The Mutilated and Shell-Shocked Come Home to America
Amputees from Walter Reed Hospital on an Excursion to the Seashore
Not Forgetting 1914–1918
I recently ran across an old (2011) editorial from another publication about my approach to presenting material on the Great War. Since it applies equally to all I'm trying to do on Worldwar1.com's publications, I thought I might share it with our Trip-Wire readers with a few updates and revisions.
Panthéon de la Guerre (Detail), U.S. National World War I Museum, Kansas City
I am sure a number of you have shared my experience of being told by acquaintances that studying the First World War seems pointless, irrelevant, and (I really hate this one) that it must be "So Boring!" We all
deal with these comments in our own way and we "soldier on." Recently, though, an even more curious reaction sometimes comes in my contacts with more highly educated types (degrees in multiple numbers and/or from "elite" colleges). In their view, if I'm interpreting it correctly, the war was so awful that it belongs in a special intellectual category: unworthy of consideration, not to be spoken of, stricken from the collective memory of mankind. On my gloomier days, I've begun to fear that our "best and brightest" in some post-modern suicide pact are rejecting our heritage–disregarding Justice Holmes's caution that continuity with the past is a necessity. More recently, I've found the overall response by Americans to both the Civil War Sesquicentennial and the World War One Centennial quite underwhelming. [Those of you who were around for the 1961–1965 Civil War Centennial will probably understand what I mean.]
The Great War certainly was all the terrible things ever said about it: a betrayal, a stupendous cock-up, [and even possibly] the first death-knell of Western civilization. But I insist that there is more to the story than its
considerable tragic elements. Your editor believes that the story of the First World War is the Odyssey and Iliad of our times. Intertwined with horrors of war are countless stories of duty and sacrifice in the face of adversity; biographical sketches of inspiring heroes and despicable villains; case studies in technological growth; strategy and tactics galore; epic struggles and triumphs of the downtrodden; and utterly unique fine and graphic arts, prose, poetry, and music.
I've regularly reflected on how I ought to present to our readers. Here's my thinking as of 2019. I am going to work tirelessly to resist the fad of denying-rejecting-burying the story of the formative event of the 20th century. My method will continue to be to explore every dimension of those important times. I will neither ignore the war's tragic side nor waver from my deep commitment to honor those who sacrificed
and served. I will continue to solicit and present articles on every aspect of the Great War from its earliest origins to its impact on the present day. This issue of the Trip-Wire shows what I have in mind. I hope you find it interesting and will share it with your family and friends. MH
"The Return of the Mayflower"
American Destroyers Arrive at Queenstown
Return of the Mayflower
Painting by Bernard F. Gribble. U.S. Naval Academy
The United States entered World War I on 6 April 1917 when Congress declared war on the German Empire. Literally days later, American naval officials met with their counterparts from the French and British navies who revealed the dire situation of the Allied war effort. This same message was being sent to U.S. Navy leadership by Rear Admiral William S. Sims, the officer sent to liaise with the British Admiralty in London. German submarines were inflicting tremendous losses on shipping bound for Allied European ports, particularly those in Great Britain. These losses were causing a disruption in supply shipments to the Allies that threatened to starve them into submission. The Entente naval officials requested assistance from the U.S. Navy, including the dispatch of destroyers and small antisubmarine vessels to combat the submarine menace. President Woodrow Wilson, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral William Benson agreed to initially dispatch six destroyers to Europe, a number soon increased to 36.
Destroyer Division Eight Commander Joseph Taussig (second from right) and His Officers
On 24 April 1917 six destroyers of Division Eight, Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet, under Commander Joseph Taussig were tied up in Boston, Massachusetts, prepared to depart immediately upon receipt of orders. The vessels were among the most advanced destroyers in the Navy at the time. Sealed orders from Washington arrived that morning and at 1645 Davis (Destroyer No. 65) shoved off and steamed for open sea followed in single file by McDougal (Destroyer No. 54), Wainwright (Destroyer No. 62), Conyngham (Destroyer No. 58), Taussig’s flagship Wadsworth (Destroyer No. 60), and Porter (Destroyer No. 59). At a prescribed position 50 miles east of Cape Cod, Taussig unsealed his orders in which Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels tasked the division “to assist naval operations of the Entente Powers in every way possible.” He ordered the vessels to sail to the British naval base located at Queenstown (now Cobh, pronounced "Cove") on the southern coast of Ireland, ideally located to combat the submarines infesting the strategically essential Western Approaches to the British Isles.
