe. it's larger than omaha beach and don't get me wrong, i'm all for everybody going to omaha beach. but it's bigger than omaha beach, it's about 14,000 plus burials there. they are all burials of american casualties in the first world war. i have almost never seen americans there. i see people i've seen school children going to these graves and leaving flowers. leaving wreaths, leaving other member memberantos. >> american military delegation does go over there. mementos. american civilians for the most
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part, don't. the former superintendent of the mes-argonne cemetery told me about a decade ago that there is generally each american president issues a declaration on veterans day. which is to be read at american military cemetery. which they do every year at the argonne. he said one year i came out to read the declaration and what i usually do is try to find an american in the audience to read it for me. he could not find a single
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american in the audience. that would read this proclamation. we're not talking about taking a flight to mongolia, we're talking about france. there's something in our memory that makes us resistant to this. next slide, please. and yet, world war i has, has had a huge impact on american culture. another thing i often hear from people who want to try to explain away why they're really not interested in the war. the first thing they say is it was just too brutal, it was too bloody, there's nothing to say about it. the next thing they will say is we were only in it for a very short time. it didn't have any impact on us as a people, did it? and they will do often what my son's high school textbook will do. they will summarize it by
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saying, well, here's why congress declared war in april of 1917. here is woodrow wilson's point of view. let us tell you about unrestricted submarine warfare and all the rest of it. and then there's a lot of training, and we sent our troops over there, and we had more guns and tanks and planes, and the germans lost, and the war was other. and then we had versailles. so let's spend the next unit talking about versailles. there's nothing else to talk about. then we have maybe they'll mention the bonus army march in 1932. but we get into the great depression or the roaring '20s. the great depression. world war ii. there's no mention of world war i. world war i's influence is pervasive through the culture of the interwar period. many of you who like hard-boiled
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detective war novels, raymond chandler novels, world war i is present in all of these. often these detectives are world war i veterans who are having trouble getting over this culture of violence. movies. one of my favorite movies, i love musicals, is "golddiggers of 1933." busby berkeley. exactly. now, busby berkeley, this is from a great musical scene called "remember my forgotten man." highly recommend, go to youtube and watch "remember my forgotten man." it's really about how can you have forgotten your veterans. they're talking about this in the early 1930s. how can you have forgotten your veterans? great scene. now busby berkeley was himself not a combat veteran but he served in the military in world war i, taking photographs and choreographing marches.
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military marches and displays. which he translated into his movies. more poignantly, i often -- since i begun writing about world war i, often come into contact with descendants of world war i veterans. grandchildren, great grandchildren, and in one case, very powerful for me, i met the son of the youngest american serviceman in world war i who saw combat, the youngest serviceman, period. a fellow named earnest rentmore, who was 13 years old. served with the fifth division and saw combat. and was clearly traumatized by his experience. i met his son, who was my age and he told me the effect that his father's experiences had on him and his family.
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up to the present day. these things pass down through the generations. next slide, please. now let me go over some of the more outstanding points of american participation of world war i. and come back to the main topic of why this matters to us. looked at through the lens of the experiences of four individuals. four americans who i'll get to at the end of the talk. general john pershing, and to his right is general -- anybody know who that is? general charles p. summerall who commanded the 1st division.
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pershing was a believer in the concept of a especially american way of war. this was, this had huge impact on the way that we fought the war which is why i bring it up. pershing believed that europeans who had fought the war up to this time, 1917, 1918, had become, and he used this word, corrupted, by their experiences of trench warfare. they had become corrupted and morally degraded. had become dependant on sitting in their trenches, and waiting for the heavy artillery, waiting for the poison gas, using the machine guns, using the grenades. and they forgot this great principle of the individual soldier with his rifle and his bayonet and his will to achieve dominance on the battlefield. those of you familiar with the history of the war, you recognize that's not really a new idea. you can go right back to the french in 1914. who said much the same thing.
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did not end very well for them. pershing believed, however that may have been in 1914, what we have now is a situation where millions of men have died, and horrible battles like verdunne, the somme, passchendaele, we need to return to open warfare. we need to return emphasis to the individual soldier or marine with his rifle and his bayonet. and get out of trenches. it's almost as if he wishes a away trench warfare and assumes we will simply, because we are americans, as i have friends who teach at west point tell me, the cadets who come in all seem to have the same idea, that americans are the only people in the world who know how to hide
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behind trees when they're fighting. that we're going to bring in specifically the american principle, we're going to get out of the trenches, we're going to return to open warfare. this has a tragic impact in a lot of ways. you can see how simplistic it is. you can see how there's a refusal to learn from the belligerents who fought already. but ironically the more i looked at it, actually there are points when his idea works. as you continue into the war. i love this particular slide, i show it in many of my talks, i found it in the national archives. these young americans who are receiving gas mask training from french instructors, and i just love the look of the young man on the right. on the far side of the screen. he's just, like, are you kidding me?
