The Area S Bungalow Section of Nitro, West Virginia, August 19, 1918. The town was home to a factory that helped supply the U.S. Army with gun powder during World War I.
What’s in a Name: The Definition of a ‘Boom’ Town
By Eric Douglas
via the West Virginia Public Broadcasting web site
There’s a town in Kanawha County, West Virginia where some locals say living there is a "blast."
As part of our occasional series, "What’s in a Name," we take a look at the history and folklore of the names of Appalachian places. The town in question, Nitro, West Virginia, grew out of the explosives industry and was home to a factory that helped supply the U.S. Army with gun powder during World War I. Ken Thompson volunteers at the World War I museum in the city of Nitro.
According to Thompson, Nitro was established in 1917 by the federal government to manufacture nitrocellulose, a highly flammable compound formed by bringing cellulose from trees or plants into contact with it to nitric acid. It is also known as “guncotton,” because of its explosive characteristics.
“It was to support the war effort for WWI," he explained. "A lot of people were under the impression it was nitroglycerin. It was not. It was nitrocellulose. That was added to the other components to make the gunpowder smokeless."
It took the federal government about 11 months to build the town from 1917 to 1918, and approximately 100,000 people representing 41 nations participated.
Nitro's construction coincided with one of the coldest winters in recorded history, Thompson said.
One of the town's builders would go on to become famous: Clark Gable.
Read more: What’s in a Name: The Definition of a ‘Boom’ Town
Members of the Simeon L. Nickerson American Legion Post 64 in Middleboro and a number of other local veterans and town officials gathered at Glass Square in downtown Middleboro last Thursday to dedicate a new sign memorializing the late John F. Glass, Jr,. who was the last service man from Middleboro to be killed in action in World War I. The spot has long been known as Everett Square, but Post 64Commander Bob Lessard and a number of other local veterans led a decade-long push to have the square rededicated in keeping with a 1929 Town Meeting vote which established he spot as Glass Square.
Middleboro, MA town square renamed for WWI soldier
By Jon Halglof, Editor, Middleboro Gazette
via the South Coast Today .com (MA) web site
MIDDLEBORO — The somewhat disorienting five-way intersection located at the top of Center Street in downtown Middleboro known locally as Everett Square is due to be redesigned in 2020, but before that, Everett Square had to be renamed, or better yet, reestablished, as John F. Glass, Jr. Square, as it was always supposed to be.
That happened with little or no resistance from those partial to the name “Everett Square,” which in all likelihood was named so for no other reason than its proximity to Everett Street, one of the five intersecting streets converging at the Square — along with Station St., High St., Center Ave and the aforementioned Center St.
So now, John Glass Square is again — and as it has been since it was decided so in 1929 — John Glass Square, and John Glass Square is due to be redesigned in 2020.
Well, that redesign got an early start last Thursday with the unveiling and dedication of a new sign recognizing the square as John F. Glass, Jr. Square, and for Bob Lessard, current Commander of American Legion Post 64 in Middleboro, it’s a small gesture that will go a long way in correcting a bit of local history and acknowledging, for all time, a Middleboro soldier who paid the ultimate price while serving his country.
“He died October 26, and the war ended Nov. 11. So, the poor guy got killed just a couple of weeks before the war ended,” Lessard said, relaying the story of PFC John F. Glass, Jr at the dedication.
PFC Glass was the last serviceman from Middleboro to be killed in action in World War I. At the time of his death, he was serving with the Yankee Division’s 101st Infantry, Company D. His remains did not make it home to Middleboro, and he is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France.
Lessard, who’s been leading the call for the correction for the better part of a decade, says Middleboro American Legion Post 64 membership petitioned to have the square memorialized in the name of John F. Glass, Jr. back in 1929. The spot was dedicated and took the name of John F. Glass, Jr. Square on May 30, 1929, part of that year’s Memorial Day services, and later that spring, on June 18, the request to make it official and put it on the books was approved by Town Meeting voters.