After a difficult transatlantic cruise that was fraught with mechanical troubles and rough seas, the division encountered the British destroyer Mary Rose off the coast of Ireland on 3 May. The British vessel hoisted the signal “Welcome to the American colors,” and escorted her allies to Queenstown.
Photo of the Actual Arrival
On the afternoon of 4 May 1917, the American sailors arrived at Queenstown. As British and American naval officials greeted the destroyers, small boats full of civilians packed the harbor and the town cathedral sounded a bell rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Motion picture clips taken of the arrival circulated throughout the British Isles in the following weeks and provided a needed morale boost to the populace. The pomp and celebration almost did not occur; only hours before Division Eight arrived, British minesweepers had cleared a path through a freshly laid German minefield outside of the harbor. The Germans had anticipated the American arrival as well.
After the Division tied up at their Queenstown moorings, Commander Taussig and the ship captains reported to Vice-Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly, RN, Senior Officer on the Coast of Ireland. Naval folklore states that Bayly inquired when the Americans would be ready for sea. Commander Taussig immediately replied, “We are ready now, sir.” While Taussig wrote in his diary that he did not recall ever saying this, he does note that another American officer, who was in the room, assured him that he had said it. Nevertheless, after limited training and the installation of depth charges on some of the American destroyers, they departed from Queenstown for their first anti-submarine patrol on 8 May 1917.
Destroyer USS Wadsworth at Anchor, Queenstown Harbor
The Atlantic crossing of Division Eight marked the first of many such wartime voyages. By 6 April 1918, 59 American destroyers operated in European waters. U.S. Navy destroyers and other anti-submarine craft helped provide the strength needed to effectively combat the German submarine offensive. With increasing numbers of vessels on hand, Allied officials instituted a convoy system that drastically lowered shipping losses from German submarines. As part of that system, American destroyers escorted transports carrying over 1.25 million American service members without the loss of a single European-bound transport. These destroyers also escorted some 27 percent of merchantmen carrying cargoes to England, France, and Italy. In short, the U.S. Navy contributed to defeating the submarine blockade, thereby keeping Great Britain in the war. The troops the Navy escorted to Europe convinced the German Army high command that continuing the war was a fruitless endeavor and thereby directly contributed to victory on land. The arrival of Division Eight, an event referred to as “The Return of the Mayflower,” has come to symbolize the U.S. Navy’s significant contribution to the Allied victory in the First World War.
Sources: Essay from Dr. Dennis Conrad and S. Matthew Cheser, Naval History and Heritage Command
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The Great War never ended for the men of the AEF who found themselves permanently scarred physically or psychologically by the war. The Library of Congress provides some shocking figures. About 148,000 patients had to be transferred to hospitals back in America through the end of 1919 for additional or long-term care. Eventually 200,000 veterans would be granted permanent disability status. Adding together all the categories of injury, such as respiratory problems from gassing, facial disfigurement, amputations (a surprisingly low figure of 4,900 cases), neuropsychiatric issues, and allowing for those who just refused to seek care, researchers estimate that about 300,000 of the returning Doughboys lived the rest of their lives with serious damage from the war. And, tragically, many of these men also died early deaths.
"Brotherhood of the Damned" — The Doughboys Return From the World War
U.S. War Casualties (1931 U.S. Army Document)
Providing for the Casualties of War: The American Experience [PDF, Chapter 7]
Medical Dept. U.S. Army, WW1, Vol. XIII, Physical Reconstruction and Vocational Education [PDF, Part One]
From the Civil War to the World War: Dealing with Amputations
Injured Veterans and the Disability Rights Movement
The Civil War to Vietnam: America's Experience with PTSD
Mutilation and Disfiguration in WW1
Rehabilitation vs. the Pension System
Opposed to the perceived economic inefficiencies and political corruption of the pension system, Progressive Era reformers encouraged the Wilson administration to institute programs in rehabilitation, providing injured soldiers with long-term medical care and vocational training in order to drastically reduce–and potentially–erase cash payments made out to veterans. . . Progressive reformers believed that the government could (and should) "rebuild war cripples," curing them of their disabilities. . . Men returning home with amputated arms and legs were to be "refitted," not only with prosthetic limbs, but also to an appropriate workplace, so that, as one rehabilitation advocate put it, a soldier's disability would not be a "handicap."
