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Thursday, November 11, 2010

November 11th, 1918

(click to enlarge)

My grandfather served in France during WWI in a machine-gun unit.

That, along with the somewhat cryptic "PFC 314 Machine Gun Company" marking on his headstone, was all I knew about Gramp, who died at home on the night of the 1973 Paris Peace Accords and never, ever talked about his service to anyone in my family, as far as I know.

The teenaged smart-ass that I was then could not appreciate what I found tonight:


Note this background info:

A typical infantry regiment in the American Expeditionary Force of the Great War included one Machine Gun Co. During an offensive, the Machine Gun Co. was relied upon to lay down suppressing fire from behind the advancing infantry troops, moving forward with the advance, and also provide fire in case of retreat, which meant holding their position until the returning troops had passed through them to form a defensive. Each division also included machine gun battalions which were assigned as needed along the line of advance. Machine guns of the day were heavy and required use of mule drawn carts to maneuver to front line action, the final placement on foot. Types of gun used by the 314th include the US made Browning and the French made Chauchat.

Lt. Val Browning (yes, that Browning) using Browning Machine Gun, with a capacity of 500-600 rpm
(click for full-size image)

In honor of my grandfather -- PFC Edwin S. Spaulding, MG Company, 314th Infantry, 79th Division, American Expeditionary Force -- and his comrades-in-arms, I'd ask you to please read the following verbatim unit history, circa March, 1919:


The history of the Machine Gun Company, 314th Infantry, dates from September 21, 1917, at Camp Meade, Maryland. This date marks the organization of the company. At the time of organization, this company consisted of 35 enlisted men and 6 officers. Captain Frank F. Battles was placed in command of the company, assisted by Lieut. Leighton Smith, Edward Mylin, Maurice Colbert, Fred Gerard and John Kress.

The training of the company at first was along the line of general military work, the men being taught the fundamental military principals of discipline and drill. The company was increased by new men from time to time and many men were transferred to other branches of the service for which they were better fitted.

February 4, 1918, Lieut. Smith and Lieut. Mylin were transferred to other companies of the regiment, and Lieut. Keeley of L company and Lieut. Dan Dusen of D company were assigned to the Machine Gun Company. At the same time 5 picked men from each rifle company in the regiment were transferred to Machine Gun Company in order to build up the personnal of the company

Our first training with machine guns was the Colt Machine Gun. Then wooden guns were issued, modeled after the Vickers Machine Gun, but it was not lone until these were battered to pieces by ling and intensive drills.

Late in the spring the company received the new Browning Machine Guns and the full quote of machine gun carts.

Finally orders were received to move overseas. An advance school detachment consisting of First Lieut. Keeley and Lieut. Kress and Sergeants Mylin, Gill and Wintersteen left Camp Meade June 28, 1918, and sailed for France June 30. The Machine Gun Co. left Camp Meade July 6, 1918, proceeded by train to Jersey City, N.J., thence by ferry to Hoboken and boarded the U.S.S. Leviathan, July 7, 1918.

With the troops aboard including different units of the 79th Division, the Leviathen left port at 6.00 P. M., July 8. Eight days were spent on the water and to the surprise of most all on board the voyage was uneventful. A convoy of 5 destroyers accompanied us through the danger zone, but no submarines were sighted. Landed at Brest, France, July 15 and marched to a field near Pontanezen Barracks outside of Brest and pitched camp at 1.00 A.M., July 16, 1918. Here the company performed the usual camp duties. Broke camp in field near Pontanezen Barracks at 7.20 A.M. July 19. Marched to railroad station at Brest and entrained at time of arrival, leaving Brest at 11.30 A.M. this date. Travelled via rail thru St. Brieuc, Rennes, Angers, Gours, and Dijon to Chatillon-sur-seine. Detrained at 7:30 A. M. July 22 and marched to Ampilly-le-sec where the company was billeted. During the short stay here the company engaged in usual camp duties.

