VERDUN: The People of France Do Not Forget!

Sunday, 21 February 2016, marks 100 years since the start of the great Battle of Verdun — the longest battle in human history and one of the bloodiest during World War I. In observance, here is the story about how the people of Verdun honored my grandfather’s WWI service — just as they have for so many others.


A REPLY FROM A TOWN IN FRANCE

One day, a distinctive looking envelope arrived postmarked, “Prioritaire Document, Chalons en Champagne, CTC Marne.” The return address said, “Amicale Meusienne des Anciens Combattants, ‘CEUX DE VERDUN,’ 55400 Gussainville.” It had been five months since sending our inquiries to the towns of France, and I knew instantly the envelope carried an answer our family had been eagerly waiting for.  Composed in French, the note card inside translates as follows:

Commission of the Golden Book

Madam, Mister,

Enclosed is the medal as well as an award diploma, including the number in the order of inscription in the Golden Book of the Combatants of Verdun.
A listing in the name of the combatant will be recorded in the file located in the interior of the crypt of the Victory Monument of Verdun.
His name will be inscribed in the Golden Book which is in the Room of Honor of the Town Hall of Verdun.

Yours faithfully,

Jean-Paul Michel
Secretary of the Commission of the Golden Book of the Medal of Verdun

Ninety-one years after his world war service in France, Lieutenant Glenn Alonzo ROSS, 23rd Infantry Machine Gun Company, Second Division, A.E.F., who is my maternal grandfather, had been awarded, posthumously, the Medal of Verdun by the Commission of the Golden Book of the Combatants of Verdun.

Medal of Verdun, original Vernier version, awarded to Lieutenant Glenn A. Ross.
Medal of Verdun, original Vernier version, awarded to Lieutenant Glenn A. Ross.
Note card from Mssr. Jean-Paul MICHEL, Secretary of the Commission of the Golden Book of the Medal of Verdun, to Mdm. Elizabeth (Ross) GOERSS and Mssr. David GOERSS. [c. 09 May 2009]
Note card from Mssr. Jean-Paul MICHEL, Secretary of the Commission of the Golden Book of the Medal of Verdun, to Mdm. Elizabeth (Ross) GOERSS and Mssr. David GOERSS. [c. 09 May 2009]
Medal of Verdun certificate no. 197 546, recognizing Glenn Alonzo ROSS, Lieutenant, 23rd Infantry Machine Gun Company, 2nd Division, AEF, for service in proximity to Verdun.
Medal of Verdun certificate no. 197 546, recognizing Glenn Alonzo ROSS, Lieutenant, 23rd Infantry Machine Gun Company, 2nd Division, AEF, for combat service in the vicinity of Verdun.

SERENDIPITY
The note from Mssr. Michel was in response to an inquiry placed five months earlier after making a completely unexpected discovery.

Way back in 2009, I was curiously flipping through one of my favorite “go-to” books, American Armies and Battlefields in Europe, published by the American Battle Monuments Commission. In the book’s final chapter, called “Miscellaneous,” and inserted randomly between technical tips for using this guide, and a long multi-page list of war monuments, was an unpretentious two-paragraph snippet, sub-titled “Medals Issued by the towns of Verdun, St. Mihiel, and Chateau-Thierry.” Buried so deep in the book, it first struck me as an afterthought. I had never noticed it before.

The first paragraph reads exactly as follows:

The cities of Verdun, St. Mihiel and Chateau-Thierry have issued special medals which are available to all American veterans who served in the general vicinity of these cities during the war. These medals may be obtained by writing and sending some proof of service in the American Army and in the region to the mayors of the cities concerned, who will place the letter in the proper hands. A small fee is charged for the cost of the medal.

The second paragraph describes simple criteria for these medals: Proofs of service within defined boundaries around Verdun and St. Mihiel, respectively, as well as around the general vicinity of Chateau-Thierry. Through research, I had accumulated plenty of evidence proving conclusively that my grandfather had fought in each one of these places.

