Bruce “Doc” Norton and his wife, Helen, had dug into the pile of letters once before. At their home in Stafford County, Norton typed and Helen dictated words penned from freezing trenches and decimated villages somewhere in France during World War I. But when the computer on which they’d begun their work disappeared, the project to bring the letters to life stalled. Months passed, and now it was 2018, the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI. Helen was no relation Pfc. Raymond W. Maker of Framington, Mass., a wireman who strung communication lines on the muddy battlefields of France in 1918. Nor had she ever met the man--Bruce's grandfather. But Helen wanted to see the letters brought to life. And she knew that Norton—a combat veteran and career Marine infantry officer-turned-author of military history—was just the person to make that happen. Click here to read more about how the husband and wife team turned the letters into a book, and the amazing historical discoveries they made in the process.
The Jihad Legacy of World War I
By Wolfgang G. Schwanitz
via the the Foreign Policy Research Institute web site
Known as a pious Muslim, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi said in 2015 that it is most difficult to change religious rhetoric and how people use their faith. The outcomes will take many years: “Radical misconceptions [of Islam] were instilled 100 years ago. Now we can see the results.” He may been referring to the German-Ottoman jihadization of Islamism in the early 20th century. So, what happened in World War I?
Historians deal often with European powers—particularly, the Triple Entente or Allies and their empires—but not many focus on the Central Powers and their actions in the Middle East. This essay discusses the background of the German-Ottoman axis, the change of the jihad doctrine, and the call for a “partial jihad” to ignite “war by revolts” in the Allies’ Muslim-majority colonies.
From Berlin to Istanbul
As the German Reich emerged in 1871, its British, French, and Russian neighbors were growing their colonies into empires. Rivalry between the empires intensified, and Chancellor Otto von Bismarck led his primary policy toward building the German empire. To maintain the status quo in the Middle East, he followed a secondary policy without seeking colonies. The “German Mideast founding years” began in 1884: three decades of commercial, cultural, and peaceful expansion. But von Bismarck kept the question of which powers would get parts of the fading Ottoman Empire open in order to avoid hostile pacts forming by neighbors in Central Europe.
In 1890, Kaiser Wilhelm II retired the Chancellor. The monarch feared that Germany’s neighbors would import soldiers from abroad and use them in Europe against Germany. The Kaiser developed a new policy: align with the Ottomans, and, in case of an all-out war in Europe, turn Muslims against their colonial masters. In 1896, Max von Oppenheim, his diplomat in Cairo “to watch Islam,” pointed him to the prophet Sayyid al-Kailani of Baghdad’s al-Qadiriyya Brotherhood. He allegedly had “a huge sway in India” and could ignite an Islamist revolt. The Kaiser need only to give the signal: If London loses India, then its global might will end.
Before the Kaiser visited Istanbul’s Sultan-Caliph Abdul Hamid II in 1898, von Oppenheim’s Report #48 (of 467 until 1909) told him about a pan-Islamic Afro-Asian movement with anti-Christian brotherhoods against colonialists. Should the Sultan turn defensive jihad to an offensive one, empires could crumble as the al-Mahdiyya Brotherhood had demonstrated in Sudan. Pan-Islamists wanted to end any Christian’s rule, so the Sultan was a worthy ally for Germany. As a result of von Oppenheim’s advice, the Kaiser vowed to be the “protector of the 300 million Muslims” in Damascus.
In 1900, a pan-Islamist movement was not only a matter for Germany with its 57 Orientalist lecturers at 21 universities. The Italian Iranist Italo Pizzi wrote on Islamism and jihad L’islamismo e la guerra santa and Islamismo. At Cambridge, scholars debated the Sultan’s role. George P. Gooch argued since he did not descend from the prophet, he was no true caliph. Nevertheless, Muslims accepted his power to proclaim jihad against “infidels.” His army had 750,000 men and “gained power by telegraph.” In the 1890s, his men killed Armenians. Jews lived there, too. Edward G. Browne defined pan-Islamism as a union for a theocracy. He stressed Berlin’s “intrusion” with the reform of the Ottoman military, railway building, and sympathetically leaning to Islamists.
NY National Guardsman Led Fight for Tomb of the Unknown
By Col. Richard Goldenberg, New York National Guard
via the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service
LATHAM, N.Y. – The United States has a Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers today because a New York National Guard Major and freshman Congressman thought it was necessary 100 years ago.
