tv American Soldiers on the Western Front CSPAN August 31, 2018 10:18am-11:23am EDT
sunday on oral histories, our women in congress series continues with barbara kennelly and at 8:00 p.m. on the presidency, a look at george washington and alexander hamilton. and the historical accuracy of "hamilton" the musical and on monday, the presidential site summit. wash american history tv. up next, military historian edward langold is the author of the book "never in finer
company" the men of the great war's lost battalion. the eisenhower national historic site in gettysburg, pennsylvania, hosted this event. >> good afternoon. and welcome to the eisenhower national historic site. we are at the sites world war i, camp cole weekend this is an opportunity for the public to learn about camp colt which was a camp training program for tanks here at the gettysburg national park as well as world war i reenactors. here at eisenhower farm. next up is ed langold. who holds a b.a. of history from george mason university and received his ph.d. from the university of virginia where he directed the washington papers project for many years. he served as the chief historian
for the white house historical association until just recently. he's written several books on george washington and world war i. his latest book will be "never in finer company" the men of the great war's lost battalion. published from september of 2018. langhold leads history and battlefield tours throughout europe and the united states and he writes regularly for military quarterly american history and other history periodicals, as well as has appeared on national public radio. fox news, history channel and other, other media outlets. he also appears on the world war i centennial commissions weekly podcast. ed i want to introduce you to our audience here and have you do your little talk. [ applause ]
>> good afternoon to all of you, let's make sure i have this in the right place so that you can hear me. am i getting to the folks in the back? >> we are in distinguished company. i was talking to this gentleman over here, the great grand-nephew of calvin coolidge. a retired two-star general. a great nephew. a retired two-star general. and also related to admiral sims, we spoke about that as well. i'm an 8th or 9th cousin of dwight d. eisenhower. we pennsylvania germans are all related in one way or another. my dad's family all came from redding. i have had a passion for the
first world war for the past 30 years. this passion originates, yes, in the study of history. i've always loved history. i am related to alvin c. york, a third cousin of mine on my mom's side. so there's a little bit of a connection there. i had the honor of meeting his family. just a few weeks ago over in knoxville, tennessee. they are great, wonderful people. filled with respect. his grandson is a vietnam veteran colonel. his great-granddaughter still runs the york site there. his son and daughter in law were there. they're wonderful people. for me the connection of the first world war originates with the fascination with the human experience. of warfare. the human experience of the unprecedented. the unfathomable. the unimaginable.
this was our entry. this was the modern world entry into a century that wreaked terrible devastation. things that we could not even begin to understand. it's true that there were so many veterans of the civil war and the united states though ho were alive. they would have been in their '70s and 80s who had experienced the trench warfare around richmond and petersburg, but even that dimmed in comparison to the experience of a first world war and how world war i destroyed in many ways, a whole, sorry if i'm swatting the flies away, they're part of the, part of the ambience here. it destroyed a whole civilization in many ways. the very least transformed it. i have to point at tony whenever i need to change the slide.