Clearly, these awards must have been very important for the local townspeople. After all, twenty years after wars end, these medals were important enough for the ABMC to announce them in their book in 1938. I wondered, is there any chance these medals are still supported? Would any contemporary mayor in France give time to such a random inquiry from overseas? For many reasons, it seemed unlikely. But, the more I thought about it, the more determined I became to find out.

Officer Qualification Card, Lieutenant Glenn A. Ross, proving service at Chateau-Thierry, Saint-Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne.
Officer Qualification Card, Lieutenant Glenn A. Ross, proving service at Chateau-Thierry, Saint-Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne.

RESEARCHING THE MEDAL OF VERDUN
Identifying the present day mayors of Verdun, Saint-Mihiel, and Chateau-Thierry was simple enough on the Internet. And, once I thought of using Google with search terms in French, I found two sites with information about the Medal of Verdun. To my surprise, one site in particular had a link to an official application! The site remains accessible at this link:

The Medal of Verdun http://verdun-1916.chez-alice.fr/frameg/medaille.html

Through rough translation, French to English, I understood the opening question to ask, “If your father or grandfather was in the Great War in Verdun in 1916 and he never requested the “Medal of Verdun,” do you know that their children or grandchildren can still do it?” The suggestion of availability was intriguing. But, my grandfather’s machine gun battalion hadn’t arrived in France until December 1917, and I knew his unit had not participated in the great battle of 1916.

However, the article continued, explaining some expanded qualifications: “On 20 November 1916, the city of Verdun created this commemorative medal which is not an official medal, but the badge of ‘Soldiers of Verdun’… the medal is only for French or allied veterans who found themselves on duty in the Verdun area in the zone subjected to gun bombardment between the Argonne and St. Mihiel between 31 July 1914 and 11 November 1918.”

From this rather modest webpage, I learned that descendants may still be eligible to apply for this honor on behalf of their grandparents, and that my own grandfather’s service in 1918 qualified. Plus, I now had in hand an official application form.

 

Victory Monument, Memorial of Verdun, France.
Victory Monument, Memorial of Verdun, France.
Entrance to Crypt of the Golden Book of the Soldiers of Verdun, Memorial of Verdun, France.
Entrance to Crypt of the Golden Book of the Soldiers of Verdun, Memorial of Verdun, France.

CREATION OF THE MEDAL OF VERDUN AND ITS MEANING
The history of the Medal of Verdun is interwoven with the history of the Battle of Verdun itself.

As background, German General Erich von Falkenhayn developed a battle plan for attacking Verdun, France, a city protected by a ring of underground forts. Begun in mid-February 1916, and ending in December, the battle of Verdun symbolized for the French the strength and fortitude of their armed forces and the solidarity of the entire nation. After a few short weeks, the battle took on a life of its own, with small groups of men on both sides fighting local battles in constant struggle for their lives, and protection of the territory they occupied. Verdun is still considered by many military historians as the ‘greatest’ and most demanding battle in history. In the end, the front lines were nearly the same as when the battles started while over 300,000 French and Germans were killed and over 750,000 were wounded.

At 7:15 a.m. on 21 February 1916, a 10-hour artillery bombardment by German guns began. In that space of time, about 1,000,000 shells were fired (some say 2 million), all concentrated along a front only 19 mi (30 km) long by 3.1 mi (5 km) wide. One-million shells in 10 hours. The great Battle of Verdun had begun.

Instead of a quick German victory, the battle raged intensely for 303 days, from 21 February to 18 December 1916, and is the longest running individual battle in human history and one of the bloodiest during World War I.

On 20th November 1916 — right in the middle of the war and in the heat of this battle — the Conseil Municipal de Verdun [Verdun Municipal Council] which was, at the time, located on the Rue de Bellechasse in Paris, decided to introduce the Verdun Medal, awarded to “great leaders, officers, soldiers, everyone, hero or unknown soldier, living or deceased…”  “The City of Verdun, inviolated and now standing on its ruins, dedicated the medal as a token of its recognition.”

