An Unlikely War Poet: A Doughboy from Maine
By First Lieutenant Jonathan Bratten, MEARNG
Troops of the 103rd Infantry assembled in line at the Neufchateau Training Area, France, 1917
World War I has been noted for the amount of incredibly evocative war poetry it produced, notably from such soldier-poets as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. However, very few of those well-known poets were American. Joyce Kilmer, who went to war with the New York National Guard’s famed 165th Infantry Regiment, the “Fighting 69th,” was a renowned American poet before he was killed at the Second Battle of the Marne in 1918. Alan Seeger, uncle of American folk singer Pete Seeger, penned the poem, “I Have a Rendezvous with Death,” which was published posthumously after he was killed in action in 1916 while serving with the French Foreign Legion. The poem was apparently a favorite of President John F. Kennedy. Overall, the number of war poets produced by the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) was small, perhaps because the United States did not enter World War I until 1917. That, however, did not stop Corporal Ralph T. Moan from picking up the pen when he returned home to Maine in 1919.
In 1917, Ralph Moan of East Machias, Maine, was working as a civil engineer for the town of Waterville. On April 6 of that year, the United States declared war on Germany. Exactly three weeks later, Moan gave up his job to enlist as a private in Company K, 2d Regiment of Infantry, Maine National Guard. Moan may have had many reasons for choosing to enlist in the National Guard in a time of war: adventure, travel, and a chance to be part of something greater than himself. Following several months of guard duty in Maine, Moan and the rest of his unit left for Westfield, Massachusetts. There, the regiment was redesignated the 103d Infantry Regiment and became a part of the 26th “Yankee” Division, so named as all of its units were from New England. To bring the 103d to full strength of 3,500 men, soldiers from New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island National Guard units were brought into the regiment. With barely enough time to incorporate the new men into the regiment, the 103d was on its way “over there.”
On 9 October 1917, Private Moan and the rest of the 103rd Infantry arrived in Liverpool, England. From there they entrained for Southampton, where they went into rest barracks. At this time, thousands of doughboys were flooding into England to become part of the massive Allied war machine. This was a new and fascinating experience for the boys from rural Maine, most of whom had never left their own state, let alone country. Moan and his buddy Foster Tuell went exploring, expressing great fascination with British money and British women. Their efforts to “see what the English girls were like” ended in disappointment after the objects of their affections stood them up. Undaunted, the young men—Moan was but twenty years old—continued to explore their environs until 16 October, when they boarded a ship to Le Havre, France.
Read the full article here.
Maine World War I Monument Inventory
A version of this originally appeared on the website of the University of Southern Maine. It is being republished with permission.
Occasioned by the centennial of World War I (2014-2019), and based on the initial fall 2014 semester research of my HTY 394: World War I: Culture, Politics, and Memory students, who embarked upon a project to identify and document Maine’s World War I Memorials, this digital humanities project will result in an interactive website that documents and maps Maine’s World War I memorials. Utilizing the considerable data we have gathered, the website will contain an interactive map that “pins” the location of each monument/memorial, as well as include informative research and narrative historical context about the format and design of the memorial, who designed and erected the memorial, when it was erected, the inscriptions included on the memorial, who maintains the memorial, and those honored on/by the memorial.
It is our aim that for each memorial documented that we will also include historic and contemporary photographs and/or other forms of visual documentation. This digital commons site (updated frequently) is a repository of the data we have collected thus far. Organized initially by county, and then by city/town, if you click on the links below, you can learn more about Maine’s many World War I memorials and monuments. We seek to promote an increased civic awareness regarding the role of the United States in World War I, and we hope the project will help to shed light upon a war (and those who fought in it) often overshadowed in American History (especially by the Civil War and World War II).
The eventual website will be engaging and designed with the general public in mind— a lasting contribution to celebrating and preserving Maine’s history. If you have any questions or would like to offer further information on any of the memorials, please contact the project manager Professor Libby Bischof at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To visit the monument inventory site, click here, or on the picture below.
WWI Monument in Augusta, Maine (photo by Libby Bischof)
The Maine Army National Guard in World War I, 1917-1919
By First Lieutenant Jonathan Bratten, Command Historian, Maine National Guard
In 1916, the Maine National Guard had changed only slightly since the reconstitution of the Maine Militia in 1869; it still consisted of two regiments, one of infantry and the other of coast artillery. When the Maine National Guard was reorganized in the post-World War I period, it had grown to a regiment of coast artillery, a regiment of infantry, a regiment of field artillery, and two brigade staffs. All organizations were led by key individuals with wartime service, providing a vision for the Maine National Guard that would build it into the fighting force that helped win World War II. It is not a stretch to say that World War I built the Maine National Guard into a professional force.