Read more: Middleboro, MA town square renamed for WWI soldier
A team from Wheaton College in Norton, MA led by Professor of Computer Science Mark D. LeBlanc recently returned from France with a collection of hi-tech image and data collection of the cave carvings and messages left by American soldiers in World War I.
Project demonstrates 3D collection of cave messages in France left by American soldiers in WWI
By Mark D. LeBlanc, Ph.D.
Professor of Computer Science at Wheaton College in Norton, MA
Special to the United States World War One Centennial Commission web site
A team from Wheaton College in Norton, MA recently returned from two days in the caves at Braye-en-Laonnois, France (August 4-5, 2019) capturing 3D data of the cave etchings left there by American soldiers in World War I.
Working for an 11-hour and then 8-hour day under the guidance of Gilles Chauwin, our team returned with gigabytes of data (3D Lidar laser scans, 360 pano-images, and photogrammetry images) to demonstrate the concept by example that the messages left 100 years ago by the men in the American Army’s 26th Division, as well as French and German soldiers, can be preserved, reproduced, and disseminated.
The work of our project, involving honor, diplomacy, and a pursuit to provide new and exciting ways to teach history so the next generations will not forget, is based on 12 years of research at National Archives. Team members (artist Kelly Goff and videographer Keith Heyward) have demonstrated the potential to:
- Make 3D virtual experiences (bringing these messages to those in the US since most will never get the chance to actually visit);
- Create milled pieces of individual etchings;
- Create full-wall installations for museums; and
- "Starter Kits" for teachers to use the data for teaching history in new ways.
Read more: Project demonstrates 3D collection of cave messages in France left by American soldiers in WWI
From right, Pottawattamie County Veterans Affairs Director Nick Jedlicka with Denny and Carolyn Robison at the county VA building on August 15. County officials presented Denny Robison with a grave site marker for his grandfather Dan Robison, a World War I veteran whose grave at Walnut Hill Cemetery went unmarked until recently.
Iowa World War I soldier's grave marked after 45 years
By Courtney Upah
via the Council Bluffs Daily Nonpariel newspaper (IA) web site
Denny Robison wasn’t sure why the grave of his grandfather — a World War I veteran — was unmarked for 45 years. Now, together with his wife, Carolyn Robison, and Pottawattamie Veterans Affairs, that has been corrected.
“Whenever we would go out (to Walnut Hill Cemetery) on Memorial Day and such to decorate the grave, we never knew exactly where Grandpa was,” Denny said.
He figured it was an oversight that his grandfather — WWI U.S. Army veteran Dan Robison — remained buried in an unmarked grave, and that oversight was buried with time.
“Grandpa was a tall man, yet very soft spoken, and I will always remember that no matter what the occasion or situation, there was a kind laugh,” Denny said. “A very welcoming grandfather to both my brother and I.”
Denny and his family were close with Dan when he died.
After so many years unmarked, Carolyn decided to look into installing a marker as a surprise. To start, she reached out to the Veterans Administration.
The VA assisted Carolyn in finding the right documents — like a birth and death certificate — needed prior to receiving the grave marker.
Carolyn gathered the majority of paperwork by herself with the VA’s help, until she needed the death certificate.
“The last thing I needed was the death certificate,” Carolyn said. “Because I wasn’t a direct descendant, they wouldn’t give it to me. I went home and said ‘here’s what I’ve done but you have to finish it because they won’t give it to me.’”
Read more: Iowa WWI soldier's grave marked after 45 years
Group proposes moving World War I memorial from Grant Beach Park following vandalism
By Katie Kull
via the Springfield News-Leader (MO) web site
The World War I memorial may soon be moved from its longtime home in Grant Beach Park following an act of vandalism earlier this year.
A World War I memorial was knocked off its base at Grant Beach Park in north Springfield. The parks department was called Sunday, April 28, 2019 about the vandalism.The local chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution on Thursday got an endorsement from the Greene County Commission to proceed with an effort to move the one-ton obelisk from the northwest Springfield park to a new home in the Springfield National Cemetery.
