Maryland veterans share striking memoires of day when fighting ceased in 'the war to end all wars' The Last of the Doughboys


Because of an editing error, yesterday's article on surviving World War I veterans had an incomplete first reference to Frank J. Trimble, 99, of Charlotte Hall.

The Sun regrets the error.

They were young then, most of them teen-agers when they learned names like Verdun, St. Mihiel, Chateau Thierry, Belleau Wood and Meuse-Argonne.

Now they are old men with fragmentary, frequently fleeting memories of the soul-searing events that ended 75 years ago today with the Armistice of World War I.

As doughboys they marched into battle in their khaki uniforms singing ditties like "Over There," "It's a Long, Long Way to Tipperary," "Mademoiselle from Armentieres" and "Pack up Your Troubles in Your Old Kitbag (and Smile, Smile, Smile)."

The Yanks went over the top, leaving miserable, muddy trenches to charge through withering fire in No Man's Land. Poison gas tore their eyes and lungs. Their artillery thundered and rained death upon the German lines, which replied in kind.

As sailors they manned cannon to protect convoys from elusive U-boats and from the decks of destroyers they rolled depth charges onto the subs. After the fighting stopped, they brought the soldiers home.

Between 30,000 and 40,000 veterans of the Great War survive. About 25 die each day, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates. The Maryland Department of the American Legion lists 223 World War I vets, men and women, on its statewide roster.

The exact origin of the nickname "doughboys" for World War I American soldiers is unknown but it may derive from the Civil War when the big brass buttons on Union uniforms were called "doughboys" for their resemblance to pieces of fried dough.

For some of those vets, distribution of the World War I 75th Anniversary Commemorative Medal, commissioned by the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation, has revived memories shared joy and grief, pain and despair, the blank staring faces of the dead.

The Sun found some of Maryland's old soldiers and asked them to remember that time when they fought in what was called "the war to end all wars."

When the war ended, Matthew Brandt, now 91 and living at the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home, was a young corporal recovering from arm wounds suffered at St. Mihiel.

"I ran into Paris from the hospital camp [at suburban St. Denis] and for the first time in my life I got drunk, on vin rouge. Everybody went crazy, screaming and banging on anything that would make noise. I met a lot of mademoiselles that day -- but not the one from Armentieres," he said, a smile creasing his face.

.' Peace came quietly for others.

"la guerre fini!"

Frank H. Drager, 96, of Catonsville, was a sergeant in Maryland's 115th Infantry Regiment. Just back from 28 days in the front-line trenches facing the Kaiser's crack battalions in the Meuse-Argonne, his unit was resting in the French village of Senaide, preparing for a push on the German fortress city of Metz.

Only women, most of them elderly, were left in the village. With no newspaper, they depended on a town crier to bring each day's news, which one of Mr. Drager's men translated into English. "But on that day, when the crier said, 'Le guerre fini,' we didn't need any interpreter, we knew what it meant," Mr. Drager said.

"The women went off quietly to their homes; we returned to our billet and sat down. There was no cheering or anything. I just said, 'Thank God,' " said Mr. Drager, who later became an executive for a Baltimore meatpacker.

Mr. Drager's postwar career may color his memory of Army chow, particularly of creamed chipped beef, a military staple better known by the scatological term "SOS." To Mr. Drager it was a delight: "I liked every bit of it and to this day I still love creamed chipped beef on toast."

Building roads, digging trenches and stretching barbed wire barriers, frequently under German artillery or machine gun fire, was hard dangerous duty, but not the worst, said Eugene T. Fitzpatrick, 92, who lives at the Charlestown Retirement Center.

"The worst was going out to bury the dead where we found them. Some bodies had been there a week or more. We took their identity tags, if we could find them, and then stuck their rifles or something in the ground to mark where we buried them," he said.

After the war, Mr. Fitzpatrick served in the Merchant Marine and became a marine engineer. He then joined the Navy and served on submarines for three years before being discharged in 1927. His military career behind him, he became a diesel repairman for Standard Oil and for the Arundel Corp. Later he worked at the naval experimentation station in Annapolis, testing and developing diesel engines.

