A Contribution from TGWS Member Roger Heller

My Father and World War I

Dad at Camp Lee Virginia

My Father, Oscar Albert Heller, was born April 28, 1894, in Woodlake, Minnesota, to German-American parents. Woodlake remains to this day one of those small towns so hauntingly portrayed by Norman Rockwell. It was certainly an out-of-the-way place in terms of our national scene and more so in terms of the Western World where every Frenchman knew Paris was the center of the world The public schools of Woodlake made the first impact upon my Father as his first name was Anglicized from the German Oskar to Oscar. He enlisted in the Army in 1917, in part because of the tremendous community pressure for those of German-American descent to prove their loyalty. It was a period when German was dropped by our schools, also from worship in German Lutheran Churches. Where sauerkraut became "Liberty Cabbage" and the world was going to be made safe for Democracy - hang the Kaiser.

Military service was of course a new occupation for my Father who after High School had attended a Commercial College, became a bookkeeper with an interest in banking. Now he was Oscar Albert Heller, Sergeant First Class, Quartermaster Corns, 80th Division. The 80th was a new Division, raised in the National Army, further known as the "Blue Ridge Division of Virginia, American Expeditionary Force." With such a designation and in the South many Southerners saw the Division as the logical revival of Virginia forces from the long departed Confederate States of America's Army. In our country it is almost impossible to go farther North than in North Dakota. What my Father thought about the South and Virginia must remain unknown other than he liked the climate and invited his wife, my Mother, to visit him.

In contrast to the "Big Picture," that part of this mosaic devoted to my Father must remain under-whelmingly small. Born and raised in small town Woodlake, Minnesota, by 1917 he had moved West to Beach, Golden Valley, North Dakota, another small town which by 1980 had not reached 7,000 souls. It was from there, incidentally the town of my birth, that my Father enlisted in the Army in 1917, giving his civilian occupation as book keeper and was sent to Camp Lee, Virginia. Camp Lee of course was named for the great Confederate General Robert E. Lee as a favor to the South. Once again the Nation was unprepared. Construction of Camp Lee began on June 20, 1917, two months after the Congress declared War and continued through 1918. The 80th Division occupied the Post from August 1917 to May 1918. The War Department description states that it is a "Cantonment of 1,532 buildings. A Troop capacity of 49,721. The area of the Cantonment was 5,542 acres, the entire Post and Training Areas 9,240 acres. Estimated construction costs to June 30, 1919, were about $ 18,700,000, and this was only one of the many camps constructed for the National Army.

Pvt. Oscar A. Heller on His Wedding Day, 1917

Back to my Father Oscar Albert ..., I only knew him as 'Dad.' A certificate shows that he was Confirmed, March 24, 1907, at St. Johns Church, Wood Lake, Minnesota, and in that year it was written as two words ... Wood Lake. That is how the Minister signed it. His "Eighth Grade Diploma,' shows that he had completed the "Course of Study for the Grammar Department of the Wood Lake Public Schools and was entitled to admission to the High School Department." This was awarded June 3, 1910. I do not know if he went on to the "High School Department." Attending High School was not a normal pattern at the end of the 19th Century and the early years pf the 20th Century. The Comprehensive High School we know became the form of Secondary Education in the 1880's and was largely confined to cities. Before that, in the early days of the Republic and following the famed Latin Schools, came the Academy. The Academy moved from a Latin Curriculum to that of a Classical one, with so-called modern languages rather than Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. If any one of these formats was available in the high schools of Minnesota I believe my Father would not have been interested. His further education is acknowledged in a Diploma which I have. It states that Oscar "graduated from Mankato Commercial College, having completed the prescribed commercial courses." The date was April 12, 1912.

On 2 April 1918 President Wilson requested a Declaration of War against Germany. Congress passed the War Resolution on 6 April 1917, and the President signed it the same day. After this speedy action by Congress there was a great deal of pressure on young men to join the services and even greater pressure on young men of German-American backgrounds to join the services as a show of loyalty, Dad had moved West to Beach, North Dakota. In earlier problems with Mexico I think he flirted with jointing the local National Guard unit. Now after the Declaration of War against Germany the North Dakota National Guard was mobilized and sent to New Mexico where they became part of the 34th Division. Dad enlisted in what was to be named the National Army at Beach, North Dakota, on July 9, 1917, as a Private with no previous service. His enlistment record discloses that on that July day he was 5 feet, 8 inches in height, blue eyes, brown hair, and had a 'fair complexion.' His weight was not recorded. His first assignment was to the 80th Division, to be activated at Camp Lee, Virginia.