A few weeks previously, Head of State Raymond Poincaré, had visited the underground citadel to award the City of Verdun the Légion d’Honneur and the Croix de Guerre, along with various decorations from foreign powers. In a now historic speech, he acknowledged Germany’s defeat at Verdun a few months ahead of time with the words, “These are the walls against which the supreme hopes of Imperial Germany were shattered. This is where they sought to achieve a resounding dramatic victory. This is where, with a quiet firmness, France told them ‘you shall not pass’.” The expression “Verdun, on ne passe pas” [Verdun, they shall not pass] became the motto inscribed on the Verdun Medal.

As part of the same movement, the ‘Livre d’Or des Soldats de Verdun’ [Golden Book of the Soldiers of Verdun] was created and a Livre d’Or commission set up to review the cases put forward by servicemen and their families who wished to apply for it. Even today, almost a hundred years after the battle, descendants of former servicemen request copies of pages of the Livre d’Or featuring the names of family members who fought in the war.

Today, inside the Crypt of the Golden Book of the Soldiers of Verdun, Memorial of Verdun, France.
Today, inside the Crypt of the Golden Book of the Soldiers of Verdun, Memorial of Verdun, France.

Importantly, the great Battle of Verdun in 1916 was but the first of several large scale battles to significantly affect the fate of Verdun, which would include the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne campaigns of 1918 and involve hundreds of thousands of French and American troops. That is why, on 26th April 1922, the Conseil Municipal decided that the medal would be awarded to “soldiers of the French and allied armies who served between 31st July 1914 and 11th November 1918 in the Army of Verdun, the sector spanning the area between Argonne and the St. Mihiel hernia, in the area that came under gunfire (excluding air bombings).”

WHY RECOGNITION BY VERDUN IS IMPORTANT
For perspective, throughout its history the U.S. military establishment has authorized a limited number of foreign awards for wear on the uniform. As one may expect, medals of the towns of France are not among them. But, that is far from the point here.

You may ask, as an “unofficial” medal, was it important? Is it important today? An emphatic yes to both. Why? Here is what I learned…

First, the medal is a symbol of remembrance. The city of Verdun believes strongly in a duty of remembrance, that society today has a duty to history and with it a duty to explain, to teach the facts accurately, as they actually happened, with a pressing need to preserve all remaining traces and symbols of combat as accurately as is possible with no ideological ramifications of any kind.

Second, in this case, we are contemplating honors from the local people of France – distinctly different to official federal level honors from the Government of France. The Medal of Verdun is a legacy of recognition from both the townspeople of Verdun who survived, and from their descendants today. Their forefathers fought and their families suffered unprecedented hell on earth. To this day, the people of Verdun remain deeply grateful to French and Allied veterans alike for their service and sacrifice, and for a defense and victory that necessarily came at such insanely high cost.

Third, the mission of the Commission of the Golden Book of the Medal of Verdun is to ensure that the memory of what happened at Verdun lives on. The Commission; the medal; the Golden Book in the Town Hall; the Memorial of Verdun; and, the file of honored combatants safely held in the Memorial’s crypt, are combined elements that together serve to honor in perpetuity each soldier who fought there, as well as to sustain the realization of the horrors inflicted upon Verdun 100 years ago. The Commission’s mission is as relevant as ever, and each of these working elements remains intact, open, and active today.

DOSSIER DE CANDIDATURE POUR LA MEDAILLE DE VERDUN
I got busy planning and creating a portfolio packet for the mayors of the towns of France, including Verdun.. The packets were complete with cover letters, detailed narratives of service, timelines — all duplicated in French and English versions — plus, copies of relevant official records. I believed it was important to present everything, well organized, with the first contact. Lastly, we obtained the witness of notary public for the cover letters to demonstrate the sincerity of our family’s earnest inquiry.