>> world war i brought us into our first experiences of the modern age. >> we have the marines present here as well as army and navy and other branches of the service. and people from different countries, reenacting germany, britain, and france. and all the rest. the marines were the first in june of 1918. it was something that we just had no means of experiencing. now, if you look at, if you look at the personal accounts, if you look at the memoirs and the diaries, you can begin to understand how for men and women, who were over there in europe, how they attempted to
process this experience. this new experience. we have a mythology of world war i and what it was all about. that is, has been pervasive and that we're still struggling to deal with today. next slide, please. this mythology is based on a very simple idea. it's the idea that in 1914, and again in 1917, millions of young men as well as women entered the service with naive and bold ideas that war was going to be a great adventure, a great testing ground. that it was going to be a grand parade. that they were going to be in berlin by christmas or be in paris by christmas, as the case
may be. and that the wars with going to be over. and that the experience of mass slaughter on the western front in the trenches, on the western front crushed them. broke them. disillusioned them and caused them to reject everything they had once believed. created the lost generation or the disillusion, the bitter generation that no longer believed in things like god, country, patriotism and all the rest. that's the mythology. it's a very pervasive mythology, it originates in europe primarily. it originates in literature, that as often as not was produced by civilians. rather than active service soldiers. and it crossed the atlantic and it continues to endure to this
day. when i talk to americans, present company excepted, general american who is haven't heard much about world war i, they don't know much about it. they roughly know who was involved. they'll say wow that was one mass slaurt, wasn't it? >> that was just -- guys getting into trenches and getting blown up by the thousands and they never really accomplished anything. and then 20 years later we had world war ii. and doesn't that prove that world war i was just a colossal waste? what's there to learn from that? i think that gets to the root of why there's so even now in the centennial, there's so little interest from so many people in world war i. it's a miserable, depressing,
ugly story. and there's nothing to learn about it. they envision the trenches. they envision the mass slaughter and they think that's really all there is. if however, you take the time to to hear the stories of individuals, of the people to look at the personal testimonies of the men, the women from different perspectives, you sigh there is no one war experience. that that stereotype of millions going off to war, being massacred in huge numbers and being broken and disillusioned is really just that -- it's a stereotype. it's a mythology. in fact, every story is an individual story. every man and woman came to this war from a different perspective, carrying a different set of values, carrying a different set of
experiences and they left this war carrying different lessons. if you look at broadly speaking, this a i ppplies to the america and german and british and french. if you look broadly speaking at the experiences of those mt military and the conclusions that they drew when they came out, there are a good number on one side who say yes, this is such a terrible experience, i no longer believe in god or my country, i no longer believe in any of this stuff. there are probably an equal number on the other side whose stories we don't listen to who say this war convinced me that my country is right and i believe in my country even more passionately than i did before and i believe in religion. i believe in traditional values even more passionately than i did before.
there were many veteran who is took away that sense. and if you look at them, you can't say oh, well the guys or the gals as the case may be, who left the war feeling more patriotic, they didn't experience the bad stuff. if you look at it, they did just as much as everybody else. the mass of soldiers are somewhere in between. men and women veterans are somewhere in between. their conclusions usually were, this is true for americans about whom i'm going to be speaking this afternoon. their conclusions were yeah, this war is a terrible thing. it was a terrible experience, i saw things i can never forget. i saw things that i have trouble dealing with, that i have trouble communicating to my family, to my friends, when i come home, but i also forged comradeships, friendships that nobody else can understand.
i learned the meaning of unity. i leshed the meaning of cooperation. i learned the meaning of how to have fun. i saw a whole new world. and when i look back at war and i think about the possibility of another war, most of them say this. it's a terrible thing. we should avoid it if we can. but if i had to do it again, i would. that's broadly speaking the conclusions that most soldiers drew. so you think about that how do you jibe the idea of just a simply a one-dimensional mass slaughter, where everybody dies, they all go, they all get blown up and they die, with this broader perspective of -- men and women having very complex conclusions and ideas that they bring back with them. i got, i had the pleasure of
speaking to a group of high school kids up in middleburg, virginia, from the national history academy a few weeks ago. and we approached the topic of world war i, i thought okay how do i approach this with you. what i did, i said, okay, young men, young women, a very diverse group, white, black, asian, all the rest. how many of you have family members who are veterans, who came back from iraq and afghanistan? a good two-thirds of them raised their hands. i said tell me about your family experiences. tell me about your dad, your brother, your uncle, your cousin as the case may be. tell me about how he felt when he came back? and i heard every young man or woman gave me a different story. you can't generalize about them. i said every one of those stories i've heard in one way or another, about the doughboys
