32nd Division prepairing to leave Reedsburg in 1917
World War I
By Bill Schuette
World War I, or the "Great War" as it was known then, began in 1914 in Europe and the U.S. entered the conflict in 1917.
When America finally did declare its intentions the lives of many men and boys across the nation would be changed forever. The citizens of our city were no exception.
As a precautionary measure, Reedsburg's Co. A 1st Wisconsin Infantry was called to guard the Armory on April 7, 1917. Seventeen troops answered the call. On July 15th, the entire Company was called to duty and at 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 2nd 170 men left for Camp Douglas. A farewell ball was given at the Armory the previous evening. An article in the Free Press describes the departure: "The city awoke bright and early this morning and crowds of people were waiting around long before it was time for the train, to give them a rousing send off." The reporter also wrote of parents' dread of the things that were to come.
After a short training period at Camp Douglas, the troops left for Camp McArthur, Waco, Texas. Here the Wisconsin and Michigan companies were reorganized into the 32nd Division, Co. A 1st Wis. Inf. Reedsburg, and Co. A 3rd Wis. Inf. Neillsville, made up Co. A 128th Inf. 32"d Division.
The company left for France on March 4. 1917. On May 1, the soldiers were sent to the trenches a few miles from the Swiss border at Fullcrton in Alsace. On July 19 they became part of a great offensive at Chateau Thiery, and five days later they entered battle. Reedsburg's men were among the first troops to occupy German soil.
On August 1, 1918, General de Mondesir, Commander of the 38th French Corps, called the 32nd "Les Soldats Terribles" and from that day onward the Division was known as "Les Terribles."
The story of the adoption of the insignia of the 32nd Division recalls that one day its commander, General Haan was discussing various designs. The commander sketched an arrow piercing a line. He suggested the division use it as their insignia because "the boys of the Thirty-Second never failed to pierce a line they were ordered to attack."
The 32nd Division fought bravely in many battles and on Nov. 17, 1918, the march to the Rhine was begun, with the 32nd taking up the center position. Four Divisions making up the 3rd Army Crops crossed the German border November 23rd and marched relentlessly forward.
The great conflict that embroiled Europe and thrust most of the world into war, was felt on the home front too. The separation of families and loved ones was the greatest hardship endured, but all worked together to help win the war.
One of the first drives the citizens of Reedsburg were asked to participate in was to gather reading material for the troops. "They need books and current magazines for study, recreation and diversion in lonely moments," noted an item in the August 16thFree Press. "DO YOUR DUTY by immediately bringing to the Public Library such books as you wish to donate."
The library, in a Jan. 3, 1918 Free Press article, advertised that it had an ample supply of books: "Our citizens need to have an all round knowledge of this "war for democracy."' It called for people to become more "intelligent" regarding the causes and principles for which the various nations were fighting. "This war is the greatest thing that ever happened and no one can remain entirely aloof or untouched by its mighty issues," noted the writer.
Female German aliens reported for registration in June to have their fingerprints and photos taken. Male Germans had been registered earlier. By September, 1918 supplies of gasoline were being rationed. The people of Reedsburg, and all those East of the Mississippi, were asked to observe "Gasolineless Sundays" as a "necessary and practical act of patriotism." All classes of automobiles, motor boats and motorcycles were to remain stationary on Sundays until further notice. Emergency and freight vehicles were exempt.
The Red Cross was active in the city and in September a street dance was organized to help raise funds. The Reedsburg High School band provided music. "Although the night was a little cold, it was bright moonlight and people stood around and listened to the music or enjoyed the novelty of dancing on the brick pavement until nearly midnight when they dispersed for their homes," noted the Free Press. Two hundred dollars was raised.
Reedsburg received an Honor Flag in late 1918 — its second — for its contribution to the Fourth Liberty loan. Citizens bought bonds "in excess if its fair share."
A City Service Flag was also prominently displayed, with 147 stars and four gold stars to represent the soldiers who were giving their all overseas. Their names were embroidered in a field of white.
"PEACE IS COMING - THE WAR IS OVER, OVER THERE - EVERYBODY HAPPY," headlined the Reedsburg Free Press of November 17, 1918! "Every town celebrates. Reedsburg goes over the top. It combined Fourth of July and Circus day. Itwas better than both and then some."
The news was received by a local citizen in a cablegram from London. At first they didn't know whether or not to believe the glorious words, but as the news spread, spontaneous celebrations broke out everywhere. Whistles blew, bells rang "and they kept up the din for hours, everyone left their work and many of the women with their work aprons on and bare heads rushed down to the Main Street, the schools marched from their various school buildings and an impromptu parade was formed out of the chaos on the street..." noted the Free Press.