Weeks, then months went by, and I began to wonder if the packets ever reached their intended recipients. Did I even send them to the right people? Did they get lost?  But, in time, and to my complete astonishment, each town responded one by one.  The mayor of Verdun followed through, placing our inquiry in the proper hands just as the ABMC promised decades earlier in their book.  Indeed, the Commission of the Golden Book of the Medal of Verdun responded with honors and gratitude for my grandfather’s service.

Medals of Verdun and Saint-Mihiel, Certificate of Medal of Verdun, and photo of Captain Glenn A. Ross, 23rd Infantry, Second Division.
Medals of Verdun and Saint-Mihiel, Certificate of Medal of Verdun, and photo of Lieutenant Glenn A. Ross, 23rd Infantry, Second Division.

The Medal of Verdun is now proudly displayed in my mother’s home in honor of her beloved father. We thousands of descendants of veterans and citizens of Verdun share a common connection to the town’s momentous history of not so long ago.

THE PEOPLE OF VERDUN DO NOT FORGET!

With sincere appreciation,

Thank you,

David Goerss


Sources:

_______. “The Great War.” PBS. http://www.pbs.org/greatwar/maps/maps_verdun.html : 2016. [In English]

_______. “Verdun Medal, Vernier Version.” Medal-Médaille. http://www.medal-medaille.com/sold/product_info.php?products_id=10584 : 2016. [in English]

Didier, Giard. “The Verdun Medal.” Universal City. http://eng.verdun.fr/Universal-city/Verdun-and-World-War-I/Verdun-a-duty-to-history : 2016. [English option]

Halsey, Francis Whiting. The Literary Digest, History of the World War. 10 volumes. New York & London: Funk & Wagnalls, Inc., 1919. [In English]

Lenoir, R.V. “La Médaille de Verdun.“ La Grande Guerre de Maximin. http://verdun-1916.chez-alice.fr/frameg/medaille.html : 2016. [In French]

Lorain, Guillaume. “Objet du Mois – Novembre 2011: Les Décorations de la Ville de Verdun.” Verdun-Meuse.
http://www.verdun-meuse.fr/index.php?qs=fr/ressources/objet-du-mois—novembre-2011—les-decoratio : 2016. [In French]

Raynier, Pierre-Yves. “France: Médaille de Verdun – 1.“ Ordres, Décorations et Médailles, 1914-1918. http://www.medailles1914-1918.fr/france-verdun.html : 2016. [In French]

Shackelford, Micheal. “Medals of the Towns of France.” The Great War Primary Documents Archive. http://www.gwpda.org/medals/frenmedl/france.html : 2016. [In English]

United States Army. Center of Military History. “Miscellaneous.” American Armies and Battlefields in Europe. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1995. Digital images. U.S. Army Center of Military History. http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/023/23-24/ : 2016. [In English]

29 Digitized Books to Research Your WWI Ancestor’s Combat Unit

During World War I (1917-1919), forty-three numbered divisions saw service with the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe, with 1st-8th Divisions composed of Regular Army units, 26th-42d composed of state National Guard units, and 76th-93d composed of National Army units. The National Army constituted units organized by the federal government for the war. Additional divisions (9th-20th and 94th-102d) were raised for the AEF, but did not see overseas service.

Of the 43 A.E.F. divisions that reached Europe, 29 of them participated in active combat.

To help the American public better understand the successes, contributions, and sacrifices of American combat divisions during WWI, the American Battle Monuments Commission published two excellent reference works:

American Battle Monuments Commission, American Armies and Battlefields in Europe (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1938).

American Armies and Battlefields in Europe - CoverThis book is an enlargement of ABMC’s earlier publication in 1927. This is an excellent presentation of the AEF’s role on the battlefield as it evolved during the course of the war.  The three principal areas in which American troops in large numbers engaged in battle are presented. Each chapter consists of a short general story; a detailed itinerary which takes the reader / tourist to the most interesting points of the terrain and describes the American operations which occurred there; a summary of the services of the American divisions; and, a map to help understand combat operations. The book is designed not only as a desktop historical reference, but as a motor touring guide.