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that was kind of "you really expect me to put that on and wear that in combat?" that kind of encapsulates the american attitude in training as we got over there. we were entirely unprepared for this war. that is essential to understanding our participation in this war. we were utterly, completely and entirely unprepared. we were unprepared physically, we were unprepared in terms of technology. we were unprepared psychologically to face a war of this nature in 1917, 1918. we had no industry. no war industry. we had no effort among our armed forces to try to learn the means of fighting a modern war. so when our troops went over there, and they received some instruction, they were very reluctant to adopt what they learned.
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and, in fact, part of the problem comes from above. if you look at the official documents, the unpublished documents from the period, you see pershing and his generals writing back and forth to each other saying, i don't know about this training that we're getting from the french and the british. i'm afraid our soldiers are listening a little bit too closely. they'll say this. they'll say we need to kind of get them away from the british and the french because they're telling them things we don't want them to know. they will become corrupted by the same ideas. next slide. now we enter into warfare combat on the western front. our first experiences in the autumn of 1917, we really begin to enter on a large scale in the late spring and early summer of 1918 as we are commemorating a
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whole number of different battles and engagements right now. i'll go through them in succession. there's belleau wood. somme. the marne defensive. 3rd division. somme followed that. toward the end of july and early august you have something called the advance to the vela river where more and more american divisions were getting involved. our involvement builds to a crescendo in the autumn of 1918. pershing wanted to create a single american army, that would be under american command, american officers, american soldiers wearing american uniforms, to fight in an american way on our own sector of the front. in practice, pershing and other americans, this is the first talk i've given to this sound track of horses neighing in the background, i love it.
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pershing had to compromise. in the spring of 1918, he had to break up american divisions and american units into smaller formations and embed them on french and british fronts on french and british command. it's important to keep that in mind. in practice we are fighting under french and british command. it's important to keep that in mind. but bellu wood was primarily a marine operation. 1918, the marines can say, rightfully so, they are the
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first branch of the united states service to experience modern warfare. outside north america. teufel hunden. devil dogs. because of the way they fight. next slide, please. i could say much about bellu wood. the most interesting things about bellu wood in early june, brutal, brutal battle. absolute slugfest. the marines who fought in bellu wood almost entirely did so outside of command control. it was a woodland environment saturated with poison gas, high
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explosive. you could not see your comrades. you could not communicate with your officers. with -- often with company. certainly not with battalion regiment division. as the case may be. you had to make your own decisions. the marines take terrible cash walts in bella wood. but they demonstrate a number of things. one of them is fanatical aggressiveness. and that really shocked the germans. sure, a lot of the teunul hundun stuff. i've read a lot of stuff not intended for publication. they write and they say these guys just kept coming no matter what we would do.
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we would throw grenades right in the middle of a group. they would kill several of them. they just keep coming. they would form into gangs as the germans called it. they'd say here comes another gang of marines. they would walk with their rifles held at the hip. they'd often walk into battle smoking cigarettes and making independent decision and learning quickly. a characteristic throughout the first world wars. the americans learned more quickly than i'd say the troops of any other country. how to adapt to these circumstances. one of the most interesting things about bellu wood as i was studying it is when marines entered into bella wood, the germans used all kinds of tricks.
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they'd do things like they would blow american bugle signals. they would yell out, again, in the woods, when you can't see anything except shadows and smoke and gunshots, explosion, screams, voices. retreat, move left, move right, germans would shout this out to try to confuse americans. they would employ false s surrenders where they hold up the white flag and come out to comrades, surrender. green marines at that time would expose themselves to take the surrender. germans would then throw themselves down and marine guns would open fire. and, yes, germans did as a matter of course, multiple occasions, this is documented, put on american uniforms.
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if you look at german records, and i'm not just getting these from published accounts. i'm getting these from german records. field records at the time. within a couple weeks, the marines have done the same thing back to the germans. including putting on german uniforms and getting behind german lines. it's an indication of that process of that adaptation, that process of learning. next slide please. you still have to fight against today. we developed this idea that the french were all cowards. that when we arrived at the front, the french were broken.