Left Ampilly-le-sec at 8:45 P.M. 24th. and traveled via motor trucks to Larret arrived at 1.00 P. M. July 25th. here the principal training of the M.G. company in France. Here the company did intensive training including all the different phrases of drill in the use of the machine gun and takeing part in problems and maneuvers. The advance school detachment returned to the company at Larrett at 11:45 Sept. 8. marched about 18 miles to Le ferte, arrived at 8:30 P.M. On this trying march the company maintained it's record. A record unequaled by any other company in the regiment of a man never falling out of line. Entrained upon arrival at La ferte, leaving at 1:30 A.M. Sept. 9. Traveled by rail to Mussy, arrived at 12:00 noon. Detrained immediately and marched to Veel near Bar-le-duc. Arrived at 4:00 P.M. and the company was billeted immediately. Here for the first time the company could hear the distant roar of the guns. Received intensive training at this station.

Left Vell at 4:30 P.M. and marched to Fains, entrained there at 7:30 P.M. and proceeded to Recicourt, arrived at 2:00 A.M. Sept. 14. This town was the first one ruined shell fire that the company had seen and was only a few miles back of the lines. The company was shelled here Sunday evening Sept. 15. This being the first time under shell fire, takeing cover in dugouts. The period at this camp was utilized in the inspection, care of Machine Guns, Tripods Etc. Left camp De Ponniers forest, 3 kilometers north and bivouaced in forest De Hesse. Here shelter trenches were dug for protection in case of enemy artillery fire and infantry who were detailed to this company received the necessary instruction as ammunition carriers. While in Forrest de Hesse the company was rather excitable and in a nervious state knowing that we were soon to get into action for the first time. Life was made miserable here at nights by numerous false gas alarms.

At this camp Captain Battles was sent to the army sick and Lieut. Keeley took of the company. Left Forest deHesse at 7:00 P.M. Sept. 25 and marched 2 kilometers north of Esnes and immediately deployed for action.

The advance began 5:30 A.M. Sept. 26 under heavy artillery barrage with this company in support of the 2nd Battalion, 314th Inf. This was the first stage of the Meuse Argonne offensive. Regiment took Malancourt and Haucourt the first in action Sept. 26. In Malancourt many machine guns were taken. Private Seiders of this company alone took 22 prisoners and 8 machine guns were taken. For this he was later awarded the Distinguished service Cross.

The first day in action the casualties of the company were light. Private Nevin Fischer was killed and Private Dennis Holleran And Norman Hillbush were wounded. On Sept. 27th. the 79th. Division took Montfaucon. on this date the company had 3 men wounded, Private James Lloyd, Andrew Alplanalp and Farncis Connell. On Sept. 28 the 314th. regiment was placed in Divisional support, 79th. takeing Nantillois. This date our casualities were heavier Private Mac Merrifield was killed Corporal Chas. Cotner was mortally wounded and died later. Corporal Ralph Rapp, Private Howard Smith Frank Gould, Chas. Shaffer, Dight Balch, Chas Trout, James Lawson and Frank Hunter were wounded. Sept. 29 the regiment took up the front lines again but did not advance The 2nd platoon of this company of which Lieut. Dan Dusen was in command was in a position on the road leading from Nantilliois. One large shell fell on the road killing Lieut. Dan Dusen, mortally wounding Sergt. Trapp who died later and wounded Privates Cecil Nephew, Jerrie Buten, Galusha Cook, William Housel and John Dorty of this company and several infantry men who were near by on the same day.

Private Emmett Myers was killed. Privates Virgil Pancake, Howard Girton, James Boyd, Dominaco Orlando, Ralph Lee and Bugler Abraham Phillips were wounded. Sept. 30th Privates Fred Owens, Frank Hickey and Walter McCutcheon were wounded. The causalities of the company in action 26-30 Sept. included 5 killed and 28 wounded

