36th Division in World War I


[207]"War’s over! Finie la guerre! And, Oh, Boy! Going Home! Toot Sweet!" exclaimed the Arrow Head under headlines that read in part "All Division Wild With Excitement As News Comes" that the 36th was to "Leave Area in Two Weeks—probably through Le Mans and Brest." The reaction to the announcement that the 36th would soon pull out was in stark contrast to the air of gloom that had hung over the Tonnerre area since late March as the result of the "passing" of the 78th and 80th Divisions to the control of the SOS for embarkation; the dissolution of the 1st Corps; the reassignment of the 36th to the 8th Corps, First Army; and persistent rumors that the Texans and Oklahomans would be sent to Germany.

The 36th had not been listed among those divisions to sail through June, but the SOS and the Transportation Service were now well ahead of schedule in returning the troops to the United States. The SOS was processing the homeward-bound Doughboys rapidly at the huge American Embarkation Center (AEC) at Le Mans and at the three main’ embarkation ports of Brest, Bordeaux, and St. Nazaire thanks largely to the continued construction of facilities during the latter stages of the war and afterwards. But more important, the Transportation Service, which was created in December, 1918, by the merger of the Inland Traffic Service and the Embarkation Service, was providing ships quicker and in larger numbers than was at first expected. The elimination of the convoy as the sole method of transport in favor of immediate "individual sailings" after the boats arrived in port [208] and loaded, the conversion of warships and cargo vessels to troop-carriers, and the chartering of German and other foreign ships allowed the Transportation Service to exceed its initial goal of shipping 250,000 men per month by over 50 percent within a few months after it took charge of all military travel west "of the piers in Europe." The upshot was that the 36th’s turn to go home came much sooner than originally expected.

The Tonnerre area was alive with activity during the last three weeks of April as the officers and men said their more-or-less formal farewells at dances and parties, paid their bills, and prepared to leave. The 36th was transferred to the SOS on April 15 as scheduled, but the departure date was set back to May 2 as a consequence of "emergencies" at the AEC. The entrainment of over 4,000 troops daily on a total of 16 trains at Tonnerre, Ervy, and Jeugny was accomplished in four days. The 111th Engineers remained behind a short time to salvage supplies "in use until the last moment" and "to put things in order generally." Refreshments were served at the entrainment and detrainment points by welfare workers and hot coffee was dispensed from two rolling kitchens set on a flat car with each train during the approximately 30-hour journey mainly or entirely via St. Florentin and Tours.

Upon reaching Le Mans, located inland at the junction of trunkline railroads leading to Brest, St. Nazaire, and Bordeaux, the troops were billeted in nearby villages designated for new arrivals. Smith’s headquarters was located at Montfort, Whitworth’s at Torce, and Jamerson’s at Thorigne. During the next two weeks service records were checked, equipment was inspected, new clothing and personal articles were issued as "needed," medical examinations were conducted, and the men were deloused.

Lice, which were all too common in France, carried typhus fever and the AEF was determined to see that none was brought home. The louse was euphemized as "cootie" and the embarkation process whereby it was eliminated was called "the mill." "For it is a mill," declared Stewart E. White of the International News Service. "Into one end they feed soldiers dirty and ragged and infested from the battlefields, and from the other they turn them out cleaned and reequipped and ready for home." Once through the mill, the Yanks were either moved out immediately [209] or quartered in the "clean" as opposed to the "dirty" or undeloused area whence they had started.

The 36th negotiated the mill without a hitch. Smith had visited the SOS operation in late March in company with other division commanders of the First Army and had subsequently seen to it that the 36th was "in good shape" before it reached the AEC. The inspecting officer, Lieutenant Colonel Edward B. Mitchell, reported on May 16 that the 36th had passed "an excellent inspection." The men’s clothing and equipment "were clean, well arranged, and well taken care of and about half the organizations "had no shortage whatever." "No division," he stated, "has ever left this area in better shape." He commented gratuitously that discipline was excellent, the enlisted men were "alert," the officers were cooperative, and saluting was "sharp and snappy." Colonel F. T. Arnold, the chief inspector, noted on an endorsement that Mitchell’s "coincides with my own observations of the 36th Division."