American Battle Monuments Commission, Summary of Operations in the World War, 28 vols. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1944).

42nd Division Summary of Operations in the World War
When researching the tactical movements of AEF combat divisions, there is simply nothing in print as detailed, thorough and accurate.  These volumes describe in accurate detail all the dates, locations, activities and operations of the AEF combat divisions. When originally published, a dedicated volume was bundled with several large maps, all enclosed in a jacket, one set for each combat division. Included in the series are the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 26th, 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th, 32nd, 33rd, 35th, 36th, 37th, 42nd, 77th, 78th, 79th, 80th, 81st, 82nd, 89th, 90th, 91st, 92nd, and 93rd Divisions, AEF.

A list of direct links to each of these digitized volumes is available here at PatriotGenealogy.com.  Each publication has been digitized by Google and all are accessible online for non-commercial purposes at the HathiTrust.org website. Please visit HathiTrust Terms of Access and Use.

For your convenience, click on this link for access the collection:  Division Summaries of Operations in the World War

Veterans Day 2015: Honoring Family

On this Veterans Day 2015, I am remembering the grandfather I knew as a boy, and reflecting on the military service he rarely, if ever, spoke about with family.

Lt. Glenn A. Ross, Second Division, (c 1919)About every other summer vacation, my mother would load everybody into our Ford Ranch Wagon to make the long drive north from Los Angeles to San Mateo, a suburban town about 20 miles south of San Francisco.  I loved those visits.  Occasionally, my grandfather would lead my brother, sister and I into the garage and let us use his tools to build stuff out of pieces of wood and metal from the scrap box next to his workbench.  That wasn’t the only box out there.

One summer, while making an airplane out of an old broomstick handle and some sheet metal, I noticed it.…  Next to the scrap box, and right on top of a stack of old Army footlockers and a well used canvas tarp, sat a medium size black metal box, unlocked.  With a rather amateurish show of nonchalance, I asked, “Uh, Grandpa?  What’s inside?”  Nothing.  Hmm, mental note, must investigate mysterious black metal box.

Later… I discovered that inside the metal box were lots of interesting things.  “What does Grandpa mean, ‘nothing’ ?!  Look at all this cool stuff!”  There were inside a Colt .45 automatic, Colt service revolver (holstered, very cool, but way too big around my waist), binoculars, map case, compass, all in sturdy brown leather cases, and lots of other amazing things.  Naturally, it all made me wonder what was inside the footlockers and steamer trunks, too.  I would need to ask Grandpa about that when he wakes from his nap!

Not sure exactly when, but my grandfather gave me his field compass and leather map case.  Still have them.  My brother got the binoculars and some old artillery shells, including one that still has the missile on it!  He still has those, too.

Years later, after both my grandparents had passed, I joined my mother in her parents’ garage where I had spent so many hours playing, building, snooping as a kid.  Mom was going through their belongings.  I remember seeing a bunch of old patches and lots of papers.  Mind you, Mom is a conscientious contributor to the local recycle center. “Get rid of it!  We don’t need it.”   Not that we knew the significance of it all at the time.  Thankfully, we did save many records.

Colt Model M1911 .45 cal Auto Colt PistolI asked about the tools and sidearms.  The gardener took those.  What?!  Ah, but, that’s a different matter, and not my mother’s doing.

I didn’t realize the compass was World War I issue until about 15 years ago when I began researching my grandfather’s military service.  Stamped on the back was, “US Army Signal Corps 1918.”  As for the leather map case, it contains four original World War II maps of the Japanese home island of Honshu.  He used those when he landed at Wakayama Bay in September 1945.  As for all the old patches and papers, we resigned ourselves to the consequences of our Grand Purge many years earlier.