Hamilton Fish III was a 32-year old lawyer with a Harvard degree who could trace his roots back to the last Dutch governor of New Amsterdam, the original settlers of Connecticut, and the first Adjutant General of New York when he ran for Congress in 1920.
He was a progressive Republican member of the New York State Assembly before World War I and signed on to serve as a company commander in the 15th New York Infantry (Colored) of the New York National Guard.
When war came, he led Company K of what became known as the 369th Infantry Regiment, which went down in history as the Harlem Hellfighters.
He earned a Silver Star, and the French War Cross. He took the medals and his famous name and ran for Congress from the Hudson Valley.
The British and French had interred unknown Soldiers with great ceremony on November 11, 1920 to commemorate the 908,000 deaths sustained by the British Empire and the 1.3 million French dead.
Fish thought that the United States, which had suffered 116,516 deaths – 53,402 in combat and 63,114 to disease-- between April 1917 and November 1918, should do the same. He became the lead advocate for a memorial to an American Unknown Soldier.
The purpose, according to Fish, was “to bring home the body of an unknown American warrior who in himself represents no section, creed, or race in the late war and who typifies, moreover, the soul of America and the supreme sacrifice of her heroic dead.”
“There should be no distinction whatever either in the matter of rank, color or wealth,” Fish said. “This man is the unknown American Soldier killed on the battlefields of France.”
Fish introduced Public Resolution 67 of the 66th Congress on December 21, 1920 to do just that.
The resolution called for the return to the United States of the remains of an unknown American Soldier killed in France during World War I. Those remains were to be interred at the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery.
America’s war dead had been buried in France near where they fell in combat. At the close of the war families were given the option of having the remains returned or interred in American cemeteries being built in France.
There was a precedent for these Soldier cemeteries in the 108 national cemeteries built to inter the remains of Civil War Soldiers and veterans since 1862. There was no precedent to honor a single Soldier.
The farmers, gardeners, and victory gardens of WWI
By Veronica Naujokas
via the Cecil Daily newspaper (MD) web site
ELKTON— With spring just around the corner, gardeners and farmers across the county are gearing up to begin planting. As always, everyone is hopeful that a bumper crop will result, not only providing an abundance of food, but also giving much deserved satisfaction for all of the hard work put in. I thought it would be nice to take a little trip back in time and pay homage to all of the farmers and gardeners who kept everyone fed during World War I.
During WWI, Europe’s food supply had been seriously depleted. European farmers had been called to serve on the front lines, abandoning their farms and resulting in a mass farming crisis. Farmlands were quickly turned into battlefields, causing significant destruction of once rich soil.
As the war waged on, Europe’s ability to keep its soldiers and general population fed was becoming more and more difficult. As a result, the United States was called upon to shoulder the demand for mass quantities of food that was desperately needed overseas.
This month marks the 104th anniversary of the development of the National War Garden Commission. Created in March 1917, the commission was developed in response to the food crisis that raged in Europe.
The commission was organized by Charles Lathrop Pack, an American, who, along with others proposed that food production could be greatly increased simply by having people grow their own foods at home. By doing this, families would be self-sufficient and thus reduce the demand on the public food supply, which was desperately needed to keep soldiers and European civilians fed.
Victory gardens, as they were called, were heavily pushed by the United States in an effort to get people to grow their own food as a means of fighting the food shortage. The U.S. urged its civilians to cultivate gardens in their own back yards, as well as in their local community parks.
In the months following, newspapers across the United States were rapidly spreading the news and pleading for people to grow their own food wherever possible, and for farmers to do their part by complying with the government’s request to plant specific crops, such as corn.
Maryland and Cecil County participated fully in this effort as well. All citizens, including children were encouraged to contribute by growing their own food.
Cecil County newspapers from the time show a variety of advertisements and articles dedicated to the cultivation of gardens, as well as the reduction of food waste and the need for substituting certain foods, such as corn for wheat in cooking. From competitions on which gardens could grow the best produce to the governor himself calling on the youth to do their part by tending to gardens, our county and state was fully committed to the effort.