coming back. attempting to readjust and living with their families. there's a personal connection here that you can understand if you take the time to look at it. next slide, please. how many of you have been to the battlefields? a good number, that's great. so if you go over, you've probably had experiences like this. i was talking to a young man over in an exhibit over here, looking at a nice german potato masher grenade. i was remembering what it looks like when you find these things when the handle has rotted off. this one, has only partially rotted off. you can still tell it's a grenade. i was there about eight years ago with my son and i, i was leading a tour group and i told everybody -- don't touch anything. my son is like hey, dad, look at this tin cup that i found. and i went over and he immediately put it in my hand
and it was, it wasn't, this isn't a picture of it. but it was like that. it was the top of a potato masher grenade with the explosive still in it. you can certainly see and i put it gingerly down. but not until everybody else in the tour group came up and took a picture of me holding it. you can find certainly gas cannisters, which are incredibly dangerous. 75's, 155 shells everywhere, grenades. you find boxes of grenades that had been bury under the ground and just coming up. cartridges, spent cart rimgs, everything imaginable there. you get a sense of immediacy and the american battlefields near of the argonne are very much as they were at the time. you can see the trenches, can
you see the individual gun pits. i went to the site of the loss battalion. which i'll be talking about in a little while. you can see the pits that the soldiers dug when they were surrounded in the pocket. i kick away some leaves. dy not use metal detectors, but just kick away some leaves and out roll as cartridge. out roll as piece of a flare pistol that they were using to signal. imagine finding something like that in north america. don't allow it on nps sites, rightfully so. it's very difficult to find things like that. you go over there to the world war i battlefields, it's very immediate. you get the sense of what it was like to be there. and the last group i led, we found the remains of a soldier. near a demolished bunker. who was either a german or an american soldier. my guess is probably german. in this case it was probably a
field burial. it was a piece, it was a pelvis and a femur, probably the lower part of a body of somebody who had been hit by a shell and they just buried that piece of the body there you're still turning up things like that. the opportunity to go over there, to go over to france and see it is one you should never pass up. next slide, please. i'm looking forward to hopefully going over there late they are year and see if things have changed during the centennial commemorations. however, for the most part, by my experiences, leading up to this year, americans don't visit these world war i sites. and that's especially jarring, at a place like the mes-argonne
cemetery at armand. nobody knows the largest american military cemetery in europe. it's larger than omaha beach and don't get me wrong, i'm all for everybody going to omaha beach. but it's bigger than omaha beach, it's about 14,000 plus burials there. they are all burials of american casualties in the first world war. i have almost never seen americans there. i see people i've seen school children going to these graves and leaving flowers. leaving wreaths, leaving other
member memberantos. >> american military delegation does go over there. mementos. american civilians for the most part, don't. the former superintendent of the mes-argonne cemetery told me about a decade ago that there is a generally each american president issue as declaration on veterans day. which is to be read at american military cemetery, which they do every year at the argonne. he said one year i came out to read the declaration and what i usually do is try to find an american in the audience to read it for me. he could not find a single american in the audience. that would read this proclamation.
we're not talking about taking a flight to mongolia, we're talking about france. there's something in our memory that makes us resistant to this. next slide, please. and yet, world war i has, has had a huge impact on american culture. another thing i often hear from people who want to try to explain away why they're not interested in the war. the first thing they say, it was too brutal. it was too bloody. there's nothing to say about it the next thing they will say is we were only in it for a very short time. it didn't have any impact on us as a people. did it? and they will do often what my son's high school textbook will do, they will summarize it by saying, well, here's why
congress declared war in april of 1917. here is woodrow wilson's point of view. let us tell you about unrestricted submarine warfare and all the rest of it and there's a lot of training and we sent our troops over there and we had more guns and tanks and planes and the germans lost and the war was other and then we had versailles. so let's spend the next unit talking about versailles. there's nothing else to talk about. they will mention the bonus army march in 1932. but we get into the great depression or the roaring '20s. the great depression. >> world war i influences pervasive flew the culture of the inner war period. many of you who like hard-boiled detective war novels, raymond chandler novels, world war i is present in all of these. often these detectives are world
war i veterans who are having trouble getting over this culture of violence. movies, one of my favorite movies i love musicals is "golddiggers of 1933." busby berkeley. this is from a great musical scene called "remember my forgotten man." highly recommend, go to youtube and watch "remember my forgotten man." it's really about how can you have forgotten your veterans? they're talking about this in the early 1930s. how can you have forgotten your veterans? great scene. now busby berkeley was himself not a combat veteran. but he served in the military in world war i, taking photographs and choreographing marches. military marches and displays. which he translated into his
movies. more poignantly, i often since i begun writing about world war i, often come into contact with descendants of world war i veterans. grandchildren, great grandchildren, and in one case, very powerful for me, i met the son of the youngest american serviceman in world war i who saw combat, the youngest serviceman, period. a fellow named earnest rentmore, who was 13 years old. served with the fifth division and saw combat. and was clearly traumatized by his experience. i met his son, who was my age and he told me the effect that his father's experiences had on him and his family. up to the present day.