Critical though 1917 was to the nation and our Army, it had a series of events impacting my Father. First, the events at Camp Lee. Other than the men who like my Father had enlisted and were looked on as "Regulars," fillers for the 80th Division were furnished by the Draft as follows: Pennsylvania 23,907; Virginia 13,808; and, West Virginia 7,613. On August 16 the, the Commanding General of Camp Lee was directed to form the 80th Division. On 25 August, the schedule for moving the Draftees to Camp was announced. Dad's first role camp in the last week of August when organization began with a cadre of Officers and Men, from the Regular Army, the Organized Reserve Corns, and many of the Officers from the First Officers Training Corps. September 5-10, the Draftees arrive. During October systematic training begins. Throughout 1917 and until May of 1918 additional officers and men arrive. Leave was granted throughout 1917, and as a PFC Dad was\given Leave in August, and back in Beach, North Dakota, married my Mother Alma Lenore Atletvedt on August 5, 1917. I have no idea of what kind of Honeymoon followed, but subsequently Mother visited Camp Lee, Virginia, and attended a Division Review. Whether true or not, Mother always maintained that a woman standing near her as some 40,000 came marching past, blurted out "they are all out of step except my boy." Her other impression? During World War II, in 1943, when She and my Sister visited me at Camp Pittsburgh, Contra Costa County, California, she told the Escort Officer that she had never seen a place as miserable since Camp Lee, Virginia, in 1917. Such is Army life.

Typical AEF Supply Train Advancing to the Front

My Father's specific unit, the 305th Supply Train, was on Detached Service from the 80th Division to the Service of Supply June to August, 1918. The Services of Supply provided supply, shelter, transportation, replacements, evacuation, and other logistical requirements. On 11 November 1918, a third of the entire A. E. F.. as well as many prisoners of war and civilians were employed by the Service of Supply. For Administrative purposes, S. 0. 5. consisted to eight Base Sections located around the American ports of debarkation; an Intermediate Section, operating the Communication Centers along the rail routes of West, Central France, and an Advanced Section, functioning in the area immediately behind the active combat front. Supply Trains from the various Divisions, including Dad's 305th served in these Advanced Stations.

I am sure that to the present generation of Media junkies Dad's assignment to the Quartermaster Corps, the problems of supply and logistics, Supply Trains, etc., seem neither warlike nor glamorous. What Campaigns, Battles, Engagements and other operations was the 305th Supply Train and my Father credited with resulting in awards? I have his Service Record, but two problems have arisen over these more than eighty years. The Service Record with entries made overseas used A.E.F. terms, names, descriptions and terminology not only from General Pershing's Headquarters but also from participating forces of Great Britain, France, Belgium, and for some units Italy. Oscar's Service Record is also on file with the State of North Dakota. Photocopies were filed with the Veterans Administration, and I have his personal set. That Record shows he was "not rated" in marksmanship or gunner qualifications. Thus my assumption that he fired only the Familiarization Courses at Camp Lee. He also was "not rated" in Horsemanship - the "Vehicle" of that era. There is a special notation about being awarded a "Bronz Button." The only reference to this A.E. F. item I can find is in my Military Reference Works where such an award was recommended by General Harbord, Commanding General of S.O.S., for personnel noted for "Outstanding Performance" with the Service of Supply. Much of the material in his Service Record was entered at Camp Dodge, Iowa, and dated 26 June 1919. To my surprise these entries were not made by the Unit Clerk of the 305~ Trains. In several sections it gives the following: "Battles, engagements, skirmishes, expeditions: "Artois Sector; St. Mihiel Offensive; Corps Reserve; and the two phases of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive." Other remarks are: "Health Good. Character Excellent." That he had completed "Typhoid and Paratyphoid prophylaxis." He had no AWOL's, and was entitled to travel pay; left the U.S. May 22, 1918 and arrived in the U.S., May 28, 1919, as Sergeant First Class.

In terms of promotions his all came in the United States while the 80th Division was at Camp Lee. As noted before he was promoted to PFC (Private First Class) after a month's service in 1917. Subsequently he was promoted to Sergeant, Quartermaster Corps, National Army, on March 13, 1918, in an Order signed by Major General Cronkhite, Commanding General, 80th Division. Of interest to Northern Californians, Fort Cronkhite located on the Marin Headlands of San Francisco Bay is named for this General who commanded the 80th Division. This pleased my Father. Dad was then promoted to Sergeant First Class, effective 4 May 1918, in Orders from the Administrative Section, Camp Lee, a rank he held throughout the remainder of his military service.