PFC George Dilboy was first Greek-American awarded Medal of Honor in WWI
via the USCIS Detroit District and Field Offices and Application Support Center
Born in the Greek settlement of Alatsata, which is today located in western Turkey, George Dilboy and his family emigrated to America in 1908 when he was 12 years old. They settled first in Keene, New Hampshire, and then in Somerville, Massachusetts. Dilboy returned to mainland Greece to fight as a volunteer in the Greek Army in Thessaly in the First Balkan War of 1912 and in Macedonia during the Second Balkan War of 1913.
Returning to Somerville in 1914, he went to school and worked for a few years before volunteering to fight in the U.S. Army in the Mexican Border War from 1916 – 1917. He obtained an honorable discharge, but within months, Dilboy re-joined the U.S. Army as a private first class to fight in the trenches of France during World War I.
On July 18, 1918, near Belleau, France, Dilboy and his platoon secured a vital observation point along a railroad embankment. After an enemy machine gun positioned 100 yards away opened fire on the platoon, Dilboy stood on the railroad track, fully exposed to view, and immediately returned fire. Failing to silence the gun, Dilboy disregarded his own safety, fixed his bayonet, and rushed forward through a wheat field toward the machine gun.
He made it within 25 yards of the gun when he was hit several times, nearly severing his right leg above the knee. Despite these injuries, he continued to fire into the emplacement from a prone position, killing two of the enemy, dispersing the rest of the machine gun crew, and securing the area for his platoon. Dilboy later died of his injuries.
At the request of his father, Dilboy’s body was returned to his birthplace in Greece. After a funeral procession through the streets of Alatsata—said to have been witnessed by 17,000 mourners—his American flag-draped casket was placed in the Greek Orthodox Church of the Presentation to lie in state. However, the church fell into disrepair during the three-year Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1923, and Dilboy’s grave was desecrated.
In September 1922, President Warren G. Harding sent the USS Litchfield warship to Turkey to recover Dilboy’s remains. A Turkish guard of honor delivered his casket to an American landing party and Dilboy was returned to the United States. On Nov. 12, 1923, he was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, where his gravestone proclaims his Medal of Honor status.
Dilboy had the distinction of being honored by three U.S. Presidents: Woodrow Wilson, who signed the authorization awarding the Medal of Honor; Warren G. Harding, who brought him back to Arlington National Cemetery; and Calvin Coolidge, former Governor of Massachusetts, who presided at his final burial. George Dilboy was the first Greek-American to be awarded the Medal of Honor during World War I. Gen. John Pershing listed George Dilboy as one of the 10 greatest heroes of the war.
Sen. Moran helps introduce legislation to honor “Hello Girls”
By Sarah Motter
via the WIBW television (Topeka, KS) web site
TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Senator Jerry Moran is helping to introduce new legislation to honor the “Hello Girls” of World War I.
Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) says he and Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced legislation to honor the service of the women that operated switchboards which connected communications for the American and French forces on the frontlines of World War I.
“Connecting more than 150,000 calls per day, and doing so six times faster than their male counterparts, female switchboard operators played a crucial role in WWI,” said Sen. Moran. “Despite their service, it took decades for them to receive veteran status and therefore be recognized as some of our nation’s first women veterans. This Congressional Gold Medal will serve as way to honor the trailblazing Hello Girls and recognize their important contributions to our history.”
According to Moran, the Hello Girls Congressional Gold Medal Act would award the women of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, or the Hello Girls, with the Congressional Gold Medal for their service and fight to be recognized as veterans.
“The Hello Girls were true patriots who answered America’s call to action by serving as crucial links between American and French forces on the front lines during World War I,” said Sen. Hassan. “These bilingual women are considered some of America’s first women soldiers, and I am proud to join efforts to award them with the Congressional Gold Medal to honor their brave and selfless service.”
Sen. Moran said the Hello Girls were recruited after male infantrymen struggled to connect calls quickly or communicate with their French partners. He said the bilingual women were deployed to France to serve at military headquarters and command outposts in the field beside American Expeditionary Forces. He said despite their outstanding service and the military oath they swore, they were denied veteran status and benefits upon their return home.
“I am so proud of my grandmother, Grace Banker, and the women of the Signal Corp with whom she served in WWI,” said Carolyn Timbie, granddaughter of Grace Banker, who was the Chief Operator of the Hello Girls. “They fought for 60 years to get their recognition as veterans, and I only wish my grandmother had lived to see this day. I’m excited knowing the world will now hear their story, with the distinction of a Congressional Gold Medal, along with the children, grandchildren and other descendants of these heroic women whose recognition is long-overdue!”