Company was relieved Sept. 30 by 3rd. Division. In the five days in which the company was in action it expierenced all forms of enemy fire, artillery, machine guns rifle and gas. The company had acquitted itself well going without food water and sleep. Every member felt almost a veteran when relieved. We marched to Hill near Malancourt and bivounced for the night. Left here at 9:00 A.M. Oct. 1 and marched through Avacourt to Forrest de Hesse bivouaced for the night, left at 8:30 P.M. Oct. 3. marched through Dombarle and Ramport to woods near Senencourt and left this woods at 2:P.M. Oct. 4 marched through Souilly to open field near Pecourd arrived at 9:00 P.M. bivouaced for the night left here at 7:30 A.M. Oct. 5 marched Thillombois, Laheymeix and Fresnes to French camp near Rupt where the company billetted. The commanding officer of the company ( Lieut. Keeley ) Named this camp ( Camp Dan Dusen ) in honor of 2nd. Lieut. E. Thorpe Dan Dusen, killed in action Sept. 29-1918.

The company left Camp Dan Dusan at 12:30 P.M. Oct. 11 and marched to woods near Dombay. Arrived at 5:00 A.M. bivouaced immediately. Here Captain Battles returned and took command. Left woods near Uombay at 5:30 P.M. Oct. 12 and marched through Ulombay and Troyon to Ambly and arrived at 8:30 P.M. The company was immeidately placed in billets. Here we drilled and performed camp duties. Left Ambly at 8:15 P. M. Oct. 21 and marched to Moilly in support of 313 regiment in expectation of enemy attack. Arrived at 11:00 P.M. the company bivounaced on hillside for the night, no attack developing we returned to Ambly Oct. 22. On Oct. 23. 21 new men were received as replacements owing to the casualities in the first drive. We left Ambly at 6:15 P. M. Oct. 24 and marched to Sommedien arriving at 9:00 P.M. Oct. 27 we marched to woods near Sempire arriveing at 1:30 A.M. Waiting to be placed in woods company sat along road side until 3:30 A.M. Marched to woods arriving at 4:00 A.M. and bivouaced immediately

Left this place at 4:45 P.M. and marched to Cheisel Farm. Oct. 29 5:20 P.M. we marched to Bois de Forges arriveing at 11:15 A.M. Left there 6:00 P.M. Oct. 31 and marched through Regneville and Samogneux upon arrival at this point the company had to prepare shelter against heavy enemy fire. November 1st. the 1st. and 3rd. Platoons of this company left Valley south of Samogneux at 7:30 P.M. and marched to Le Houppy Bois 2nd. Section 1st. Platoon remained in support of 1st. Platoon went into action in Bois Belleau in support of 1st. Battalion 314 Infantry. The remainder of the company and regimental supply train were in Meuse Valley on Nov. 1-1918. we had one casuality, Bugler Abram Phillips was wounded Nov. 2 there were no casualities Nov. 3 Lieut. Gerard was wounded. Nov.4 Albert Smalley was killed Privates Joe Woods, Nathaniel Ferry and Wm. Ferry were wounded. Nov.5 Corporal Elmer Gardner and Private Wm. Dick were killed and Sergt. Wm. Brown, Corp. Wm Deck, Privates Paul Shope, Henery Miller and Nelson Branson were wounded. ( Branson died later. )

Nov. 5 the 1st. and 3rd platoons were still in action in support of the 1st. Battalion. Nov. 6 the 1st. section, 2nd. platoon of this company advanced to Le Heuppy Bois. Nov. 7-8 the 1st & 3rd. platoons of the first section of the 2nd platoon were still in action in Bois Belleu and Le Heuppy Bois. The balance of the company were with the regimental supply train. On the afternoon of the 8th. Nov. the enemy withdrew. from our front due to other American troops crossing to the east side of the Meuse at Dun-sur-Meuse. The company still in support of 1st. Battalion advanced at 6:00 P.M. Nov. 8 without opposition. Nov. 6-7-8- there were no casualities in the company. Nov. 9 the 2nd. platoon went into action in connection with the first and 3rd. platoons and the first section 2nd platoon. The entire company was now in support of the the 1st Battalion.

On morning of Nov. 9 the advance continued through the towns of Crepion and Moirey The regiment there came under hostile enemy artillery and machine gun fire. The morning of Nov. 9 brought sorrow to every man in the company when Captain Battles was killed. Because of the able manner in which he commanded his company and the excellent manner in which he led it into action. He was held in high esteem by all who knew him and died beloved by all his men. Lieut. Keeley now took command.

