36th Division in World War I

The demobilization of officers proceeded simultaneously with that of the troops. Nearly all the officers "who came in to the service at the outbreak of the war" were, according to Spence, discharged though a few remained temporarily on recruiting duty. In August, 1918, General March had abolished all identifications such as National Army and National Guard by declaring "all land forces, however raised, then on active duty to be the United States Army." Guard and Reserve officers with creditable records were, upon release from active service, permitted to retain their commissions in the Officers Reserve Corps. Guard officers who did not apply for or receive reserve commissions were released from all duty, state or federal. Nevertheless, a number of 36th officers subsequently turned up in the Texas National Guard whose infantry organization was designated as the 36th Division "to preserve the memories and traditions of the National Guard Division which represented Texas so gloriously during the World War." General Hulen, Colonel Birkhead, and Major Weatherred each rose to command the Guard at one time or another and Major Thomas D. Barton served a turn as adjutant general. Birkhead’s first service upon his return home was as Texas chairman of the new American Legion. Another notable officer in the post-war Guard, Colonel Nimon, the commander of the 111th Train Headquarters and Military Police in France, had spearheaded the embryonic organizational efforts of the American Legion in the 36th while the division was still in the Tonnerre area.10

Many Regular Army officers with the 36th were flagged at the port and given new assignments. General Jamerson was ordered to Camp Travis while General Whitworth was sent to Camp Dix, New Jersey. The latter officer, who commanded the Texans and Oklahomans in their hardest fighting, subsequently attended the General Staff School and the Army War College, taught military science and tactics at the University of Alabama, served in the 2nd Division, and commanded about 30 camps of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Whitworth lost his star with the elimination [218] of temporary rank after the war, but won it back before his retirement in 1935.

General Smith and Colonel Williams were among the few ranking Regular Army officers who assisted in the demobilization at Camp Bowie. Smith himself was greeted, at Hoboken with orders relieving him of his command, but members of Congress from Texas persuaded General March to change them. The people of Texas and Oklahoma wanted a closer look at the man who had led their boys to glory in the great war! On June 11, the general met with the Texas and Oklahoma congressional delegations in Washington and modestly attributed the success of the 36th to "the men to whom all the credit must go." At the train station in Fort Worth three days later, Smith told the welcoming committee that the 36th had endured the "hardest test of any unit" in France and that "the men from the West were almost infallible as scrappers."

Smith and Williams were guest speakers on the evening of June 17 at a banquet at the River Crest Country Club given in honor of 57 officers of the division. Williams praised the National Guard for its services in World War I while Smith paid tribute to the 36th officers who were "too brave in leading attacks" and to the men who "were always eager to follow ... regardless of the danger." As "a closing feature," Smith was presented with a "handsome gold watch, with a panther in attitude of combat" on the back "’over which was the inscription ‘Camp Bowie, Fort Worth, Texas."’ Engraved on one side of the watch case were the words, "Presented to Major General W. R. Smith by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, June 17, 1919." Infixed on the other was an arrowhead with the figure "36" above it and the inscription "Meuse-Argonne (Champagne) October, 1918" beside it. Although the 36th did not fight in the Meuse-Argonne per se, its support in the Champagne was regarded as a part of that offensive.

It was indeed an emotional event for the general who fought back tears as he responded to the presentation. At this or another point during the evening, Smith revealed his remote kinship to Sam Houston. As "a little boy I remember that I romped and played on a very handsome saddle given to my grandfather by his cousin, Sam Houston, first President of Texas." That attachment, he confessed, "has made me want to come to Texas and I feel that I [219] am not among strangers down here." If there were any Texans who harbored resentment toward Smith because of his appointment as successor to the well-liked former commanding general of the 36th, Edwin St. John Greble, then there were surely none after this revelation! That Greble was not forgotten, however, there can be no doubt, for L. J. Wortham remembered his contribution at the very same banquet.11

In his public statements in Washington and Fort Worth, Smith tactfully refrained from singling out a 36th unit for special praise. And of the various national groups and races represented, he mentioned the contribution of only one, the -Indians. Their "hereditary cunning in forest warfare," he declared, "’was a wonderful asset to the Division." And the transmittal of messages in Indian languages "completely baffled the Huns." Several of "our Indians" were killed, but "not one of them was ever taken prisoner." The Germans "did not like the Indians" and "were afraid of them."

