Second Infantry Division History WWI

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Meaning of Memorial Day

America celebrates Memorial Day and pays tribute to those who have given their lives to keep us free.

Memorial Day, 2011 - Grandmothers are the guardians of memory. In a pile of photos and letters my grandmother kept for no special reason other than it meant something to her, I found two letters with a return address for Mrs. Edward (Loretta) Hines of Evanston, Illinois. The first dated March 14 and the second May 10, 1920.

Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. This is something my grandmother Marguerite Chevallier Meine Pearson might say. She and Loretta Hines had something in common.

Loretta Hines was a Gold Star Mother. It was a term created during the First World War to honor mothers who had lost a son in war. Her son, Lt. Edward Hines, left his home in Illinois and went to France along with my grandfather James Madison Pearson. They were billeted together in the French village of Graffigny-Chemin, in the house where my grandmother lived.

Edward was Loretta's first born child. Loretta thanked my grandmother for caring for her son in his last days. His cause of death was never stated, but it was a death that was long and lingered. During his last days my grandmother was by his side comforting him. She solemnly promised Edward that his military hat and coat would be returned to his parents in case of his death.

A priest, Father Mackin, had just completed his visit to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Hines. He gave to Loretta  her son's hat and coat. In thanks Mrs. Hines wrote to my grandmother:

We grow more lonesome for him, as the days go on and we are sure we shall never become reconciled to his death.Often times I catch myself expecting him to come home and I do wonder if we shall ever get used to this world without him. I really do not believe I will.

The war ended, my grandparents married, and had a first born son, William Fletcher Pearson, who died in an influenza epidemic. But my grandmother and grandfather and my mother never forgot young William and the heartache endured.

I suppose that one can never understand the true depth of emotion at the loss of a child. It is the one experience that a parent never wishes to know. Yet, it happens all too frequently and often for reasons that seem unfathomable. In Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 over 5,000 soldiers, both men and women, have died. Each soldier has a story that is special to someone. It is why we observe Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance - the one day where, in the midst of swimming and cook-outs, Americans collectively feel the loss of all mothers and fathers, of all families who have ever lost a loved one. We are reminded that, although it is one day for most of us, it is a lifetime of heartache for a husband or wife, mother or father, or other family member. As Loretta Hines said, "We Americans who have given our sons and who will never come home have suffered untold agony. We had built our lives about our boy and he was everything that we wanted him to be." Even as Mrs. Hines mourned the loss of her son, she expressed the gratitude she felt to my grandmother Marguerite for her care. Knowing that she had by this time married my grandfather, she also promised to visit her one day and share thoughts that only woman could share about the loss of a loved one.

The meaning of Memorial Day is expressed in the parades, the flowers, the flags and the ceremonies, but it is also the touching stories of how so many American families have suffered by the sacrifice of a loved one. May we never forget.

Loretta Hines could never forget her son or let his memory fade. Lt. Edward Hines died in 1917 and his parents, Edward Sr. and Loretta Hines immediately went to work, donating more than a million and a half  dollars to build a hospital in honor of their son, Edward Hines, Jr. Veterans Administration Hospital in Hines, Illinois. The hospital was built with the idea of treating wounded soldiers returning from World War I.

My advice is enjoy the swimming and the cook-outs, but also find a story and share it; for a moment or a lifetime experience the true meaning of Memorial Day.

I will start.

Sgt. Eric M. Nettleton, a native of Wichita, was killed the first week of January 2011 in Dehjawz-e Hasanzay, Afghanistan. Eric died when an improvised explosive device detonated near his dismounted patrol.A 2003 graduate of West High School, Eric leaves behind his wife Ashley, parents Jim and Sandy, brother Clayton, and sisters Jessica and Sarah. Freedom Remembered.

Listen to Fields of Gold by Eva Cassidy.

Letters to my Grandmother

The war ended on 11 November 1918, but the Army still had many tasks to perform, including the occupation of the Koblenz bridgehead on the Rhine River. For that purpose, Maj. Gen. Joseph T. Dickman, at the direction of General Pershing, organized the Third Army on the15th of  November. This would constitute the Army of Occupation.This should not be confused with the 3rd Infantry Division, commanded by Brig. Gen. Preston Brown.

