- Argonne Days in World War I, and: The Midwest Goes to War: The 32nd Division in the Great War
During the last decade a number of books have appeared that describe the experiences of American enlisted men and junior officers in the Great War. These two books join the list by offering "doughboy" memories of battlefield experience. Both books tell the history of the 32nd Division, an excellent combat outfit, which was originally composed of National Guardsmen from Wisconsin and Michigan.
The Ferrell book is an edited memoir which begins in early September 1918 when the author, Horace Baker, transferred into the division's 128th Infantry Regiment from the 39th Division and ends with the Armistice of 11 November 1918. The Barry volume is a full history of the 32nd from its organization in Texas in 1917 to its return to the United States from Europe in the late Spring of 1919. Both books contain adequate introductory chapters, but the Ferrell chapter is the most reliable. Both books describe the rain, mud, thirst, hunger, and physical exhaustion of the battle in the Meuse-Argonne. Both describe how untrained replacements straight from the United States had to learn to zero in and fire their rifles on the way to the front. Both portray the Germans, mostly invisible except for dead, wounded, and prisoners, as capable opponents.
Ferrell's book is a fine example of the editor's art. It would be unfair to nit-pick the Barry volume; however, his thesis that the American war effort has been underestimated is unsustainable. A look at the work of Winston Churchill and Vera Brittain, for example, reveals great admiration for the Americans. His assertion that the AEF won the war on the battlefield (p. 3) is historically inaccurate; the American intervention may have prevented stalemate and certainly did not hurt, but the lists of casualties and captured equipment show that the war was won across the whole Western Front and victory brought satisfaction enough for all. As for Barry's description of the optimism of American veterans, that may have been true for some, but as Shakespeare wrote: "Old men forget"; optimism and loyalty are different things. I remember my uncle, a wounded and gassed survivor of the Argonne battle, telling my mother in 1935, "I'd go to the stockade before I ever took untrained kids into a mess like that again." Yet when he died far from home two years later from the effects of the war, his friends from the local veterans' [End Page 1261] organization wrote my mother and her sister, "Leave him with us. Let him rest with his buddies."