J. Howard Fisk, the past president of the Sons of the American Revolution, told members of the Springfield-Greene County Park Board last month they wanted to move the memorial bearing the names of 64 men who died during World War I to a more "ideal" place.
"We're not saying there's anything wrong with Grant Beach Park," he said. "(But the move) is the right thing to do for the right reason."
The proposed location would be near the Rostrum on the opposite side of the Pearl Harbor monument if approved by the federal government.
Fisk said his organization would find a way to pay for the likely costly move.
The memorial has sat in Grant Beach Park since 1924, when it was dedicated on the sixth anniversary of the signing of the Great War's armistice, according to information provided by the Sons of the American Revolution to the park board.
Read more: Group proposes moving World War I memorial from Grant Beach Park following vandalism
2019 marks 101 years since death of WV's Louis Bennett Jr.
By Rebecca Young
via the Weston Democrat newspaper (WV) web site
August 24 will mark the 101st anniversary of Louis Bennett Jr.’s death during WWI. Bennett, Jr. served in the Royal Air Force in the United Kingdom. At the time of his death Bennett had flown 25 maneuvers against the Germans. He formed the West Virginia Flying Corps, which was commissioned by then WV Governor Cornwell on July 26, 1917. The U.S. Army, however, refused to accept the corps, which led Bennett Jr. to enter flight school with the British Royal Air Force in Canada.
Louis Bennett Jr.On the day of Bennett, Jr.’s death, his aircraft had burst into flames after being hit by ground fire. He never received a medal for his actions in combat. His mother, Sallie Maxwell Bennett, ensured her son’s death would not be in vain, and because of her efforts, Lewis County is home to a war memorial in his honor-the Louis Bennett Library in Weston.
Maxwell Bennett had lost not only her son, but also her husband within weeks of each other. Maxwell Bennett spent the rest of her remaining years honoring her son for his service. Three different countries have memorials in honor of Bennett Jr., the United States, England, and France. Maxwell Bennett came from a wealthy family in Wheeling, and married into a wealthy family in Lewis County so money to honor her son was of no consequence.
The first memorial was erected in Wavrin, France, with Maxwell Bennett not only erecting a memorial, but rebuilding the church that was destroyed by the retreating German Army. The church was rebuilt in dedication to her Bennett Jr.’s memory on the anniversary of his death in 1919.
The rebuilt church was also served as a thank you to the village that helped smuggle her son’s remains out of France back to the U.S. for burial. This was in violation of French law. On the same day in 1919, St. Paul’s Espiscopal Church held a memorial service for Bennett Sr. and Bennett Jr.
The next memorial to be erected was in Wheeling on the campus of the Linsly School. There stands a seven and a half foot tall sculpture of her son in his flight coat with wined arms. After this, Maxwell Bennett commissioned a stained glass window for Westminster Abbey in England in 1922.
Read more: 2019 marks 101 years since death of WV's Louis Bennett Jr.
A hero of the Great War: N.C. A&T instructor Robert Campbell
By John Newsom
via the Greensboro News & Record (newspaper (NC) web site
GREENSBORO — At N.C. A&T, like at most universities, the buildings are named for people who played important roles on campus.
The original main building is named for a past A&T president. So, too, are the library, the current administration building and four academic buildings.
Lt. Robert CampbellAnd then there’s Campbell Hall, home of A&T’s ROTC programs since 1955. The building’s namesake, Robert Campbell, wasn’t a college president or a dean or a major donor. He became the university’s first instructor of military science way back in 1919.
But Campbell was so much more than just a college instructor. He held a patent for an invention he came up with while in college in Alabama. He fought in the Spanish-American War and again in World War I, where he was honored by two different governments for his bravery under fire.
A century ago this fall, Campbell received one of France’s top military medals in a ceremony that made national news. A program August 17 at the Greensboro History Museum commemorated Campbell’s life and service.
Campbell was a well-known figure around the A&T campus long after the war ended, said James Stewart, the archives and special collections librarian at A&T’s Bluford Library.