But, through research, we found out everything eventually anyway and with the extraordinary assistance of so many engaging people — from the Post Historian at Ft. Shafter, Hawaii, to the Chef de la section des archives historiques in Vincennes, France, and lots of people in between, including the archivists at the Pennsylvania State Archives, and, National Archives and Records Administration.  With their help, we now know in great detail about a career of selfless service spanning three decades and two World Wars.

Glenn-Alonzo-Ross-WWI-and-Lifetime-of-Service (11) Ironically, my grandfather tells us about some it himself through letters home we found reprinted in local newspapers, and through his field messages and operations reports we found among official records of the First and Second Divisions.

Click on the link below to read the condensed story of my grandfather’s experiences with the American Expeditionary Forces, 1917-1919.  Then-Lieutenant Ross served with three famous infantry divisions — the 42nd “Rainbow” Division; the First Division (Regular); and, the Second Division (Regular).  He saw combat in the first American-led offensive operation of the war, the Battle of Cantigny, then went on to earn six campaign stars: the Montdidier-Noyon, Aisne, Aisne-Marne, Saint-Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne campaigns and Defensive Sector combat (Marbache).  Included in his record, but not as obvious from these campaign names, is front line combat service at Chateau-Thierry and Blanc Mont while attached to the Second Division.

Please click on this link for the article from the Fall 2014 issue of The California Nugget, the bi-annual journal of the California Genealogical Society:

Glenn Alonzo Ross – WWI and a Lifetime of Service

(Reproduced with permission from The California Nugget, Volume VI, Issue 2, Fall 2014.  Copyright © 2014 by the California Genealogical Society.  All rights reserved.)

WWI & WWII Veteran Burials Search

If your WWI or WWII veteran ancestor was missing or died on the battlefield, you may be able to locate a memorial or burial place by using some easy-to-use online government databases.

Please follow this link to access the list of free searchable databases now posted at my website, http://www.patriotgenealogy.com/wwi-veteran-burial-search/

These databases include combattants from Belgium, France, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, South Africa, and the United States.

Please contact me if you can help locate similar online search tools for these member nations of the WWI Allied Powers:

Russia
Serbia
Montenegro
Japan
Italy
Portugal
Romania
Kingdom of Hejaz
Greece
Siam (Thailand)

Thank you !

Graves Registration Service: U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps in Europe (World War I)

Cover, The California Nugget, vol VII, issue I, Spring 2015.

A lesser-known, yet very significant aspect of American military history from World War One involves the Graves Registration Service, U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps in Europe.

For my complete article, please click on this link: Graves Registration Service: U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps in Europe

My motivation to research the GRS was actually to learn this chapter of my grandfather’s service, then-Lieutenant Glenn A. Ross, who was a combat veteran of the First Division and Second Division during World War One, and who following the war was assigned to foreign service with the GRS in France.

I wanted to learn how the GRS responded to the challenge of caring properly for the Fallen on such a colossal scale; how, simultaneously, such solemn landscape and architectural grandeur was achieved in so many locations and from such a long distance from the U.S.; and all the while contending with overwhelming logistical challenges of all sorts, then finally, turning over operations to the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Graves Registration Service: U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps in EuropeThe article weaves the stories about the GRS and my grandfather’s contributions.  I wrote the article as a contribution to the “California Ancestors in World War I” series appearing in The California Nugget, the bi-annual journal of The California Genealogical Society.  

For my complete article, please click on this link: Graves Registration Service: U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps in Europe

(Reproduced with permission from The California Nugget, Volume VII, Issue I, Spring 2015.  Copyright © 2015 by the California Genealogical Society.  All rights reserved.)

While you are here, please subscribe to my blog by email, or follow me on Twitter and Facebook at the right of this post.