The discipline and military bearing of the division were reported as excellent upon its arrival in France. That they remained so, perhaps even better, after over five months of marking time, as it were, in the Tonnerre area, is a tribute to Smith’s leadership and to Pershing’s efforts to maintain good morale in the AEF. To a larger extent, however, the smart appearance reflected the tremendous pride the personnel felt for the 36th, which seems to have been even greater—certainly it was not diminished—after its combat service. Historians of other divisions, for example, the 90th, that served creditably and longer, at the front perhaps without as much fanfare might argue that the 36th did not see enough hard fighting to demonstrate that it deserved greater recognition, but no matter whether or not it had actually proved itself as such, its personnel believed theirs was a crack division and they conducted themselves accordingly.

From the AEC the Arrow Heads were transported on American trains to Brest for embarkation. Although they had to sleep on the floors of the cars, they were roomier and more comfortable than those of the French "variety." Hot meals and coffee served en route made the trip more tolerable. Only those Doughboys who had ridden "across France in French equipment," it was said, could appreciate the difference between French and American trains.

[210] Camp Pontanezen, the troops found, had been enlarged, improved, and sanitized since their pause there in 1918. Each of the major port camps contained facilities similar to those at Le Mans, but the former was utilized in the processing of "supply troops" while the latter prepared "combat troops in their large units." Thus Camp Pontanezen was for the 36th mainly a place to stop until it could be loaded onto ships. While the Southwesterners waited, the French President, on behalf of "the Government of the Republic," bade them adieu in a written message signed by a member of the General Commission for Franco-American War Affairs. "France will not," he assured them, "forget the generous help which they brought to her" from "the 8th to the 28th of October," 1918.1

On May 19, two days after the 36th began leaving Le Mans, the first units boarded transports at Brest. In less than one week, the entire command was crossing the Atlantic on the Great Northern, the Saxonia, the Graf Waldersee, the Troy, the Von Steuben, the Pretoria, the Finland, the Pueblo, the Patricia, the Louisville, and possibly other vessels. Corporal Hart found the Graf Waldersee so "incredibly jammed" that the Lenape, which had borne him to Europe in 1918, "now seemed to have been a cruising pleasure boat." The Transportation Service was undoubtedly filling the troop carriers to the brim in response to pressure from home and abroad that it expedite the return of the Doughboys. If crowded conditions was not enough, "all the boats encountered a severe storm" during which "a wall of water swept over the bow" of the Pueblo and washed two 142nd Infantrymen overboard. Despite the herculean efforts of the seamen who manned the lifeboats in a rescue attempt, both men were drowned and the body of one "left to a grave in the deep."2

The principal ports of debarkation were New York (Hoboken), Newport News, Boston, and Charleston. Hoboken and Newport News received the largest number of ships in the order named. As a general rule, the Transportation Service routed the transports after they left France to the debarkation point in the United States nearest the homes of the majority of their passengers. But probably due, at least in some measure, to crowded ports in the South, every 36th unit out of Brest except the 143rd Infantry, which debarked at Newport News, was landed at Hoboken.3

The 143rd was not, however, the first unit of the 36th Division to dock at Newport News. The 61st Field Artillery Brigade, the [211] 111th Ammunition Train—less that detachment with the main body of the division—and the 111th Trench Mortar Battery had left Coetquidan in the latter part of February, 1919, and had been "dipped" for cooties at St. Nazaire where they were loaded aboard the Rijndam, the Aeolus, the Kroonland, the De Kalb, and the Arcadia for what, except for seasickness, proved to be an uneventful voyage to America. At least one coal-burner, the Aeolus, which carried some 1,400 men of Colonel Birkhead’s 131st Artillery Regiment, "stopped by the Azores for coal and water."