“He was the definition,” Stewart said, “of an officer and a gentleman.”
Robert Lee Campbell was born in 1875 in Athens, Ga. Little is known about his early life until he enrolled at the Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University. At the historically black school in Alabama, he studied to be a machinist.
Campbell left school in 1899 to enlist in the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War. He served for two years in the infantry in the Philippines. He returned to Tuskegee in 1901 as a sergeant.
Two years later, Campbell was awarded a patent for a valve gear for steam engines. He shared the patent with Booker T. Washington — yes, that Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee’s first president and one of the nation’s top black leaders more than a century ago.
Read more: A hero of the Great War: N.C. A&T instructor Robert Campbell
From the World War I Centennial News Podcast
War Tech: The Interrupter Gear
Anthony Fokker, a Dutch aircraft designer, pioneered the Interrupter Gear for GermanyFrom August 12th's edition of the World War I Centennial News Podcast, Episode 135 (originally aired in Episode 68): At the beginning of World War I the airplane had yet to realize its lethal potential as a weapon of war. One major hindrance to aerial combat was the difficulty of firing a forward-mounted machine gun on a propeller plane without destroying the propeller itself. Then in 1915, a Dutch engineer named Anthony Fokker changed the world with his revolutionary "Interrupter Gear." Read on to learn more about this deadly invention:
Theo Mayer: An arms race in the sky was inevitable as each side tried to improve the capability, reliability, and the lethality of planes. Believe it or not, the first gunfire in the air involved pilots just pulling out their service revolvers and popping off at each other. Aiming the plane and shooting where the plane was aimed was a big deal. The first attempts to mount a machine gun on a plane ended with the heavy nose prototype crashing on its first experimental flight. As we said, those early planes were not very powerful flyers. Beyond that, mounting a machine gun to shoot forward without shooting off your own propeller was a really big challenge.
They tried a lot of ideas. Some guns were mounted very high on top of the wings. Some planes carried a second man, a machine gunner who whipped around his weapon on a swinging tripod. There were pusher planes with props behind the wings allowing the pilot to aim the plane forward and shoot without hitting the blades of the propeller. But pusher planes were slow and less maneuverable.
Enter Dutch aircraft designer, Anthony Fokker, who came up with the ultimate answer. Unfortunately, he did it for the Germans. His mechanism, referred to as an interrupter gear, connected the firing of the machine gun with a turning of the propeller allowing the bullets to pass through the brief gap between the blades as they spun. Now in spite of the tests on both the ground and in the air proving that his design worked, German generals remained skeptical. They demanded that Fokker prove his idea by going out on a mission and shooting down an enemy by himself. That's pretty harsh in my book. Fokker saluted and did as he was told. Pretty soon a French plane came into his sights, but that poor Fokker found himself unable to pull the trigger. He was an engineer not a warrior.
Read more: Podcast Article - Interrupter Gear
From the World War I Centennial News Podcast
War in the Sky: Medal of Honor Recipient Erwin Bleckley
2nd Lieutenant Erwin Bleckley posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his efforts to locate the men of the Lost BattalionIn August 12th's edition of the World War I Centennial News Podcast, Episode 135, we reprised an earlier interview about a heroic but largely unknown American serviceman. As the Lost Battalion fought for their lives in the fall of 1918, a group of Airmen risked their lives to relocate and resupply them- the first such mission in American military history- including 2nd Lieutenant Erwin Bleckley. Here is his remarkable story, as told by historian Lieutenant Colonel Doug Jacobs, U.S. Army (Ret.). The following is a transcript of the conversation, lightly edited for clarity:
Theo Mayer: For our next segment, I'd like to introduce you to Erwin Bleckley. He's one of the aerial heroes of the Lost Battalion saga, a name that's not that well known in aviation history. To tell us the story of Erwin, we're joined by Lieutenant Colonel Doug Jacobs, US Army (Retired). Doug is the former command historian and curator for the Kansas National Guard Museum. He's also an Erwin Bleckley biographer who spent years researching this man and his story. Here is a conversation I had with Doug in September of 2018 during Episode #91. Doug, welcome to the show.