Thank you!    David Goerss

Posted in WWI

Introducing Patriot Genealogy, researching and reconstructing ancestors’ stories of military service…

05a244bI am David Goerss, a professional genealogy researcher, writer, and speaker. I specialize in researching military records to help reconstruct veteran stories of service to our country.  Please visit my new website, PatriotGenealogy.com.

Are you a family historian or genealogist who really “loves the hunt?”   If you are, you’ll especially love military records research.  But, to engage in this hunt, you must prepare…

Military records comprise a uniquely vast and complex research landscape.  Often rich in personal data, historical military records are a fascinating, yet underutilized resource.

I started my new blog at PatriotGenealogy.com/blog to offer you advice to solve mysteries and start a successful hunt of your own.

Please visit PatriotGenealogy.com to also access the fast-growing list of links to free historical resources and specialized websites.

Four steps to solve the mystery of your grandparents’ wartime photos. 

1st Lt. Glenn A. Ross - U.S. Second Division - 1919Photographs instantly transport us to a different place and time.  Do you have a shoebox full of your grandparents’ old wartime photos?  Don’t know when or where they were taken?  We don’t always need a note on the reverse side to tell us.

Photos often reveal clues of not only their date and location, but evidence leading to the subject’s age, rank, unit and function, larger organization, context and military mission.  We can figure this out by combining the physical evidence in the image with our knowledge of uniforms, insignia, evidence in military service records, and information in unit histories.

Consider the photo above of a U.S. Army officer.[1]  It could have been taken practically anywhere, anytime, and the exact context is anyone’s guess.  How old is it?  How old is he?  Look closely.  He practically shouts out the answers to all that and more.

Example

STEP 1: TAKE WHAT THE PHOTO GIVES US.

Starting from the top and working down, we see the officer is wearing:

  • a particular style of Army cap bearing insignia on its front-left side;
  • a unit insignia patch upon his left shoulder;
  • three chevrons on his lower-left sleeve.

 

STEP 2: CHECK UNIFORM, RANK, AND INSIGNIA GUIDES. 

Overseas Cap w Rank Insignia - 1919We can determine rank, unit assignment, time of overseas service at the time of the photo.

The cap is the U.S. Army’s overseas service cap for officers and enlisted.

The single bar on the cap and epaulets are officer’s rank insignia for lieutenant (enlisted wore round discs with unit designations).  In black & white, it’s impossible to say whether the bars are silver or gold to signify First or Second Lieutenant.

Shoulder Insignia - Supply Co, 23d Infantry - 1919The shoulder patch reveals just enough detail to determine Second Infantry Division, or one of the division’s smaller components.  You can see several points of a large white star, and at its center is a small portion of the signature Indian warrior’s head – universal elements of this famous division’s widely recognized shoulder insignia still in use today.  Unfortunately, the angle in this photo obscures the telltale perimeter shape that signifies his regiment, nor in black & white can we tell the color behind the star to identify his battalion or company.[2] 

Overseas Service Chevrons - 1919The three chevrons are World War overseas service chevrons, each signifying six complete months of foreign service, thus proving this lieutenant had served at least 18 months as of the time this photo was taken.

So far, we have determined the subject is a U.S. Army officer with rank of lieutenant; he was attached to the Second Infantry Division; and, by the time this photo was taken, he had performed at least 18 months of World War service overseas.

But, keep going, there’s more

STEP 3: CHECK MILITARY SERVICE RECORDS.  

Calibrate time, place and other more precise details by comparing evidence identified in the photo to relevant textual records in the lieutenant’s Official Military Personnel File (OMPF) and other records.

The lieutenant’s discharge shows he departed the U.S. for service in France on 18 Oct 1917, returning 4 Aug 1919.[3]  The departure date — together with the three service chevrons and overseas cap — proves this photo was taken abroad on or after 18 Apr 1919.  And, no later than 4 Aug 1919.

