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Douglas Mellen Burckett

Submitted by: Jenifer Burckett-Picker {daughter}

Douglas Mellen BurckettDouglas Mellen Burckett born around 1895, Douglas Burckett served in World War 1 with the United States Army. The enlistment was in 1917 and the service was completed in 1919.

Story of Service

My father, Douglas Mellen Burckett, was born in Brooklyn in 1895 and grew up in Montclair and Somerville, New Jersey. After finishing high school, plus a couple of years of military academy, he enrolled in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the fall of 1915 to study electrical engineering.

After his sophomore year, in the fall of 1917, he enlisted in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). He was in Wagon Company #3 of the 23rd Engineers Regiment and spent his first almost five months at various training camps in Maryland (Camp Meade, Camp Glen Burnie, and Camp Laurel). At Camp Meade, he met his lifelong friend, George W. Duncan “Dunk”, from Missoula, Montana.

Dad and Dunk shipped over from Hoboken, NJ to Brest France in early April 1918 on the U.S.S. George Washington. They spent just over a week in Brest at Camp Pontanezen, before entraining to Nevers in central France, where they spent the next almost four months working on the most important American railroad project in France in WWI – unheard of and forgotten today, but of vital strategic importance to the war effort – the Nevers Cut-Off (or as the French called it “La ligne americaine”).

Dad and Dunk in the Great WarThe Cut-Off, which incredibly only took four short months to construct, made it possible to eliminate the bottleneck of train traffic having to pass through the center of Nevers, used by both French civilian and military traffic.

The Cut-Off connected the railway coming in from the west (Tours and the Atlantic ports) with the railway going out to the east (Dijon and the Western Front) a few miles south of Nevers, thus enabling the AEF to have a dedicated rail line in order to more rapidly transport troops and war materiel from the Atlantic ports to the Western Front.

It was also very important after the war as it was used to repatriate American soldiers from the Front back to the Atlantic ports – often seeing up to five trains of 1000 soldiers each on a daily basis from December 1918 – July 1919.

After Nevers, Dad and Dunk went to the Verdun area in August 1918 and took part in both the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne Offensives. They stayed on in the Verdun area to help clean up after the war until June 1919, when they returned to Brest, via the Nevers Cut-Off, and then back to the U.S.

Douglas's daughter Jenifer Burckett-Picker has written a book about her father’s WWI experience and post-WWI life called Dad and Dunk in the Great War. It is based on Douglas’s diary and photos and Dunk’s letters to his girlfriend, and supplemented by two research trips to France and the use of U.S. Army archival materials.

5af74fd22eae5 Dunk and Dad Aug 1918 NeversGeorge Duncan "Dunk" on the left and Douglas Burckett on the right in Nevers, France, August 1918

 

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