Doug Jacobs: Thank you, Theo. I appreciate being here and an opportunity to talk about a subject that is very dear to my heart and I feel a lot of passion for, and that is the story of Erwin Bleckley.
Theo Mayer: Who is Erwin Bleckley?
Doug Jacobs: Well, Erwin Bleckley has a unique story in that he was a man that enlisted in the Kansas National Guard from Wichita, Kansas. He was the second man to join the first field artillery battery that was just formed in Wichita. He received a commission, and 30 days after, that unit was mobilized to go to war. It was made part of the 130th Field Artillery regiment which is part of the 35th Division. It's a National Guard unit made up of members of the Missouri National Guard and the Kansas National Guard. I know about Erwin because I've spent about 25 years of my life studying him.
Read more: Podcast Article - Erwin Bleckley
Middleborough’s WWI Veterans: Augustine Ouellette, rejected but determined to serve
By Bob Lessard / Commander and Historian Post 64 American Legion
via the SouthCoastToday newspaper (MA) web site
Augustine J. Ouellette originally was rejected by the United States Army when he attempted to join other Middleboro men, who were serving with Company D 101st Infantry at the Plymouth Armory.
Augustine J. OuelletteHe was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Ouellette of 70 Everett Street. At the time of his enlistment, his identification card sent to the Middleboro’s Commercial Club stated he was 24 years old. He had been employed at the Leonard & Barrows factory prior to joining the service.
According to a letter from Ouellette sent from France in March 1918, which stated that he had been able to enlist with company H of the 23rd Infantry of the American Expeditionary Force. “After trying to enlist in Co. D of Plymouth last April but was turned down for being too short. I went to Boston and sailed for France on a horse boat. On my return....went to Allentown (PA) and on the 26th of June, 1917, I enlisted in the U.S. Regulars and was sent to Columbus, Ohio and took the oath. He was mustered in on July 1, 1917.”
A news account in the Middleboro Gazette with Augustine’s picture reported that he arrived in France on September 2. The story also mentioned that he had “seen much fighting.” The article also mentions that he had been promoted to “first class private” and had transferred to the 31st Prisoners of War Escort.
A second letter, addressed from France to the Service Committee of Middleboro’s Commercial Club dated April 18, 1918 and postmarked April 30 by the Army Postal Service, was sent by Ouellette.
Parts of that letter read: “I received five letters from the states last night and believe me I did not take very long to read them and it made me sleep better all night. Have not received any packages that you sent me last November or the one that the Red Cross sent to me.”
“You didn’t have my right address. Last year when I tried to enlist in Company D. of Plymouth, I did not pass.” Ouellette’s letter then mentions that he was serving with the 23rd Infantry and that his parcels may have been shipped to Company D.
Ouellette’s letter then informs the Service Committee, “The hardest things to get here is tobacco and playing cards. If you care to send any, why I will be happy. As it is hard to get along without tobacco and it I hard to buy any French tobacco as they have very little.” He continued, “I will close with best wishes to all Middleboro and hoping from you soon.”
Read more: Augustine Ouellette, rejected but determined to serve
Paul Vassar looks at the grave of Arthur Matheny, one of six young men from Chandler, OK killed on the same day in World War I. Vassar, a retired district judge, has written a book about what was a tragic loss for his hometown.
A century ago in World War I, six soldiers from Chandler, OK were killed on the same day
By Tim Stanley
via the Tulsa World newspaper (OK) web site
CHANDLER — Only the names on the telegrams were different.
Otherwise, the six were exactly the same: Same date. Same place. Even the same wording.
“It must’ve been gut-wrenching,” said Paul Vassar, who still has a hard time grasping what it was like for his hometown — losing six of its young men on the same day in World War I.
“Chandler was an even smaller community then, where all the families knew each other,” he said.
Although the deaths occurred on Oct. 8, 1918, it was three weeks before the news arrived in Chandler and telegrams were sent to the families.
