Never-before published photos show the U.S. entry into World War I
By Jonathan Bratten and Thomas Gibbons-Neff for the Washington Post
Thursday marks the centennial of the U.S. entry into World War I. On April 6, 1917, Congress authorized then-President Woodrow Wilson’s declaration of war on Germany. The sinking of the ocean liner Lusitania in 1915, coupled with attacks on U.S. merchant ships and the Zimmerman Telegram in January, convinced a large swath of the American public that war was in the country’s interest.
Before official military involvement in World War I, Americans had contributed to the Allied war effort with participation in the American Field Service, which consisted of ambulance drivers and medical personnel. With the United States’ official entrance into the war, the American Field Service expanded its efforts, recruiting thousands more to serve overseas.
The first American combat troops arrived in France in June 1917. These soldiers were with the 1st U.S. Infantry Division and were accompanied by service members of the American Field Service. Once in France, the ambulance drivers and medical personnel were divided up into Section Sanitaire États-Unis, or S.S.U. for short. One of these men was an unnamed ambulance driver with S.S.U. 642 who took pictures of his experiences on the Western Front.
After the war, his photo scrapbook made its way to Maine, where it ended up with the papers and collections of Albert Greenlaw, an officer in the Maine National Guard and a World War I veteran himself. The scrapbook found its way into the Maine Military Historical Society’s museum in Augusta, Maine. These never-before seen photos provide a snapshot into the remarkable life of ambulance drivers in World War I.