. . . But more than economic concerns drove the rehabilitation campaign. In World War I America rehabilitation symbolized a dream, a hope that physical "handicaps," "pauperism," and "defects of manhood" could all be conquered on the home front.
In War's Waste: Rehabilitation in World War I America, by Beth Linker
Recuperating Doughboys in London
(History in Color, Facebook)
The Importance of Letterman Hospital
At the beginning of America's war effort Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco's Presidio was already the U.S. Army's largest medical center. Being distant from the Western Front, it did not receive the wounded soldiers on their immediate return from the European battlefields. However, it was a center for the treatment of psychiatric issues and amputations. Thousands of cases were referred to Letterman for men suffering from these problems, and the hospital eventually expanded to 3,000 beds, mostly for treating men with long-term or permanent disabilities. Its orthopedics shop was fully equipped for the manufacture of
“all kinds of appliances for the correction and support of deformed and weak
limbs. . . splints, steel, leather and wooden appliances and artificial limbs." The leg was
so effective in the rehabilitation of amputees that the “Letterman Leg,” developed at the hospital, was used for more than twenty years, until another World War impelled further research into artificial limb design.
Hicks Starts Losing It
"Let's sit here a while. That damned flare didn't seem to be more than a hundred yards from here."
"Yeah, le's. I don't want to git my head shot off this late in the game."
They talked on in undertones, while Hicks, silent, smiled serenely in the darkness. Suddenly he realized that they were not the only persons in the trench. A few feet before him two other bodies, huddled together, were discernible. He had no thought of the fact that he was between both lines, and that any other persons who were also there must be enemies. He only knew that he wanted to talk to these strangers in front of him.
"It's a quiet night, what?"
"Don't talk so loud," the men beside him counseled.
He shook his head, annoyed at their interruption, and began again:
"What outfit do you fellows belong to?"
"Who are you talkin' to Hicks? What's the matter with you?" his loader impatiently asked.
Hicks ignored him. "What outfit did you say you belonged to? What?" — as if they had
He rose and stood in front of them.
"I asked you a civil question. Why can't you answer me?"
Their silence infuriated him.
"Answer me, damn it." He grasped the shoulders of one of the bodies, shaking them. Beneath the clothing the flesh loosened from the body.
"Hell, you're dead," Hicks told the body disgustedly. He turned to his gun crew. "They're dead. That's why they didn't answer me. No damned good."
The loader turned to the other man.
"Le's git outa here. Hicks is nuts.
"Yeah. He gives me the creeps
They climbed out of the trench and scurried back to their places among the platoon.
From: Through the Wheat, by Thomas Boyd
The Wounds of War Are
Not All Healed
This 1919 Poster Shows the Army Was Recruiting More Doctors to Deal with the Postwar Flood of Wounded and Disabled Soldiers
From: Valor Tours, Ltd. / Mike Grams, Tour Leader
When: September 2019
Details: Request brochure via Email
From: National World War I Museum / Clive Harris & Mike Sheil, Tour Leaders
When: October 2019
Details: Itinerary and Tour FAQ
National WWI Museum 2019 Symposium
When: 1-2 November 2019
Where: Kansas City, MO
Looking Back: A Retrospective of the War
This is our eighth and last historic banner provided by the San Francisco War Memorial's World War I Armistice Centennial Commemorative Committee. Thanks to Dana Lombardy, who led the effort to produce these. Visit HERE to learn more about the commemorative exhibition being held in the City by the Bay.