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we entered into the conflict and we saved paris. unfortunately, you still see this many times. the french were fight like lions. to suggest that what happened in 1940 can be kind of -- you can look backwards and say, oh, yeah, the french, 1940, that was terrible. as soon as the germans show up, they surrender. the french in world war i fought with great talent, great dedication, great bravery. and we fight alongside them. there's a reluctance on the point of higher command at many times. they purposefully spread this idea that the french were all running away in order to emphasize the importance of our participation. to say that we saved paris. in practice, the french fought very well. we learned a lot from them. we fought side by side primarily with the french. and we learned some very
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important lessons from them on how to fight. next slide please. our participation in the war continues to build. as i indicated. through the end of bellu wood, at the end of june, the army brigade captures vo at the end of june, the beginning of july 1915. july 15th, the last of the major german offenses actions that begin in the spring takes place along the marne river. the u.s. 3rd division beats back in its sector the german attack and some pretty heavy fighting. and earns the epithat. experiences its first combat there along the marne river in company-sized formations. 28 division troops that are
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embedded in french for formations and it's a terrible experience. the french pull out not because they're broken but they just decide we're pulling out. they leave several companies of the 28th division behind. the american doughboys pennsylvania american guard have been told to hold their positions. they do not receive any other orders. they hold their positions and they're wiped out. builds a lot of bad blood. through the end of july, the beginning of august, we begin to push back the german sailance that has been pushed into france. we begin to push them back. multiple american divisions become involved. the marines continue to be involved. next slide. in the autumn of 1918, we launched two major offenses. the american 1st army has been formed in august of 1918.
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finally pershing gets his dream. we launch an offensive. september 12th. that's quite successful in wiping out a german-held salient near verdon. and then we launch the me mez-argonne offensive. this was and remains the largest and bloodiest battle in the history of our nation. if you go to museums, you go to libraries, you find almost no reference to the mez-argonne. look at documents like the recent documentary that came out on pbs. it had many qualities but there was very little reference to the mez-argonne. i've been in major american museums that will follow american participation in the war and don't even mention the
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mez-argonne. get a sense of perspective here. in the first three weeks of the mez-argonne, september 26th, to about mid-october, 1918, about 26,000 americans are killed in three weeks. and about half of the combat dead in vietnam in three weeks. this is an important battle. this is a defining battle in the history of our nation. and it's people like this man, charles whittlesy who form the backbone of our participation in this battle. and this is where i'm going to conclude my talk about our participation by looking at foremforur men who participated. and try to look at four
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different ways americans experienced this war and four different outcomes. whittlesy was an intellectual. a lawyer from upstate new york. from massachusetts, pitsfield, massachusetts. and then upstate new york. he became a practicing lawyer in new york city. very successful. went to williams college in massachusetts, harvard law school. as you can see. you look at his eyes and see he's a very intelligent man. he's a man with a profound sense of civic duty. this is something that, frankly, we have trouble understanding today. but it was something that so many young american officers in particular felt and which motivated them, civilians, to become officers, to serve our forces in world war i.
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these are often men from better families. they're often men from privileged backgrounds. men who serve in professional trades of one time or another. they have this deep personal sense of responsibility. toward their country. and then as they enter the service, toward their men. charles whittlesy became a captain and then a major in the 353rd regiment, 75th division. united statesary forces. many of its men came from the lower east side of manhattan or places like hell's kitchen. or from brooklyn. these were guys who had lived on the mean streets. many of them were actually gangsters or they were -- many, many, many of them immigrants. many of them not naturalized
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immigrants. others who had been. first or second generation immigrants from europe who had come over and come from ellis island. when the 77th division entered into the lines, german reports suggested that an italian division had entered into the front. they were convinced it must be an italian division because they could hear the guys talking to each other in italian. so you take a guy like whittlesy and you put him in command of those troops with an add mixture of men from the western plain states, ranchers and all the rest. kind of army solution. if you need to build up your unit with guys like new york city, let's get a bunch of guys from montana and montana who are farmers and put them in there with them. next slide please. george mcmurphy is charles
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whittlesy captain. irish-american family. his family owned mines in pennsylvania, in western pennsylvania and around pittsburgh. he becomes a stockbroker in new york city. the 77th division is placed in the argonne forest. it's ordered to launch multiple attacks. i won't get into the tactical details as i want to finish my talk in just a moment. it's ordered to launch multiple attacks into the forest which are largely frontal assaults. much like bellu wood in a lot of ways. deep thick forests. very hard to see where you're going. craigie terrain. easily defended. the german defenders are very determined. in early october, whittlesy launches a battalion plus troops from another battalion and machine gun battalion. really parts of three
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battalions. into the forest. they're cut off and surrounded. whittlesy, mcmurtri command the surrounded forest. they show absolute dedication to the welfare of their men who are surrounded without food, without medical supplies of any kind. they didn't have medics with them, period. they had to reuse bandages. fired on from all directions. hit by friendly artillery barrage. friendly fire artillery barrage. you can imagine how demoralizing that is. whittlesy and mcmurtri all through this experience crawled from hole to hole. these are civilians now. these are not professional soldiers. go from hole to hole. talk to every individual man. try to strengthen them. try to give them courage. try to give them hope. day after day after day.