From the human dimension, World War I saw Maine Guardsmen mobilize, deploy, and fight in France. This combat was some of the worst in the history of American wars; hundreds of Maine National Guardsmen died, thousands were wounded, and all carried the horrible memories with them for the rest of their lives.
On every level, World War I shaped the Maine National Guard and the world we live in. As we approach the centennial of that war, it is imperative that we remember the sacrifice of the men who fought in the war and those who they left at home. Maine’s participation in the World War I Centennial Commission would be the first step towards remembrance and open lines of communication with other entities.
Pre-World War I
Prior to 1893, the Maine Volunteer Militia was made up of independent militia companies organized into the First and Second Regiments of Infantry. In 1893, the Maine Volunteer Militia was redesignated as the Maine National Guard.
"Houlton Rifles," Company L, 2d Regiment of Infantry, MENG, 1902 (Maine National Guard Archives)
Infantry was the logical choice for a small state that could not afford the logistical costs of cavalry or artillery units. It also fed into the mobilization model that existed for the reserves at that time. Units were not called up as existing formations; rather, the Federal government would issue a call for volunteers with a quota for each state. New units, independent of the state’s force structure, would then be organized, trained, and deployed. As an example, during the Spanish-American War in 1898, Maine was authorized to raise a regiment of infantry and a regiment of heavy artillery. These units were manned by personnel from the First and Second Regiments of Infantry.
By the turn of the century, new legislation and emerging threats to the security of the nation had changed Maine’s force structure. The Dick Act of 1903 authorized the creation of the National Guard as part of the War Department and therefore eligible to be mobilized as existing units within the Army’s force structure. Concurrently, the Endicott Commission of 1898 had evaluated the security of the nation’s coasts and had advised for the creation of the Coast Artillery Corps and upgrades to coastal fortifications. The Spanish-American War had shown that lightly defended coasts could be easily overpowered by naval gunfire. Coastal fortifications mounting heavy long-range guns were deemed essential to protecting vital harbors and forts.
The First Regiment was broken up in 1910 and reorganized as the 1st through 12th Companies, Coast Artillery Corps. These companies were assigned roles in the Portland Harbor Defenses as well as other fortifications along the coast. The Second Regiment retained its designation until 1917.
World War I
Two things happened in 1916 that had tremendous impact on the Maine National Guard: the 1916 Mexican Border Expedition and the National Defense Act of 1916. As part of the nation’s response to Mexican guerilla Pancho Villa’s raids across the southern border, approximately 250,000 Guardsmen were mobilized in 1916 for service on the border. It was the largest call-up of the newly reorganized National Guard to that date; some suspected that it was meant to try out the capabilities of the Guard in the event that the United States entered the war then raging in Europe. The Second Regiment of Infantry was called up over a period of two days in June, mustered in at Camp Keyes, and boarded trains for Texas. Once there, the regiment patrolled the border between Texas and Mexico, gaining valuable experience. They returned to Maine and state control in September. Seven months later, this experience would be repeated when the United States declared war on Germany.
At the same time, the National Defense Act of 1916 brought the National Guard into complete alignment with the Regular Army, authorizing formation of divisions, updating unit designations to reflect U.S. Army nomenclature, and providing modern equipment to Guard organizations. For the first time, the National Guard entered its role as the Army’s operational reserve.
Maine National Guard headquarters at Camp Keyes became operational in April of 1917, as both regiments were activated for Federal service. The Adjutant General’s office also became responsible for overseeing the draft and enrolling all eligible males in 1917. The first unit to enter Federal service was the Second Regiment, which spent two months guarding installations across Maine. Shortly thereafter, the coast artillery was activated and reported to the harbor defenses in southern Maine. Maine was authorized to raise and equip a regiment of artillery, which became the First Maine Heavy Artillery.
Subcaliber Rifle Range at Camp Keyes (Maine National Guard Archives)
In September, the Second Infantry reported to Camp Bartlett, Massachusetts, where it was redesignated the 103rd U.S. Infantry Regiment and became one of the four infantry regiments in the 26th Division, an all-New England outfit. To bring it to full strength, it absorbed about 1,500 men from the New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island National Guards. The regiment left for France that same month.