Making a Life After a Wartime Disability
The Inspiring Story of Doughboy
Roy Evans Thompson
Sgt. Roy Thompson
Future Doughboy Roy Thompson grew up on a farm outside Albion, Washington. As a teenager he found neither farming nor schoolwork appealing, leaving high school far short of graduation. He loved to fix things, however, and his inclinations soon led him to working on farm machinery in a local garage, and he found employment operating a massive wheat thresher. He came to realize, though, that there were some useful things to absorb in school for a budding mechanic, such as algebra. Roy spent late 1916 and early 1917 back in high school. Then—surprise—Uncle Sam came knocking. America needed lots of soldiers immediately, if not sooner. He was drafted and inducted into the Army at Fort Lewis, Washington on 4 November 1917. By some magical personnel processing, the Army actually discovered that Roy would be more valuable to the war effort as a mechanic than an infantryman and trained him accordingly. By February 1918 he was aboard the USS President Lincoln heading for France with the other men of the 1st Motor Mechanics Regiment. Roy wrote many letters home to the "Dear Homefolks" and kept a diary, well documenting his service time. An early letter he wrote from his troopship on 13 February suggests he was better suited for the army than the navy.
Well, I'm out in the middle of the big water, and still able to handle my meals as usual. I think this fact is due to the good weather, as we have only had one day that was very rough. I have been feeling somewhat shaky, and have had a headache a good deal, but haven't been disabled yet.
At the time he wrote this letter, Roy obviously had sensed no omen that he was sailing on a doomed ship–on 31 May 1918 the President Lincoln was torpedoed by German submarine U-90 and sunk about 500 miles off the French coast on a return trip to the U.S.–nor that, within a year, he would be "disabled" for the rest of his life.
Roy was soon assigned to the Air Service as a mechanic and spent the duration of the war at shops and depots in the eastern part of France, behind the huge American battlefields in the vicinity of Verdun. His duty, he reports, was away from the shooting war, involving long hours doing the typical work of mechanic (mostly automotive) with some construction thrown in:
Sat. 8 June
Putting up track in boiler shop and lining up the A-beams thereof.
Weds. 12 June
Went to work at 7 am overhauling Studebaker. Quit at 10 pm.
Mon. 12 August
Working on a Benz (German). Took in French lesson at the Y but didn't learn a great deal.
So the diaries continue on, through the great St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne Offensives, the Armistice, and the winding-down right up until January 1919, when Roy's life would take a terrible turn. An unlucky accident would set him off on a medical odyssey to seven military hospitals, where multiple amputations took his right foot and then additional sections of his right leg as infection spread. At the final stop, Letterman General Hospital at San Francisco's Presidio, he had the good fortune to be treated at the very place a groundbreaking new type of artificial limb was being developed, the "Letterman Leg."
An Orthopedics Ward at Letterman General Hospital
The chain of events started when he was granted leave in January 1919 and started out on bicycle with a buddy heading for the town of Abainville where other Air Service shops were located. Attempting to jump a passing train, he had some unspecified mishap and badly injured his right foot. While his letters to his family at the time consistently understated the seriousness of his wound, he was much more candid in his diary:
Sun. 5 January
Griner and I started to Abainville on bicycles. Train accident at 2:10. Taken to Gondrecourt hospital and immediate operation.
Mon. 6 January
Lots of pain. Morphine before I could sleep
Tues. 7 January
More pain. Wound dressed A.M. Foot amputated about 3 pm. Lots of pain after I came out of ether. Finally morphine and some sleep.
Several hospital stops and operations later, after seven weeks, Roy was pleased with his progress:
Weds. 27 February
Wound entirely healed. . .
Three weeks later at the AEF hospital at Beau Desert, France, he received his first artificial leg. It didn't fit very well, and this led to a blister and another infection. But these problems were apparently treated sufficiently to allow Roy to head home. He departed France aboard the USS President Grant on 24 April and arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, on 6 May. He spent over a month getting checked out at Army General Hospital #3 at Rahway, New Jersey, before being assigned to Letterman General Hospital located in what Roy called "Frisco." He arrived at the Presidio on 12 June. Two weeks later he was measured for his "Letterman Leg." In his diary, Roy doesn't indicate exactly when he was issued this new leg, but he was granted an extended furlough in the latter half of 1919, returning to Letterman in January 1920, when he received his full discharge. Roy Evans Thompson, disabled vet, was now a civilian. But, he intended to be a fully productive citizen and began immediately to build his skill set.