Like Mr. Fitzpatrick, Edward F. Potter, 97, is another veteran of the 29th Division's 115th Infantry. He lives at the Fort Howard VA Hospital. He was with the Maryland National Guard, chasing Pancho Villa along the Mexican border when the United States entered World War I.

Because of his military experience, he became a bayonet and close-combat instructor for recruits. Not until early 1918 did he finally wangle reassignment to France, where he served under Capt. E. Brooke Lee, later Colonel Lee and a power in Montgomery County politics.

On patrol, "the most difficult thing was to see men fall and not be able to help them," Mr. Potter said. "It seemed heartless at first but you become numb and go on. It wasn't bravery, it was a job that had to be done."

Even among war's horrors humor emerges, said Mr. Potter, who was wounded twice. On one raid he was caught on barbed wire "and my ass a- - was hanging out." His unit returned to base as Gen. John J. "Black Jack" Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, made an inspection. "He told Captain Lee that I looked disreputable and for me to get a new pair of pants immediately."

After the war, Mr. Potter became an investigator for the Pinkerton Detective Agency and worked a stint as a violinist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. In 1964, he organized the Balladeers, the chorus of the Parkville American Legion Post.

A lone survivor

On North Calvert Street, amid the concrete and asphalt of Baltimore, John J. Sharp, 97, lives alone. A retired city highways foreman, he was a medic with the 305th Sanitary Train until a German mustard gas attack felled him in the Meuse-Argonne. He remembers the snipers picking off medics who crawled out to help the wounded. "There were just too many snipers," said Mr. Sharp, who served for 62 years as a sacristan and usher at St. Ignatius Church near his home.

George J. Manns, 97, of Loch Raven Village, was drafted in September 1917 into the 313th Infantry Regiment. His most vivid memory is of Sept. 27, 1918, the day his war ended.

The previous day, his unit went over the top in the Argonne Forest. "We could see the Germans in the distance; they shelled us and shelled us."

As the advance pressed ahead the next day, German artillery caught them in an open field. Shrapnel ripped the air. Ranging rounds exploded, ahead and behind, then on target. "It was that third shell that burst overhead that got me, through my left hand at the base of the index finger," Mr. Manns said. "It started getting dark and I got into a shell hole. Finally, the medics came up and told me to go back, to leave everything. I just dropped my rifle and went back to the aid station."

3' He never saw any of his unit again.

Luck's companion

London-born William S. "Bill" Langston, 97, a retired carpenter now living in Govans, was in at the war's start, in 1914. He served seven years, first with the Kings Royal Rifle Corps and later as a driver in the horse-drawn Royal Field Artillery. He was wounded and gassed several times.

In 1917, he won the Military Medal for gallantry for his actions after a German soldier crept up to his trench and tossed in a stick grenade (called a "potato masher"). "I reached over and pulled him into the trench. He fell right on top of the grenade, which exploded and blew him to pieces. None of our people was hurt," Mr. Langston said.

Luck also rode with him the day his artillery team came under German fire. They were carrying ammunition along a sunken road when the shells hit.

"I was the center driver of the six-horse team and a shell landed between the first and second horses. It splattered that driver and the horses all over me, but I wasn't hurt," Mr. Langston said.

In 1922, a year after being demobilized, Mr. Langston emigrated to Baltimore and became an American citizen. But his British roots run deep. In 1988, Queen Elizabeth II honored him as a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his work in establishing at Lorraine Park Cemetery in Baltimore a plot for British merchant seaman who died during World War II and for his years of volunteer assistance to Britons in the United States.

James Szymanski's experience presents a different view of military life. His career spanned five decades -- 1915 to 1952 -- and World Wars I and II and Korea. He served in France twice but never saw combat.

The 95-year-old retired Baltimore postman, whose family emigrated to the United States from Poland in 1902, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1915. He became a marksman and rifle instructor and later won shooting medals in service competition.