The 103rd Infantry went into the front lines in February, 1918. From that moment until the Armistice on November 11, 1918, it was in the trenches, with the exception of a brief three week respite to take in new replacements. It participated in four major offensives as well as innumerable small unit actions. It was the first American unit to assault and take its objective in the Aisne-Marne Offensive in July of 1918, after it had relieved the Marines in Belleau Wood. It was commended by General Pershing, French General Foch, and numerous U.S. and French general officers. The regiment lost over 450 men killed in action, suffering over 2,000 men wounded in action. One Soldier from the regiment was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor while numerous Soldiers received the Distinguished Service Cross and French Croix de Guerre.
Being a National Guard regiment, the 103rd Infantry held unique hometown connections. Entire families joined up, causing the public to be intensely interested in the war. When casualties began to mount in 1918, these lists – published in newspapers – brought intense grieving in towns across Maine, especially as families lost multiple sons, fathers, brothers, and uncles. The Passamaquoddy Nation sent nine of its men into Company I of the 103rd, where over half of them were killed or wounded; this included the chief’s own son. Only half of the original men of the Second Maine Infantry who went over in 1917 arrived home unscathed in 1919.
The 103rd Infantry was not the only Maine outfit to see service in France. The First Maine Heavy Artillery Regiment (minus one battery) was reorganized in 1918 as the 56th Pioneer Infantry Regiment. It served on the Meuse-Argonne Front in France for a few months and then spent the remainder of their service in Germany as part of the Army of Occupation. The battery that was detached from the regiment was renamed the 101st Trench Mortar Battery and went to France alongside the 103rd Infantry as part of the 26th Division. The coast artillery regiment was parceled out to fill other units, and formed the basis of the 54th Artillery Regiment, which also went to France. This resulted in the entirety of the Maine National Guard deployed for overseas service.
Machine guns taken out of German dugouts near St Remy by men of the 103rd Infantry Regiment, 13 September, 1918 (Maine National Guard Archives)
Consequently, Maine was authorized to raise one additional infantry regiment for stateside service. The Third Regiment of Infantry was formed in 1918 and would become the basis for reforming the Maine National Guard in 1920-1921, when it became the 103rd Infantry to perpetuate the lineage of the wartime unit.
In 1922, James Hanson, formerly the commander of the 1st Battalion, 103rd Infantry, became Adjutant General. Drawing off his wartime experience, Hanson grew the Maine National Guard to over 2,500 men in three regiments and two brigade headquarters. He realized the importance of having brigade staff elements in the force structure so as to have trained personnel on hand in the event of war. This same force entered World War II in 1941, eventually providing one infantry regiment, one coast artillery regiment, two field artillery battalions, one field artillery group, various staff elements, and one transportation company to the war effort. All were in active Federal service, and by 1947, the Maine Army Guard had nearly 5,000 members and the new Maine Air Guard had a force of 615. This robust force structure gave us the adaptive force that we have today.
In May, 2016, the author was granted the remarkable opportunity to go to France on orders to provide official Army assistance to a World War I documentary. In addition to the incredible sight of the World War I battlefields where Mainers fought and died, the most moving moments came in interactions with local French people. While World War I has vanished in American memory, drifting into the shadow of World War II, the people of France have not forgotten that young American men gave up their comfortable and safe lives at home to come to their aid. Farmers who till the land that was a battlefield in 1918 constantly come upon remembrances of Maine Soldiers: identification disks, buttons, and unit badges. They repeatedly issued their thankfulness, both in word and action, for the sacrifice of Maine Soldiers. While we have largely forgotten what our Maine National Guard did in World War I, they have not. And in small museums and historical associations across western France, the memory of our brave Soldiers is kept and preserved.
In an eternal reminder of the sacrifice of the 31,887 Mainers who served in all branches of the U.S. military in World War I and the nearly 1,200 men who gave their last full measure for the cause of freedom, are the white crosses in American cemeteries in France. Walking through the rows and rows of crosses in the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, one sees marker after marker with “MAINE” emblazoned on it. They bear the familiar names that one might see at any armory in Maine on a drill weekend: Arsenault, Libby, Turcott, Buck, Chadbourne, LaPlante, Gould, Lord, Merrill, Stevens, Boynton, Doucette, Dube, Gagne, Pratt…the list goes on. These are our Soldiers, and their memory, their sacrifice, needs to be preserved and honored.