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Joseph C. Langer

Submitted by: Sean Fisher {great grandson}

Joseph C LangerJoseph C. Langer served in World War 1 with the United States Army. The dates of service are: Known July 5, 1918 to April 19, 1919.


My great grandfather was a Musician 2nd Class (clarinet) in the HQ Co. 52nd Pioneers Infantry, Fifth Corps, First Army. Joseph C. Langer (1893-1984) was from Philadelphia. He was working as an accountant for John B. Stetson Company, Philadelphia (Stetson cowboy hats) in 1917, when, sometime in summer or fall 1917, he applied for a clarinet position in the Naval Reserve Band. He received a reply in November 1917 from both John Philip Sousa (1854-1932; Lieutenant, Naval Reserve Band, Illinois) and Bandmaster Victor J. Grabel (1886-1965). It is not known why Langer did not follow through from their encouraging replies.

In July 1917, Langer and his friends vacationed in the Millington, Maryland area along the Chester River, which he documented in photographs. You have to wonder if they took this excursion not knowing what the future held for them.

On the day he was drafted, June 29, 1918, Langer wrote down whom he was leaving his monies to: his father in Aalborg, Denmark, and to his girl, Emma Schwer. He was enlisted on July 5, 1918, and trained at Camp Wadsworth, South Carolina. He wrote to Emma on a YMCA postcard on July 6, on the train to Camp Wadsworth.

Using a 1917 “Army and Navy Diary” printed by Stanton & Van Vliet Co., Chicago in 1917, Langer kept a diary of his war time experience. While briefly at Camp Upton, Long Island, NY, on July 30, he “was outfitted with wool uniforms for oversea duty” and wrote “I look funny with my little “dinky” hat that they issue.”

He was in France from August 11, 1918 to March 31, 1919.

While camped at Montiore in France in late August, the water was so bad that he had the runs, and was sick for about a week. On August 27, he wrote to his father in Aalborg, Denmark, requesting money, as he was “dead broke.”

Saturday, September 14, the band members were issued gas masks, and received instructions on how to use them, writing “the masks are “hellish things” to wear.” The following day the unit “were put through the gas this afternoon. It took about 3 minutes. As long as our masks were on we could not fire a thing but we were instructed to take them off for a few seconds and it made the eyes snarl and produce tears. The mask is very uncomfortable to wear and I hope that I will not have to wear it very often.”

According to his diary, his unit arrived in Ancemont, France, about 10 miles from the front on September 19. On September 25, the 52nd Pioneers were camped at Brocourt, and departed for the front, with only the Band and the Supply Company left behind. On the evening of Oct. 21, while in Brocourt, bombs dropped nearby, one of which dropped about 100 yards from him while he was in his barracks.

Langer notes often in his diary that marches with their packs were tiresome (had hikes of 12 miles and 18 miles for example), and when not marching to the next destination, they were packed like sardines in cattle railroad cars. He would be in the rain for hours. He was at times on guard duty.

The HQ Co. 52nd Pioneers Infantry Band played in France at churches, hospitals, for the YMCA, for the Knights of Columbus, at funerals of fallen soldiers, and as other units marched passed.

Langer writes “Peace at last” in his November 11 diary entry. He visited Dead Man’s Hill 304 on the 13th. On the day after, while being driven by truck from Cheppy to Harricourt, they passed the graves of dead American soldiers along the roadside, and fields which the Germans had manured for the following spring planting.

Langer practiced his Catholic faith whenever possible. He noted in his diary every time he had the opportunity to visit a church and take communion. While billeted in a church in Harricourt, the chaplain for the 52nd Pioneers said Mass every day: “This is the third town in which our chaplain was the first priest to say Mass in four years, since the germans held this part of France.” On December 1, Langer attended High Mass in Les Islettes for the first time since leaving Philadelphia. Surviving is a worn French-made cloth scapular that he had with him during the war.

Langer was promoted to 2nd Class Musician on December 11.

On Christmas Day, the 52nd Pioneers Band played at a church in Nogent, and later that day, played as President Wilson and Mrs. Wilson passed by in Nogent around 3:00pm.

On January 8th, at the hour that President Theodore Roosevelt was being laid to rest, the band, in Nogent, played Chopin’s Funeral March. While in Nogent, Langer washed every morning in the town square fountain according to an unaddressed postcard he annotated.

Before leaving Nogent, the Fifth Army Corps HQ held a dance in Nogent-en-Bassigny on February 25 which the 52nd Pioneer Infantry Band attended.