Within a fortnight after the arrival of the first troops at Newport News in the second week of March, the entire contingent out of St. Nazaire was on American soil. After processing at Camp Stuart, the several units were dispatched by rail to Texas for demobilization. It was War Department policy to discharge the men in the demobilization camps nearest their homes. Consequently, the 131st Artillery was shipped to Camp Travis, where the majority of its membership was recruited, while the other units were transported to Camp Bowie. Except where "special conditions made it impossible," the men were supposed to be mustered out within 48 hours of their arrival in camp.

It made no difference to stateside Americans whether the troops had seen action or not; to them all returnees were heroes and they received them as such everywhere. Surely no army ever enjoyed a more enthusiastic homecoming than that of World War I. Although the largest receptions were those in the states of origin, numerous ovations greeted the Doughboys on their respective journeys from the ports. Many 36th organizations from both the segment that sat out the fighting, as it were, at Coetquidan and the main portion that saw action paraded at stopovers en route to the demobilization camps. Much political pressure was exerted on the War Department to have specified units routed through certain Oklahoma and Texas towns for purposes of parade-receptions. The War Department initially granted nearly every request it received for parades of units below division level, but the time came when the delay in the return of equipment to the ports for transport of other arrivals threatened to produce a bottleneck in the flow of troops to the demobilization centers. Thus it announced late in May, 1919, that parades en route would thenceforth be authorized only in certain instances. In this regard, [212] it appears that ranking officers possessed some discretionary authority in the matter especially once their commands reached their destination. Had the decision been put to a vote of the soldiers themselves, one suspects there would have been few such, displays. One Arrow Head wrote the Star-Telegram from Le Mans to ask that it "please let the people know that we don’t want to parade any when we get there. What we want to do is to get out of the army, ‘toot sweet!’"

Whatever the attitude of the majority of men, parades figured prominently in the 36th’s homecoming. At Newport News, Colonel Sholars’s 132nd Artillery Regiment, which returned on the Kroonland, marched off the dock "to the sounds of music from several bands and were served by the Red Cross with candy, chewing gum and the other little delicacies befitting the occasion." Later, en route to Camp Bowie, the 132nd paraded in Corsicana, Houston, and Waco. Part of Colonel Logan’s 133rd Artillery, with the regimental band in the lead, stepped smartly through downtown Monroe, North Carolina. In Dallas, on Saturday, March 29, where the majority of the members had enlisted, the 133rd was greeted by thousands as it marched through the streets. The 111th Ammunition Train, in deference to its large Oklahoma membership, was routed through the Sooner State for ovations at McAlester and Oklahoma City.

Probably no other municipality made more elaborate preparations for the reception of the Texans and Oklahomans than Fort Worth. The city had, in a sense, recently honored the 36th by changing the name of the Arlington Heights thoroughfare to Camp Bowie Boulevard. Upon learning that most of their beloved "Panthers" would be brought to Camp Bowie for demobilization, the War Camp Community Service, the Chamber of Commerce, and other groups joined in planning their reception. A parade of the entire division, or even of one of the two major contingents, since the units in each would not arrive simultaneously, was out of the question, but parades by individual units whenever possible were contemplated. Otherwise, the city was decorated and turned into a playground of dances, parties, picnics, band concerts, and what have you. The same welcome was extended to all soldiers, particularly the "Alamos" of the 90th Division, who were also sent to Camp Bowie for discharge.

The 133rd Artillery, which pulled in on March 31, was the only unit of the late March-April arrivals of the 36th to parade in Fort [213] Worth. The 132nd did not march owing to the pressure of the 48-hour muster-out rule. It was, however, warmly received by Fort Worthians and friends and relatives in town for the occasion. As a matter of fact, the crowd "welcoming the men was one of the largest ever seen at the camp." Soon after the arrival of the 132nd on April 7, the demobilization of the artillery at Camp Bowie was completed, whereupon Fort Worth settled down to await the coming of the next batch of returnees. In San Antonio, on March 27, the 131st Artillery paraded to the cheers of thousands and was treated to a barbecue in Brackenridge Park. A few days later, the last of its personnel left Camp Travis as private citizens.4

