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  • Bangor Park Rededicated in Honor of World War I Hero

    Bangor Park Rededicated in Honor of World War I Hero

    By Jonathan Bratten, Maine World War I Centennial Commemoration

    Pfc. James W. Williams (Courtesy American Legion Post 12)Pfc. James W. Williams (Courtesy American Legion Post 12)

    On the night of July 17, 1918, U.S. Doughboys struggled through the dark eaves of Belleau Wood in a driving rainstorm. Thousands of troops were moving into position to attack at dawn the next morning, in what would begin the Aisne-Marne Offensive. One of these men was James W. Williams of Company G, 103rd Infantry Regiment.

    Born and raised in Bangor, Maine, he had enlisted in the Maine National Guard's Company G, 2nd Infantry in June of 1916. He accompanied the regiment to the Mexican Border that year for a four month tour of guard duty. Now he was in France with the 2nd Infantry, except it had now been renamed the 103rd U.S. Infantry Regiment. Williams had already served on two fronts in the Great War: the Chemin des Dames and the Toul Sector. Now he was getting ready to go on his first attack.

    As the Americans moved forward, the Germans caught sight of troops moving in the night and pounded Belleau Wood with artillery. Heavy shells shredded the trees into splinters and tossed great showers of earth into the air in ear-splitting explosions. It was probably during this barrage that Private First Class James W. Williams was killed in action. He was the first man in Company G from Bangor to be killed in action - but he would by no means be the last. He was buried on the battlefield and later moved to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, not far from where he died. 

    Williams' sacrifice did not go unnoticed by his home town. The first American Legion Post in Bangor was named for him and the city dedicated a playground in his honor in 1939. But since that time, James W. Williams' memory has faded into history as Americans began to forget about the First World War.

    Faded, that is, until the current members of the James W. Williams American Legion Post 12 stepped in. Conducting research, they slowly pieced together the life of their post's namesake. In the process, they found that the park that bore his name did not have any kind of marker commemorating the soldier. James W. Williams playground (Courtesy of American Legion Post 12)James W. Williams playground (Courtesy of American Legion Post 12)

    Working quickly, the members of the Post commissioned a new marker for the park that would remind all who frequented it of the sacrifice of the young man nearly a century prior.

    The marker reads, "James W. Williams Playground, Dedicated July 5, 1939; In Memory of a Brave Soldier. Private First Class James Walter Williams, Co. G, 103rd Infantry, 26th Div. (Yankee Division), KIA 7/17/18. 2d Battle of Marne. Buried Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, Grave 77, Plot A, Row 1, Belleau, France. James grew up as a foster child on Hancock Street and played on this field while attending a Catholic School operated here by the Sisters of Mercy."

    Because of the hard work and diligence of the veterans from the American Legion, current generations can now learn about the brave young man who gave his life in France to "make the world safe for democracy."

  • Honoring WWI Soldiers in Anne Arundel County

    Tina at St. Annes Cem

    Honoring WWI Soldiers in Anne Arundel County

    For the past 20 plus years Tina Simmons has been researching Anne Arundel County cemeteries and their occupants for the Anne Arundel Genealogical Society. She is trying to keep track of the WWI soldiers buried in those cemeteries, recording their military service. She currently has information on 221 individuals buried within Anne Arundel County. As a disclaimer, although she also has information on individuals at the Annapolis National Cemetery, none are currently listed as World War I veterans although she believes that there are some. At the United States Naval Academy cemetery, there are 52 individuals listed as World War I veterans who she is currently adding to her database.

     Some interesting facts about the WWI veterans:

    • African-American veterans accounted for 99 of the 221 individuals recorded and served in mostly the service and labor areas. One served in both World War I and II; two served in the Spanish-American War and World War I. Five veterans were members of the 811 Pioneer Infantry.
    • Of the World War I tombstones she has found, 122 of the 221 individuals were believed to be white. Two were listed as having been killed in battle: Benjamin Carr “in France” and Leroy Disney in the Argonne-Meuse Offensive. Five were listed as having fought in both World War I and II; one in the Philippines, World War I, and II; and one in the Spanish-American War and WWI.
    • Louis Phipps was perhaps one of the most famous of her list of veterans, having been Postmaster in Tracy’s Landing; Mayor of Annapolis; State Senator of Anne Arundel County; and Clerk of the Court in Anne Arundel County, as well as having been a veteran of both World Wars.
    • Stanley Howes Windsor (1896-1974) is buried with his wife, Alice Merrill Windsor, at Cedar Bluff Cemetery in Annapolis. Under her name is written “First 300 Volunteers, U.S.N., WWI”.

    Tina believes that there are many other individuals whose military service was never recorded on their tombstones or, do not even have an existing tombstone. To research WWI veterans she recommends using old newspaper obituaries, The National Archives (www.wwvets.com), and various veterans organizations such as the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and the American Legion.  She notes that service in the armed forces was a category filled in on death certificates starting around 1950 and may be helpful to those starting to research individuals for their military service. 

