Roughly Speaking podcast: Digging for the truth in No Man's Land (episode 127)

A bloody disaster within a debacle: Today's podcast explores a long-buried claim that American troops, many from Maryland, were betrayed during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of World War I.

In 1916, there was a presidential election, with Woodrow Wilson running successfully for a second term while pledging to keep the U.S out of World War I. But that only lasted until the following spring. Congress declared war against Germany in April 1917, and by 1918, American troops were immersed in battle in France. In September, there was a massive offensive involving more than a million troops. That’s where William Walker’s story takes us — into a place known as the Meuse-Argonne, and specifically to a flat-topped hill known as Montfaucon, heavily fortified by the Germans, bristling with machine guns and artillery, a place the French dubbed “Little Gibraltar."

Walker’s new book argues that an American general disobeyed orders that likely cost many lives and delayed the end of the war. This story has been buried all these years, and Walker believes he’s found the paper trail that establishes what went wrong and why.

The key players in the story: General John "Black Jack" Pershing, commander of the U.S. forces in World War I, a major general named Robert E. Lee Bullard, the 79th Army Division, and two infantry regiments — the 313th, or Baltimore’s Own, and the 314th. We'll also hear the story of Henry Gunther, a soldier from Baltimore who died in the final minute of the so-called War to End All Wars.

 


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