these things pass down through the generations. next slide, please. now let me go over some of the more outstanding points of american participation of world war i. and come back to the main topic of why this matters to us. looked at through the lens of the experiences of four individuals. four americans who i'll get to at the end of the talk. general john pershing, and to his right is general and anybody of you know who that is? general charms p. summerall who commanded the first division, was pershing was a believer in the concept of a especially american way of war. this was, this had huge impact on the way that we fought the war.
which is why i bring it up. pershing believed that europeans who had fought the war up to this time, 1917, 1918, had become and he used this word -- corrupted. by their experiences of tremplg warfare. they had become corrupted and morally degraded. had become dependant on sitting in their trenches, and waiting for the heavy artillery, waiting for the poison gas, using the machine guns, using the grenades. and they forgot this great principle of the individual soldier with his rifle and his bayonet and his will to achieve dominance on the battlefield. those of you familiar with the history of the war, you recognize that's not really a new idea. you can go right back to the french in 1914. who said much the same thing. did not end very well for them.
pershing believed, however that may have been in 114, what we have now is a situation where millions of men have died, and horrible battles like verdunne, the somme, passchendaele, we need to return to open warfare. we need to return emphasis to the individual soldier or marine with his rifle and his bayonet. and get out of trenches. it's almost as if he wishes a away trench warfare and assumes we will simply because we are americans, i have friends who teach at west point tell me the cadets who come in all seem to have the same idea that americans are the only people in the world who know how to hide behind trees. when they're fighting. that we're going to bring in
specifically the american principle, we're going to get out of the trenches, we're going to return to open warfare. this has a tragic impact in a lot of ways. you can see how simplistic it is, you can see how there's a refusal to learn from the belligerents who fought already. the more i looked at it, actually there are points when his idea works. as you continue into the war. i love this particular slide, i show it in many of my talks, i found it in the national archives. these young americans who are receiving gas mask training from french instructors, and i just love the look of the young man on the right. he's like, are you kidding me? that was kind of you really expect me to put that on and wear that in combat? that kind of encapsulates the
american attitude in training. as we got over there. we were entirely unprepared for this war. that is essential to understanding our participation in this war. we were utterly, completely and entirely unprepared we were unprepared physically, we were unprepared in terms of technology. we were unprepared psychologically to face a war of this nature. in 1917, 1918. we had no industry. no war industry. we had no effort among or armed forces to try to learn, the means of fighting a modern war. so when our troops went over there and they received some instruction, they were very reluctant to adopt what they learned. and in fact, part of the problem comes from above.
if you look at the official documents, the unpublished documents from the period you see pershing and his generals writing back and forth to each other saying -- i don't know about this training that we're getting from the french and the british, i'm afraid our soldiers are listening a little bit too closely. they'll say this they'll say we need to kind of get them away from the british and the french. they're telling them things we don't want them to know. they will become corrupted by the same ideas, next slide. we enter into warfare combat on the western front. our first experiences in the autumn of 117, we begin to enter on a large scale in the late spring and early summer of 1918 as we are commemorating a whole number of different battles and
engagements right now. i'll go through them in succession. there's belleau wood. somme. the marne defensive. toward the end of july and early august you have something called the advance to the vela river where more and more american divisions were getting involved. our involvement builds to a crescendo in the autumn of 1918. pershing wanted to create a single american army, that would be under american command, american officers, american soldiers wearing american uniforms, to fight in an american way on our own sector of the front. in practice, pershing and other americans this is the first talk i've given to this sound track of horses neighing in the background, i love it. pershing had to compromise. in the spring of 1918, he had to
break up american divisions and american units into smaller formations and embed them on french and british fronts on french and british command. it's important to mind. in practice, we are fighting under french and british command for much of the war. it really is only in the fall that we begin to fully command our own operations. next slide. the marines, as i was mentioning, are the first, and, yes, i know the army was involved in bella wood as well, the american army brigade, 2nd division, 3rd regiment, 2nd division, were involved in bella wood but bella wood was primarily a marine operation. the marines can right. ly say they are the first branch of the united states service to experience modern warfare. outside north america.