This company supported an attack on hill 328 but after reaching crest of hill the 2nd platoon withdrew for artillery support. At 5:30 A.M. Nov. 10 Hill 328 was taken by the 2nd. battalion and the machine gun company took up position on this hill. After enduring heavy artillery and machine gun fire a sudden attack was made on hill 319. This was a surprise and entirely succesful The machine gun company went in to support of the 2nd battalion in the attack on the hill. Nov. 10 there were 4 casualities in the company. Private Francis Kelly was killed, Corp. Wm. McDowell, Privates Lawrence Broderick and James Smith were wounded, Smith died later of wounds received in this battle.

At 9:15 A.M. Nov 11 1918 the company passed through the heaviest artillery it had ever experienced. The company had these casualities Sergt. John S. Winner and Private Harold Edwards killed, Corp. Roy Rinner, John Bremble, and Private Edwin Spaulding wounded (emphasis added - CA).

At 9:30 A.M. Nov. 11 still in support of the 2nd battalion an attack on cote De Romage made. At 10:40 A.M. the memorable message all hostilities will cease at 11:00 A.M. was received. Everything became quiet when the armistice became effective. The casualities of the company in action 1-11 Nov. included 7 killed and 16 wounded. Company was relieved on Hill 319 Nov. 13 we returned to Moirey and was, billetted. Company left Moirey rest area Nov. 25 marched about 2 kilometers to a German camp near Waville were the company was placed in dugouts. The duties performed were policing camp area, erecting sheds for the animals, drilling and partispating in maneuvers. This was the most comfortable camp in France. These were enjoyed by all. We spent Thanksgiving and Christmas at the German camp near Waville The Thanksgiving dinner consisted of Salmon Fish cakes, tomatoes, bread, saur kraut, beef and coffee. Most of the boys had received Chrictmas boxes from home so eats was plentiful and Christmas was spent in a cheerful manner.

Left Waville at 3:10 A.M. Dec. 26 marched to Belleville arrived at 3:15 P.M. and company billited for the night. Left Belleville at 8:00 A.M. Dec. 27 and marched to woods near Benoite Wauxe. Arived at 3:45 P.M. And billited for the night. Left woods near Benoite Wauxe at 1:45 A.M. Dec. 28 marched to Rosner arrived at 1:45 P.M. company immediately placed in billets. Here the company drilled and performed regular camp duties. At the time the armistice was signed Lieut. Keeley and Lieut. Kress were the only 2 officers left with the company of the original six who were with the company.

Dec. 31 Lieut. Kress was selected to take a corce at third corps school thus leaving Lieut. Keeley as the only officer with the company during the first 3 weeks of January 1919. Jan. 27 Lieut. Mayhew was attached to the company. Jan 28 Capt. Mackie was assigned to the company. Feb. 2-1919 Lieut. Hamilton was attached to the company. Feb. 28 Lieut. Kress returned from school leaving five officers with the company at present.

Typewritten by:
Edw. J. Brill.

For those interested, here is the New York Times article, dated June 8, 1919, on the history of the 79th Division, along with this diary and a horde of other fascinating material at the 314th Regiment's website, including this claim that the 314th MG Company was the first unit to use the 1917 Browning .30 caliber water-cooled HMG in combat.

To close, a personal note:

Dear Gramp:

I am sorry. I never, ever knew until tonight. Having walked the still-torn ground north of Verdun near Montfaucon

(click to enlarge)

more than eighty years after you were there, I understand that I can never imagine what you and your buddies went through.

Thank you (and them) for all of that, and thank you for being in my life. That surly, distant old man of my childhood is a lot more human to me this evening.

Your grandson,

Peter B.

(click to enlarge)


Anonymous Defender said...

Very moving.
From boot camp on, uncertainty and anxiety, and doing the job regardless. That is real courage. God bless and protect our troops, and all who fight for freedom.

