Four Questions for author Gene Fax
"The episodes of the war speak for themselves in all their tragedy, triumph, irony, and absurdity."
By Paul Burgholzer
Author Gene Fax spent seventeen years combing archives in Washington, Baltimore, Paris, West Point, and Carlisle, Pennsylvania. to research the story of the U.S. 79th Division in World War I. He specifically wanted to learn about their pivotal role during the Battle for Mountfaucon -- one of the most bloody and fiercely contested battles of the entire war. Part of his drive to learn this story was the fact that Gene Fax's grandfather, Corporal Oscar Lubchansky, served in that division, in that battle, as a member of the division's 313th Infantry Regiment. WW1CC's Paul Burgholzer heard about Gene Fax's remarkable book, and reached out to the author to hear more.
The book focuses around the 79th Division. What about the 79th division intrigued you the most?
Gene FaxThe whole project began as an attempt to reconstruct my grandfather’s service history. He fought in the 313th Infantry Regiment, part of the 79th Division. I always remembered the stories he used to tell my brother and me when we were little, and when I was in my 40s I wanted to learn more about him. As you know, the Army Personnel Records Center in St. Louis had a fire in 1973 that destroyed almost all of their World War I files. So as a substitute I started reading about the 313th. I had read military history most of my life and was reasonably conversant with the American role in the war, but I had never heard of the major battle of the 313th, the fight for Montfaucon. When I looked for books on that battle, I found there were none. My wife said, “So you’ll write the book.” And that’s how it started.
As my research unfolded, it became clear that the 79th was of more than personal interest. Every problem that beset the AEF plagued the division, usually in exaggerated form--lack of training, unfamiliar equipment, inexperienced officers, faulty doctrine, miserable roads, poor combat supply, you name it. Their only asset was their incredible determination, and by the end of the war—in less than seven weeks of combat--they had transformed themselves into a competent fighting unit. I figured that was a story to which many people would respond.
General Pershing was an important figure in the war as well as your book. What is your overall opinion of General Pershing?
In the book I spent a lot of time criticizing Pershing’s open warfare doctrine, and I stand by that criticism. But in retrospect I should have given him more credit as a manager, leader, and diplomat. Getting two million men (and several thousand women) off the transports, across France, and into the front lines was a stunning accomplishment. It certainly stunned the Germans. Part of the AEF’s success was due to Pershing’s ability to appoint talented subordinates—Hugh Drum as First Army Chief of Staff, James Harbord as head of the Services of Supply, Charles Dawes as General Purchasing Agent, Dennis Nolan heading Intelligence, George Marshall in Operations, the list goes on and on. But he also knew how to supervise and motivate his subordinates, and his personality and iron will percolated down to the lowest private.
Pershing knew what kind of army he wanted and he stopped at nothing to get it. Others have observed that Pershing had to fight a three-front war: against the enemy, against his allies, and against the War Department. Germany had a continuous military tradition going back to Frederick the Great, while the United States had raised large armies only for immediate crises, and not since the Civil War; Pershing was unimpressed. The French and British wanted their own forces to absorb American battalions as they got off the boat; Pershing insisted on a unified, self-sufficient army of his own and by and large he got it. With the War Department he argued constantly over what training the men should receive, how many divisions to send to France, how to allocate shipping capacity between combat and support units, even what kind of airplane engines to manufacture. In these interchanges he was, as the saying goes, “often wrong but never in doubt.” He could be a pain in the neck, but he was a pain in the neck who got things done. As I did say in the book, it is hard to imagine an American officer of the time who could have been a more effective commander in chief.
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International League baseball games teach sports fans about WWI
By Alyssa Carter
WW1CC volunteer reenactor Jeremy Bowles meets with Charlotte Knights pitcher Tyler Danish before the game.Recently, the WW1CC put together a series of “World War I Night at the Park” f baseball games with The International League of Minor League Baseball (MiLB). The series ran for three weeks, and was a big success. The Commission’s head of the baseball program, Roger Fisk, spoke to us about this series of games, and how they helped to tell the World War I story.
The series was focused on commemorating baseball’s part in raising money and awareness for the war effort 100 years ago. Baseball was already popular by the time the war began, and now it provides a way for people to remember the veterans that served in World War I.
The connection between World War I and baseball was displayed most prominently during the events of the 1918 World Series. Officials had thought to cancel the series that year out of respect for the troops serving in France, but when they found out that the soldiers were eager to know the results of the games, they decided to continue. This series is where the Star-Spangled Banner gained its popularity when it was played during the seventh inning stretch and the crowd excitedly joined in.
Mr. Fisk detailed the Commission’s efforts at each game. These included providing each team with packets of poppy seeds to distribute, information about the entwined histories of World War I and baseball, and research on players from their respective state who served in World War I before returning to playing baseball.
The games honored World War I heritage in the cities where they were played with giveaways, special presentations, and other World War I history incorporated into the game.
In Virginia, “Living History” came with their van and were able to do research and teach baseball fans more about World War I. Some of the patrons even had research done on ancestors who served in the war, and these people were able to leave the game with a greater connection to World War I.
Read more: Baseball games teach sports fans about World War I history