in bella wood, they acquire this reputation as being devil dogs because of the way they fight. it's a very complicated story. i could say much about bella wood, suffice to say, one of the interesting things about bella wood in early june and through the month of june 1918, brutal, brutal battle. absolute slugfest. it's remarkable for the fact that the marines who fought in bella wood almost entirely did so outside command control. bella wood was a specific environment. it was a woodland environment, saturated with poison gas, high explosive, you could not see
your comrades, you could not communicate with your officers, with -- often with company, certainly not with battalion regime regiment, as the case may be. you had to make your own decisions. the marines take terrible casualties in bella wood. but they demonstrate a number of things. one of them is fanatical aggressiveness. that really shocks the germans. sure, a lot of the toyful hunman stuff is publicity, but if you look at the german records, you do see the germans are shocked. the german accounts say, these guys kept coming, no matter what we would do. we would throw grenades at them right in the middle of a group. it would kill several of them.
they'd just keep coming. they would form into gangs, as the germans called it. they would say, here comes another gang of marines. they would walk with their rifles held at the hip. they would often walk into battle smoking cigarettes and making independent decisions and learning very, very quickly. this was a characteristic of both army and marines throughout the first world war, is the americans learned more quickly than the troops of any other country how to adapt to these circumstances. they also learned how to use dirty tricks. one of the most interesting things about bella wood, as i was studying it is, when the marines enter into bella wood, the germans use all kinds of dirty tricks on them. these are veteran german troops. they've been in bella wood for a while. they've been in this environment for a while.
so, they do things like they will blow american bugle significant signals, the american retreat. in the woods, when you can't see anything except shadow and smoke and gunshots, explosions, screams, explosions, retreat, move left, move right. germans would shout this out to try to confuse americans. they would employ false surrenders where they hold up the white flag and they come out, comrades, surrender and the green marines at that time would expose themselves to take the surrender. germans would throw themselves down and machine guns would open fire. yes, germans did, as a matter of course, on multiple occasions, this is documented, put on american uniforms and infiltrate american minds. guess what, if you look at german records, and i'm not just
getting these from published accounts, from field reports at the time, within a couple weeks the marines were doing exactly the same thing back to the germans. including putting on german uniforms and getting behind german lines. it's an indication of that process of adaptation, that process of learning. next slide, please. we have, however, one of the less pleasant aspects of our participation in this war. this is one of the other stereotypes that we still have to fight against today. we develop this idea that the french were all cowards and that they were all running away. when we arrived at the front, whether the marine, army, french were broken, the marines were advancing on paris, that we entered into the conflict and we saved paris.
unfortunately, you still see this many times. the french were fighting like lions. to suggest that what happened in 1940 can be -- you can look backwards and say, oh, yeah, the french, 1940, that was terrible. they surrender. as soon as a german shows up, they surrender. the french in world war i taught with great talent, great dedication and great bravery. we fight alongside them. there's a relack tans on the part of higher command and they purposefully spread this idea that the french were all running away in order to emphasize the portion of our participation, to say that we saved paris. in practice, the french fought very well. we learned a lot from them. we fought side by side primarily with the french and we learned
some very important lessons from them on how to fight. our participation in the war continues to build, as i indicated. through the end of bella wood at the end of june, the army brigade captures voe at the end of june, beginning of july 1918. july 15th the last of the major german offensive actions takes apply along the marne river. the u.s. 3rd division beats back in its sector german attack and earns the epithet marne. 20th division troops imbedded in french formations, and it's a terrible experience. the french pull out, not because
they're broken but because they decide we're pulling out, they leave several companies of the 20th division behind and in the marne. the dough boys are told to hold their positions and they are wiped out. builds a lot of bad blood. through the end of july, beginning of august, we begin to push back the german salients that have been pushed into france. we began to push them back. multiple american divisions become involved. the marines continue to be involved. next slide. in the autumn of 1819 we launched two major offenses. the american first army has been formed in august of 1918. finally pershing gets his dream. we launch an offensive at san
mihl that's quite successful and then we launch the miss argon offensive in 1918. this is -- was and remains the largest and bloodiest battle in the history of our nation. if you go to museums, libraries, you find no reference to it. look at the recent documentary that came out on pbs, there were great qualities but no reference to it. i've been in major american museums that will follow american participation in the war and don't even mention it. get a sense of perspective here.