Roy and His Mother Cora at His Graduation from Washington State College, June 1925
After his discharge, he immediately enrolled and attended a one-year accelerated high school program to prepare him for Washington State College in Pullman. In a class paper he wrote about his revised views of education:
My experiences have brot [sic] about some very decided changes in my opinion of education. From complete satisfaction over an eighth grade diploma to a great desire for all the education I can get is a considerable reversal of sentiment. I am indeed thankful that I was shown the advantages of education before all opportunity of acquiring one was gone.
By 1921 he had completed his high school work in the specialized college preparatory program and enrolled in Washington State, pursuing two degrees, a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in Education. He received both degrees in June of 1925. Sometime before graduation Roy also became a landowner. He filed for a homestead in Okanogan County, Washington, lived on it for six months to obtain title, and then rented out the land to a local farmer. When he graduated, he left the state to pursue his career as a mechanical engineer.
From 1925 Roy worked as a professional engineer. His first position was with the United States Patent Office in Washington, DC. He left after a year and worked for a series of manufacturing companies across America for over 40 years. He specialized in the design of gears and power transmission equipment and was granted at least two patents for his inventions. Roy had married Hester McCracken at the start of his career in 1925. They had two children, Dale and Marjorie, and four grandchildren. Roy retired in 1968 and lived ten more years, during which the former high school drop-out and Doughboy became a dedicated booster of continuing education.
Roy's son, Dale Thompson, has compiled all his father's war letters, diary, documents, and photos, along with considerable biographical commentary on his dad in a 206-page book titled Dear Home-folks. (Cover shown on right.) If you would like an autographed copy email Dale at: DALE.THOMP2@GMAIL.COM. The price is $12.00 plus mailing.
A Red Cross Nurse's Vision
William Allen Rogers (1854–1931). "Red Cross Nurse Seeing Vision of Wounded Soldiers Across Stormy Sea," (Detail) Library of Congress Collection
100 Years Ago:
Denikin's Advance on Moscow Launched
Generals Denikin and Wrangel Lead a Victory Parade in Tsaritsyn in Eary July
The Advance on Moscow was a military campaign of the White Armed Forces of South Russia (AFSR) launched against the Red Army in July 1919. It was the largest and most brutal campaign of the Russian Civil War. The goal of the campaign was the capture of Moscow, which, according to the chief of the White Army, General Anton Denikin, would play a decisive role in the outcome of the Civil War and bring the Whites closer to the final victory. After initial successes, in which the city of Oryol (Orel) at only 360 km from Moscow was taken, Denikin's overextended army was decisively defeated in a series of battles in October and November 1919.
By mid-summer, Denikin’s Armed Forces of South Russia had grown to about 150,000 troops, with the addition of Cossacks and conscripts from Ukraine. On 3 July, in celebration of the capture of Tsaritsyn, he issued
his “Moscow Directive,” ordering the advance on the Bolshevik capital. His strategy called for dividing his
forces along three major axes that would eventually converge on Moscow. Denikin was an apolitical officer of integrity and a capable field commander. He was, however, unable to exercise full control over his disparate forces that included Cossacks, volunteers, irregulars, and Allied supporters. Consequently, his strategy proved over-ambitious.
While Denikin’s armies advanced throughout August and September, the Red Army bitterly disputed the direction of its counterblow, much of it driven by inter-party politics. Vacietis was replaced as Red Army supreme commander by Sergei Kamenev, who organized counterattacks in the directions of Tsaritsyn and Kharkov in an effort to cut off Denikin from his base. After two months of heavy fighting, Red forces were stymied and beaten back.
The Advance as Planned
Denikin, on the other hand, continued to advance into Ukraine and southern Russia, entering the Reds’ weakened center on Moscow, and taking in succession Poltava, Odessa, Kiev, Kursk, and Voronezh. By mid-October Denikin’s troops had reached Oryol, roughly 240 miles south of Moscow, essentially the closest he
would come to his goal, but he also stretched 700 miles from his base of operations in the Kuban. At that point,
Red Army Headquarters admitted its error and rushed Trotsky to take command of the southern front.