Some were weeping for joy at the knowledge that the troops would soon be home, and some wept for those who would never return.
The Reedsburg Times-Press also reported the glorious news. ''From 6:00 in the morning until 10:15, when the procession formed at city hall, young America...made all the noise possible. Shotguns, revolvers and old muskets all played a noisy part in this feature of the celebration."
The following morning the citizens realized they were a bit premature in their celebration, but they looked upon it as a rehearsal for the actual event several days later. That next Monday it began again as Reedsburg went all out for its Peace Parade.
"Every old horn, new horn, whistle, tin pan, drum and scrap of old iron that had any reverberation within it was brought into loud requisition," noted the Times-Press writer.
The din continued unabated for over two hours, "...that big sound gave ill expression to the joy felt in the hearts of people. The war was ended; it was ended our way; it was ended sooner than we had hoped for — why not do something?" It was the American way.
The parade wended its way through downtown Reedsburg with citizens dressed in their finest. Hastily constructed floats accompanied the revilers depicting the "poor old demented Kaiser" as being hanged and drawn & quartered. (After the parade he was hung in effigy from the light wires on the corner of Main and Walnut Streets. "He made a sorry spectacle, but hundreds came and paid their respects, after his liking for the object of general hatred.")
A band played patriotic music: the fife and drum corps rendered military music. The noise continued throughout the day, and into the evening hours. Wooden boxes and logs were gathered and a great bonfire was ignited, drawing large crowds to its illuminated perimeter.
Tired celebrants finally retreated to their homes, rejoicing in the fact that a World War had ended and the troops would soon be returning.
Their long journey home began on April 19, 1919, when the 32nd Division sailed from Brest, France to New York City. They went to Camp Grant, IL and were discharged on May 19.
Also that April, a War Exhibit Train stopped in Reedsburg with displays of military equipment and captured German hardware. An American two-man tank was a highlight of the exhibit as it was driven through town. Guns, land mines, trench mortars, machine guns, rifles, gas masks, uniforms and other relics were displayed. The wrecked body of a German Fokker "aeroplane" was also shown.
Bands played and speakers spoke. The prime thrust for the occasion was a final effort to raise funds for the war loan. The celebration ended with music and singing.
"Soldier Boys, Welcome Home!'' read the banner in the May 23rd issue of the Times Press. They were finally home and Reedsburg welcomed them with open arms and with the now customary', din of whistles and horns. When the signal was sounded at 7:30 a.m., thousands of well-wishers flocked to the depot, along with old soldiers, a drum corps, high school brass band, the mayor and city fathers.
"The city was decorated with flags and placards. Very conspicuous among it all was the insignia of the Thirty-Second Division of the American army in France — an arrow piercing the line," observed the Times writer.
"When the train pulled in bedlam broke loose." The band was doing its best, but as the boys' faces appeared at the doors, the cheers sent up by the crowd, all but drowned out the patriotic strains. Sixteen members of Co. A returned that day, "Each man a picture of health, some carrying souvenirs in the shape of steel helmets and all distinctly embarrassed by the reception."
As family members embraced their sons and husbands, four who did not return were remembered. Other wounded who had returned earlier were also honored.
That Memorial Day was given a day of special tribute to the nations’ and the city's heroes.
A procession marched to City Park where prayers were offered, the honor roll was read, speeches were given and Lincoln's Gettysburg address was presented. The High School band, Drum Corps and Male Quartet offered patriotic selections.
Finally, those gathered proceeded to the cemetery, headed by the veterans in blue and the drum corps, followed by the firemen, Eagles, High School Band and finally, the "World War boys marching in matchless fashion," noted the Times-Press correspondent. They were followed by school children with bouquets of flowers and bringing up the rear, were "countless automobiles."
A special cross had been placed in the cemetery and upon that cross were laid the floral tributes. "The bouquets brought by children were handed to the boys in khaki who sought the graves of Civil War Veterans, and their own sacrificed comrades, and, after the taps were sounded they reverently and solemnly laid their tokens of respect upon the flag marked mounds."
The Times-Press writer noted that the numbers of Civil War Veterans had dwindled, "but their loyalty and devotion to the U.S.A. will always be honored and sung by the now young veterans of the World War and by all posterity."
Another memorial was dedicated during the 1922 Memorial Day ceremonies. An army field piece was placed at the west end of the boulevard on Main Street, with the barrel pointing west. A granite boulder was placed in front of the gun with a bronze plaque containing the inscription: "In Memoriam, World War, Charles P. Fuhrman, Post 350, American Legion, Reedsburg, Wis." (During the next great conflict, WWII, this gun would be scrapped to provide metal for the war effort.)
