Russell Perkins Byington
Submitted by: Stacey Byington
Russell Perkins Byington served in World War 1 with the the United States Army. The dates of service are: Known 1917-1918.
Russell Perkins Byington, born 21 OCT 1893, moved with his parents to Cairo, NY, in September 1895 and from there to Ossining, NY, in the spring of 1902. Attended Ossining public schools, took an active part in athletic activities and was popular with fellow schoolmates.
Joined the New York National Guard in June 1916, joining Company A, 3d Regiment of Infantry, of Rochester, NY, for service on the Mexican Border. Was one of the first to respond. During the four months he spent on the Mexican border his company saw no fighting. Mustered out in September 1916.
In the spring of 1917, Russell re-enlisted, this time with the 71st Regiment, which was mustered into federal service on March 30, 1917, and later became the 105th Infantry Regiment. The 105th sailed for France from Newport News, Va., on May 17, 1918, arriving in Brest, France on May 30, 1918. Private 1st Class Russell Perkins Byington was killed during the Battle of the Hindenberg Line, September 29, 1918.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his gallantry in battle (signed by Gen. John Pershing). According to a "Solider's Overseas Grave" card, Russell is buried in the Somme American Cemetery, Bony, Aisne, France, Grave No. 9, Row 12, Block B. Letter sending the grave card to Russell's father was signed by F.H. Pope, Colonel, Office of the Quartermaster General, Washington, D.C.
The following narrative of Russell's bravery is quoted verbatim from "The Record of a Private", written by his father, Cassius Perkins Byington, commemorating Russell and other Byington family members (and those related to Byingtons) who served their country in the wars of the nation from the earliest colonial times to the end of World War I.
"On the evening of Sept. 28 (1918), everyone knew that for them tomorrow would be a great day. It was still dark at 4 a.m., the morning of the 29th when they were informed that at precisely 5:20 a.m., they were going to go 'over the top'. There was much to happen in the next few hours. History was to be made, many of those who went forth would not come back. Just what the day held in store for them as individuals none could know, but there was no wavering, no hesitation, no thought of failure. This is what they had been getting ready for during all the past months, now their work was to be made manifest.
"In just one hour, hell was to break loose. The forces of the right and liberty, and the hosts of evil would come to grips. It was Sunday, and the beginning of a day that was not to end until the forces of right should prevail, and the impossible had been accomplished - the breaking of that barrier, the Germans had spent two years in preparing and which they boasted could not be taken - The Hindenberg Line.
"Our men spent the night in shell-holes and dug-outs as near the line as possible, to be ready for the start in the morning. Owing to a heavy downpour of rain, the shell-holes were a mess of mud and water, and partly filled with the foul remnants of previous gas attacks, making the situation anything but pleasant, or comfortable.
"Promptly at 5:20 a.m., the barrage was underway and only waiting to give the barrage a brief start, our boys are 'over the top', and the battle is on. The Germans started up a counter barrage and some of our men rushing forward behind the tanks, thinking it was the smoke screen of their own barrage, in their haste to get on, rushed into it - a fatal mistake, for the Germans were pouring a deadly hail of machine gun bullets directly into it, and hundreds of our boys were wounded or killed before they had gone a hundred rods (1 rid = 5.5 yards).
"One squad of Co. 1, in their haste to get on, rushed into the smoke screen of their own barrage and got lost, and finally found themselves with some men of the 107th and went with them, not seeing their own company again until the next day.
"The barbed wire guarding the first line trenches is reached and they went through it with the tanks breaking the way. Before an hour is passed they are in the very thick of things, the tanks are having trouble - one tank out in front is lifted into the air by a mine and put out of action, another one is disabled by a concealed battery of tank artillery. Out in front of us, a lot of Germans with their machine guns are blown into the air by one of our big guns. At the end of an hour more we are making good headway, and have advanced more than a mile, but the tanks are having a bad time. Those on our front are apparently all out of commission. A bunch of Germans come out of a dug-out with their hands up and give themselves up. The fighting continues furiously, the enemy desperately fighting to hold their lines, our brave boys determined to drive them out, continuing to advance, hardly able to see their way, owing to smoke from the barrage and artillery, crawling from shell-hole to dug-out in the face of the most galling machine gun and artillery fire.
"Always going forward, Russell received a shrapnel wound in the leg which caused a severe loss of blood. He refused to go to the rear, however, but controlling the hemorrhage by bandages and such first-aid dressings as were available, and continued to advance with his command.
"It was still early in the day, about 8 a.m., when Russell's Corporal was severely wounded and put out of action, but before being taken to the rear, turned the command over to Russell, who led them on, dodging into shell-holes and crawling forward to new vantage points from which they could better put out of action the numerous machine gun nests which were harassing them on every side.
"This went on for several hours, the fighting becoming more intense as the day wore on, always advancing in the face of the most desperate resistance.
"Our boys knew the task before them. Last time it was chasing a retreating foe at Mt. Kemmill and Vierstaat Ridge, but now they are to oust a foe strongly entrenched in his most impregnable stronghold and desperately determined to hold it - the Hindenberg Line.
"But our brave boys are not to be denied. In the face of one of the most terrible death tolls of the war, they press on, if not to complete victory themselves, none the less, to a victory for the comrades who shall survive them and follow them, and not only that, but a victory which breaks the backbone of the enemy's lines and leads to a speedy ending of the war.
"It was in one of these advances that Russell, at about 11 a.m., received a machine gun bullet through the temple, killing him instantly. Bravery while a man is in full possession of his strength and power is splendid, but words are not adequate to describe the courage and gallantry of the man whose spirit dominates wounds, weakness from loss of blood and the most certain knowledge of imminent death.
"As to Russell's personal attitude toward the 'Challenge of Death' and the horrors of conflict, we have abundant testimony. He had been in every battle and engagement and minor action of his company and regiment, up to and including Sept. 29th. After the battle in which he lost his life, one of his comrades wrote, 'Russell was wounded severely, and was begged to go to the rear, but refused to go. It just seemed he could not go back and leave his struggling comrades.' And the same story has been told by other comrades and his commanding officers, how his exalted disregard for his own safety at all times, when the constant and terrible toll of war was ever before him, showed that death had no terrors for him. His only fear, no, not fear, his only anxiety about himself as expressed to others, was, lest he should return crippled and dependent, and - God was good to him."