Although the White Army successfully drove back the communists, its campaign into Ukraine incited much
confusion and misery, which included violent pogroms inflicted on the Jews, especially by Cossacks, who also engaged in looting. Ukraine was further beset by anarchy, partisan activity, local uprisings, and the beginnings of the Bolshevik Red Terror in the provinces
General Denkin’s offensive lost steam as his front widened. The distance between him and his forces incurred a loss of control and direction, which contributed to depredations committed by his troops and the alienation of the
peasant majority. Furthermore, troops in the field lacked supplies, as well as reinforcements. Equally important, he refused even to consider Ukrainian independence, thus depriving his cause of a potential ally.
As Denikin’s forces were turned back in mid-October, a smaller North-Western White Army under the command of General Nikolai Yudenich advanced from Estonia into Russia, stopping just 15 miles from a beleaguered Petrograd.
Alexander Yegorov, Commander
Red Southern Front
Following the defeat and retreat of White forces in autumn 1919 and winter 1920, an oppositional group of generals under Petr Nikolaevich Wrangel (1878-1928) developed. The military council of Feodosia in March 1920 chose Wrangel as the new commander-in-chief. Denikin confirmed this decision and went into retirement.
The general took his family to Constantinople and then London. In August 1920, he moved to Brussels and in June 1922 to Budapest. After that, he returned to Belgium in 1925, later settling in a suburb of Paris in 1926. He did not take an active role in the political and social life of the Russian emigration, concentrating instead on writing. During the German occupation of France, from 1940 to 1944, he lived in Moussan, in the south of the country and refused to cooperate with the German authorities. He came out in support of the Red Army in the Second World War and against the Russian All-Military Union, which was in favour of working with Nazi Germany. In November 1945, he emigrated to the USA, where he lived for more than two years. He was first buried in Detroit, but, in December 1952, was reinterred in the St. Vladimir Orthodox cemetery in Jackson, New Jersey. In October 2005, the Russian government had the remains of Denikin and his wife transferred to his homeland, where they were reburied in the Donskoi Monastery in Moscow.
Sources: Sources: The Library of Congress, Wikipedia, and 1914-1918 Online
One of the more creative memorials to be dedicated during the recent WWI Centennial is spread across the dunes along the North Sea near Thyorøn, at the very tip of Denmark's Jutland Peninsula. Twenty-five granite stones shaped as ship bows represent every ship sunk in the 1916 Battle of Jutland, which was fought about 100 km. offshore. They are surrounded by human figures showing a proportional representation of the 8,645 seamen who perished in the battle.
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A World War One Film Classic
Visually, The Blue Max flies higher than almost any WWI aviation flick ever produced. Its aerial sequences are enthralling, as is the introductory trench warfare episode. The ambitious, medal-chasing central character, infantryman turned aviator Bruno Stachel (played by George Peppard), proves abrasively fascinating in every scene in which he appears. The author of the original 1964 novel, Jack D. Hunter, found Bruno so magnetic he resurrected him for his readers for two sequels in the 1970s and '80s that are both are excellent reads. Also, under the visual category, a big asset is the casting of in-her-prime-gorgeous Ursula Andress as the love interest.
The only shortcomings (for me) involved some characterizations of the principals with respect to the novel. The ruthlessness of former corporal Stachel and the matching seething disdain radiating from his aristocratic rivals are watered down unnecessarily. I was also annoyed that Bruno's mentor was stripped of the pornography collection that made him interesting and added a little humor to the original story. Finally, there's a contrast that I found distracting due to the mixed nationalities (British, U.S., German) of the cast. The Yanks and Brits playing Germans (including the great James Mason) just don't project as Germanic as their compatriots. Consequently, the German Air Service seems more broadly multicultural than the collection of Prussians, Bavarians, and Saxons it was. Nevertheless, this is just the usual stuff from Movieland and shouldn't deter any aviation, history, or high adventure buffs from watching The Blue Max. The film is available on Netflix and for purchase on Amazon.
Thanks to each and every one of you who has contributed material for this issue. Until our next issue, your editor, Mike Hanlon.
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Content © Michael E. Hanlon