He reached France in August 1918 but was again assigned to train riflemen. "We were in St. Nazaire, ready to go to the front, and then the war ended," said Mr. Szymanski, who lives at the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home in St. Mary's County.

That tour of duty may have saved his life. Mr. Szymanski said "several" of his brothers and sisters in Baltimore died in the "wartime flu" epidemic that began in Germany and swept the world for two years, killing between 10 million and 27 million people.

After the war, He joined the Maryland National Guard in 1924 and sent as a hospital administrator to Texas when World War II erupted. In June 1945, with the fighting over in Europe, Mr. Szymanski, then a first lieutenant, went to France as a military postmaster for the occupation forces. A year later he was released to the Reserve as a captain. In 1950, he reverted to the rank of warrant officer and was discharged in 1952, during the Korean War.

War on the water

Though the trench war in France is World War I's most familiar image, an equally bitter struggle raged in the Atlantic, where German U-boats exacted a heavy toll after declaring unrestricted submarine warfare.

Lester Trout, 94, of Loch Raven Village; Charles E. King, 92, of Parkville; and Robert E. Lee Ernest, 92, and J. Ross Prevost, 93, both of the Charlestown Retirement Center, fought their war at sea.

Mr. Ernest was a seaman on the destroyer, USS Davis, in May 1918, when a lookout spotted the periscope wake of German submarine, U-103. As the Americans launched a depth charge attack, a British ship rammed the sub, said Mr. Ernest, referring to his small red leather-bound diary.

"We rescued the skipper and 35 men. When they came on board I greeted them in German. The captain took off his Iron Cross and gave it to me, but I don't know where it is now," said Mr. Ernest, who served a postwar hitch in the merchant marine before a career as a salesman for a meat company.

In January 1918, his ship attacked what was thought to be a German U-boat. They dropped depth charges and fired 47 shells. The ship turned out to be the British submarine L-2. "We didn't know it was British, it was a submarine," Mr. Ernest said.

When war was declared, Mr. Trout enlisted, trained as a naval gunner's mate and served on a transport ship ferrying materiel from the United States to France. The 3-inch gun he helped man was a merchant ship's only protection against the marauding U-boats.

"I remember one night I was on watch on the after gun when I saw this [torpedo] wake coming at us. I held on tight but it never hit us. I was really scared," said Mr. Trout, who spent 35 years in the Baltimore City Fire Department, after a brief post-war hitch in the Merchant Marine.

"Another time we were heading home and were off the coast of England when a U-boat sank one ship," he said. "The rest of us scattered and at daylight we couldn't see anybody but us."

Mr. Prevost, who retired in 1965 as the U.S. Customs appraiser in Baltimore, enlisted in the Navy in July 1918 but was stricken by the flu and wasn't fit for duty until the following February. By then the troops were coming home.

As a yeoman aboard the USS Princess Matoika, the former German liner Princess Alice, he made six crossings from Europe, bringing home about 4,500 troops at a time, "packed like sardines in the holds."

Most trips were uneventful but some became nightmares. One time most of the drinking water became contaminated, forcing rationing of one cup a day to crew and troops -- and no washing. At the end of a rough, smelly, 12-day crossing, the ship "limped into Charleston, S.C., glad to get there," Mr. Prevost said.

On another trip the refrigeration system failed and the beef rotted. "You could smell it all the way up on deck when they opened the refrigerators," he said. Everyone aboard went on short rations, hard tack and canned sardines for lunch, said Mr. Prevost, an opera buff and Oriole fan. He spent a year aboard a Coast Guard cable ship after his wartime Navy service.

"In a different world'

Although the Armistice ended the fighting in France, war continued in the east where the Bolsheviks tried to consolidate their power. The 1917 Communist revolution had taken Russia ** out of the struggle against Germany.

Mr. King saw some of that fighting. A retired city fire captain, who reads without glasses and drives a car with the tag "Vet WWI," he joined the Navy a month after the Armistice. Enlistment rolls had been frozen because of the draft.