In his military records my Dad is credited with: France 1918; St. Mihiel; and both phases of the Meuse-Argonne. What is now gone are those notations or awards by A.E. F. Headquarters, that is: "Artois, Picardy, Corps Reserve, and Service of Supply." Allow me to give a brief description of each engagement now eliminated:

Division Patch
1. Artois.
An extract from 80th Division records states "The 305th Supply Train is on Detached Service with the Service of Supply and further to that element within S.O. S. known as an Advanced Station. Thus while the 80th Division was at the Samer Training Area under control of II Corps, the 305th was at Radon where they trained in their supply specialty. Next, the 80th Division from 10 June to 18 August 1918, underwent training by the British in Flanders and Picardy. Now it was the turn of the 305th to use the Samer Training Area, not with the 80th Division, but on detached service and further "affiliated" with the British 16th (Irish) Division, the British 34th Division, and the British ll7th Brigade. This was the basis for the A.E.F. award.

2. Artois and Picardy service with the British Army is further recognized when the entire 80th Division participated in the Some Offensive. The 305th in involved in the later phases and rejoined 80th Division on 13 September, coming from Camp de Meucon and this action in the Somme continued until 25 September 1918.

3. Corps Reserve and the St. Mihiel Offensive. As a part of 80th Division the 305th from 10 August to 1 September was assigned the Sector "Limey-Marvosin"; French VIII Army, French XXXII Corps, suffering 212 casualties. Next they were assigned to U. S. First Army where they took another 7 causalities.

For the 80th Division, including the 305th Supply Train, the record includes both phases of the Meuse-Argonne, 26 September to 6 November 1918. This was the most extensive Battle waged to that date by the U.S. Army and would so remain until World War II and the battles in the European Theater of Operations.

Photos taken from German Prisoners as Souvenirs

POST-ARMISTICE ACTIVITIES, 12 November 1918 to 29 March 1919. 11 November 1918, 80th Division (less Artillery) moves to the vicinity of Les Islettes, and then on 18 November moved to the 15th (Aney-le-Franc) Training Area. 1 - 8 December, 80th Division is reorganized. Then a dark period, that is 9 December 1918 to 9 March 1919, when Training again predominates. To put it mildly this was unpopular throughout the A.E.F. and the Soldiers blamed it on General Pershing and military stupidity. The bright spot in all this training and waiting conditioned by the Armistice rather than Surrender, the problems of German acceptance and the forming of an Army of Occupation, was that Dad obtained Leave and a chance to visit Marseille, Cannes, and Nice, on the sunny Mediterranean.

31 March 1919, the 80th Division moved to the Le Mans Area, American Embarkation Center. The 305th Supply Train with Dad and Headquarters 80th Division Headquarters, sailing on the S.S. Zeppelin, arriving at Boston, Massachusetts, 9 June 1919. Boston became a Debarkation Port in connection with the nearby Demobilization Station at Camp Devens, controlled by the Commanding General, Northeastern Department. From Camp Devens Dad was sent to Camp Dodge, Iowa. This Center processed about 200,000 service personnel and he was one of them. Here in Iowa, his service ended on 26 June 1919, with travel pay to Beach, North Dakota, site of his initial enlistment. Once again a civilian he entered a failing agricultural world, once again through small town Banking.

While my Father's contribution was not with a rifle or machine gun, what the 305th Supply Train, the Quartermaster Corps, and the Services of Supply accomplished for the American Expeditionary Forces, and of course for the entire Allied and Associated effort, I sum up as follows:

[It will seem strange to many Americans that our army, that is the A.E.F., kept the most extensive and accurate records of supply and equipment of any Army on either side of that war. My Father was well suited for such an assignment.] The cost of feeding the Army (A.E.F.) throughout the war was $ 727, 092. 430.44. The Quartermaster Corps disposed of 140,661,476 tins of Corned Beef, 30,961,801 cases of Salmon. and 4,661,476 cases of Corn Meal, the latter to be served as Mush. These items, with Black Coffee, were the ration for the A.E.F., which tasted little else except Welch's Grape aid, 'French Monkey Meat' (a slimy Bully Beef) and French hard biscuit. The A.E.F. wore out 8,136,000 pairs of hobnailed boots. The steel helmet and the abominated wrapped puttees, which actually choked off circulation thus causing a Charley Horse, were obtained from British stocks. Many soldiers purchased a spiked walking stick, which eased marching under the load of a full pack.

My Father, An American Soldier

Military service took a terrible toll on my Father's health and of course our Family. He was hospitalized by the forerunner of the Veteran's Administration for a few months in 1920-1921. His second collapse came in 1928, stress compounded by the "Great Depression". The price he paid for World War I service reads like this: For the next 48 years of his Life he was confined to the Veterans Administration Hospital at Palo Alto, California. Death came in May 1968. My Father and Mother were reunited in death, both in June 1978, and are buried at the National Cemetery, San Bruno, California.

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