The main body of the 36th reached American shores late in May and early in June, 1919. Elements of the 111th Engineers, the 111th Sanitary Train, and other units conveyed by the Great Northern and the Saxonia and the 144th Infantry brought by the Pretoria and the Von Steuben, which arrived on May 30 and June 6, respectively, were the first and last portions of the division out of Brest to arrive at Hoboken. At the port to greet the 142nd Infantry was a delegation of Oklahomans headed by Congressman E. B. Howard and Jim McClintic, who rode out in a private boat to meet the Pueblo as it entered the harbor. Amid the cheering of the troops and the blaring of the regimental band, McClintic shouted through a megaphone that "we are darn glad you are here and we will give you a big blowout in Oklahoma City."

Subsequent arrivals were welcomed by these and other dignitaries, among them Governor J. B. A. Robertson, Senator Robert L. Owen, and General Hoffman of Oklahoma and Congressman Sumners and Marvin Jones of Texas. At Newport News, the 143rd Infantry was greeted as it debarked from the Finland by a representative of Governor Hobby’s, who had "victory banners [strung] at frequent intervals along the line of march" from the dock to Camp Stuart.

From the Hoboken piers the 36th units were either boated to Long Island City on the East River and from there transported by rail to Camp Mills or ferried to the Alpine landing opposite Yonkers on the Hudson River and marched thence some five miles to Camp Merritt. At the port camps, they were met with a "song" they had heard before, "the Decootieizer for you." Insofar as it was known, "not a cootie got through the barrage of steam, [214] superheated air, soap, and hot water laid down by the Army at both ends of the transatlantic ferry route."

Another aspect of the in-processing was the assembling of men from states other than Texas and Oklahoma into casual detachments for distribution to demobilization camps located in close proximity to their homes. The AEF had, after the Armistice, shuffled many troops from one division to another to accomplish this purpose, but complete redistribution had not been achieved. Therefore, the outsiders—those who did not possess "geographical indentity" with the division in which they were serving—were detached at the port camps. In accordance with this practice, many Arrow Heads were sent to camps other than Bowie and Travis—Pike and Grant, to name two—for demobilization.5

Despite the recent War Department decision to curtail parading and the request of mothers to politicians that the boys, who were "under full equipment and in their winter clothes," not be forced to march in the prevailing hot weather, the second set of 36th arrivals paraded as much as the artillerymen. Of all the units in both major segments of returnees, none was displayed more than the 142nd Infantry whose route from Camp Merritt took it through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and Missouri for stopovers in Enid, Oklahoma City, El Reno, and Chickasha. The boisterous ovations accorded the Texans and Oklahomans in the Sooner State evidently made Fort Worth’s greeting seem somewhat "cool" by comparison. The crowd that met the infantrymen at the end of the line on June 13 was "demonstrative," but that which watched them parade was "a quiet one."

It seems possible that the arrivals of troops and parades in Fort Worth since the designation of Camp Bowie as a demobilization center late in 1918 were becoming so commonplace by June, 1919, as to attract only modest attention from citizens other than out-of-towners who came to meet their friends and loved ones. Several small units were stationed at Camp Bowie after the 36th left in 1918 and the base hospital received numerous "overseas convalescents." As early as February, 1919, Camp Bowie was mustering out a considerable number of men each month. Soon after the 36th’s artillery was discharged, the 117th Supply Train, 42nd Division, was treated to a tumultuous reception and was showered with roses as it stepped through downtown Fort Worth. [215] This organization was originally the 1st Supply Train of the Texas National Guard.

But probably a more important factor in the relatively tame welcome extended at least to the 142nd Infantry was the descent of so many units upon the city at different times within a short period. The Alamo Division, which left Europe just behind Smith’s command, commenced pouring into Fort Worth almost simultaneously with the 36th, creating considerable congestion in both town and camp. Although some of the earlier hoopla may have been missing, Fort Worth was no less glad to have the boys back and showed it by providing "one continuous festival" for their enjoyment as individuals.