    She is always interested in adding to her list of known military veterans; if you know of someone who is buried in Anne Arundel County please be sure to pass the information along to Tina!  She is the Cemetery Chairman for the Anne Arundel Genealogical Society (www.aagensoc.org/index.php) and can be reached at: tinasimmons622@yahoo.com 

  • Maine WWI Centennial Home

    Maine WWI Centennial Home

    Why remember World War I?

    That is the question that we will work to answer during the centennial of Maine's involvement in the American war effort. This page is dedicated to providing stories, events, and news related to Maine in World War I.

    26 division 13rd Battalion, 103rd Infantry in the assault on Torcy, July 18, 1918 (U.S. Army Signal Corps Photo)In 1917, the unthinkable happened: the United States joined the hell that was the Great War. No one knew what the future would hold after the Declaration of War was signed on April 6, but all somehow sensed that things had changed. The hand of war gripped Maine immediately, as the state's National Guard was called up in the days after war was declared, the coast was fortified, and industry shifted from peace to war. More than 32,000 Mainers served in uniform during the war, out of a population of 777,000 in 1917. Over one thousand of those who served would not return to Maine alive. From the Home Front to the Western Front, Mainers made their presence known through their vitality, can-do attitude, and Yankee ingenuity. At the same time, the war left its mark on Maine. In just two quick years, World War I spun the state into a frenzy of activity and propelled the United States to the forefront of the world stage. 

    On April 3, 1917, the Lewiston Evening Journal carried the ominous headline "United States at War with German Empire." Below it was Governor Milliken's war message. Three days later, Congress officially declared war on Germany. On April 12, a telegram arrived to the Military Department at Camp Keyes in Augusta: “I am, in consequence,” read the telegram from Secretary of War Baker, “instructed by the President to call into the service of the United States forthwith, through you, the following units of the National Guard of the State of Maine: the Second Regiment Maine Infantry.”

    The Second Maine was the largest National Guard organization in the state, with companies ranging from Dexter to Augusta, and from Houlton to Eastport. These companies assembled at their hometown armories and began recruiting drives immediately. As they had done in the Civil War, brothers, uncles, fathers, and sons joined up in the same unit to serve alongside each other. 

    As the Second Maine was mobilizing and conducting guard duty at various sites around Maine, other units were being formed. The call to arms was met with a flood of enlistees.  A regiment of heavy artillery was raised, nicknamed "The Milliken Regiment" in honor of the governor, Carl Milliken. Its headquarters was in Brunswick for some time, at Camp Chamberlain on the grounds of Bowdoin College. Chauffeurs and truck drivers formed the 303rd Motor Truck Company. Railway workers from the Maine Central formed the nucleus of Company C, 14th Engineer Regiment (railway). Mainers joined the Navy in great numbers as well. 

    Industry

    Women went to work in the factories, many for the first time. They made munitions at the Portland Company or shoes, coats, or blankets at the textile mills in western Maine. Maine industry became centered on the war effort. Even potatoes from Aroostook County were being sent to the front. Communities held war bond and Liberty Loan drives, raising more than one hundred million dollars over the course of the war. 

    Overseas

    In the summer of 1917, New England began organizing the first National Guard division. Called the 26th Division - later nicknamed the "Yankee Division" - it contained troops from the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. In August of 1917, the division assembled in Massachusetts. The Second Maine was redesignated as the 103rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, taking on about 1,500 men from the 1st New Hampshire and 400 men from the 1st Vermont. Battery C of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery Regiment, from Lewiston, lost its big guns and was issued mortars, becoming the 101st Trench Mortar Battery. Hundreds of men from the Maine Coast Artillery were transferred into the 101st Engineer Regiment and 103rd Field Artillery Regiment to fill the vacancies there so that the division could leave for France.

    And thus it was that in the fall of 1917, the 26th Division - with its thousands of Maine men along with it - slipped away in the night and boarded transports headed for France. Beginning in February of 1918, the Yankee Division would enter the front lines and - with the exception of two weeks in August - would remain in combat sectors until the Armistice on November 11. These men - and the thousands of Mainers serving in other units across the Western Front - endured some of the harshest fighting of the war. Despite artillery bombardment, poison gas barrages, machine gun and sniper fire, the influenza, and the ever-present mud, Maine's service members pushed on to ultimate victory.

    Aftermath

    When it was all over, Maine's Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines came back home and returned to their lives. Three who served - William Tudor Gardiner, Sumner Sewall, and Owen Brewster - would become Maine governors. Other veterans became active leaders in the legislature or in community politics. Many returned to industry or their farms. Some came home with physical or mental wounds. Most would never forget - for good or ill - what they had witnessed in the Great War. And all fell under the shadow of the war that followed - World War II - and faded into memory. Which is why we must remember them.

    Proclamation from Governor Paul R. LePage

    Proclamation of Maine Observance of the Centennial of World War I

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