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Cleve O. Sherrod

Submitted by: Marilyn Konruff {granddaughter}

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Cleve O. Sherrod served in World War 1 with the United States Army . The dates of service are: Known December 17, 1917-June 8, 1919.

 

On June 5, 1917, two weeks before his wedding, 29-year-old Cleve Sherrod filled out a Civilian Draft Registration card in Kilbourn, Wisconsin. He had tried to enlist in the U. S. Army before, but had been rejected due to height requirements (he was only 5’3”).

Cleve married Florence Wagner of St. Louis, Missouri, on June 26th. They honeymooned in Chicago before returning to Kilbourn, Wisconsin, where Cleve was employed by the railroad. Enlistment restrictions were suddenly lifted when the United States officially entered the war in France, so on December 14th, Cleve was able to enlist as a Private in the U. S. Army, 33rd Division, and dispatched to Camp Logan, Texas, for training. The 33rd Division, commanded by Major General George Bell, Jr., was composed of National Guard units from Illinois, prompting the name “Prairie” Division. As an electrician, Cleve was attached to the 108th Engineers, Company D under Col. Henry Allen.

Disembarking from a troop train at Camp Logan, Cleve Sherrod found a hastily built tent city. He slept on a cot in a cramped tent with eight others and was subjected to hot days, dust, mosquitoes, cold nights, disease, fatigue and hard days of physical activity and living outdoors. A typical day was about seven hours long and consisted of physical readiness exercises, marching drills, rifle maintenance and marksmanship, bayonet drills, and battlefield signaling. This short of stature, older Private kept up with the young ones!

On April 23, 1918, Cleve and the 108th Engineers were sent by train to Camp Merrit, New Jersey for deployment to the European theatre. On May 8, their troop ship, the S. S. George Washington, left Hoboken Pier and they arrived in Brest, France ten days later. The 33rd Division was the first American division sent to the trenches in France. The 108th Engineers were sent forward to work on the defenses near Amiens in anticipation of a large offensive operation. Company D was at the disposal of the Australian Corps and the 4th British Army by June 20th, when the “Somme Offensive” started. Cleve Sherrod spent his first wedding anniversary and 30th birthday in the zig-zag trenches of France.

As an electrician, part of Cleve’s job was doing the electrical wiring necessary to blow up bridges to block German movement, as well as build new ones for allied troops. On the night of August 7, the 108th Engineers constructed a road so that the 3rd Cavalry could advance. They had to frequently take shelter in shell craters whenever outbursts of enemy artillery, gas attacks or machine gun fire occurred, yet they still managed to finish the road before dawn. On August 8, the 33rd successfully broke the German line at Chipilly Ridge and Gressaire Wood. By September 5, they had pushed to Verdun and became the first American Division to hold a portion of the front line on this historic battlefield. This was “No Man’s Land.” Torrential rains had washed away the roads and deep mud impeded traffic. The 108th Engineers did remarkable work with sandbags and carrying stone from shell-pitted fields and ruined villages to rebuild these roads.

In the offensive attack of September 26, the 108th Engineers found themselves in the sector between the Bois de Forges and the Laiterie de Belhame. Company D constructed 11 bridges across the Meuse River and Forges Creek for the Infantry to cross. All night, Cleve worked in waist-deep water without lights and under heavy artillery fire. One bridge was struck by a shell, setting it swaying under the feet of the advancing troops marching over it. Cleve and fellow engineers stood in the water holding the pontoon structures in place as the Infantry passed over until sway-bracing could be secured. By the time the three-hour artillery barrage concluded, the U. S. Army had deployed more explosive power in this region than was used during the entire Civil War!

On October 6, the 33rd was transferred to the French 17th Army Corps, participating in the attack east of the Meuse. This difficult operation necessitated the building of two bridges by the 108th Engineers. While under direct observation and artillery fire by the Germans, they constructed one bridge 120 feet long in 12 feet of water and one 156 feet long in 16 feet of water. They worked under shellfire, in cold water up to their armpits, completing the work by 4:00 a.m. The 108th Engineers received a citation for their accomplishments under artillery fire and gas attacks.

Cleve Sherrod recalled how the “doughboys” and “Jerries” would talk or sing back and forth in the trenches. The trench lines were so close together that sometimes German soldiers would climb up and over to share a cup of coffee and cigarettes with the Americans. The next day they would be firing at each other again. One time, a young German officer marched into Cleve’s camp with his entire company. When Cleve questioned him about his very good English, the officer said he had driven a cab in Chicago before the war. Cleve asked why, then, was he fighting against the Americans now? The German replied, “I’m not—I’m surrendering!” The officer and his men literally walked up and voluntarily laid down their arms to the 108th Engineers.

When the Armistice was signed in November, 1918, Cleve Sherrod and Company D headquartered in the village of Echternach, Luxembourg, until April, 1919. On May 15, 1919, Cleve Sherrod finally found himself steaming home from Brest, France on the S. S. Harrisburg, arriving in New York harbor eight days later. Disembarkation was followed by a bountiful welcome home meal served by the Red Cross, and then Cleve was on a final troop train to Camp Grant, Illinois. He arrived in Chicago on June 5th and that same afternoon marched with the 108th Engineers and the 33rd Division in a huge victory parade down Michigan Boulevard before hundreds of thousands of cheering citizens. A banquet for the “Doughboys” at the Morrison Hotel followed. Cleve mustered out at Camp Grant three days later and went back to his bride, just in time for their second wedding anniversary.

Cleve Sherrod received medals and a citation for his actions during the Meuse Offense, specifically at Forges and Raffecourt Mill on September 26. His citation, which was signed and presented by Major General George Bell, read:

“The reports of your Commanding Officers testify to your gallantry and splendid performance of duty at Forges Creek, France, on September 26, 1918. Your conduct on that occasion has afforded me genuine gratification and I have accordingly directed that your name and action be inscribed on the Roll of Honor of the "Prairie Division.

--Geo. Bell, Jr., Major General, Commander 33rd Div.

He later received a Silver Star for “Gallantry in Action” in direct reference to the Meuse Offensive and the holding up of pontoon bridges on September 26, 1918. These efforts were outlined in detail in the June 13, 1919 issue of “Stars and Stripes”, and was one of just a few of the experiences that Cleve would elaborate on in later years. The Silver Star was not established as an individual medal until 1932. At that time, veterans of World War I who had been cited for "Gallantry in Action" and awarded the "Citation Star" were able to request a Silver Star Medal in lieu of the earlier ribbon. Cleve Sherrod converted his Citation Star to the Silver Star. (The U.S. government kept very poor official records on this award and most World War I service records were destroyed in a fire in 1973. Therefore, there are no official lists of World War I Silver Star Recipients other than the 33rd Division Roll of Honor.)

After the Great War ended, Cleve Sherrod went back to his employment with the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Milwaukee Road railroad until he retired in 1956. He was a proud founding member and commander of the Wisconsin Dells American Legion Post 187. His name is engraved on the Post’s World War I “Roll of Honor” Memorial.

For many years, Grandpa Cleve would put on his army uniform every Fourth of July and march in the local parade. This was made even more special by the fact that July 4th was also his birthday!

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