Smith’s remarks were probably in response to questions on the subject of their performance in combat. If the newspaper publicity accorded the Indians is any indication, the homefolks were more than a little curious about their service. Perhaps the most colorful account of their exploits was published in the Stars and Stripes and reprinted in the Star-Telegram. "It was the Prussian Guard against the American Indian on the morning of Oct. 8 in the hills of Champagne." The Prussians, remembering the red man’s reputation for scalping, were at one point observed "running over the hill tops, casting away their rifles, knapsacks, canteens—sacrificing everything for speed." With the Prussians in full retreat, the warriors of Company E, 142nd Infantry, "looked down on the town of St. Etienne." This and other newspaper stories about the Indian veterans were generally more interesting than true.

An official assessment of the Indian contribution was made in a report by First Lieutenant John R. Eddy of Pennsylvania, former superintendent of the Crow Reservation and a member of the Historical Section of the General Staff. Thanks to his interest in the Indians and his belief that they might best be utilized in the future as scouts, many copies of a questionnaire were distributed and numerous interviews were conducted after the Armistice in quest of information concerning the performance of the Indian [220] soldiers. Prominent among the AEF officers consulted were those of the 36th who either commanded Indians or were in a position to judge them as soldiers.

The 36th officers regarded the Native Americans as hard working, truthful, well-behaved, patient, athletic, fearless under fire, keen observers, "par excellent" in orienting themselves, and more likely to volunteer for hazardous duty than Caucasians. On the negative side, they were weak in imagination, did not immediately grasp the abstract, reverted "to type" in combat, and were "much given to the use of intoxicants." Captain Ethan A. Simpson stated that the majority of Indian soldiers in his battalion were National Guardsmen of some education and that he "would rather have a company of educated Indians than an ordinary company of white men." The comments were not intended to be unfavorable—Indeed, the 36th officers portrayed the Native Americans as fine soldiers—but they tended to reflect the white man’s stereotyped view of their behavior. Apparently neither of the two Indian officers in the 142nd Infantry who saw combat was consulted. One, Charles H. Johnson, rose from captain and company commander to major and battalion commander.

On the basis of the responses to his questions, which one historian says were designed "to elicit the results he wanted," Eddy proposed the creation of ranger companies of Indian scouts. Although his proposal was allowed to collect dust, the military did not forget the 36th’s use of Indians as telephone operators. A report on the subject submitted by Colonel Bloor to General Smith, dated January 23, 1919, and marked to the attention of Captain Spence, was included in Eddy’s report. Bloor’s account was "widely reprinted and described by the press," and other officers, including Major Robinson, discussed the matter for public consumption. In World War II the military utilized Comanches in Europe and Navajos in the Pacific to solve the problem of intercepted messages.12

Several Indian soldiers were among the approximately 400 officers and men of the 36th reported as receiving the French Croix de Guerre for exceptionally courageous conduct. Private Joseph Oklahombi, 141st Infantry, a Choctaw decorated for storming a position bristling with machine guns and trench mortars and capturing 171 Germans, was mentioned in a [221] newspaper article as ranking next to the celebrated Sergeant Alvin C. York for heroism. Actually his citation, which suggested a single-handed performance, was misleading for other troops were cited for the same accomplishment.

The large number of Croix de Guerre awarded to Arrow Heads, many posthumously, might cause one unfamiliar with the French practice of conferring them by the "hundreds of thousands" in World War I to conclude that the Texans and Oklahomans were inordinately heroic. If they received more than their share, it was probably due in part to their good fortune of serving with the French army whose generals were said, no doubt with some exaggeration, to have carried the medal "about in their pockets to bestow ... on soldiers." The Croix de Guerre was not, as the American public believed, the "supreme reward" for valor. It might compare at the least to the Bronze Star and at the most to the Silver Star of later years. Over 50 percent of the French war crosses distributed to Arrow Heads went to officers and about one-third of the total number of 36th officers in the Champagne received them.