My Tuesdays are meatless,
My Wednesdays are wheatless, I am getting more eatless every day
My home is heatless, My bed it is sheetless,
They're sent to the YMCA. The barrooms are treatless,
My coffee is sweetless, Each day I get poorer and wiser.
My stockings are feetless, My trousers are seatless,
Oh! How I do hate the Kaiser!
AKA The Red Arrow Division
A History of Company A, 128th Infantry, 32nd Division
by Charles S. Felske
December 14, 1978
Charles S. Felske, now living in Cedarburg, was a member of Company A, 128th Infantry of the famed 32nd Division formed in the Reedsburg area in the early 1900's. In the following account, he traces the history of Company A which has recently [in 1978] been disbanded. [This article appeared in the Dec. 14, 1978 issue of the "Reedsburg Times".
The 50th annual reunion of the Co. A., 128th Infantry Association and Last Five Mens' Club was held at the Reedsburg National Guard Armory, September 9th and 10th, 1978. Six members attended. Five of these men also belonged to the Last Five Mens' Club.
It was decided at this meeting to disband and close the books of Co. A and that all records and pictures be turned over to the Reedsburg Public Library.
Because Co. A was disbanding, the Last Five Mens' Club voted to do likewise and give their remaining funds to the Reedsburg Public Library to be used to perpetuate the memory of the members of Co. A. The Last Five Mens' Club was formed at one of the early reunions of Co. A. The members contributed funds to purchase a $500 bond which originally was to be divided among the last five members of the club.
In 1903, Co, B (10th Separate Battalion, Wisconsin National Guard) was organized at Reedsburg and was headed Captain W. A. Wyse, a Civil War veteran. A marble plaque in the Reedsburg Armory carries the names of the members.
The Company was alerted in 1914 during the Veracruz, Mexico trouble, but was not called to service. In 1915, the Wisconsin National Guard was reorganized and Reedsburg became the home of Co. A, 1st Wisconsin Infantry (formerly Co. B, 10th Separate Battalion). Co. A reached full strength with volunteers from Reedsburg, Baraboo and Cazenovia.
Pancho Villa's raids on the Mexican Border caused Co. A to be called into service in June, 1916. After a short period at Camp Douglas, Wisconsin it was sent to Clamp Wilson, San Antonio, Texas to strengthen our border forces. With temperatures in the 100's, the Company trained from reveille at 5 a.m. until Taps.
Camp Wilson, San Antonio, TX - Unloading wood at the mess hall
In preparation for an order for the 1st Wisconsin Infantry to cross the Mexican border, the men were subjected to desert combat training. Part of their ordeal was the "Austin March", a hike by Co. A with full pack and battle equipment from Camp Wilson to Austin and back, approximately 150 miles. The high point for Co. A was that not one man dropped out during this grueling maneuver. The Wisconsin National Guard was given a high proficiency rating by the U.S.A. Border Command.
After six months of Texas duty, the Border trouble was under control and in December, 1916 the Guard was ordered to their home station. .
Headed for home 1916
When war was declared against Germany on April 6, 1917 Co. A was ordered to report to the Reedsburg Armory to begin training. The size of the Company was increased to 150 men by volunteers from Cazenovia, Lime Ridge, Wonewoc, Sandusky, Lodi, Baraboo and Reedsburg.
The Duren Lumber Company at Cazenovia had a large government contract for lumber. After they had sawed the logs and helped complete the order, 22 young men from the lumber company traveled to Reedsburg. There, :led by the Cazenovia village band and village officials, they marched down Main Street inReedsburg to the Armory and enlisted in Co. A. Following a short training period at Reedsburg under Captain Leo Darrenougue, the Company was ordered to Camp Douglas and from there to Camp McArthur, Waco, Texas. A life of rigid discipline with long hours of hard training was preparation for trench warfare.
At Camp Mc Arthur the 32nd Division was formed. Co. A of Reedsburg and Co. A, 3rd Infantry of Neilsville, were merged and became Co. A, 128th Infantry, 32nd Division. Company strength increased to 260 men under command of Captain Wildest.
After the 32nd Division was formed, trained combat instructors from the British and French armies arrived at Camp McArthur to conduct schools in bayonet, machine gun, small arms, gas protection, and First Aid. In fact, every phase of open and trench warfare was covered. Night patrols gave training on how to infiltrate, attack and capture enemy trenches.
The men were encouraged to participate in all types of athletic events in their free time. They were coached by well known athletes such as Packy McFerland, the boxer. A 32nd Division football team won the Border Championship. Co. A had two men on the team, one from Baraboo and one from Reedsburg.