Making the loss even harder to swallow, just a week later that same telegraph relayed another big news item: An armistice had been signed.
The war was over.
“How terribly bittersweet that must’ve been,” Vassar said.
A retired district judge for Lincoln and Pottawatomie counties, Vassar has written a book about this tragic chapter in his hometown’s history. It’s called “The Boys: The Story of a Town and War.”
The men were part of a Chandler-area National Guard unit sent to France to fight.
“Sadly, the story was lost to time,” Vassar said. “I wasn’t aware of most of it until I started researching.”
Read more: A century ago in World War I, six soldiers from Chandler, OK were killed on the same day
The 223 "Hello Girls" went to Europe in cohorts of about 30 at a time,and took calls from U.S. Army forward observers regarding artillery and regiment movements as well as communications between officers in the field and headquarters, all while being close enough to the war to come under artillery fire.
'Hello Girls' documentary tells story of women on the front lines in WWI
By Mark Walker
via the Fredricksburg.com web site (VA)
An errant Google search and a last-minute, fortuitous find at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., made James Theres’ documentary “The Hello Girls” come together.
James TheresTheres, with three documentaries under his belt now, started searching in 2017 for a project to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I in November 1918.
A mistake in a Google search for information on WWI led to Elizabeth Cobbs’ book, also called “The Hello Girls,” which told the story about American women who went to Europe during WWI to run the switchboards and the phones that connected generals to the battlefronts. The moniker derived from the women answering the phones with “Hello.”
Theres had found the subject for his second documentary.
“Truthfully, I had meant to type in WWI men. For some strange reason, I typed in WWI women,” the 55-year-old Alexandria filmmaker said. “I looked at the screen and said, ‘OK, let’s see what’s here,’ and up popped Elizabeth Cobbs’ book of the same name.”
Theres read the book and emailed Cobbs, who helped set him on the path to his documentary version of “The Hello Girls.”
Theres’ research led him to Kansas City; San Francisco; Marine City, Mich.; and Chaumont, France—places where he interviewed the descendants of four of the Hello Girls.
John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, who commanded the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front in WWI, brought the Hello Girls to Europe at the suggestion of AT&T executives who were part of his staff, Theres said.
Pershing was not satisfied with the way the American soldiers were doing the job for the U.S. Army Signal Corps. “He knew how important that private communication was on the battlefield and that it would be a game changer,” Theres said.
Read more: 'Hello Girls' documentary tells story of women on the front lines in WWI
Ridgefield High School seniors Aaron Cohen and Mairead Lacey were among a group of 15 students who participated in the "Digging Into History: WWI Trench Restoration” program in Seicheprey, France this summer. The program brought participants to the site of the first German offensive against American troops to restore a section of trench once occupied by Connecticut’s 102nd Infantry Regiment. The group tours Fort Douaumont in the picture above.
Ridgefield, CT students dig into World War I history
via the MySA (San Antonio, TX) web site
Ridgefield students Aaron Cohen and Mairead Lacey have returned from the Connecticut State Library’s “Digging Into History: WWI Trench Restoration” program in Seicheprey, France.
The three-week innovative experiential learning program brought fifteen Connecticut high school students to the site of the first German offensive against American troops to restore a section of trench once occupied by Connecticut’s 102d Infantry Regiment.
“This program, the only one of its kind in the United States, was a spectacular success and resulted in a life changing experience for students and chaperones alike,” said Christine Pittsley, project director of the state library’s “Remembering World War One: Sharing History and Preserving Memories” program.
The trench restoration work, led by local military historians Phillipe Dourthe and Denis Meyer, resulted in more than 100 meters of trench restored; two wattle walls built and a shelter rebuilt. A number of artifacts were found, including an American boot, a French spoon with a bullet hole and even a Napoleon III coin dating to the 1850s.
Students cataloged the finds and documented their work through photos and video that will become part of the Connecticut State Library’s permanent archives.
Read more: Ridgefield, CT students dig into World War I history