36th Division in World War I

Chapter VII:
Marking Time at Tonnerre
Continued

[193] The most visible of all the agencies was the YMCA which established huts in at least eight villages; employed a considerable number of girls, mainly from Texas, as hostesses; served hot chocolate and cakes free twice weekly; stocked the "usual commissary supplies"; showed movies; and cooperated with the various military organizations in staging a variety of "entertainments." The "main hut" and an "officer’s club" at Tonnerre served the headquarters unit and the officers of the 1st Corps. The best Y outside Tonnerre was at Cheney where electric lights for the "picture machine" were provided by "Delco generator mounts in connection with [an] automobile powerplant." By late March the Cheney Y was operating "a modern theatre" with a stage, footlights, orchestra pit, and seating for 1,500 men.

Theatrical troupes of all types, composed largely of amateurs and semi-professionals, were formed on practically every echelon of command. The troupes toured the Tonnerre and sometimes other areas putting on their shows. The 142nd Infantry light opera "’N Everything," directed by Lieutenant Armstrong, and Lieutenant Colonel Bolend’s "Smileage Troupe," which evoked "miles of smiles," were extremely popular inside and outside the 36th. Troupes from other divisions also toured the Tonnerre area. One outside performer who sang for the Texans and Oklahomans was Margaret Wilson.

Numerous bands, official and otherwise, played at dances, parties, and other festive events wherever they were held, in tents, mess halls, barns, billets, private homes, or airplane hangars. Ten "large steel hangers" were received in March "to be used for education, entertainment, and athletic purposes." After the boxing season, the Tonnerre hangar was the scene of countless balls.

Dancing was "all the rage" when the 36th departed. Thanks to the 36th "entertainment department" the "lounge lizards" of each regiment were dancing one night a week to the "jazzing, tilting, blood-pulsing strains of the latest dance music of England, France, and America." The mademoiselles in attendance allegedly preferred "the Yankee one-step and ‘alligator glide’" over "their own style" and took to "the American jazz like a duck to water." In addition, the Y was hosting a weekly dance at the theater in Cheney.

[194] Special dances were held for enlisted men, non-coms, and officers. The officers of divisional headquarters gave a "farewell hop" for the 36th officers at the Tonnerre hangar. The place was elaborately decorated with "tons of the fairest garlands" and over 500 lights. The 142nd and 144th regimental bands furnished the music and Y girls, Red Cross nurses, and French women served as partners. Among the prominent guests were the Count and Countess De Beausacq of Vermenton and the Marquis of Tanlay.

At many of the dances water "was absolutely barred." This was especially true of the private affairs in French homes. At one party at the abode of Madame Bushwa in Chesley, where a certain top sergeant was said to wile away his "leisure moments," the guests found it necessary to clear away "six manure piles" from the garage before it could be used safely as a ballroom. Drink was obtained from a nearby cafe and "Brundidge’s Band" provided the dance music.

Despite the best efforts of the welfare organizations to furnish girls for the semi-official social occasions, there was never "an instance" the Arrow Head declared, "where the men have not outnumbered the girls two and three to one." With the majority of local mademoiselles still in the cities where they had gone to work in the factories during the war, a number of the dancing partners provided were madames, some of whom were getting along in years. Although in short supply, the Y girls, more than any others, deserved kudos for the female companionship they offered. They served, danced, and hosted, and they were always there. In one instance, Lucia Tom and Maud Walker made reveille, ate breakfast, and afterwards engaged in a snowball fight with several soldiers. The frolicking ended, however, with Lucia’s "nailing" of Colonel Baker "in the back of the neck as he was passing." On the eve of the division’s departure, General Smith held a reception for the 36th welfare workers at his chateau in Cheney and "thanked them for their work and efforts in keeping the morale of the 36th up to such a high pitch."9

Relations between the personnel and the French civilians were not as good as they had been in the Bar-sur-Aube area. With the war over the populace would have preferred not to have the troops around. One source of friction was identified by a Texan in the 144th Infantry who complained that shopkeepers and cafe owners raised their prices "as soon as an American soldier steps in." [195] Needless to say, those Arrow Heads who liked "to go down" at night "to loaf and drink wine ... the way the frogs enjoy themselves" sometimes found theirs an expensive pastime. Many establishments were placed off limits until a list of prices approved by a board of officers was posted in a prominent place. A number of greedy villagers submitted either unbelievably extravagant or outright false claims for damages "alleged to have resulted from some act of the Americans." On the other side of the coin, "a few rowdy soldiers, usually under the influence of cognac," were guilty of "outrageous" conduct. Otherwise, however, relations were cordial enough as indicated by the attendance of French guests at athletic and social functions and by the fact that nine Arrow Heads took French brides.