2015 08 25 - BLOG - Miltary Record and Report of Separation, Certificate of Service (Anonymized) - Foreign Service

A promotion record [4] shows that earlier, on 27 Oct 1918, this officer was promoted to First Lieutenant, proving his precise rank after 18 Apr 1919 was First Lieutenant, and the rank insignia bars in this image were actually silver in color.

The shoulder patch is too obscured to determine the officer’s regiment.  Instead, having established 18 Apr 1919 as the earliest possible date helps us do that.  Special Orders in his OMPF show that on 10 Jun 1918, the lieutenant transferred from the First Division to the 23rd Infantry, Second Division.  Other records show he remained on duty with the regiment for extended federal service through Oct 1920. [5]  Therefore, at the time of this photo, the lieutenant was, in fact, on duty with the 23rd Infantry Regiment.

STEP 4:  CHECK MILITARY UNIT RECORDS & PERSONAL JOURNALS. 

The Journal of Operations, 3rd Infantry Brigade, shows that on 18 Apr 1919 the 23rd Infantry was stationed at Vallendar, Germany for occupation duty[6]  Upon conclusion of occupation duty, the regiment removed to Brest, France, embarking for the United States on 23 Jul 1919.   Therefore, this photo was very likely taken on or before 23 Jul 1919.

Supply Company, 23RD InfantryThe officer’s personal military journal shows that between 19 Apr – 23 Jul 1919 he was attached to the Supply Company, 23rd Infantry, Second Division, [7] proving his functional unit attachment.  This also means the specific shape and color of shoulder patch in this photo is round (23rd Regiment) and green (Supply Company).

Finally, from the birthdate of 20 Jan 1890 recorded in his discharge document, we can calculate the lieutenant’s age as about 29 1/2 years. [8]

CONCLUSIONS:

We can reasonably conclude this image is about 96 years old and depicts a First Lieutenant, U.S. Army, age about 29 ½ years.  The photo was taken sometime between 18 Apr – 23 Jul 1919, inclusive, while he was attached to the Supply Company, 23rd Infantry, Second Division.  At that time, he was most likely stationed in Vallendar, Germany, for occupation duty; or, possibly in Brest, France awaiting embarkation to the United States during the regiment’s few remaining days in Europe.

Bringing together all the evidence helps us acquire new and more meaningful insight about the facts and context of this officer’s life in the military as of the time of this photograph.

You may already have the answers to the mysteries about your photos, too!

 

SOURCES: 

Records of Second Division - v 6[1] Original black & white photograph, privately held, in the possession of [name withheld for privacy], 2015.

[2] During World War I, the Second Infantry Division developed an innovative shoulder patch system to not only identify division affiliation, but simultaneously identify the smaller unit.  The division’s universal white star-Indian-head device were superimposed on various patch shapes which signified the specific regiment. In addition, the shapes were of various colors to further signify the nominal battalion or functional company.

[3] Military Record and Report of Separation, Certificate of Service, AGO Form WD-98, [name withheld for privacy], Regular Army; Official Military Personnel File (OMPF), Army, Officers, discharge dates of 1917-1952; National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), Military Records, St. Louis, MO.

[4] AGO Promotion Record, dated 27 Oct 1918, OMPF, NPRC, per endnote #3.

[5] Special Orders No. 160, Headquarters First Division, A.E. F., dated 10 Jun 1918, and, Special Orders No. 153, Headquarters Second Division, A.E.F., dated 18 Jun 1918; RG 120.9.3 Records of the Combat Divisions, RG 120 Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (World War I); National Archives II, College Park, MD.

[6] Mayfield, C.O., Captain, Infantry, ed., Records of the Second Division (Regular), 9 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Second Division Historical Section, Army War College, 1929), 6 : n.p.; Northern Region Library Facility, University of California, Richmond, CA; Journal of Operations, Third Brigade.

[7] “Journal of Dates and Duty Assignments.” Copy of typescript. Privately held by [name withheld for privacy], 2015.

[8] Military Record of Report of Separation, per endnote #3.