Death After Armistice

The BBC brings to light a study of the last soldiers to die in World War I:

…hundreds of these soldiers would lose their lives thrown into action by generals who knew that the Armistice had already been signed.

The recklessness of General Wright, of the 89th American Division, is a case in point.

Seeing his troops were exhausted and dirty, and hearing there were bathing facilities available in the nearby town of Stenay, he decided to take the town so his men could refresh themselves.

“That lunatic decision cost something like 300 casualties, many of them battle deaths, for an inconceivable reason,” says Mr Persico.

This is a completely different picture than the one told by the General himself in his diary, as explained by a retired soldier in Military Review:

Major General William M. Wright was a tireless commander who cared for the welfare of his troops, enforced discipline, and had an eye for detail. His diary refutes the myth that World War I generals were out of touch with the front line.

Apparently Wright took over and drove the division into combat for the first time, even though the troops had been “in theater for several months”:

Wright’s diary begins when he received command of the 89th and continues through the Meuse-Argonne offensive–one of the largest and bloodiest battles in American history. Wright describes how the 89th held the line through the St. Mihiel offensive then suddenly changed direction and advanced toward the Meuse-Argonne.

The timing of the Armistice definitely changes the picture, as does the revelation that a General would sacrifice soldiers just for control of the bathing facilities.

Speaking of the accuracy of records and history, here is another interesting tidbit from the BBC:

Augustin Trebuchon’s grave – along with all those French soldiers killed on 11 November 1918 – is marked 10/11/18. It is said that after the war France was so ashamed that men would die on the final day that they had all the graves backdated.

I guess it still has the wrong date, even after someone figured out what really happened. An opinion piece in the Washington Post for memorial day says Americans should pay more attention to the end of WWI and the details of US soldiers there, even if the story is not a good one:

The war’s last and greatest battle involving U.S. soldiers, fought in the Meuse-Argonne region of eastern France during the autumn of 1918, sucked in more than 1 million U.S. troops and hundreds of airplanes and tanks. Artillery batteries commanded by men such as the young Harry S. Truman fired more than 4 million shells — more than the Union Army fired during the entire Civil War. More than 26,000 doughboys were killed and almost 100,000 wounded, making the clash probably the bloodiest single battle in U.S. history. But as far as the American public was concerned, it might as well never have taken place. “Veterans said to me in their speeches and in private that the American people did not know anything about the Meuse-Argonne battle,” Brig. Gen. Dennis Nolan wrote years later. “I have never understood why.”

Hopefully lessons will be discussed and heard again as people discuss the BBC’s view on death after armistice. Will those people be American? Hard to say how many in the US pay attention to the BBC.

Although I think the Washington Post opinion piece has some excellent points, I find it strange that the author bemoans the lack of an American memorial and yet completely omits mention of the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City.

The Liberty Memorial is not only an official WWI museum in America, but it also had a groundbreaking ceremony in 1921 with the presence of the military leaders from Belgium, Great Britain, Italy, France and the US! I suppose the fact that Kansas City was once considered on par with New York and Los Angeles for nightlife and international fame is as lost to Americans as the significance of the Liberty Memorial to WWI.

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