Calisthenics, keeping in shape
In November 1917, the 32nd was inspected by the War Department and judged ready for overseas service. Early in January 1918, they were on their way to Camp Merritt, New Jersey. When their train stopped at Atlanta, the men, in need of exercise, began one of their favorite cadence chants and marched up and down the station platform. An officer intervened as they were about to be attached by an indignant group of cane-waving, grey-bearded veterans and explained that "Marching Through Georgia" was not appropriate in Atlanta.
After a three-week wait for a troop ship, the Company went to Hoboken, New Jersey, to board the Covington bound for Brest, France.
While waiting at Camp Merritt, a number of men came down with measles and their platoon was quarantined and not allowed to sail with the regiment. When the quarantine was lifted, the platoon sailed on the Leviathon, landed at Liverpool, then on to Winchester and South Hampton to cross the English Channel to LeHavre, France. It was perhaps fitting that Sauk County farm boys crossed the Channel in a mule boat. Midway in the crossing, they were delayed because of a U-Boat alert. The men used the time to sniff out and dispose of a cache of White Horse Scotch in the hold that was being sent to British officers. It ended up in canteens instead. In March, 1918, the platoon rejoined Co. A at Prauthoy which was the training area for the 128th Infantry.
At this time the 1st Division, which had been fighting in the trenches, suffered great casualties and needed
trained officers and men for replacements. It was decided to use the 32nd Division as a replacement division. Captain Wildest and most of the privates from Co. A were transferred to fill the 1st Division ranks. The platoon of men who had been quarantined at Camp Merritt rejoined the 128th Infantry too late to be sent to the 1st.
Men from the National Army (drafted men) replaced the privates in the 128th Infantry. Captain Wildest from Neilsville was replaced by Captain Sheridan who came from Montana.
The 128th was then sent from Prauthoy to Belfort, Alsace for further training and on to front line duty and trench warfare at Haute, Alsace. In July, it was moved to Chateau Thierry on the Marne River and crossed the river on a pontoon bridge under shell fire, then on to Fismes and the Velse River, capturing Fismes and the Velse River fortifications.
In the Oise-Aisne offense a platoon was cut off and captured by the Germans and held prisoner. They were assigned to farm labor after it was learned they came from a rural area of Wisconsin. After the Armistice, the prisoners were returned to the Company in good physical condition; however, each had lost from ten to fifteen pounds in weight.
The 128th Infantry fought on five fronts in three major offensives—the Aisne-Marne, Oise-Aisne, Meuse-Argonne. The company was on the front line when Armistice was declared, having served six months of continuous combat.
On the march
Captain Sheridan was promoted to Major and 1st Lt. Chris Prange was promoted to Captain.
After the Armistice the 32nd Division became one of the occupying forces and started the "March to the Rhine" on November 17, 1918. They reached what had been the front line position at Coblenz Bridgehead on December 18, where they remained until April 1919. The Company returned to Brest and sailed for the USA and home on May 1.
The "March to the Rhine" is a story in itself. I was not on the march because I had been wounded near the
Velse River and was in a hospital convalescing and thus know only the dates.
It was a pleasant surprise to find Emily Kleb from Reedsburg nursing at Base Hospital Number Eleven. I've always been grateful for the unselfish care she gave me during my stay there. I also met Ernest Selle of Reedsburg while at Base Hospital Number Eight.
The 1920 report of the 32nd Division shows seventy men from Co. A were killed in action; however, no records are available of the casualties sustained by the Co. A men who were transferred to the 1st Division. There is no account of men wounded in action nor of those who died of wounds after returning home. The 32nd was under almost continuous shell fire during itsfront line commitment and a great number were wounded. The most severely wounded were sent to hospitals, but lesser wounds were treated with First Aid and the men returned immediately to duty.
Four men from Co. A received the French Croix de Guerre: Sgt. George P. Banann, Wonewoc; Corp, Harvey C. Bohn, Lime Ridge; Sgt. Roland B. Curtis, Baraboo; and Capt, Charles L. Sheridan who also received the DSC. There are no records of the many other citations awarded within the Regiment.
When news reached Reedsburg that Co. A was coming home, the returning veterans weregiven a hero's welcome by the greatest crowd ever assembled from Reedsburg and the surrounding area. A happy time for most, but with sadness too,
More than sixty years have passed [in 1978] since World War I and it is difficult to recall everything, but, since Co. A has seen its last reunion, it seemed appropriate to record this brief narrative of a proud unit which has its own respected place in the military history of our country.
Well I got through the whole thing without a scratch and am glad now that I was in it, you have probably seen in the paper the different fronts we were on. The Alsace Front from there to Clateau Thierry, to the Sector North of Soissons and then to Verdun and was in an attack when the Armistace was signed and believe me we are all glad its over with. Now all we look for is the time when we will leave for the good old U.S.A. and it wont be long.