in the first three weeks, september 26th to about mid-october, 6,000 americans are killed, in three weeks. which is more than half of the combat dead in korea and about half of the combat dead in vietnam in three weeks. this is an important battle. this is a defining battle in the history of our nation and it's people like this man, charles wittelsly who formed our backbone. this is where i'm going to conclude my talk about this participation by looking at four men who participated and try to look at four different ways americans experienced this war
and four different outcomes. wittelsly was from upstate new york who became a practicing lawyer in new york city. very successful. went to williams college in massachusetts, harvard law school. as you can see, you can look at his eyes and see he's a very intelligent man. he's a man with i profound sense of civic duty. this is something that, frankly, we have trouble understanding today but it's something that so many young american officers in particular felt in which motivated them, civilians, to become officers, to serve our forces in world war i. these are often men from better
families, they're often men from privileged backgrounds, men who serve in professional trades of one type or another. they have this deep, personal sense of responsibility toward their country, and then as they enter the service, toward their men. he became a captain and then a major in it is 308th infantry regiment, 77th division, united states army, expeditionary forces. 77th division was recruited mainly from new york city. they came from places like lower manhattan, hell's kitchen or brooklyn. they had lived on the mean streets. many of them were actually gangsters or they were many, many, many of them immigrants. many of them not naturalized immigrants. others who had been, first or
second generation immigrants from europe who had come over and come through ellis island. when the 77th division entered into the lines, german reports suggested that an italian division had entered into the front. they were convinced it must be an italian division because they could hear the guys talking to each other in italian in the lines because of where they came from. you take a guy like wittelsy and you put him in command of those troops with an add mixture of men from the western plain states, ranchers and all the rest. in a typical kind of army kind of solution. if you need to build up your unit with guys from new york city, let's get a bunch of guys from nevada or montana and farmers and put them in there with them. next slide, please. george mcmerchery is charles comrade, captain. millionaire stock broker, irish-american family. his family owned mines in
pennsylvania and western pennsylvania and around pittsburgh. he becomes a stock broker in new york city. the 77th division is placed in the argone forest in september and october of 1918. it's ordered to launch multiple attacks. i won't get into the tactical details, as i want to finish my talk in just a moment. it's ordered to launch multiple attacks in the forest, which are largely frontal assaults. much like bella wood in a lot of ways. deep, thick forest, very hard to see where you're going, craggy terrai terrain,. in early october he launches battalion troops, parts of three battalions, into the forest. they are cut off and surrounded.