Further evidence of friendly fraternization was the instance of venereal disease. For the six months beginning in October, 1918, and ending in April, 1919, 253 cases were reported in the 36th. The division rate of 21.8 cases per 1,000 men was actually low when compared to the AEF rate of 39.62 per 1,000 for approximately the same period. Without the "measures of prophylaxis" taken by the AEF, the rates would undoubtedly have been higher.

A division bulletin posted before the 36th left the area indicates the AEFs interest in the problem and suggests that a number of diseased men may have slipped by without detection. It stated that an AEF order prohibiting the return home of anyone with VD would be "carried out to the letter." Medical examiners were instructed "to see that the ‘wise ones’ do not ‘get by’ with the many ‘tricks’ that are used to conceal venereal disease at casual inspections." It was better to remain segregated in France "until cured" than to go home to mothers, sisters, sweethearts, and friends with "the bunch."

The low VD rate reflects the success of the AEF recreational program as applied to the 36th in keeping the command busy and happy. By the same token, good morale, improved sanitation, and emphasis on personal hygiene explain the gradual reduction of the sick rate from 28.5 per 1,000 in December, 1918, to 9.9 per 1,000 in April, 1919. There were in this period 160, 111, and 13 cases of flu, pneumonia, and meningitis, respectively. The discovery of contagious disease in any village was followed immediately by a strictly-enforced quarantine of the troops stationed therein. Total deaths from all illnesses numbered 22. The 36th health and [196] mortality figures compared favorably with those of other divisions.10

Nothing that was done to lessen the boredom of military life in the Tonnerre area was more beneficial to participants than the 36th Division school system. The announcement by Lieutenant Colonel Atkins in February that vocational and high school instruction in numerous subjects would be made available to 15 percent of the division brought 3,448 applications in short order. About 50 percent applied for courses in auto repair and gas engines. These and other subjects were taught at the "central" or "division" school in Roffey which opened in March with an administrative and teaching staff of 20 officers and an enrollment of 1,000. Nearly 50 "post" schools taught by officers and enlisted men were established in the area with a total enrollment during their existence of 3,000. In addition 348 officers and men were permitted "to take ... a four month’s course" offered to all qualified AEF personnel "by the leading French and English Universities."

The 36th school system was directed by Lieutenant Colonel Culberson who insisted that the schools manifest the same "spirit" as that "found in purely academic and vocational institutions." At Roffey, the students were quartered in "wards" and required to attend classes five hours daily five days a week for three months. Military drill was limited to one hour a day, and the finest food available prepared by the best cooks was served. Relief from both military duties and the "army standby of slum and beans thrown at them" in the regular messes was enough to make many of the most uninterested soldiers ambitious to further their education. At one time, over 50 percent of Company D, 111th Engineers, were seeking admittance to the division school while the remaining percentage "were either attending other schools or are on special duty which does not require them to work on the roads..."11

Full advantage was also taken of the AEFs generous leave policy. Soon after the first American soldiers arrived in Europe, the General Staff sought the cooperation of the YMCA in providing proper recreational facilities for soldiers on furlough. The result was the establishment of leave areas containing "American methods of entertainment ... concentrated by the Y.M.C.A." Beginning with that of Savoie, 19 leave areas, almost entirely in France, were opened in 1918-1919.

[197] There were numerous complaints initially because the men were restricted to designated areas and were required to stay at hotels selected by the YMCA. Another source of unhappiness was the "double system of prices" at the YMCA canteens necessitated by the purchase of the same items from the AEF Quartermaster at one rate and from home and shipped at Y expense at a higher rate. This practice and its running of the AEF post exchanges in general, at Pershing’s request, coupled with Pershing’s insistence that the organization should give nothing away on the grounds it would make "my soldiers appear as paupers," damaged somewhat the YMCA’s reputation in France.

