Long Island Veterans Memorial Plaza: In Remembrance of Our World War I Veterans 

By Jun-Yi Wu
via the Stony Brook University (NY) web site 

In spring 2021, students in English 309 studied the history and literature of World War I. A few students elected to fulfill Stony Brook’s experiential learning requirement (EXP+) by visiting, researching, and writing about a WWI memorial on Long Island. In the first of these posts, English major Jun-Yi Wu writes about a Copiague memorial.

Long Island Veterans Memorial PlazaAn unnamed American soldier stands 11-feet tall north of the Copiague train station on a piece of land named the “Veterans Memorial Plaza.” Behind him, a marker lists the names of Italian-American soldiers who fought during World War I. The Veterans Plaza Memorial dates back to the 1920s, a couple of years after the end of WWI, but on December 15, 2015, a doughboy statue was erected, and renovations were made to the old veterans plaza.

From August of 1914 to November of 1918, the world witnessed one of the largest and most influential wars it has ever seen. The battles during WWI not only changed the landscape of Europe due to trench warfare, but they also damaged civilization and would forever change Europe’s thoughts about the principles of constitutionalism, the rule of law, and representative government. Soldiers in Europe began to resent their government for making them fight in a war that they believed would be honorable. Instead, war tactics evolved during WWI, and soldiers had to suffer surprise attacks, unbearable weather conditions, and chemical warfare. English poet Robert Graves, who fought in the war, wrote in an article in The Observer that the trenches were “like air-raid shelters hastily dug in a muddy field, fenced by a tangle of barbed wire, surrounded by enormous craters; subjected not only to an incessant air-raid of varying intensity, but to constant surprise attacks by professional killers, and without any protection against flooding times of heavy rain.” WWI would forever change the way that countries fought war, and it would heavily influence the way that war was fought during WWII.

However, in the United States, the First World War is often overshadowed by the Second World War. Even though WWI lasted for four years, most Americans wanted to remain neutral in the war, so the U.S. did not enter the war until April of 1917. For the majority of WWI, the United States kept their distance from the war while supplying goods and ammunition to the Allied Powers. Although WWI is often overshadowed by the WWII, military historian John Keegan argues that the Great War sparked “a legacy of political rancor and racial hatred so intense that no explanation of the causes of the Second World War can stand without reference to those roots.” The war tactics of Nazi-Germany—the gas chambers, barbed-wire concentration camps, and blitzkriegs—are as much relics of the First World War as they are of the Second.

It is important to remember the wars and honor the veterans to not only appreciate their courage but to also let people learn from the catastrophes of war. In the 1920s, Copiague constructed the WWI Immigrant Memorial, a marker with the names of Italian-Americans from Long Island who fought in WWI.

AEFUnder the command of John J. Pershing, the AEF more than left its mark on the war. In the end, Pershing had defeated not only the Germans, but also the Allied commanders who had tried so hard to erase the independence of American units that fought on the Western Front. 

The American Expeditionary Forces Were Major Heroes During World War I

By Warfare History Network
via The National Interest web site 

As the fateful day drew to a close, the exhausted soldiers of the German 25th and 82nd Reserve Divisions huddled in their trenches. It was May 30, 1918, and for the past two days the Germans had battled elements of the American 1st Division for control of the small village of Cantigny and its environs. Before them the virgin ground had been churned, the town shot up, and its cemetery turned into a ghoulish battlefield of broken headstones and protruding coffins.

While the Americans had given ground, they had not broken, and they had repulsed every assault the experienced Germans mounted. Over the course of the battle, the Americans had whittled the 82nd Reserve Division down to 2,500 effective personnel. The Battle of Cantigny, the first major assault of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) on the Western Front in World War I, proved that Americans “would both fight and stick,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Lee Bullard, commander of the 1st Division.

The drubbing had been delivered by the 28th Infantry, later reinforced by elements of the 18th Infantry. The Battle of Cantigny began at 4:45 am on May 28. After a 90-minute artillery barrage, the Yanks advanced with three battalions arrayed along a front of 11/2kilometers. Machinegun companies protected each flank. The Americans overran most German forward positions within the first 10 minutes, although the fighting in Cantigny itself came down to flamethrowers, hand grenades, and bayonets. By 8 am the Yanks were digging in, with the 2nd Battalion occupying Cantigny and the 3rd Battalion deployed to the south.