Awarded for gallantry in action, the Medaille Militaire was, according to Frederick Palmer, the French equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Four Texans—Sergeant Sam Dreben of El Paso, Sergeant Jesse S. Morrison of Moody, Corporal Ernest H. Boggs of Pilot Point, and Private John D. Reese of Josephine—and three Oklahomans—Sergeants William T. Harden of Cordell, Charles J. Liddell of Marietta, and Howard S. Woods of Wewoka—received the Medaille Militaire. All except Dreben were members of the 142nd Infantry.

The same seven men were also among the 39 Arrow Head recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross, which was first issued in 1918. All but one of the winners of the latter medal were members of the 71st Brigade, especially the 142nd Infantry. The large majority were decorated for "extraordinary heroism" at St. Etienne, slightly over one-half were Texans, and several died in combat. One notices that each of the men awarded both the Medaille Militaire and the Distinguished Service Cross won them for the same act. Perhaps fairly typical of the heroic conduct was that of Sergeant Dreben, who, on October 8, 1918, with 30 volunteers, rushed a strong German position on the American right flank, killing over 40 enemy soldiers, taking 2 prisoners, and capturing 4 machine guns, without "the loss of a single man."

[222] General Smith, General Hulen, and Lieutenant Colonel Culberson each received the Distinguished Service Medal, the new American decoration given "for distinguished service whether at the rear or in command at the front." Culberson was one of eight Arrow Heads recommended for "Belgium Decorations." Five officers, including Smith, were named to the distinctive French Legion of Honor. Smith, who also won the Croix de Guerre, was one of a handful of officers and men to receive three different decorations. Four others in this exclusive category were Dreben, Woods, First Lieutenant John S. Loomis of Dallas, 132nd Machine Gun Battalion, and First Lieutenant Claude H. Mason of Hillsboro, 141st Infantry.

The award most coveted by the Americans was, of course, the Medal of Honor. Of the 95 issued in World War I, two went to members of the 36th, Sergeant Sampler and Corporal Turner, whose heroics have been discussed elsewhere in this study. The two Oklahomans were decorated by Pershing personally at Chaumont late in April, 1919.

At least 475 decorations were distributed to Arrow Heads. Of this number, both Medals of Honor, 30 Distinguished Service Crosses, and 129 Croix de Guerre were conferred before the division left the Tonnerre area. All, or nearly all, were received by the time of demobilization. It is possible that the grand total awarded exceeded the number above since that figure is based almost entirely on the lists of medal winners at the termination of divisional record keeping in June, 1919, and additional medals may have been forthcoming after that time.13

Although General Smith may have rated other field officers as highly, there can be no doubt that he considered Colonels Williams and Bloor as two of his finest subordinates. In presenting the Croix de Guerre to Williams in a ceremony at Cheney in April, 1919, Smith referred to Williams as "the hardest-working man" in the 36th and credited him with "directing and training the Division for its final performance." In a letter dated June 3, 1919, for inclusion in Bloor’s file, Smith observed that, among those who saw action, Bloor was "the only regimental commander ... who brought his regiment to France and took it back to the United States." The 142nd Infantry "has always been among the best, if not the best, of the Division, and . . . this condition of affairs is due to your able administration." Certainly [223] the consistently able performance of these two officers contributed to the 36th’s excellent record. Bloor returned to Austin and served in the new Texas Guard while Williams remained in the Regular Army.14

Another officer whom Smith undoubtedly held in much esteem was Captain Spence. Presumably in accordance with the wishes of the new Historical Section of the General Staff, the combat divisions of the AEF, following the Armistice, prepared official histories of their activities in the war. Thus the 36th no sooner arrived in the Tonnerre area than Smith selected Spence to chronicle the official history of the division. Upon its completion, copies were to be sent "to the historical sections of the General Staff both at Washington and ... Chaumont" and to the "archives of the States of Texas and Oklahoma."

Probably owing to the great difficulty of sifting through the massive files of messages and orders, which were long on fact and short on explanation, Spence sought to lighten his burden and to enrich his narrative by soliciting the accounts and statements of numerous participants. Unit accounts were, as a general rule, prepared by ranking officers who saw action and were still with the division. Although several took the form of outline histories, most were presented as battle reports and limited to the 36th’s tour at the front. A small number were subsequently published in one medium or another. One of the unit reports that was widely published in the newspapers was that of Colonel Bloor. The accounts were, on the whole, surprisingly candid and modest and much of the information they contained was checked by Spence and other "staff officers and representatives of the different units" during the "special trip" made by them to the battleground in January, 1919, referred to in Chapter Seven.