The 52nd Pioneers Band visited Cannes from February 28 to March 20 staying in a hotel for the first time.

On March 7, 1919, while his unit was in Cannes, the band had a picnic celebration in nearby Grasse as they prepared for their journey home.

During his service, he sent 48 letters, and received at least 25 letters according to his diary. None of the letters he received survive today.

In 1919, the Jewish Welfare Board (established 3 days after U.S. declaration of war) printed postcards for the returning soldiers to write from their voyage home which stated in blue lettering, “Hello – Just Got Back / Am Feeling Great / Will Write Soon Again” with a graphic of a smiling soldier hiking with his heavy pack. Langer, on board the U.S.S. K. I. Luckenbach, writes “Joe” on this side, with an arrow pointing to the soldier, and addresses it to Emma Schwer.

Langer was honorably discharged on April 19, 1919, at Camp Dix, New Jersey.

Two of his best friends were also in the war. Frank J. Schwer (Army; rank of Corporal; served overseas in France), brother of Emma, whom he would marry in June 1919; and William H. Leopold, who enlisted in the Navy the day after the U.S. declared war against Germany; he served as an electrician on naval vessels (but not overseas). Leopold would be Langer's best man at his wedding.

Upon his return home, Joseph Langer joined his local American Legion post in Philadelphia (1920), and later, Norwood, PA (1923). He also joined the “Society of Forty Men and Eight Horses” organization, a subsidiary association of the American Legion. The “Forty and Eight” stood for 40 men and 8 horses to a French railroad box car that American soldiers were transported in. He was an active American Legion member, serving as Commander of the Norwood Post in 1943, during World War II. During that war, Langer also served as a Volunteer Observer for the civilian Aircraft Warning Service, which the American Legion assisted in creating.

Langer played clarinet in a brass marching band called the Keystone Commandery No. 48 (West Philadelphia; est. 1909), of the Patriotic Order Sons of America, during the 1910s and/or 1920s. Later in life, Langer played the violin (friend Frank Schwer played the cello). Langer was an accountant his entire career.

Joseph and Emma (1895-1983) Langer, and Frank Schwer (1894-1966) are buried in Hillside Cemetery, Roslyn (Montgomery County), PA. William Leopold (1898-1964) is buried eight miles away, in Forest Hills Cemetery, Huntingdon Valley (Montgomery County), PA. Joseph and Emma had two daughters: Irma (who passed away in November 2016 at age 95), and Lenore (who remains living).

In the “Autographs of Comrades” section of the diary, there are signatures of 23 band members. I have been able to identify the life dates, or likely life dates, for 17 of them.

  • Harold E. Nielsen (clarinet) [likely 1892-1973];
  • Ralph P. Grauso (bass drum) [1895-1960; noted on his gravestone, “Band CPL HQ Co 52 Pioneer Inf World War 1”];
  • John Santariello (clarinet) [1892-1982];
  • Frank Foschini? (clarinet) [possibly 1892-1974];
  • Paul Sciarretta (clarinet) [1888-1968];
  • Henry I. Boule (trombone) [1892-1944];
  • Eugene Kelly (alto) [b. 1893/94];
  • Harry A. Feldman (clarinet);
  • Joseph Talento (drum snare) [likely 1895-1977];
  • Garson/Gaison (saxophone);
  • Joseph Graziosi (clarinet) [1894-1962];
  • Charles Rice (cornet);
  • Giretta (clarinet);
  • Harold (alto saxophone);
  • Patrick J. O’Meara (alto) [1891/92-1980];
  • Thomas J. Hurley (bant…?) [1890-1966; noted on his gravestone, “Mus 1 Cl HQ Co 52 Pioneer Inf World War 1”];
  • Walter E. Ellsworth (B B bass) [B-flat bass] [1896-1974];
  • Herbert Bruno (trombone) [1889-1942];
  • Clarence G. Slocum (cornet) [1896-1987];
  • George H. White (cornet) [b. 1890?; d. 1971?];
  • D. R. Spencer (doodlesack);
  • Philip A. Shea (piccolo) [1889-1976];
  • Joseph A. Winckler (cornet) [1895-1977; noted on his gravestone, “Band Sgt US Army” World War 1”].

58e1690487f48 JCL WW1 portrait

58e1690489be4 JCL FJS WHL WWI 1918 ID b 58e169048bfb4 JCL WW1 band Grasse March 7 1919