“The success of this phase of the operation was so complete, and the list of casualties so small, that everyone was enthusiastic and delighted,” wrote Colonel George Marshall, who planned the attack. “[However], trouble was coming thick and fast.”

That afternoon, the French withdrew their supporting artillery to deal with a new German offensive. At the same time, German 210mm guns pounded the American positions and tore up the communications wires carefully laid by the 28th Infantry’s engineers. The German counterattack began in the evening and continued into the next morning. The German commander in chief, General Erich Ludendorff, had ordered that the American positions around Cantigny be utterly destroyed for the same reason AEF commander General John J. Pershing ordered that it be held at all costs. “For the 1st Division to lose its first objective was unthinkable and would have had a most depressing effect on the morale of our entire Army, as well as those of our Allies,” wrote Marshall.

The Germans pushed the 2nd Battalion out of its forward positions and into Cantigny proper. To the south, the 3rd Battalion held firm, delivering deadly rifle and machine-gun fire into the attacking Germans. American artillery also seriously disrupted the German attack. However, German artillery, which had survived due to ineffective American counterbattery fire, inflicted heavy losses on the Americans. As a result, the 28th Infantry’s commander, Colonel Hanson E. Ely, was forced to bring his only two reserve companies forward. The Germans launched a second counterattack on the morning of May 29, but this was broken up once more by American rifle and machine-gun fire. German commanders realized that the Americans were probably advancing no farther and halted the attacks, content to harass instead. When the 28th Infantry was pulled off the line on May 30, it left more than 1,000 of its number on the battlefield.

The assault had been of the utmost importance to Pershing. Days before the attack, the men of the 18th Infantry had been withdrawn to the rear area. They meticulously planned and rehearsed the assault against an exact replica of the German defenses in and around Cantigny. In these maneuvers, Pershing’s idea of open warfare was emphasized as was staff work and above all maintaining communications between the front and headquarters. This extensive planning and preparation were typical of Pershing.

WWI Memorial Bozrah CT 2021People gather at the World War I Memorial in Bozrah, CT in Memorial Day to honor all those who have fallen in the nation's service during wartime. Taps was played by a bugler at the end of the services.

Bozrah, CT honors World War I dead on Memorial Day

By Mary Elizabeth Lang
via The Day newspaper (CT) web site 

The weekend storm had faded to morning mist on Monday, May 31, when a small crowd of about 20 hardy, well-bundled souls gathered at two sites in Bozrah on Memorial Day.

Organized by American Legion Post 138 with help from Legion members in nearby Norwich, the ceremony began at 10 a.m. at the World War I Memorial at the corner of Fitchville Road and Bozrah Street Extension.

There the flag was lowered to half staff, a wreath was laid to commemorate the nation’s fallen and Taps was sounded by Debra Coats, who serves the nearby Fields Memorial School as band and choral director.

Following the brief ceremony at the World War I Memorial, the group moved to Veterans Memorial Park, opposite the Bozrah Town Hall. The flag there was also lowered to half staff, another wreath was laid and American Legion member Ray Barber introduced Post 138 Commander Jim Robertson and Bozrah First Selectman Carl Zorn, both of whom spoke briefly.

They were followed by guest speaker Jon Pierce, submarine service veteran and Veteran Employment Representative for New London County at the Connecticut Department of Labor.

Pierce gave a brief history of Memorial Day, which began as Decoration Day after the Civil War, when citizens adorned the graves of veterans with flowers and flags. Although celebrated in many places in honor of all those who fell in American wars, Memorial Day was officially declared a national holiday by Congress in 1971, the date being set as the last Monday in May.

Pierce reminded the assembly that “it is important to continue sharing the story” of American lives lost in battle, quoting Spanish philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

To close the ceremony, Coats again sounded Taps. Everyone went home with a small American flag handed out by American Legion members.

WWI Memorial Bozrah CT 2021During World War I, the Salvation Army sent women to France to lift the spirits of the soldiers – and to serve them comfort food. Their food of choice? Hot doughnuts. The women became known as “Doughnut Girls,” and on June 4, in conjunction with National Doughnut Day, a program in Norwich, CT celebrated their work in the Great War, as well as the local World War I Memorial. 

Norwich, CT program honors WWI Doughnut Girls

By Claire Bessette
via The Day newspaper (CT) web site 

Norwich — City Historian Dale Plummer connected the dots meticulously to make a solid connection between National Doughnut Day on June 4 and the effort to resume fundraising to restore the city’s World War I howitzer and create a lasting memorial to local soldiers of that war.