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you can see -- this is a picture of mcmurtri, returning to the ship back to the united states in 1918. if you want to know what you experienced, all you have to do is look at his face. they are profoundly impacted by their experience in this pocket. after several days within the pocket, american forces, including the 28th division and the 82nd all american division, including alvin c. york, launch an attack into the forest that ends up liberating what's called the lost battalion. but though they are liberated, they still carry the legacy within them. you can switch back to the previous slide for a moment. look at whittlesy again. this is whittlesy emerging from the forest and then go back to mcmartri please. you can see what they felt.
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and when i gave this talk to the east tennessee veterans memorial association, there are a lot of veterans in the audience. they said all you have to do is look in his face and i know. whittlesy and mcmurtri both carried a profound sense of guilt with them. survivor's guilt. which is of course pervasive in the military. they both received medals of honor. very deservedly so. for their bravery. george mcmurtri who was known before the war as a very kind of genial easy going successful man, returned home to his family and cannot re-adjust. his personality is changed. he's become very angry. he's become very difficult to live with. but he finds his peace in dedicating himself to the survivors. he takes over the lost battalion
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organization in new york city year after year after year after year up to his death in the 1950s. absolutely dedicates himself to that. charles whittlesy. this man is a hero. this man saved the lives of hundreds of his soldiers. he showed absolute dedication. but he can't forgive himself. he can't forgive himself for every single one of his men who died. and he's tormented by nightmares after the war. he tried to devote himself personally to survivors, to men who are dealing with ptsd. but in 1921, after the ceremony for the entombment of the unknown soldier at arlington national cemetery, he can't take it any more. he and mcmurtri sit on the same
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podium together. and turns and said, george, i shouldn't have come. tonight when i go to bed, i'll hear the cries of my men in the pocket. and a few days later, he ends his life. he just steps off a steamer that's gone to cuba and drowns himself. those are two outcomes. next slide please. alvin york is another outcome. alvin york was involved in the action that liberated the lost battalion. he and other soldiers with him capture 132 germans in the action that actually liberated the lost battalion. he received the medal of honor. he returns home and is treated particularly by his native state of tennessee. you can look in his eyes too and see what he's experienced. as a celebrity. as a hero. and he knows it.
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he understands it. he's a simple farmer. you've probably -- if you've seen the movie, you know the story of his trying to come to terms with fighting in this war and his personal spiritual experiences in it. but what york tries to do is very specific. he understands what is going to happen to him. he doesn't like it. he wants to go up to east tennessee back to his farm and return to his family. he decides to transfer that celebrity into serving the less fortunate. he founds the alvin york institute in east tennessee. with all the money he gets from his celebrity, he puts it into the institute to help the less fortunate to learn farming, to learn business, veterans, as well as young people, to establish themselves in every day life. he finds his peace.
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next slide please. finally, the first story is damion runyan. a great american journalist. a sports writer. if any of you have ever read guys and dolls or ever seen the wonderful musical, you'll know something about runyan. great american storyteller. veteran of the spanish-american war. he is there when the lost battalion emerges from the argonne forest. he interviews whittlesy. he interviews mcmurtri. he integrated their story into the american story. he's the guy who takes the story of all the immigrants, misfit, mismatched soldiers and he said, look, these are part of the american tapestry. these are part of the american experience. he too is dedicated to their individual stories. he carries their stories with him as he writes about broadway,
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the great white way, new york city through the '20s and '30s. he's always talking with veterans. he takes their language and adds it to the american slang culture. when he dies of throat cancer in 1946, his final wish is that his ashes be carried by eddie ric ricanbacher and scattered over new york city, over times square. and in that act, he merges his love for new york city, his testimony, his experience of the war, into the american story. it's a very powerful, even somebody like him when is not a soldier, carries that with him and wishes, in some way, to return it to the people. so those were the doughboys. those were part of our experience. and i feel that we have a duty,
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we have a spenceability, respony to return to them, and i don't want to neglect the women as well who also served there in many thousands in one perspective or another. as ambulance drivers. as entertainers. actively, very much at the front. they're all part of our story. they all must be integrated into our memory. final slide, please. especially we must go to pay our respects. this year to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. next slide please. and thank you very much. [ applause ] went a little bit overtime but we do still have time for questions. yes, sir, right here. i think we have to wait for the microphone to come up please. >> two questions, if i may.