After three voyages bringing troops home from France, he transferred to the Asiatic Fleet, a tour of duty attested to by the elaborate Chinese tattoos on his arms and legs.

Russia had signed a treaty with Germany in 1917, leaving thousands of tons of Allied war supplies lying in northern Russian ports. The Germans needed those supplies, as did the Communist (red) and czarist (white) forces fighting for control of Russia.

In early 1918, Britain and Japan sent invasion troops to protect the supplies. The United States followed suit, mainly because of fear over Japanese expansionism.

Mr. King, who served four years, remembers: "We were on a landing party in Vladivostok to protect American interests when the Bolsheviks took over the city. God, it was cold, 40 degrees below zero." The crewmen escaped and the Allies finally withdrew, beginning in 1920. The Japanese kept troops in Siberia until 1926, eight years after the Armistice.

Frank J. Trimble, 99, a retired shipping clerk for a machine-spring company in Brooklyn, N.Y., still remembers the Great War's final morning. Peace talks were in progress, but the furious shelling continued as he and a sergeant went to the front line. Mr. #F Trimble, who now lives in Charlotte Hall, served in the 304th and 302nd Field Artillery.

"We were banging away at each other so much you couldn't hear yourself talk," he said in his strong Brooklyn accent. "But by the time we got back, the Armistice was signed; you could hear a pin drop it was so quiet. You'd think you were in a different world. We were in a different world."

It was the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month -- Nov. 11, 1918.


The Great War

In 1914, Sarajevo lay in the southern reaches of the of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, whose holdings included waht are now Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Next door was the Kingdom of Serbia, suspected by Vienna of fomenting Slav separatism in Austrian-ruled Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia.

A Serbian nationalist shot and killed Austria's Archduke Franz Ferdinand as his motorcade rolled through Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, setting in motion history's first global conflict.


Patriotic fervor ran high in April 1917, when President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany. Young men thronged enlistment offices. The draft brought more recruits.

It was the country's first major war in 20 years. An illusion of martial glamour persisted, fueled by Civil and Spanish-American war veterans telling stories romantic only in hindsight. The prospect was exciting; the reality horrific.

Young Americans suffered and died in record numbers. Of the 4.7 million Americans who served, about 350,000 were killed, wounded or died from disease and injury. About 1,800 Marylanders died.


The weblike maze of European treaties pulled in dying empires and rising nations. Eventually 36 countries were at war.

Tank and air warfare were introduced: deadly phosgene and mustard gases laid a poisonous fog on battlefields; merciless submarines torpedoed any ships they could target.



Russia-- -- -- -- --19

France-- -- -- -- --7.8

Great Britain-- -- -5.7

British Empire-- ---2.9

Italy-- -- -- -- ---5.6

United States-- -- -4.7


Germany-- -- -- -- -13.3


Empire-- -- -- -- -- -9

Ottoman Empire-- -- -2.8

Bulgaria-- -- -- ---.950

Figures in millions



Russia-- -- -- -- --1.7 to 3

France-- -- -- -- -- -- -1.3

Great Britain-- -- -- --.744

British Empire-- -- -- -.202

Italy-- -- -- -- -- -- -.460

United States-- -- -- --.115



Empire-- -- -- -- -- -- -1.2

Germany-- -- -- -- -- ---1.8

Ottoman Empire-- --1.5 to 2.2


The Treaty of Versailles, signed by all nations involved, changed the face of Europe. Nine new nations were formed and Germany was charged $32 billion for war reparations.

Additionally, in the minds of many, the seeds were sown for World War II, which erupted 21 years later.

In postwar Europe, nine nations were formed by the Treaty of Versailles.











A total of 62,424 Marylanders, black an white, served in the war 51,914 in the Army, 9,413 in the Navy and 1,241 in the Marines. Of these, 1,752 were killed and 2,496 were wounded.

The casualty figures shown in the charts on the left are incomplete because of poor or lost records and the large number of missing in action. The number of wounded was generally four or five times higher than the deaths


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