Plummer, chairman of the WWI Memorial Committee, recalled seeing a restored WWI field stove in operation at a reenactment event and thought it might be interesting to bring that to Norwich. He learned that National Doughnut Day is June 4 and that its origins are rooted in the work by organizations to boost morale of U.S. troops fighting in France from 1917-18.

Salvation Army “Doughnut Girls” — young women — worked at or close to the front during the war, cooking and serving millions of doughnuts to troops trying to catch a breather between battles, Plummer said.

“It was pretty much plain or with sugar and cinnamon,” he said. “They weren’t making Boston crème or anything more elaborate. Simple stuff, and coffee. It was a big morale booster, kind of like someone from home serving you something fresh and hot. They got pretty close to the front lines, too, so they had to be pretty brave.”

On Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., World War I reenactors set up a field camp on the Norwichtown Green, with Norwich native Allen Crane's restored field stove. Reenactors portraying Salvation Army Doughnut Girls cooked and served doughnuts to the public for a requested donation to the WWI memorial.

The committee also purchased modern Dixie Donuts to supplement the period creations.

Dracut MA memorialRichard Silvio at the Dracut memorial. The Dracut High School student became the leader of a volunteer effort to restore the memorial. 

A new volunteer effort in Dracut, MA aims to remember those fallen in the Great War 

By Rebecca Duda
via the Lowell Sun newspaper (MA) web site 

Dracut is a small town, but it is not lacking on volunteers. From the Dracut Scholarship Foundation to Old Home Day, the people of Dracut always come together for a good cause.

Recently, I learned of a new volunteer project underway in town and it is being organized by Dracut High School student Richard Silvio. Silvio is founder and president of the World War I Rededication Committee.

Dracut’s World War I memorial is located in the heart of Hovey Square, so named for the old Hovey house and tavern, which once stood where Hannaford Supermarket now is located. While the square had long been a busy thoroughfare for travelers, in 1925 it was the site of a dedication ceremony to honor the Dracut men who served in the Great War.

A group of volunteers led by Warren Fox organized a committee to commission a memorial to honor the 160 men from Dracut who served from 1917 to 1919. The massive granite monument was unveiled May 30, 1925 — Memorial Day — at a ceremony the Lowell Sun described as, “inspiring and impressive.” Those in attendance and seated near the speakers’ platform included Gold Star mothers, veterans from the Spanish-American War and World War I, and Boy and Girl Scouts.

With the passage of time, that generation of volunteers has passed and the memorial they unveiled has stood silently in the middle of the bustle of Hovey Square. Today the bronze plaque is weathered and the granite needs to be washed down to bring it back to its former grandeur. That is where Richard Silvio and the World War I Rededication Committee comes in. Their goal is to restore the memorial and to also educate the public on Dracut’s efforts during World War I.

So, how did a Dracut High School student become the leader of this volunteer effort? He credited his fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Boucher, with piquing his interest in the early 20th century. He told me she taught the class about the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and ever since he has been fascinated by this time period. Later on, he became interested in World War I. An avid reader, Silvio has read up on the Battle of Verdun and recently read “The Last of the Doughboys.”

Like all students I’ve encountered, Silvio enjoys connecting local history with larger global events. As he was reading John Pendergast’s book, “Dracut,” he discovered Dracut’s connection to World War I and the memorial in Hovey Square. He then paid a visit to park to see first-hand the 1925 memorial.

After visiting the memorial, he was saddened to see that it had been forgotten, much like the war itself, and felt it needed to be restored.


‘Retreat? Hell! We just got here!’ is 103 years old and still badass 

By Paul Szoldra
via the taskandpurpose.com web site 

A Marine officer showed up to the front lines of combat on this day 103 years ago and uttered one of the most badass and enduring quotes of all time: “Retreat? Hell! We just got here!”

The phrase ‘Retreat Hell’ has been the motto of one of the Marine Corps’ most-decorated infantry battalions for more than two decades, and has long served as a motivational quote to inspire Marines past and present. But on June 2, 1918, a captain named Lloyd Williams thought to say the iconic cool guy quote in the heat of battle during World War I, and in so doing cemented himself in Marine lore.