November 11, 2010 at 3:59 AM  
Blogger Brock Townsend said...

What a wonderful find and so apropos the day before Veteran's Day! Trained with wooden machines guns, goodness. You will learn something new every day until you die, as RE Lee said.

November 11, 2010 at 4:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So much to say, can't do it now.
Congrats on the find.Clearly you come from hardy stock.

November 11, 2010 at 4:40 AM  
Anonymous Witchwood said...

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and strops,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

--Wilfred Owen

November 11, 2010 at 5:43 AM  
Blogger Taylor H said...

"But here in this graveyard that's still No Man's Land
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man.
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned." - The Green Fields of France

Happy Armistice/Veterans Day...take a moment to say a prayer of thanks, and beg God and we won't suffer the same fate.

November 11, 2010 at 6:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an excellent post! It reminds me of my Uncle Carrol, a mule skinner during WWI. From which, "Good-bye old man" then comes to mind. A most poignant painting by Fortunino Matania.

And as for Browning -- Visit the Browning Museum in Ogden,UT. And if you are there on the right day - you just may happen across Val Browning's personal physician (name?). He volunteers there from time to time. He will give you a tour like no other tour guide there. He knows the family and their history intimately. However, you may want to hurry, the doctor was getting along in years so he may not be volunteering any longer.

November 11, 2010 at 9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am reminded of my own great uncle.
Hugh Butler Lt. Georgia NG. He fought with the AEF in France. Upon returning to Georgia after the war he did service with the GANG. Late one evening returning from Columbus Ga in the company of the Adjutant General of Ga and two others he was killed along with the AG when their car ran off the road.
I have many pictures and personal belongings of Hugh. I bear a likeness to him and feel a connection because of that. I marvel at the irony of surviving the hell of France only to die so young in a car accident upon his return.

R.I.P Hugh and my best wishes to all vets on this day.


November 11, 2010 at 2:28 PM  
Blogger DaShui said...

Now what was WW1 about again?
Somebody got shot somewhere?

November 11, 2010 at 2:42 PM  
Anonymous Legal Alien said...

Amazing find and a moving story on this important rememberance day!!

Machine gunners in the olden days were a special group.

That Browning machine gun reminds me of my own association with similar equipment.

I never saw active duty, but back in South Africa in the late 60's just after graduating Highschool, this, then 17yr old started conscription military service in the South African Defense force.

After 6 weeks of boot camp basics, I was assigned to a machine gunner platoon. At that time, our medium machine gun was the water cooled Vickers circa WWII. Spent remaining 6 weeks of basic on Vickers familiarization. Stripping, cleaning, lubing, packing, sealing . . you name it, we did it. The most painful part of this whole episode, was running 2 laps around the parade ground with a 40kg Vickers tripod on your shoulders, because you did not follow instructions. We did it often.

I ended up completing the remaining 6 months of my conscription service, lugging a Vickers machine gun, or the 40kg tri-pod, or ammo and water cans around the Namib desert in Walvis Bay, Namibia. During live fire drills, laying down suppressing fire with canvas belt fed .303 rounds ex WWII surplus. Steam and smoke and dust billowing around the machine gun emplacement.

I have fond blood sweat and tears memories of those days.

November 11, 2010 at 4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A whole lot of young men died in WWI, doing what they thought was right. But how much better if the survivors had grown up into political adults, and made up their own minds about who they would fight, when, and why. They could have kept America out of WWII. Will you keep America out of the WWIII some people want as a distraction from the failures of American Socialism?

November 11, 2010 at 5:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to diminish in the slightest your grandfathers' (and others) action, but...

Such a tremendous waste to prop up failing European empires. We had/have no business there.

And then it happened again.

And here we are, on the precipice of what may turn out much worse.

Because we allowed the Wilsons & Roosevelts free reign.

November 11, 2010 at 5:32 PM  
Blogger Concerned American said...


And even within the scope of the time, they knew they'd be back, even as the guns of '14-'18 were still cooling.