wittelsy and mcmercery surrounded the forest. they showed absolute dedication to the welfare of their men, who are surrounded without food, without medical supplies of any kind. they didn't have medics with them. they had to use reused bandages. hit by friendly fire artillery barrage. you can imagine how demoralizing that is. all through this experience crawl from hole to hole. these are civilians now. these are not professional soldiers. go from hole to hole. talk to every individual man, try to strengthen them, try to give them courage, try to give them hope. day after day after day. you can see -- this is a picture
of mcmerchery returning back to the united states. if you want to know the experience, just look at his face. they are profoundly impacted by their experience in this pocket. after several days within the pocket, american forces, including the 28th division and the 82nd all-american division, including alvin c. york launch a flank attack in the argone forest which liberates the lost battalion. at they're liberated, they still carry the legacy within them. switch back to the previous slide for a moment. look at wittelsy again. he is emerging from the forest and then go back to mcmerchery, please. you can see what they felt. and when i gave this talk to the
east tennessee veterans memorial situation, there were a lot of veterans in the audience and they said, all i have to do is look at his face and i know. they both carried a profound sense of guilt with them. survivors guilt, which is pervasive in the military. they both receive medals of honor, very deservedly so for their bravery. george mcmerchery is known as an easy going man. returns home to his family and cannot readjust. his personality has changed. he's become very angry. he's become very difficult. to live with. but he finds his peace in dedicating himself to the survivors. he takes over the lost battalion survivors association in new york city. year after year after year after year up to his death in the 1950
says. absolutely dedicates himself to that. wittelsy, this man is a hero. this man saved the lives of hundreds of his soldiers. he showed absolute dedication. but he can't forgive himself. he can't forgive himself for every single one of his men who died. and easier tomented by nightmares after the war. he tries to devote himself personally to survivors to men who are dealing with pchltstsd. but in 1921 after the ceremony for the intombment of the unknown soldier, he can't take it anymore. they sit on the stairs are and he says, george, i shouldn't
have come. tonight when i go to bed, i'll hear the cries of my men in the pocket. a few days later he ends his life. he just steps off a steamer that's going to cuba and drowns himself. those are two outcomes. next slide, please. alvin york is another outcome. alvin york was involved in the action that liberated the lost battalion. again, 82nd all-american division. he and other soldiers with him capture 132 germans in the action that actually liberates the lost battalion, he receives the medal of honor. he returns home and is treated particularly by his native state of tennessee, you can look in his eyes, too, and see what he's experienced. as a celebrity, as a hero. and he knows it. he understands it. he's a simple farmer. you've probably -- if you've seen the movie, you know the
story of his trying to come to terms with fighting in this war and his personal spiritual experiences in it. but what york tries to do is very specific. he understands what's going to happen to him. he doesn't like it. he wants to go to east tennessee and return to his family. he tries to transfer that celebrity into serving the less fortunate. he found the alvin york institute in east tennessee. with all the money he gets from his celebrity, he puts it into the institute to help the less fortunate to learn farming, to include young veterans, young people, to establish themselves in every day life. and he finds his peace there.
finally the fourth story is damon runyon. young american journalists, if you've read "guys & dolls" or if you've seen the musical, you'll know something about him. veteran of the spanish-american war. he tells the story. he is there when the lost battalion emerges from the argone forest. he interviews wittelsy and mcmerche are. y and he integrates their story into the american story. he takes the story of all the m immigran immigrants, misfit, mismatched soldiers and says, this is part of the american tapestry. this is part of the american experience. he, too, is dedicated to their individual stories. he carries their stories with him as he writes about broadway, the great white way and new york city through the '20s and '30s.
he's always talking with veterans. he takes their language and adds it to the american slang culture. when he dies of throat cancer in 1926, his final wish is his ashes be carried by eddy rickenbacher and scattered over times square. in that act the merges his love for new york city, his testimony, his experience of the war into the american story. it's a very powerful -- even somebody like him, who is not a soldier, carries that with him. and wishes in some way to return it to the people. those are the doe boys. those are part of the experience. i feel we have a duty, we have a responsibility to try to return to them.
and i don't want to neglect the women as well who also served there, as ambulance drivers, nurses, entertainment, actively very much at the front. they're all part of our story. they all must be integrated into our memory. final slide, please. and especially we must go to pay our respects to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. and thank you very much. [ applause ] went a little bit over time but we still have time for questions. >> i think we have to wait for the microphone to come up. >> two questions, if i may. first, a sad commentary on our
government. wasn't there an issue when york was still alive, he was being persecuted by the irs for failure to pay income taxes? i find that unconscionableuncon >> that's a good question. york had a good number of final problems. being chased by the irs for income taxes, also for debt. largely because he poured in everything he had into the york institute. what's even more, i think, disheartening than that story is is that because he struggled with his finances, during this period right after the war, he somehow for aid period was no longer palatable to the public. we look at gary cooper and sergeant york that came out in 1941, in the '20s and '30s, york
was for many considered, yeah, but, you know, he was a hero. look, he can't even manage his finances. when the ceremony of the unknown soldier took place, most people assumed is, because pershing had to select one soldier to represent the army, who would be regarded as america's greatest military hero. most people had assumed up to that point he was going to choose york, but he diplomat because york was no longer acceptable because of his financial problems. he chose a guy who was also a great -- huge respect for a soldier, samuel whitfield. all the newspapers could talk about was, oh, look, he didn't choose york, he didn't choose wittelsy either. that means they were not as great heroes as they were made out to be. they were kind of tossed to the side. it was sad. >> second question, more of a
tactical one. if early in the war, before america got into the war, if von kluk had done what he was supposed to do and moved to the left to support von buloh, do you think france would have moved? >> you were referring to the first battle of the marne. >> yeah, prior to the first battle -- >> if the germans -- >> the first battle of the marne was a result -- >> was a result, right, in september, and what cook did before that and the bef, british expeditionary force advances into the gap he left. i think it's more likely than not france would have fallen.
