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Charles Wilhelm Gärtner (Gardner)

Submitted by: Charles R. Gardner {Grandson}

5d1d2eebb9270 B Grand PaCharles Wilhelm Gärtner born around 1892. Charles Gärtner 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


This is the Story about my grandfather, Charles Wilhelm Gärtner, his participation in WW1 and ends after the War with his marriage to my grandmother Anna K. Wolff. Charles Wilhelm Gärtner, participated in the “The Great War”. Here is what I’ve discovered about him and that “War”.

This was his birth name and he does not change it until 1919. The World War started in July 28, 1914. The United States declared war on the Axis Powers later, in April 6, 1917. In June 5, 1917, Grandpa was working for the “Automatic” Sprinkler Corporation of America in New York City. They sent him to Atlanta, Georgia where he then lived. His job was “Sprinkler Engineer” and maybe the small factory manager. He worked in the Caudler Building (it was small building according to local historians), Atlanta Branch, in the city (Atlanta Georgia). He lived at the Atlanta YMCA. He was single, 25 years of age, of medium height, medium build, gray eyes, and black hair.

On June 5, 1917, he filled out a Draft Registration Card (#756). A year later (April 27, 1918) he was drafted in Atlanta, Georgia. He told his boss “Good bye” or maybe sent a letter to the New York City Headquarters to inform them and waits for his replacement to come. Once released from his job, bags packed, he walked to the Atlanta Recruiting Station and boards a bus for the 13-14 mile trip to Camp Gordon, named after the Confederate General John Brown Gordon. Camp Gordon, northeast from Atlanta, was the receiving station in this area (Georgia & Alabama) for Army induction. Today it’s the current site of the DeKalb-Peachtree Airport.

As a draftee, he was now a member of the United States National Army (USNA) and somehow ended up assigned to the Army Engineer Corps. He wore the “Engineer Castle” on his left collar. Now Private Charles W. Gärtner, from April to May 1918 was assigned to the “157 Depot Brigade,” Camp Gordon, Ga.

Then in May he was reassigned to C Company (later renamed 11th Company in France) of the 517th Engineer Service Battalion. The battalion had 15 officers and 1008 men. C Company are southern lumberman and teamsters used to help harvest the vast forests of France and make trees into wood products like the handles to stretchers, boards, or railroad ties. In May 22, 1918 he was promoted to Corporal. Then his unit boards a train, leaves Georgia behind and heads north to Tidewater Virginia. Early July 1918 finds Cpl. Gärtner and C Company at Camp Alexander, Port of Embarkation, Newport News, Va. preparing to to embark for Europe. I don’t know when they arrived but because they are a “Colored Troop Company,” are sent to Camp Alexander, up on the east bank of the James River, off Virginia Ave (today’s Warwick Blvd), 3 miles north of Newport News City. Recent research (July 2018) found the former location of camp. The “Camp’s Center” was at the intersection of today’s Woodfin Rd. & Burns Ave., the neighborhood of Hilton Village, north of Huntington Park.

On July 9, 1918, his unit packed up, climbs into trucks, and moved the 4 miles down to the Embarkation Pier, (where today’s Victory Arch is). Then they boarded the USS Aeolus. She was formerly the North German Lloyd liner SS Grosser Kurfürst, also spelled Großer Kurfürst, launched in 1899 that sailed regularly between Bremen and New York. At the outset of World War I the ship was interned by the United States and, when our country entered the conflict in 1917, seized and converted to a troop transport. On July 10, 1918, with the outgoing tide, the USS Aeolus got underway, left Hampton Roads behind and sailed under convoy, to England and then to France. Eleven (11) days later, on July 21st she arrived in Brest, France.

Grandpa’s Unit changed its name once again, to the 11th Engineer Service Company (Forestry)*. Within this webpage (www.20thengineer.com/ww1.html) are fascinating stories on the 517th Battalion Companies: 9th, 10th, & 11th. The 11th will serve in the southwest portion of France called the Pontenx District, between the present day cities of Bordeaux and Bayonne, and sometimes they were close to the border with Spain. Somewhere on their route to Pontenx, the 11th Engineer Service Company stopped at an Allied Supply Depot. There they picked up additional soldiers like a mess hall crew (cooks), medics, laundry men, and veterinarians. Inside the depot, each soldier was issued for France an “Overseas Cap,” a “Steel Helmet,” weapons (probably the M1917 American Enfield), ammo, and a gas mask. From this equipment, Grandpa kept the overseas cap and steel helmet.

The company got tents, cots, blankets, hand and lumber tools, food, supplies for a base camp operations, wagons, mules, horses, and maybe a small truck or two(like the Liberty Truck Model A and maybe an Overland Touring Car, ver. 1917*). Wagons, mules, horses, horse shoes, lumberjack tools (tree climbing spikes, axes, splitting mauls, saws, shovels, and pickaxes) all required a “Company Blacksmith(s).” So either the company had one from its teamsters or picked them up at the depot too!

(*) Rear echelon companies like Grandpa’s did not rate lots of wheeled vehicles. Most wheeled vehicles were found/needed right behind the front lines.

