Private Compton: My Experiences in the World War
"America had a big part in bringing the war to an end"
By Wendy Yessler
Special to the United States World War One Centennial Commission web site
A century has passed since the Great War was fought. This is a never-before-published, first-hand account, written and compiled by my great grandfather, Paul L. Compton. His narrative brings events to life from a perspective of one who was actually there. Beginning with training at Camp Hancock, Georgia, he carries you through the voyage to Europe, the war, and then the return home to the welcoming parades.
Not only does his writing bring the events of the war to life, but his personality adds some lightheartedness and humor to an otherwise difficult topic. It's an enjoyable read, making you feel as if you are by his side and participating, as he retells the events. The reader is left with a sense of being there, as well as making a friendship connection with Paul Compton himself. Included near the end of the book are his poetic reflections and ponderings about various memorials, monuments, and life. These further illustrate the man Paul Compton was.
Over a year ago, my brother gave me a large folder which he explained contained the writings of Paul Compton, our great grandfather. Paul Compton’s granddaughter had given it to my brother. I had the folder for a year and because of busyness with responsibilities, had not been able to read it. I decided I should return it to my brother. I was planning to visit my brother in November while I worked as election support in southern MD. When I was packing, I pulled the “writings” out of the folder and discovered it was a complete manuscript of Paul Compton’s experiences in WW1. At that moment, I knew I could not return it yet. I knew that this needed to be published so that it would be available for others to read.
In January I began scanning his manuscript for the book. I felt keeping his original typed pages was important for the authentic feel of the book. His poetry section contained photos of the memorials and monuments he wrote about, but the copies were extremely dark. I discovered that he had actually used postcards and was able to locate 99% of the ones he had used and inserted fresh copies. The National Archives gave me access to the AEF collection of photos where I searched for photos that would depict things he talked about.
I also was able to locate some period newspapers which he had cited and used a couple photos from those. A few other pictures came from out of print books I was able to locate. For instance, his company photos were found in the set of Colonel Edward Martin’s books on the History of the 28th Division.
Before working on this project, like many others, I had not studied WW1. I only had a general overview in high school and college. After spending 8-10 hours a day on this project for 5 months, it has sparked an interest to find out more. His personal account causes you to want to dig a little further. You think about things you hadn’t considered before.
From reading this, I saw how troops entered the war with a certain enthusiasm for the chance of battle, and then after getting a taste of the reality, there was a slight shift in the enthusiasm as they adjusted to what had to be done. The environment and conditions our men were faced with are brought to light, including dealing with pests.
I had an idea of some of these things, but for the most part, books tend to leave out this type of information. People don’t think about these things being added on top of the battle requirements. In one part of the book, he talks about going into an area where there had been no advance for an extended period of time. The reason was because the French and the Germans in that area had an unspoken agreement not to fire on one another. People generally don’t consider these aspects of war. I think instances like this help illustrate why it is sometimes necessary to bring American troops into places to help bring an end to things.
I think that is probably the biggest lesson to be gleaned from this on WW1. There were a lot of countries involved, each doing their part, but America had a big part in bringing the war to an end.
I think people should care about WW1 today because, like all history, it is important. People need to see why some conflicts are necessary in order to bring an end to a greater conflict, which then ushers in freedom and peace.
Wendy Yessler is an author and graphic designer. Her books are available on amazon.com.