The Americans had been in the war for little more than a year by then and the Marines were eager to get into the fight. A large number of college athletes and “unusually high quality of men presented themselves for enlistment” in the Corps, according to an official Marine history of the 6th Marine Regiment. They joined experienced officers and noncommissioned officers like 1st Sgt. Daniel Daly and Col. Albertus Catlin, both recipients of the Medal of Honor. Heavy combat came in late May 1918 with a massive German offensive that caused “utter confusion as the allies tried to reorganize their lines.”

Williams was commanding the 51st Company of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment that was fighting alongside the French and expecting a German attack on June 2, according to an account in Leatherneck Magazine. But less than an hour after arriving, Williams received word from a French commander that all American and French forces were to pull back. “Retreat? Hell! We just got here,” Williams reportedly said.

Still, the source of this quote is a matter of considerable debate. It appears on the website of the Marine Corps History Division as a famous quote but is attributed to “several World War I Marine Corps officers” at Belleau Wood in June 1918. A lengthy account of the battle for Defense Media Network and the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment attributes the quote to Williams. Meanwhile, the 6th Marine regimental history explains what happened this way:

wardead history 66ad7d1c c158 11eb 8c18 fd53a628b992French and American Soldiers salute at the funeral of one of their comrades at base hospital No. 17, Dijon, France, on Sept. 6, 1918. (Sgt. Reyden, S.C./National Archives and Records Administration) 

After World War I, US families were asked if they wanted their dead brought home; 40,000 said yes

By Michael E. Ruane
via the Stars and Stripes Newspaper web site 

In 1919, when Theodore J. Argiroplos, of Keyser, W. Va., got the government post card asking if he wanted the body of his brother shipped home for burial, he entered "yes" on the appropriate line.

Private James Argiroplos, 24, of the 80th division's 317th infantry regiment, had been killed on Aug. 15, 1918, near a place called Hébuterne in France. And he, and thousands of other dead Americans, were eligible to be buried in an American cemetery in France, or brought home.

So in a massive and little-remembered project after World War I, the U.S. sent out 74,000 questionnaire cards asking families what they wanted and then tried to fulfill their wishes.

Sixty-three thousand answers were received by January 1920, according to historian Lisa M. Budreau.

And between 1919 and 1922 the government identified, located, and exhumed about 44,000 bodies and shipped them home for burial.

But in certain cases, like that of James Argiroplos, the effort was blocked by the brutality of the war.

"Neither the United States nor any other nation up until that time had ever attempted such a colossal task," Budreau wrote in her 2010 book, "Bodies of War."

On May 23, 1921, President Warren Harding went to Pier 3 in Hoboken, N.J., to pay tribute to the 5,000 bodies that had just arrived on the funeral ship USAT Wheaton.

"These dead know ... nothing of the sentiment or the tenderness which brings their wasted bodies to the homeland, for burial close to kin and friends and cherished associations," he said. "These poor bodies are but the clay tenements ... of souls, which flamed in patriotic devotion, (and) lighted new hopes on the battlegrounds of civilization."

Roughly 100,000 Americans died during World War I, from combat, the influenza pandemic and other causes, historians say.

And the repatriation effort came about as the United States was preparing for the solemn homecoming of the lone unknown soldier in November, 1921.

"This is everyone else," said Ryan Hegg, the lead organizer of Homecoming '21, a project that has helped catalogue the 5,000 dead aboard the ship.

1024px USA infantry Verdun WWIBlack American soldiers marching in Verdun, France, during World War I. (Duke University) 

After 100 years, soldiers are no longer segregated on Durham’s WWI memorial 

By Andrew Carter
via the Stars and Stripes Newspaper web site 

DURHAM, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — For 100 years, the World War I memorial in Durham served as a constant reminder of a different and more unequal era in American history. The stone pillar was both a monument to those who lost their lives, and to a time when not even their ultimate sacrifice could make men equal in the eyes of the country they died serving.

When the memorial went up in 1921, the first piece in what became a statue garden in front of the old county courthouse, it listed Durham County men who'd died in the war. The names of the white soldiers were etched into the front of the monument, facing Main Street and easily visible to those who walked past. On the back, out of sight, were the names of the Black soldiers.

In time, the monument began to symbolize a quiet fight for equality. Now, after a year of national reckoning concerning race, and in a time in which Confederate monuments throughout the South have been removed or torn down, Durham's World War I memorial tells a more complete story. In March, the city unveiled a plaque in front of the memorial, complete with historical context and a full list of the men who died in that war.