Many of the early problems relating to the leave areas had been ironed out by the time the 36th was in a position to enjoy them. As to the attitude of the Arrow Heads toward the YMCA, probably no other organization, with the possible exception of the Red Cross, was held in higher esteem. Although the large majority vacationed in the regular areas, a number of men visited other points in France and went to England, Ireland, Greece and Italy. Although the division football team spent three weeks in Italy and some soldiers were allowed 14 days, furloughs were limited, as a general rule, to one week, or in the case of "Gay Paree," which was opened to visitation on November 1, 1918, three days. There were no restrictions on the number of leaves an individual with "good credit" might receive.

One Arrow Head who stayed in Paris longer than his 36th leave permitted was Sam Dreben, the popular "top kicker" of Company A, 141st Infantry. His failure to return after three days caused his men to fear that he had been thrown "in the ‘Hoos-Gow,"’ but the sergeant reported after ten days with an "iron clad" pass signed by the general for whom he had scouted and interpreted in Mexico, John J. Pershing. Nearly every man in the 36th visited Paris at one time or another.

The leave areas most popular with the Texans and Oklahomans, excluding Paris, were located in southeastern France. The towns receiving the majority of the 36th vacationers were Nice and Cannes, Lamalou-les-Bains, La Bourboule, Aix-les-Bains, Chamonix, and Grenoble in the Riviera, Herault, Auvergne, Savoie, Alpine, and Dauphine Leave Areas, respectively. The 36th regimental bands, which took turns playing at Grenoble, enjoyed a high reputation among the Yanks who [198] sojourned there. At one time in February, 1919, 500 Arrow Heads were in Cannes, 700 in Nice, 800 in La Bourboule, and 1,200 in Chamonix.

George G. Schumpert, 143rd Infantry, made the "steep ascent" to Chamonix, located next to Mont Blanc (not to be confused with Blanc Mont) on the western edge of the snow-covered Pennine Alps near the Swiss and Italian borders, on "an electric railway" that wound "in and about tunnels and mountains and ravines" for over an hour. Once there he enjoyed "a comfortable hotel," good food, a fine bed, "and steam heat." There were points of interest, but it would have been "a dull place were it not for ‘Y’ and twenty pretty American girls who could dance, skate, ski, sled, and everything to please the men, besides running a capital canteen." It would appear that the YMCA girls alone may have been enough to preserve the organization’s good name with the Texans and Oklahomans in France.12

The exemplary conduct of the 36th troops on furlough brought letters of commendation from several military commanders in the leave areas. Of the entire division, only 15 men were reported for misconduct. This record was matched, on a relative basis, by the generally fine behavior of the troops throughout their stay in the Tonnerre area. Only 40 men were in the guard house at Tronchoy in March, 1919, as compared to about 400 in confinement a year earlier at Camp Bowie. The decrease in France was due to the strict enforcement of AWOL regulations and to the fact that there was "no place worth going to that can’t be accomplished in a legitimate manner." The division high command believed that "the 36th record cannot be paralleled" in the AEF.13

Those Doughboys who did not hanker to go far away or who had off-duty time to spare could take in sights in the Tonnerre area. Numerous French churches, monasteries, and castles hundreds of years old; a Gallo-Roman cemetery; and the remains of several three-layer stone and sand roads with "solid cement" foundations in low places, a campsite west of Flogny, and a pottery southwest of Villiers-Vineux dating from the days of Roman occupation were of particular interest. Many Roman and Gallic coins were found at the pottery site by men of the 2nd Battalion, 142nd Infantry. Why "so many pieces of money were scattered there" was unknown, but the Arrow Head theorized facetiously that the Gauls may have dropped a high explosive shell [199] "on one of Caesar’s treasure carts...or maybe hit a crap game or a canteen."14

Two "Official trips were made by 36th officers to the Champagne battleground. Among those in the party making the first were Colonel James and Lieutenant Colonel Morrissey, Captains Loftus and Spence, and a photographer. "As luck would have it," James lamented, "snow fell as we arrived at Chalons last Sunday [January 26, 1919], on our way up, & stayed with us all the time, so that the ground was covered and the shell holes & ‘fox’ holes did not show up ... well..." Several bodies were found "yet unburied" and those French peasants who had returned were "on the verge of starvation."