As a part of the 3rd Infantry Division, my grandfather was sent to Andernach near Koblenz as part of that operation. Divisional missions included the administration of civil government, the maintenance of public order, and the prevention of renewed aggression. This mission was short-lived. By the summer of 1919 all American military units had left and the command structure changed from tactical to an area command with an office of civil affairs.

Here is a link to photos of the 3rd Infantry Division. About half way down the web page is a photograph of my grandfathers unit in Andernach. The image was provided by my cousin George Campbell.

My grandmother Marguerite Chevallier Meine saved the letters which her fiance James Madison Pearson sent her prior to their marriage. The following is an abbreviated summary of the letters:

2 December 1918

My Dear Darling:

I am now in Saarburg, Germany, and our journey has been without any mishap. You would think that we were marching through France except, of course, there are no flags flying.The country looks prosperous and there have been no hostile demonstrations.My office and billet is in the Hotel zur Post...I think that I shall get me a horse and ride - the exercise will be very good for me, and I will get in practice so that I can ride with you. You must have a horse and as soon as we are settled, that will be one of the first presents that I will make you.

The German people seem to crave soap and chocolate. Everyone says that there has been an absence of these articles.

General Brown hopes that you're well.

With all my love


4 December 1918

Dear Marguerite:

I am now in Osburg and it is now 7 o'clock and have had my dinner. i will write you a few lines and tell you that I am well and love you.Suppose you have gone to bed by this time. Hope you are having no trouble in sleeping... The weather is not very cold although it has been raining and we will move tomorrow to Malborn....The country over which we are passing is very mountainous, but I think we shall be soon in the lowlands, and then to the Rhine River.The mail connections are very bad, but I don't worry for they will soon become better and anyway I hope to see you about the first of the year and then we will plan for the future - our future.
Let me know if you hear from Captain Maysett... Colonel Bessell is in Germany, but not with me. He is with another corps, however I hope to see him ere long. Can you realize it, but it will soon be a year since I first saw you...
My office is in a tavern and it is run by some country f????? who knows nothing of war or anything else.My billet is with the curie and he treats me very well so you should not worry about me.
Had a very good dinner tonight - soup, steak, Irish potatoes, gravy, bread, slaw (cabbage) and prune pie.
devotedly Madison

16 January 1919

My Dear Darling:

I reached Andernach yesterday...

I was sorry that I had to leave your Aunt, but I think that everything has been arranged and she knows what to do, so you must have her arrange everything for our wedding ...

With all my love


P.S. I love you M

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A History of the Second Division in WWI

This scrap of paper was found among my gradfather's possessions. It is a summary of postings for the 4th Machine Gun Battalion of the First Brigade.

The 4th Machine Gun Battalion was a unit of the Second Infantry Division. See WWI, 1917 -1918, Army History Divisions, Second Division.

The Second Infantry Division, known as the Indianhead Division was organized in October of 1917 from units of the Regular Army and Marines. It was formed in Bourmont, France under the temporary command of Brig. Gen. Doyen, and later, Maj. Gen. Omar Bundy, and Maj. Gen. James Harbord..  For most of the intense action, command was under Marine Major General John A. Le Juene.

 This is James Madison Pearson's Second Division Medal, reverse side, with a list of actions.

On March 16, 1918, the Second Division took up relatively quiet positions on the St-Mihiel Salient between Verdun and St-Mihiel. This was the Toulen - Troyen Sector. The Second Division mingled with French units and repulsed successfully several German attacks particularly on the night of April 13th - 14th. On May 13th, the Division was withdrawn to Chaumont-en-Vexin (Oise) in preparation for further action.

On May 27th, the Germans began an offensive between Aisne and the Marne River. From June 1st -3rd the Second Division replaced exhausted French troops at Montreuil-aux-Lions on a 12 kilometer front blocking the German advance to Paris. The Germans were soon exhausted and ceased their advance.

