By Guest Author Allan Kissam
Next year, 2017, marks the centennial of America’s entry into World War I – the Great War. It was not until 1918 that American forces fought the battle-tested Germans along the Reims-to-Paris sector and Marne River. American men still turn up there entombed in mud of the area.
This article is about the Great War on the home front, Main Street, USA. It is a brief glimpse of how people lived and a community shared the daily dread of more news.
My uncle, Roland Kissam, was a draftee that went to France for the war in 1918 and returned home to his family. Due to his having mailed home to ‘Mom’ and a few of these items preserved, we have some insight into how American’s handled the stress of sons away at war. This was a time of newspapers and writing; lots of writing by everyone. People knew how to write more than 140 characters with spell check on.
Grief and longing is captured in the closing of the poem Ten 0’Clock No More by John Freeman.
‘Ten o’clock’s gone!’
Said sadly every one.
And mothers looking thought
Of sons and husbands far away that fought: —
And looked again.
Discomforting, but necessary, is visiting the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery as a tourist and from there go up the hill to still-existent trenches and shell holes of Belleau Wood. U.S. Marines fought there, adjoining thousands of U.S. Army “doughboys”.
The Great War at Home
The Great War was a very intense experience for Americans as casualties increased rapidly in 1918, and culminated in a fury at the close of the war.
During only 10 months of actual fighting in World War I, US forces suffered 53,402 killed. Two thirds of the combat deaths happened during the last three months of the war. Many more also died in-service from influenza during 1918 (about 63,000). Wounded and ‘other’ category cases were about 200,000 and with responsibility for care extending out nearly a century.
Roland sent home a postcard of the era. Back home, worried mothers shared poems in the newspaper that Roland’s mother clipped and saved. By this time in 1918, everyone knew about the tremendous carnage suffered in France and death notices ramped up with the epidemic. Roland Kissam is pictured here at home prior to departure for France in 1918. He made it home safely.
Now is a good time to plan an expedition to beautiful France, America’s oldest ally, for traipsing around where American fighting men once served. Fort de la Pompelle, near Reims and the Champagne wine-growing region, has a fantastic collection of German military headgear and artifacts.
The French are our good friends, as seen by a visit to these points of common struggle and sacrifice. Their goodwill was essential in securing our independence so long ago. France was a good experience for me on every trip to famous museums, wonderful wine, of course – the food, and unparalleled scenery.
If you visit this area, perhaps give thanks to our men that remain there, forever in uniform.