The first of the 36th combat units to arrive was the 143rd Infantry, on June 11, and among the last was the 144th Infantry, on June 17. The 143rd and 144th paraded in Houston and Dallas, respectively, before reaching Fort Worth. Inscribed in bold letters on the side of the first of four trains bearing the 143rd were the words, "From No Man’s Land to Dixie!" Men leaned out the windows and waved as the train rolled into Fort Worth "amid the blowing of whistles, ringing of bells and shouts of welcome from thousands of people" who had been waiting at the Texas and Pacific railroad yards for hours. During a brief stop at the depot, "the Blue Birds of the Red Cross" dispensed cakes, doughnuts, cigarettes, and fruit. At Camp Bowie, "the returned heroes" were "given another reception by wives, sweethearts, and mothers who had gathered out there." On Sunday, June 15, a picnic planned for upwards of 7,000 returnees at Trinity Park was poorly attended owing to a heavy rain.6

Since its membership hailed largely from the general area, the 141st Infantry, with the exception of a detachment of Oklahomans brought to Camp Bowie, was ordered to Camp Travis. The Texans were no sooner placed aboard the Yale for transport by sea to Galveston than a case of smallpox was discovered. The vigorous protests of the troops notwithstanding, they were obliged to unload and to spend the ensuing 17 days in isolation at Camp Mills. After the lifting of the quarantine, they were conveyed by rail to San Antonio which place they arrived during the early morning hours of July 1. The Texans were "royally entertained" in Austin while en route and were greeted by the women "of the 36th Division Auxiliary" at Camp Travis. [216] Later, they paraded through downtown San Antonio and were the guests of honor at a "watermelon feast" on the Alamo Plaza and at a dance at the Community House.7

A hot, dusty ex-Doughboy "leaped into the air," let go "a few warwhoops," waved his discharge and exclaimed: "Oh, boy, ain’t it a grand and glorious feeling." The man had just passed through "the mill" at Camp Bowie. Although the demobilization personnel were under orders to get the men out within two days of their arrival, it appears that the crush of business in June was such that it often took several days longer. Colonel Logan remained temporarily in the service to command the center which, under his direction, operated "from early morning until late every night."

The demobilization procedure was simple enough. An officer met each incoming train while another officer found quarters for its passengers. After the unit was located, the men turned in all gear and equipment except such items as uniforms, shoes, overcoats, steel helmets, and gas masks. They were then marched to the mill, which consisted of "just a few sheds thrown together," where they were given a physical examination, paid whatever was owed them, including five cents a mile travel money to their home or place of induction, plus a 60-dollar separation bonus, and issued their discharge. They could purchase a train ticket from the Railroad Administration office and apply for a job through the U.S. Employment Bureau. A Red Cross representative told them good-by, lectures were provided on insurance and disability compensation, and a movie was shown on the "horrors of social disease." Once outside, they said what was often an emotional farewell to their buddies and headed for home.8

The Texans and Oklahomans left the service with many souvenirs besides helmets and gas masks, which were issued to them as such, in their possession. An officer imported surreptitiously a German Luger for Corporal Hart while Hart himself smuggled several teaspoons through the port at Hoboken for a man whom he barely knew. Major Burges reported grabbing a "typical" German pipe "almost hot" off the battlefield to present to a friend at home and one soldier sent his mother a German helmet as a Christmas present. Another man was the proud owner of a pair of "Boche field glasses and a couple of automatics." The 111th Field Signal Battalion claimed while in the Tonnerre area that it had "gathered the most elaborate collection of souvenirs per man than any other organization in the Div." On the eve of the [217] 36th’s departure, the signalmen were advised "to dispatch them homeward via parcel post prior to the pitiless scrutiny of the port inspector, and consequently the mailing department has been suggestive of the Christmas season in a department store." Thus prohibited mementos were not only smuggled through the ports, but also sent home through the mails.9

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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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