William Arthur Dietz – Tanker of the Argonne & First Commander of the First American Legion Post in the United States

Published: 17 June 2024

By Michael Santoro
Special to the Doughboy Foundation website

Santoro 1

2nd Lieutenant William Arthur Dietz

Tanks are, and have been for over 100 years, an integral tool of warfare. The British, French, and German armies spent a great deal during the final years of the war developing this technology. When the United States joined the fight in April 1917, they had no tanks of their own. When the first U.S. tank battalions were authorized, they were supplied with French Renault FT Light tanks, as well as some British Mark V Landships. Despite over a year of training for 21 light battalions and 8 heavy battalions, only four of these battalions would see combat, those being the 301st, 331st, 344th, and 345th.

This is the story of a Lieutenant who saw heavy combat with the 345th, and later became the first commander of the first American Legion Post in the United States.

Unnamed portrait of 2nd Lieutenant William Arthur Dietz

This is an unnamed portrait of 2nd Lieutenant William Arthur Dietz, Company A, 345th Tank Corps Battalion. There are markings for Mount Vernon Post 3 of the American Legion on the back, which is how I was able to identify the portrait as Dietz.

Dietz was born on June 26th, 1897, in New York City. He first enlisted in the Regular Army on May 13th, 1917, being assigned to the 7th Field Artillery, 1st Division. He arrived overseas on July 28th, 1917, seeing several months of combat with the 1st Division. During this time, Dietz certainly witnessed the power & stature of the tank in the ever-evolving hellscape of the First World War. He obviously developed a fascination with them.

When the first Tank Battalions were authorized, in June of 1918, Dietz volunteered, and ended up with Company A, 327th Battalion, which eventually became the 345th Battalion, Tank Corps. This battalion was equipped with French Renault FT “light” tanks, commonly referred to as baby tanks during the period. Dietz saw combat with the 345th at St. Mihiel, from September 12-16th, 1918, and in the Meuse Argonne, which began on September 26th, 1918.

Dietz was wounded in action on September 28th, 1918, as a Sergeant in the 344th. After their tank had caught fire, Dietz, disregarding his own safety, saved his comrades from their burning tank. Dietz was himself burned, authorizing his wound stripe which is barely visible on his right cuff in the photograph. After jumping from his burning tank, Dietz ran and captured a German soldier, and escorted him back to the line. Upon returning, he was asked to pose for an official photographer, his arm in a sling from his wounds and his hair disheveled. That photograph would become the cover of the Independent for the week of March 22nd, 1919, as shown here.

After returning to the United States, Dietz became the first commander of the first American Legion post to be chartered in the United States, Mount Vernon Post 3. Post 1 was in Paris, Post 2 was never opened, and Post 3 was the very first post in the United States. This was the photo they had of him in the post, and is where the newspaper photo came from.

On October 24th, about 3 weeks before the war ended, Dietz was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, and assigned to the 344th. He returned to the United States on March 11th, 1919. He worked as a Financer on Wall Street until his death on August 22nd, 1955, at the age of 58. Thank you to the Doughboy Foundation for the opportunity to share Dietz’s story.

Michael R. Santoro is a historic researcher & preservationist of the First World War. After finishing his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Architecture & Historic Preservation at the University at Buffalo, New York, he spent a year developing a museum in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and another year freelancing research in order to preserve the stories of soldiers long forgotten. He now provides historic research for several militaria companies, and runs his own business, Santoro Military Researchers, providing quality & affordable military research.

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