June 15th, 1918, he was promoted to Sergeant. He and two good friends, Sgt. Polk and Sgt. Noel, went into the nearest town, found a photo studio, and had their portraits taken. Back then it was customary to make the photos into postcards and send them home. On May 2, 1919 he was promoted to company First Sergeant (1SG). Things were not always pleasant and rosy for 1SG Grandpa. Grandpa led a team of volunteer soldiers drawn from his company and they move up to the battle lines. In Sept 26-30, his team is part of the “US First Army’s” involvement in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (aka Battle of the Argonne Forest). Their job was to follow behind as “First Army” attacked the Germans in the woods ahead. Once the Germans were cleared, his team assessed the woods for lumber. Unfortunately, grandpa and his team were mustard gassed by US forces. It required his hospitalization. He told me that it damaged his eyes so that later in life required him to wear glasses. It is not impossible for this to happen. Often there were accidents at the artillery batteries, wind changed directions, and mustard gas lingered a long time. For the rest of his life his eyes burned and teared continually.

Eleven days later, on Nov. 11, 1918, the WAR ends. But Grandpa’s company was tasked to stay another year, helping to re-build France. I going to jump over 367 days here but this period I’ll explored in another story, for another time. Now, around July 6-10, 1919, his company packs up and heads to an unknown port. There they wait for a ship to take them home. I speculate that here the company assembled for their “Official Debarkation Ceremony, Service Awards Ceremony, and Company Photo.” Found in his Company photo are 10 white Company Leaders (Officers and NCOs) and 255 black American soldiers. They were lumbermen or teamsters, with a spatter of cooks, laundrymen, and blacksmiths. I have no idea when exactly Grandpa left France, from where, or on what ship, but it docked in NYC and discharged Grandpa. Official War documents state that Grandpa’s company, 11th Engineer Service Company (Forestry) sustained no deaths during their time in France.

(*)The mission of the 11th Eng. Ser. Co. (Forestry) was: “The French authorities would direct the company to which forest to harvest-“log.” The company would set up its base camp nearby, cut down-“buck the trees”, remove the waste (limbs), and then deliver the tree trunks to the nearest American lumber mill – that was also nearby. They are directed to use all organic assets, like wagons, mules, and horses.”

While underway home Grandpa used the time to sew to his winter service coat the last two uniform patches - the Discharged Chevron and two Overseas Chevrons.

The Discharged Chevron patch brought forth lots of discussion among my historian friends because of its color. It is supposed to be made of red thread not gold! Here is what the Army says, “At the end of the War, each service man was issued at the Discharged Station or by mail, three (3) “red chevrons” to be sewn above the elbow, and below the Unit Patch. It denotes “Honorable Discharge from WW1” and allows the uniform wearer to continue to wear the uniform after the war. Apparently there were lots of “Phony WW1 Veterans” after the War who attempted to miss represent themselves and steal Veteran Benefits &/or Glory.

But we found through research that at the War’s end there was a shortage of red thread so many tailors chose “gold” and “handmade” for veterans these “gold chevrons.” Let’s not forget that Grandpa stayed in France (with his company) for another year, after the war ended. Maybe he never got the red chevrons and had to have it “tailor made” a year later (it too is hand sewn on). Counting days, Grandpa spent a total of 367 days in France. Two days more than a year and thus qualified him to sew on two (2) “Overseas Service Chevrons” which he also does by hand.

Eight days later, on July 19, 1919, he arrived in New York City, NY, USA and left his unit for the last time. The unit (still onboard the vessel) will continue their voyage further south, stopping at Newport News to release some troops and finally end their voyage in Savannah, Georgia. From there the “color troops” caught trains to homes in Alabama, Texas, and Mississippi.

Grandpa went to see his old employers, “Automatic” Sprinkler Corporation of America, who hired him back as a Sprinkler Engineer. He also visits a photo studio for the last time. He visited the “Majestic Studio at 228 West & 125th Street, NYC.” and there took the last two WW1 photos found in his collection.

In Portrait #1 we see Grandpa wearing his “Overseas Cap with Engineer Castle Pin.” Above his left breast pocket we see the ribbon of the “Unknown Medal.” Historians speculate it is the “WW1 US Army Victory Medal ribbon.” But I’m not convinced! In my research I’ve found other sepia photos with similar ribbons and none of them match a “sepia victory medal ribbon.” We will never know what his ribbon stood for.

In Portrait #2: There are two photos but one is better than the other. In the better one we see Grandpa in full pose. Wearing his boots (M1912 Marching Shoe), Puttees (M1910 Wool Cut Leggings), wool dress breeches (M1912 Breeches), wool dress tunic (Pattern 1912 Winter Service Coat) and his overseas cap. Clearly seen on his left shoulder is the Unit Patch (Advance Sector, Service of Supply) that signified so much and supported so well behind the lines of the American Expeditionary Force and Allies. Grandpa was honorably discharged that fall, Nov. 22, 1919.

We have a copy of Grandpa’s Service Record “Form# 724-1 A.G.O.” AND … we discovered the first clue that he did have and use a German last name spelled “Gartner” and we thought it was pronounced as “ar.” Later, when my wife got from New York City grandpa’s birth certificate, we finally find out Grandpa’s “true name.” It has an umlaut above the “a” which changes the sound to that of “A as in Apple,” so, it is pronounced, Charles Wilhelm Gärtner, the “r” is silent. Now a war veteran at 27 years, he returned back to work for the “Automatic” Sprinkle Corporation of America, in New York City, NY. At this time, there was still animosity towards Germans. So Grandpa decided to changed his German name to a more Americanized version, becoming: Charles William Gardner.

One day, he walks into a New York City bakery to buy rolls and meets Anna K. Wolff. “I walked out with 12 rolls and a date” so says family lore (Another version was that he …..walked out with 12 rolls and her heart.”). They married on April 4, 1920, in New York City and this ends my story.

Charles Gärtner image

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