November 11, 2010 at 5:33 PM  
Blogger Concerned American said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

November 11, 2010 at 5:33 PM  
Anonymous Justin said...

Totally agree with CA & Anon 5:32.

What an amazing story though. I think by and large our nation's collective (not collectivist...) blood has thinned a bit since those days.

What bloody hell and horror, the best and worst of what man has to offer.

I can only stand in awe of warriors such as they were. It is such a shame such good and noble blood is always spilled for base and corrupted causes.


November 11, 2010 at 6:18 PM  
Blogger Sean said...

I'll be glad when I die, because I won't have to listen to any more tut-tutting about "how we shouldn't have been there, and how we didn't belong here" You guys make me sick. Has it ever, ever occurred to any of you, that despite your fondest anarchist and libertarian dreams THAT WE WERE THERE. If you can prevent future mistakes, great. But the past is unchangeble, and I would find it comforting at least to stop hearing people moan on about how this was wrong, and that was wrong, and we should have done this, and we should have done that. Accept the fact that we went, right or wrong. It's over and done with. Next I'll be reading here that someone objects to the War for Independance, or that we should have gotten down on our knees and kissed the Japanese on the ass for killing our sailors, marines and army people at Pearl Harbour. As a Viet-Nam Vet, I am all too aware of the skull-duggery that went on during that fiasco, yet I keep hearing all the non-combatants fight it all over again, with enough guilt to sink the New Jersey. The only thing I can figure that some of you want is the intended animosity of the very people you purport to cultivate. If you want the support, the enthusiasm, the energy of the vets, and their families, stop taking a nice leisurely shit on them. I get all of that I could possibly want from the commies in govt., media, and acadameia. Happy Veterans Day, all you 4Fs, draft dodgers, reformed commies, and yellow bellies.

November 11, 2010 at 6:20 PM  
Anonymous GardenSERF said...

Pass it on. This is how we remember.

November 11, 2010 at 6:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WW 1 was the war to end all wars.

Such a senseless waste of young men...and here we go again.


November 11, 2010 at 8:02 PM  
Blogger Toaster 802 said...

Quoted and linked at http://greenmnts.blogspot.com/

Great slice of history. I needed to share it.

November 11, 2010 at 9:06 PM  
Blogger Concerned American said...

God bless you, Sean.

That's why you're our morale officer.

A glass raised to you and yours.

November 11, 2010 at 9:32 PM  
Blogger DirtCrashr said...

Thank you and God bless your Grandfather.

November 11, 2010 at 10:16 PM  
Blogger ParaPacem said...

Just took our flag down - cloudy and dusk approaching - and then read this.
Damp eyes; best salute.

Wore my memorial dogtag for Mad Dog today. For all of ours who have fallen, those who returned to us and those who did not, I offer thanks from en emotion-choked throat and silently honor each with my own Semper Fi.

To all currently serving with honor: Oooh-rah!

thanks for sharing this.

November 11, 2010 at 10:56 PM  
Blogger eddymatthews said...

And I thought I had it bad in Nam..............

November 12, 2010 at 1:24 AM  
Blogger eddymatthews said...

I also say "God bless you Sean"!

November 12, 2010 at 1:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's always good to remember... great to discover....

Every day has something in it that we can be thankful for, and finding this out about your grampa is wonderful. That kind of discovery for me has always been a God send.

Treasure what you find. The net, and other sources, will loosen history for you. It has for me. And that history is now part of ME.

I wish I could give a hand shake of thanks and understanding to all of those guys. To all of you still alive, and maybe reading this ... THANKS. I'm learning more and more about your efforts and hearts day by day. God love you.

November 12, 2010 at 4:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The only thing I can figure that some of you want is the intended animosity of the very people you purport to cultivate."

Sean, most veterans are loyal shocktroops for the empire. This positions them as the destroyers of liberty and justice for all. This mistake of blind loyalty is correctable by age, experience, and reflection. You call what you're spreading a morale increaser, and it is; but what you're really spreading is anesthesia to maintain confusion.

Read any LysanderSpooner.com lately?

November 12, 2010 at 7:48 AM  

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