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J. Arthur Mayer

Submitted by: John A Mayer {Son}

J. Arthur Mayer mugJ. Arthur J. Arthur Mayer born around 1893. J. Mayer served in World War 1 with the United States Army. The enlistment was in 1918 and the service was completed in 1919.

Story of Service

 

Veterans Day has always seemed special to me. My Dad, J. Arthur Mayer, was a WW I veteran and I grew up hearing his reminiscences. On this one hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day I just feel compelled to record some of those “rememberies.” Our once close-knit family has spread to the four corners and there is no one left in the immediate family who seems much interested, so I’ll post it here in his memory FWIW. (Yeah, we skipped a generation. Dad was born in 1893, and was 50 before I was born in 1944. I’m the age of my second cousins. Many of my first cousins were WW II veterans.)

Dad was 24 when he was drafted off the farm. He entered active duty in July 1918, and was sent to Camp Pike, Arkansas for basic training, I think for 4-5 weeks. He was one of the older men in his group, and was offered NCO Academy training. But he said it was so hot and humid and generally miserable there that when his group was given the opportunity to “go to Brest”- the debarkation point for the American Expeditionary Force in France – that he volunteered for that. He said it was to escape the misery of Arkansas, but I suspect he also felt some duty to go in place of his older married brothers who were starting families and other married men.

In any case, he sailed for France and said his memories of the troopship consisted mostly of a couple inches of water, vomit, and the occasional diarrheal stool sloshing around the bunk room floor. And memories of applying Cosmoline (a very sticky greasy protective coating for long-term storage of weapons) to guns, and then stripping it off again, seemingly just for busy work.

He was assigned as a replacement to the 6th Infantry Division, 18th Machine Gun Battalion, Company B. The 6th had seen considerable action earlier in the war, but that summer was in reserve to rebuild its strength. During WW I, machine guns were concentrated into separately commanded groups in support of Infantry, sort of like artillery units are. Anyway, he was trained as a machine gunner and was proud of it. One thing he remembered clearly was a MG training session on a range near a wooded area. His combat-veteran instructor announced that he was not supposed to do this since the French valued their woods so highly, but he nevertheless fired a long burst into the woods stripping tree limbs and flattening trees to show that the Germans could not hide in timber.

It must have been in September 1918, when the Division was up to speed and started marching - on foot; no rail cars of trucks for them - towards the Front. They called themselves the Sight-Seeing Sixth since they saw so much of France during their couple month walk-about. Dad spoke highly of his Battalion Commander, a Major, who was authorized to ride a horse, but when his men had to walk, he walked as well. Most of the equipment transport was by pack mule. Dad always had secret pleasure when he was “punished” with the extra duty of tending to the mules which he enjoyed.

At one point, the Division was reviewed by General Pershing. Initially the order for uniform was to be with overcoats. Dad’s uniform tunic was initially a bit tight in fit, so he left it off and wore his overcoat over his undershirt. At the last minute in typical military fashion, the order was changed; ground the overcoats and be reviewed in basic uniform. So there stood Dad, in his shirt sleeves. But he is pretty sure Black Jack didn’t know or care. His sergeant may have done.

In November, 1918, they started seeing what they thought were thunderstorms in the distance, until the veteran soldiers explained that was The Front they were marching towards. In early November 1918, they reached where the Front had recently been and saw the total devastation of the terrain and a few scattered body parts not yet picked up. Finally, on 11 November, 1918, masses of French soldiers started streaming past them throwing their hats into the air and shouting “End la guerre! End la guerre!” Apparently they only knew English for “end” but not “war” but guess their meaning was clear enough. Armistice Day always had a special meaning to Dad.

After the obligatory political and military dithering, it was decided that the Sixth division (or at least Dad’s part of it) would winter in France in preparation for becoming German occupation troops later. So his BN found quarters in a small French village. And were soon placed on half-rations. Dad didn’t have to worry about his too-snug tunic after several months of that. He said the French villages didn’t really have much to supplement their diet, but did admit that perhaps some cabbages were liberated here and there. That also was when “rabbit dinners” started being sold to the Doughboys by the French. Dad said he enjoyed several, but then the rumor circulated that the rabbits were actually cats. He never found any proof, but did observe there did not seem to be many cats in the village and he did stop eating the dinners.

Finally the next spring (of 1919) the final peace agreement after all did not call for occupation troops, so the Sixth headed home. On the way, Dad saw “gay Paree” and did get a tour of Versailles. Dad’s troopship memories seemed a bit more cheerful going home. All the army guys fought over volunteering for fire-guard duty because the guard detail got to eat in the Navy mess instead of the dreadful army-run kitchens. But he did tell of the occasional death from influenza, and how the troops found a hidden viewing spot where they could watch the embalming of those who died on shipboard. In New York City, the Sixth got their tickertape parade even though it was months since the war ended.

Dad got his back pay, a train ticket home, and was discharged in June 1919, after 11 months service. He always said he had experienced all of war’s hardships except actual combat.

When he got home and up-dated, he was surprised at how many people from the neighborhood had died of the influenza.

A couple of other rememberies:

Dad said they never received ANY war news or even general information about mission plans through the army. They learned what news they got in letters from home; albeit not the most current reports.

Dad’s younger teenage sister wrote him with the thought that in effect, when the Great War veterans started coming home, the Civil War vets would have some competition in telling their war stories. She wrote also that with all the young men from the community gone, there was not much social life or activities for the young ladies. They wanted to start up some community basketball teams, but since they were to wear bloomers, that idea was vetoed by the community movers and shakers. It just would not be proper, you see, for young ladies to be cavorting in bloomers while the young men were fighting overseas!

It might have been those same movers and shakers who early in the war, decided to have a German language book burning right there in Dutch Creek township, and all the considerable German books from the country school, which served a predominantly German immigrant community, were hauled out and burned. (Mom, born in 1910, used to speak German at home, and when she started school there were some words she did not know the English for. But with the war her family and most others stopped with the German.)

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