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kind of a sad commentary on our government. wasn't there an issue when york was still alive, he was being persecuted by the irs for failure to pay income taxes? i find that unconscionable. >> york had -- and that's a good point. york had a good number of financial problems. being chased by the irs for income taxes. also for debt. largely because he poured in everything he had into the york institute. and what's even more i think disheartening than that story is that because he struggles with his finances, during this period right after the war, he somehow, for a period, he was no longer palatable to the public.
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we look at gary cooper and sergeant york that came out in 1941. in the '20s and '30s, york was for many people considered, oh, look, he's a hero, but he can't even manage his foonsinances. initially most people assume because pershing had to select one soldier to represent the army who would be regarded as america's greatest military hero. most people assumed up to that point he was going to choose york. but he didn't because york was no longer acceptable. because of his financial problems. he chose a guy who is also a great -- huge respect for the soldier to represent the army. all the newspapers could talk about was, oh, look, he didn't choose york and he didn't choose whittlesy either. that means these guys are not really such great heroes as they are made out to be. they were kind of tossed to the side.
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it's very sad. >> question, more a tactical one. if early in the war before america got into the war, if he had done what he was supposed to do and moved to the left to support von beulah, do you think france would have fallen? he allowed that gap to open up between the two armies? >> you're referring to the first battle. >> yes, just prior to the first battle of the marne. was a result of -- >> was a result of that. >> doing what he should have done. >> right in september. what cliff did before that. and the bef, the british expeditionary forces. i think it's more likely than not france would have fallen. it was a very close run thing. the germans. the plan largely worked. >> in fact, if he had done what he was supposed to.
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>> up to that point, exactly, yes. yes, sir, right here. >> very nice presentation. there's an author by the name of bill walker. i don't know if you know bill or not. >> bill is a friend of mine. >> bill is a friend of mine too. he wrote a very extensive book on september 26, 1918. as you know, the taking of mon fu kon. the conflict between the 79th division by cameron and of course bullard, bullard, who had the 4th division. it was a very big controversy. i just wondered what your thoughts were on that particular day. >> the reference -- very briefry, it's a book called betrayaled ed aat little gibra. i very much recommend. was largely isolated. a general named robert bullard refused to make the movement
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that would have been necessary to cut off road out. bullard refused to do that. and many men died because of it. and the timetable was set way back. bullard unfortunately is -- i hope there are no bullard family members here. not one of my favorite generals in the war. there was a tendency among some american military leaders toward glory seeking. bullard was a typical example of that. not all generals. my favorite american leader of the war was general hunter liggett who was born in redding, pennsylvania, also my hometown, who was a very innovative general. who actually saved lives. and he was the guy who developed the movement that saved the lost
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battalion. there was some very talented american generals. bullard was an example of the worst. and that was not the only example. he was responsible for the annihilation of a portion of the 28th division, pennsylvania national guard at a place called fimet in august of 1918. he left them stranded in a bridge head on the other side of a river and the germans wiped it out. which brings me a long way. a memoir i highly, highly, highly recommend since we're in pennsylvania, we're in gettysburg. read a book called "toward the flame" by a gentleman named hervey allen. it is in print. he describes the weeks leading up to the battle when they were
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attacked by german flame throwers. it is the finest american memoir of the war. it's an easy read. beautifully written. not too long. very perm, strongly recommend that book. okay. thank you very much. >> thank you. [ applause ] tonight on american history tv on c-span 3, an in depth look at world war i. starting with a tour of the library of congress exhibit echoes of great war. with curator ryan left. >> this labor day weekend, american history tv on c-span 3 has three days of featured programming, starting saturday at 8:00 p.m. eastern, with lectures in history. as colorado state university
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pueblo professor matt harris discusses the anti-slavery movement before the civil war. sunday at 10:00 a.m. on orl histories, our women in congress series continues. then at 8 p.m. on the pez presidency, a look at the relationship between hamilton and washington and the historical accuracy of hamilton the musical. on monday at 8:00 p.m., the white house historical associations presidential site summit. watch american history tv this labor day weekend on c-span 3. >> you're watching american history tv. follow us on twitte twitter @cspanhistory for information on our schedule. and to keep up with the latest history news. to join the conversation, like us on facebook at cspanhistory. >> next, military historian mark snell on his book gettysburg's other


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