The names are organized not by race, but in alphabetical order. More than a hundred years after those men could have died together in a trench, they are listed together in a prominent place in their home county, which they once departed never to return.

"It reflected a time period that wasn't our best and brightest," Linzie Atkins said of the memorial's original form, when the names were segregated. Atkins is an officer with the Durham County Department of Veterans Services, and he assisted in the effort to update the monument. Through various records, he helped identify some soldiers whose names were not included on the memorial.

"I welcomed the project," he said, "in terms of trying to come up with some way of addressing that particular era here in Durham, and then trying to do as best we can to kind of put things in order. Because on the battlefield, the bullet doesn't care what color you are."

The updated memorial has been a long time coming, and is the culmination of an effort that dates to at least 2003. That's when the Durham City/County Appearance Commission adopted a resolution to address the segregated names on the memorial. In 2013, Eddie Davis, a former Durham city councilman, submitted that resolution to the board of county commissioners.

It took another eight years for the project to come to fruition.

 "Displaying this memorial plaque will serve as a sober reminder that the time to do what is right is always 'now,'" Lois Harvin-Ravin, the county director of veterans services, said in a recent statement. "It's about more than rearranged and added names. This plaque speaks from the heart of Durham and shouts that every life is important, regardless of race."

Sweet bw and color jpg 

Lost Generation: Toledo-centric documentary focuses attention on World War I 

By Ahmed Elbenni
on the Toledo Blade web site via yahoo.com 

"Nobody knows anything about World War I."

Behind his thick-rimmed glasses, Howard Sweet's crystal-blue eyes flit past the camera and back. Pushing against the collar of his navy-blue dress shirt is a tie strewn with American flags. The plainness of his tone belies the intensity of the recollections to come.

"Very few people know anything about the war," Sweet repeats. "It's World War II, the Korean, Vietnam War, and so on and so forth."

Jim NowakJim NowakThe Vietnam War had not been over for a decade when he spoke those words, the graininess of his visage betraying the age of the footage. Compressed in the unassuming frame is a century of time — a man in 1986 sharing the memories of a war he fought in 1918 with an audience in 2021, still speaking long after he, like every one of his brothers in arms, had fallen silent.

"We are the forgotten people."

So begins Glimpses from the Great War, a documentary film more than 30 years in the making by the man sitting across from Sweet, his face hidden behind the camera: Jim Nowak, a part-time filmmaker and full-time serviceman from Toledo. The documentary, released on December 30, 2020, is available for streaming through GlimpsesFromTheGreatWar.us.

The 53-minute film tells the story of World War I through the eyes of Pvts. Howard Sweet and William Claus, both Toledoans who served together in the Ohio National Guard's 37th "Buckeye" Division with the 135th Field Artillery from 1917 to 1919. Their journey took them from Toledo's Camp Walbridge to Alabama's Camp Sheridan, across the Atlantic Ocean and onto the shores of Liverpool, ultimately catapulting them onto the hellish front lines of the Meuse-Argonne Campaign in France — the deadliest battle the United States has ever fought.

Encapsulating time

The last surviving veteran of the World War I died in 2012, but the last stories of the war didn't die with her. Nowak's film provides a glimpse of why. While Claus passed in 1993 and Sweet in 1994, Nowak interviewed both in 1986.

That foresight came from his experience with his grandmother. He always intended to sit down with her and record for posterity the troves of family folklore stockpiled in her remarkable memory.

"I waited a little too long to get those stories," Nowak recalled. The cancer stole his grandmother's voice first, then her sight. Her memories passed with her, leaving behind a regretful Nowak painfully cognizant of the fragile wispiness of our life stories — "If they're not captured, they just disappear."

Anxiety at the prospect of losing precious oral histories and an enduring fascination with military narratives led Nowak to Sweet and Claus. He shot the interviews for their own sake, just to have them "in the can." Not until 2015, as the centennial of the First World War's conclusion loomed, did he begin working on a documentary centered on them. The scope of project quickly grew beyond his expectations, and by 2016 he was touring French battlefields and cemeteries.

Wheeling WV DoughboyDoughboy Restoration Chairman Sean Duffy recounts the restoration process of the “Spirit of the American Doughboy” statue, pictured in the back, as it is rededicated Monday, June 28 at Wheeling Park after a lengthy restoration process. Photo by Alan Olson. 