Many of the photos taken were subsequently reproduced in a little paperbound booklet entitled The Thirty-Sixth in the Great War. Described by its publisher, the Arrow Head, as a "Pictorial Supplement to this paper," the publication contained a brief sketch of the 36th’s activities drawn from Spence’s official history, which was nearing completion. Fifteen thousand copies of the booklet were printed and paid for with newspaper profits and the money collected from advance sales to the troops "at the pay table" on May 1.15

The second trip was made by First Lieutenant Edmond J. Cleveland of St. Louis, senior division chaplain, for the purpose of inspecting "the fields and burial places" and to verify "all records" of the Graves Registration Service "working in that sector." On his return late in April, Cleveland reported that all bodies were "now being moved into the United States Army Cemetery No. 1129, just south of ... St. Etienne." Cleveland and the Red Cross had located the burial places of all but nine men. After the war, two monuments, one French and the other American, were erected in the vicinity of Somme-Py as memorials to the French and American soldiers who died in the Champagne.16

A considerable number of officers and enlisted men left the division permanently. Many departed in accordance with AEF "provisions" calling for the transfer of personnel to the combat divisions with which they had originally served in order that they might be mustered out near their homes. Over 100 soldiers reenlisted for one or three years "in the Army of Occupation" because they had no job to return to in the States. Similarly, though not necessarily for the same reason, 61 officers, including [200] Captain Chastaine, were retained in service at their request and were sent to Regular Army divisions, especially the 1st in Germany. It appears, too, that some officers transferred out in order that they might go home sooner, or, in the case of a few who wished to wear the distinctive Sam Browne belt prescribed for AEF officers a while longer, later.

A sizeable contingent of officers and men sought and received discharges. General March authorized Pershing to send individuals who could prove "distress ... in their families" to the States for immediate discharge and/or to discharge in Europe anyone who had entered France after April 1, 1917, and "submitted sufficient reasons for ... discharge." Thus Sergeant Dreben, Lieutenant Colonel Taylor, Colonel Roberts, and General Hulen, to name a few, were let out early to tend to pressing "personal affairs." Roberts and Hulen traveled together and were mustered out in Texas. They were succeeded as commanders of the 144th Infantry and the 72nd Brigade by Lieutenant Colonel Mullican and a former brigade commander in the 80th Division, Brigadier General George H. Jamerson, respectively.

It goes without saying that numerous positions at practically every level of command changed hands as the result of the transfers and discharges. It is also probably unnecessary to explain that the differences in rank assigned to many of the same officers mentioned in this and previous chapters were due to the large number of promotions made at the front and afterwards. It may be less obvious, however, that the 36th received as many or more officers and men as it lost. One batch of 115 "wanderers" who had months ago been shipped from the 36th to the 81st Division, were reported as "mighty glad" to be back with their old Camp Bowie buddies. As of May 1, 1919, the total strength of the units in the Tonnerre area was 739 officers and 19,084 enlisted men.17

Among the personnel returned to the 36th were those taken prisoner by the Germans. One of the returnees, Lieutenant Walters, escaped from captivity and arrived in Metz the day French occupation troops marched in. Private Buster L. Stinson, Company C, 142nd Infantry, who was captured on October 21, 1918, while on patrol and taken eventually to Belgium, stated that he was poorly fed and ill-treated. A more pleasant story [201] was told by nine 142nd Infantrymen—three non-coms and six privates who were seized northeast of St. Etienne late on October 8 and marched to Leffincourt for search and interrogation. The questioning was conducted in an acceptable manner and their personal belongings were "undisturbed." During the "examination" their captors displayed a book giving the places the 36th had been at home and abroad and expressed "great surprise that a new inexperienced Division was placed in that sector which they considered a hard one and well protected." The Germans seem to have done more talking than their prisoners; however, Sergeant Norman Duff of Company A told one officer that there were four divisions behind the 36th preparing to move up. "As far as I knew that was true and he didn’t seem to know any better himself."

From Leffincourt, the nine men together with other prisoners were marched to Attigny. The food served them was poor, but so was that dished out to the German troops. At Sedan they were entrained and taken to an old, unsanitary and uncomfortable French fortress used by the Germans as a prison near Montmedy. They were later transferred to Rastatt, Germany, where conditions were "very good." The American Red Cross furnished food, toilet articles, recreational items, clothes, and "housewives." Only privates were required to work and they were paid one-half mark per day. The German guards "treated Americans much better than they treated French and Italian prisoners." After the Armistice, an American officer assumed command of "the camp" and sent the Arrow Heads in the care of the Red Cross via Switzerland to Vichy, France, where, after a short stay in the hospital, they were dispatched to their organizations. Captain P. E. Barth, 142nd intelligence officer, reported that the men returned "in good health" and "with nothing but praise" for the Red Cross.18