>> yes, sir. right here. >> very nice presentation. first of all, we thank you for it. there's an author by the name of bill walker. i don't know if you know bill or not. >> bill is a friend of mine. >> he's a friend of mine, too. he wrote a very extensive book, and the conflict between the 79th division by cameron and bullard who had the 4th division. very big controversy on that. i just wondered what your thoughts were on that particular day? >> very briefly, it's a book called "betrayal at gibraltor." a general named robert bullard refused to make the movement that would have been necessary
to cut off the route, which would have meant crossing lines, which would have prevented the 79th from attacking it frontally. bullard refused to do that and many men died because of it. bullard, unfortunately, is -- i hope there are no bullard family members here, not one of my favorite generals in the war. there was a tendency among some american military leaders towards glory-seeking. bullard was a typical example of that. my favorite was hunter ligit, who was born in pennsylvania, who was a very innovative general, who actually saved lives. he was the guy who developed the movement to save the lost battalion. there were some very talented american generals. bullard was an example of the
worst. that was not the only example. he was responsible for the annihilation of a portion of the 28th division, pennsylvania national guard at a place called femet in august of 1918. he left them stranded in a bridge head on the other side of a river and the germans wiped it out. which blings me a long way. a memoir i highly, highly recommend, since we're in pennsylvania, we're in gettysburg. for those who want to take a look at the personal experience of the war read a book called "toward the flame" by harvey allen. it is in print. he's a member of the 28th division and he describes the weeks leading up to the battle of femet when they were attacked by german flame throwers.
it is the finest memoir. an easy read, beautifully written, not too long. very personal. strongly recommend that book. thank you very much. tonight on american history tv on c-span3, an in-depth look at world war i, starting with a tour of the library of congress exhibit "echoes of the great war" with curator ryan reft. american history tv in prime time begins at 8:00 p.m. eastern. this weekend c-span city store takes you to flagstaff, arizona, with the help of our sudden link cable partners we'll explore the literary life and history of flagstaff, located 80 miles south of the grand canyon.
saturday at 7:00 p.m. on book tv. the author discusses his book "grand canyon." >> quarter of the way into the grand canyon it starts about 70 miles east of here and has another 200 miles to run to the west. so right here is where the canyon widens and deepens that you see in calendars or photographs or famous images. >> on sunday at 2:00 p.m. on american history tv, a visit to the lowell observatory to hear about astronomical discoveries, including the discovery of pluto and moon mapping for the apollo program. then a tour of the national monument. >> some people might think of this site as abandoned and completely empty but it is still a very important and living site for a lot of the descendants of
the people that live here. hopi people might come here and pay homage to their ancestors because they believe their ancestors are still here. >> watch c-span cities tour of flagstaff, arizona, saturday at 7:00 p.m. eastern on c-span2's book tv and sunday at 2:00 p.m. on american history tv on c-span3, working with our cable affiliates as we explore america. this labor day weekend american history tv on c-span3 has three days of featured programming, starting saturday at 8:00 p.m. eastern with lectures in history, as colorado state university pueblo professor matt harris discusses the antibiotic-slavery movement before the civil war. sunday at 10:00 a.m. on oral histories our women in congress series continues with former