‘Doughboy’ Statue Back Home at Wheeling Park 

By Alan Olson
via The Intelligencer newspaper (WV) web site 

WHEELING — The first time the “Spirit of the American Doughboy” statue was dedicated in Wheeling, it was an affair to rival the biggest street festivals — crowds thousands strong, music, and celebration less than two decades after the Great War.

The statue still stands 90 years later, and a smaller crowd of hundreds came to the Memorial Day service put on by Wheeling’s American Legion Post 1 at Wheeling Park. The statue was refurbished, cleaned and maintained with care so as to maintain its patina while refreshing nearly a century of wear.

The work was done by Venus Bronze Works in Detroit.

State Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, discussed the horrors of World War I, as 19th century tactics were enacted with 20th century technology, and the brutal, horrifying conditions endured by the soldiers. Weld said that while he was stationed in Germany, he witnessed how many towns have a close connection to their past, through the battles that took place, some literally underfoot. This is a connection to which most Americans can’t directly relate, but he urged those in attendance to read up on accounts of the war.

“Sometimes, what that war meant, what it signified, and the changes brought to the world are lost on Americans,” Weld said. “One of the things that, really, is striking about the war is its sheer brutality. For an entire generation of Britons and Frenchmen, it was described as ‘a reciprocating engine of blood and gore, each side advancing a few yards, then retreating across no-man’s land, laced with barbed wire, pockmarked with artillery shells, and mounds of those who died.'”

Weld went on to say how proud he was of Wheeling for housing the Doughboy statue, which honors the thousands dead in World War I, something of a rarity in comparison to memorials to other wars.

“I’ve been all over the country, and I’ve come across very few WWI memorials. This is a memorial I think the community should be very proud of. It’s a recognition that not everybody takes the time to learn about. If you remember anything from anybody’s remarks today, take some time to get a book on your Kindle, buy a book about World War I. Learn about the homefront. Learn about Americans who went to Europe as part of the American Expiditionary Force.”


Rep. Jacobs Asks Navy to Name Warship After World War I Filipino American Hero 

By Chris Jennewein
via the Times of San Diego (CA) web site 

Rep. Sara Jacobs has asked the Navy to name a new ship after Telesforo Trinidad, a Filipino American sailor who received the Medal of Honor in 1915.

Telesforo TrinidadTelesforo TrinidadTrinidad, who saved his crewmembers after boiler explosions aboard the armored cruiser USS San Diego, is the only Filipino American and the only Asian American sailor to receive the Medal of Honor.

A future USS Telesforo Trinidad would be the first warship named after an American of Filipino descent.

“Fireman Second Class Telesforo Trinidad was a hero and a history-maker, and as we celebrate Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I am honored to lead the effort to encourage the Navy to name a ship after him,” said Jacobs, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

She said naming of a warship after Trinidad would be a symbol of the Navy’s commitment to “diversity, equality, and inclusion during this time of national racial tensions and unwarranted violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.”

Jacobs was the lead signatory of a May 26 letter to the acting Secretary of the Navy co-signed by 10 other members of Congress, including Mike Levin, Scott Peters and Juan Vargas from the San Diego delegation.

The letter recommend that Trinidad’s name be used for a future Navy surface combatant. While the specific type of warship was not mentioned, it could be one of the new Constellation-class guided-missile frigates due to start construction this summer.

Colorful Characters: John H. Buckley, a WWI war hero

By Deborah Cameron
via the Longmont Leader newpaper (CO) web site 

Memorial Day is more than just a long weekend. For many, it is a time when we look back with gratitude at those who served our country’s military. While many of these heroes have come from Longmont, one of the best known is World War I pilot, John H. Buckley.

John H BuckleyBuckley was so esteemed that The Longmont American Legion Post was named for him in 1920, while memories of WWI were fresh in the community’s collective memory. A little more than two decades later, Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora also was named for him.

Buckley was born on July 8th, 1895, and was raised in Longmont, He played both basketball and track while in high school, according to a video posted on Facebook by Buckley Air Force Base. Following commencement, he attended the University of Colorado-Boulder and was a part of the track team there. He received recognition for his athleticism in 1915, according to the campus newspaper, the Silver and Gold, which was mentioned in the Longmont the first 150 Years, by the Curator of History at the Longmont Museum, Erik Mason.