On June 4th, the Second Division commenced a series of attacks. The village of Bouresches was taken, Belleau Woods was occupied, and by July 1st, Vaux and Bois de la Roche were taken. After 40 days of action and the loss of 9,000 men, the Second Division was relieved.

On July 18th, the Second Division returned to action as a part of the Allies' Aisne - Marne Offensive. Along with the First Division and First Moroccan Division, the Allies attacked from the west near Soissons. The Second Divison advanced 8 kilometers in 26 hours through successive defensive trenches and past numerous machine gun nests and artillery. The division lost 5,000 men but captured 3,000 German prisoners and 75 guns in addition to taking the German positions at Beaupauraire Farm, Vaucastille, and Vierzy. Finally, on the night of July 19 - 20, French units relieved the Second Division.

From August 6 - 16th, the Second Division took up French positions on the Marbache Sector, until they were relieved by the 82nd Division.

The Second Division then moved to the area of Colombey-les-Belles in preparation for the St-Mihiel Offensive. This was to be the first American operation conducted under the command of  General Black Jack Pershing. The attack almost ended before it began. At the end of August, Marshall Foch entered General Pershing's command and told him he had changed his mind. Foch wished to conduct a grand assault all along the front under the commands of the French and British using two-thirds of the American First Army in support. Pershing famously refused and committed himself to completing the St-Mihiel Offensive and then shifting to support the campaign crossing the Meuse River into the Argonne.

The exchange between Foch and Pershing reportedly went like this:

'Do you wish to take part in the battle?' Foch shrilled, his mustaches vibrating. 'As an American army and in no other way!' Pershing roared.
Something about Everything Military, Meuse-Argonne

The Second Division formed up on the left flank of the 1st American Corp on the south side of the salient near Limey. The attack began on September 12 and the Second Division advanced through Remenauville, Thiaucourt, and Jaulney. On the night of September 15 - 16th, it was relieved by the 78th Division and removed near the ancient city of Toul.

This is a portion of a map from Wikipedia commons dealing with the St-Mihiel Offensive.

Following the reduction of the St-Mihiel Salient, the Allies commenced an offensive in the Meuse-Argonne, also called the Battle of Argonne Forest. The operation was under the command of Marshall Foch. It contained the combined French 4th and 5th Armies as well as General Pershing's First Corp.The Second Division was, at this time under the command of Lt. Gen. Robert L. Bullard.

The attack called for the Allied Forces to cross the Meuse River into the Argonne Forest with over a million Allied soldiers, 135,000 of whom were French. The attack commenced on September 26, 1918 with the French 4th Army attacking from Champagne. The American First Corp, just north of Verdun, attacked to the right of the French with the Second Division supporting the French. The Second Division moved first to Chalene-sur-Marne and thence to Suippe. On the night of October 2-3, it entered the front line northwest of Somme-Py. In four days of intense fighting, the Second Division took Medeah Farm, Blanc Mont Ridge, and the ground up to St. Etienne-Orfeuil road.During these engagements, the Second Division suffered losses of 5,400 men while taking prisoner 2,300 German soldiers.

The Second Division was relieved on the night of October 2-3 and moved east to rejoin the First Corp.This movement required the Second Division to move through St. Menehould, les Islettes, and the Argonne Forest. It then located near Eremont in relief. On October 31st, the Second Division moved to the front relieving the the 42nd Division at a point south of St.Georges.

The general attack began on November 1, 1918. Once in action, the Second Division took St. Georges and Landres-et-St.Georges. They continued through the woods at Bois de Hazois and captured the towns of  Lardreville, Chennery, and Bayonville. In a series of night manueveurs, the Second Division moved through the woods at Bois de la Follie.continuing, they passed through Fosse, Nouart, and the Bois de Belval. On the 10th and 11th, the Second Division was able to cross the Meuse River at Letanne.

During this final operation the Division took 12,026 prisoners while sustaining 25,076 casualties.

This needs to be completed....

What this blog is about.

This blog is about my grandfather James Madison Pearson and his wife Marguerite. The purpose of the blog is to collect information about his service overseas in World War I. It was in Graffigny-Chemin, a small farming village in the Lorraine in eastern France, that he met and married my grandmother Marguerite Chevallier Meine.