On two separate occasions three days apart, the 36th hosted distinguished visitors. On April 6, 1919, Thomas T. (Tom) Connally and Hatton W. Sumners of Texas, William W. Hastings of Oklahoma, and nine other Congressmen from elsewhere appeared "in the division" to talk with officers at Smith’s headquarters "and in the units and enlisted men in many organizations." Good politicians, that they were, they made certain that they "saw men from their districts." The delegation [201] was in France unofficially "to see how the war was conducted, how the peace conference was working and how the boys were being treated." Connally told the Arrow Head that the people of Texas and Oklahoma were "proud of their boys," but he could not, when asked, say what they were "going to do to show it" in a "material" way. Queried about how much longer the division would be in France, Connally answered, "I don’t think it will be very long now before the 36th is on its way home." The information on which Connally based his statement was imparted to him "the other day" at General Headquarters and, as his interviewer would soon learn, he was not misinformed.19

On Wednesday, April 9, the 36th was paid an official visit by General Pershing, who, true to his reputation, conducted "the most detailed inspection to which this Division has ever been submitted." On short notice, the 36th "showed up in fine form, with all the men in highly polished tin derbies [steel helmets] and regulation field service uniforms."

Promptly at 2 P.M., the Commander-in-Chief, accompanied by Smith, Williams, a division aide, and a retinue of personal staff officers, began "a minute inspection" of the troops, who stood at attention with fixed bayonets, in a field near Melisey north of Tonnerre. A "’large crowd" of local denizens kept within certain bounds by the military police watched as Pershing walked the lines examining personnel and equipment and engaging in numerous "personal conversations" with the officers and enlisted men on such subjects as "wound and service chevrons, billets, food, fuel, clothing, cleaning materials, and recreation." The members of the 142nd Ambulance Company "stood in the rain for five hours" before the granite-faced commander commenced the inspection and got to them, but their discomfort was forgotten when he complimented the company commander on the excellent condition of their equipment.

After completing the inspection, Pershing presented Distinguished Service Crosses to Second Lieutenant Donald J. McLennan and Sergeants Charles J. Liddell, Howard S. Woods, and William T. Harden, all of the 142nd Infantry, and decorated the standards of the four infantry regiments, the 111th Engineers, the 111th Field Signal Battalion, the 111th Sanitary Train, the 111th Supply Train, and the three machine gun battalions. The division then passed in review to the martial [203] music of the consolidated infantry bands. And finally, the officers and men were "assembled" for an address in which Pershing "commented on the appearance and general excellency of the Division as a whole." The affair reminded the men of the great review in Fort Worth almost a year to the day earlier except in this instance the star of the show was General Pershing. It is difficult to estimate Pershing’s popularity rating in the 36th except to say that while he was highly respected, he was seemingly neither idolized nor disliked.

Pershing followed up his visit with a letter to General Smith who had it reproduced in the Arrow Head for the edification of the officers and men. In it, the Commander-in-chief commented on the "splendid physical condition" of the personnel; summarized the 36th’s activities at the front; concluded that the "mettle" displayed by its membership at the front "gave promise" of what the division "would become as a veteran"; and asked that Smith extend "my congratulations to the members of your Division, who may return home proud of the record of their services with the knowledge that they have acquitted themselves well as part of the American Expeditionary Forces." Much more welcome to the troops was a telegram from the First Army received April 10 stating that the SOS had been directed to prepare the 36th "for return to the United States" and that "movement to embarkation center will commence on or before April 27th." Had they been aware of Pershing’s practice of inspecting divisions prior to their departure, they would have known as soon as they learned the general was coming that the 36th had been scheduled to sail.20

Pershing’s review marked the climax of the 36th’s stay in the Tonnerre area. The Arrow Heads longed for home and detested the road work and training, but they made the most of their situation by taking advantage of Pershing’s liberal recreation, leave, and education policies to entertain and to improve themselves. The welfare organizations could scarcely have done a better job, given the limitations of time and wherewithal, of providing social services to the troops. Of all the things that were done, however, nothing sent morale soaring quite as high as the official announcement of the division’s impending departure.

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Panthers to Arrowheads: The 36th (Texas-Oklahoma) Division In World War I
by Lonnie J. White
Copyright 1984 1998 by Military History Associates, Inc.
All Rights Reserved - Reprinted by Permission
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