Buckley enlisted as a pilot in the Air Force a month before his college graduation. He was one of 79 Longmont residents to serve overseas and 430 to serve both at home and abroad, out of a town population of 5,500, according to the Silver and Gold newspaper. He served in the 28th Aero Squadron in France as a first Lieutenant flying reconnaissance airplanes over Germany. He enlisted with his best friend and fellow Longmont resident Albert ‘Dick’ Smith.

As part of a publicity tour for a centennial WWI commemoration exhibit, held in 2018 at the Longmont Museum, a descendant of Smith’s, talked about Buckley. She recalled during service, the pair of friends shot down eight planes between them, according to Denver7.

Buckley was killed in the air over France on September 18th, 1918. According to the American Legion Post history, “he and a fellow pilot, Kenneth Bell, were forming up in a patrol to cross enemy lines on a combat mission in low clouds … visibility was poor … both planes were seen to dive with one making a turn to avoid the other. This resulted in a collision where the left wings of each plane were torn off,” according to a post from the American Legion. The report indicated that each plane went into a death spiral until they struck ground.

At the time of his death, Buckley was 23 years old. He was buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Military Cemetery in France near the crash site, according to Honorstates.org.

Harlem Hellfighters 2 TRS Willett Family AnneClaire Legendre 1200x703Sgt. Leander Willett family receives Harlem Hellfighter Sgt. Leander Willett's Purple Heart medal on Congressman Tom Suozzi's office in New York. Ehe Willett family asked Suozzi for help in obtaining a Purple Heart for their relative, after being declined due to a lack of documentation. Willett was stabbed with a bayonet and had been the victim of a mustard gas attack, but never received recognition despite the injuries sustained while serving in World War I. 

Suozzi and Espaillat fight to have Harlem Hellfighters recognized by Congress for their World War I bravery

By Dean Moses
via the AMNY Newsletter (NYC) web site 

More than a century ago, the members of the 369th Infantry, known as the “Harlem Hellfighters,” served the country with honor during World War I — but the contributions of these Black servicemen have long been ignored.

Now, Congressmembers Tom Suozzi and Adriano Espaillat are looking to finally give the Hellfighters the recognition they deserve through legislation introduced on May 28, the Congressional Gold Medal Act.

“It’s never too late to do the right thing,” Congressman Suozzi, who represents northeast Queens and northern Nassau County, told amNewYork Metro.

On Memorial Day, the United States honors the fallen heroes who have served in the nation’s military. Yet one group has not received the recognition that they so duly deserve, but Suozzi and Espaillat are working with the help of the Congressional Black Caucus to make sure their service will forever be revered.

The Harlem Hellfighters were an African American infantry unit in World War I; however, in place of being honored, their heroic service was met racism and discrimination. While the US Army provided the uniforms, it was the 16th Division of the French Army that provided the unit with firearms and helmets.

The Hellfighters also fought alongside the 16th Division of the French Army because, at the time, white American soldiers were not willing to serve beside them.

Even so, the Hellfighters were the most active unit during WWI, fighting on the front lines for 191 days through brutal trench warfare.

Suozzi recalls learning about the Hellfighters’ heroism from friends and neighbors in his hometown, Glen Cove, where close to three dozen descendants of infantry members still live.

“The Harlem Hellfighters must now be properly recognized for their invaluable contribution to our country,” said Suozzi. “My hometown of Glen Cove was home to nearly three dozen Harlem Hellfighter heroes. The bravery, dedication, and sacrifices of the Harlem Hellfighters, who served 191 days under near-constant enemy fire, impacted the outcome of the first World War and in turn, American history. My legislation to award The Harlem Hellfighters a Congressional Gold Medal is a small but important first step in righting this decades-old injustice.”

While France hailed their service with the Croix de Guerre and other prestigious awards, descendants of the Harlem Hellfighters are, up until recently, fighting for their relatives to receive a Purple Heart and other medals of honor.

Their name, Hellfighters, were bestowed upon the soldiers by the Germans in reference to their tenacious combat. They were the first unit to reach the Rhine River, which aided in ending the war.

In 2019, the Willett family visited Suozzi’s office requesting his help in obtaining a Purple Heart for their relative, Harlem Hellfighter Sgt. Leander Willett, after being declined due to a lack of documentation. Willett was stabbed with a bayonet and had been the victim of a mustard gas attack, but never received recognition despite the injuries sustained while serving in WWI.

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