Spence made extensive use of the reports and statements of officers in preparing his official history. By the time the 36th left the Tonnerre area the story of the division to that time had been completed. Brought up to date at Camp Bowie, the lengthy manuscript covered the entire history of the 36th from inception to demobilization. Although it provided much valuable data on the organization and training of the division and its post-Armistice activities, it focused mainly on the fighting. Prepared in some haste, it was cumbersome and lacked overall perspective.

Many official divisional histories were printed after the return of the AEF and Colonel Williams announced at Camp Bowie on [224] June 15, 1919, that the 36th’s would be published and sold at two dollars per copy to cover costs. All orders were supposed to be in Spence’s hands by June 30. But presumably because an insufficient number of orders were received and there was no other money available to finance its publication, it was not printed.

Published not as a book but as articles in the Star-Telegram during the last two weeks in June was a relatively well-presented "official" condensation of that part of the full manuscript dealing with the 36th abroad. The condensed history was also composed mainly in France by Spence "under the order and with the advice" of Smith. The original purpose of the short version, if not for newspaper publication, has not been ascertained.15

Although Spence’s complete history was never published, another account, prepared by Captain Chastaine at about the same time, was printed privately in 1920 under the title, Story of the 36th: The Experiences of the 36th Division in the World War. A journalist by profession, Chastaine told an interesting story, but, like Spence, he made some minor errors, dwelled disproportionately on the 36th in the Champagne, and assumed a considerable knowledge of the American participation in the war by his readers. One suspects that Chastaine utilized either one or both of Spence’s works in its composition, but it was based largely on the captain’s numerous and lengthy articles written in 1918-1919 for the Daily Oklahoman. Rich in detail on practically every aspect of the 36th’s activities and written on the spot, his newspaper articles were an even greater contribution to posterity than his book. Understandably, Chastaine stressed the Oklahoma role in his writings, especially in his articles. Another book published in 1922 by one of Chastaine’s fellow Oklahomans, Chaplain Barnes, dealt wholly with the partially Sooner regiment, the 142nd Infantry.16

General Smith’s last act as commanding general of the 36th Division was to address a short farewell to the officers and men who had served under him. It was printed in the Star-Telegram on June 22 upon the conclusion of the demobilization of 36th troops at Camp Bowie and in the San Antonio Express on the same day as the 141st Infantry arrived at Camp Travis. In it, he praised the Texans and Oklahomans as "American Gentlemen of the highest type" and told them that their service was truly "appreciated." [225] They had "acquitted" themselves "as soldiers worthy of America’s best traditions" and, in doing so, had "left a record ... second to none." "As your Divisional Commander I wish you Godspeed and know that, in future, you will serve your country as citizens with the same high devotion to duty as has marked your service in the past."17

Smith himself, on July 15, less than two weeks after the last Arrow Head was mustered out at Camp Travis, reverted to his Regular Army rank of colonel. Five years later, after assignments that had taken him to Washington, the Philippines, Virginia, and Hawaii, he was once again a two-star general. From 1928 until his retirement from the army in 1932, he served as superintendent of West Point. Employed afterwards as superintendent of the Sewanee Military Academy in Tennessee, his military career did not finally end until his death in 1941. A competent, modest, and sensible officer, however, strict and demanding, the Texans and Oklahomans who served with the 36th in France were fortunate to have had him as their commanding general.18

Ironically perhaps, the Texas National Guard, which formed the 36th Division, and the Oklahoma National Guard, now a unit of the 45th Division, were at the time of Smith’s demise, shortly before Pearl Harbor, once more in federal service and training for combat in World War II.19 A number of 36th veterans, several of whom have been mentioned in this study, served the second time around, but for the vast majority World War I was the extent of their military career. They had done their duty in 1917-1919 and had done it willingly and well. They had played a role in the defeat of the German army, had established the reputation of the 36th as a fighting division, and had enhanced the military traditions of the States of Texas and Oklahoma.

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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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