March 2010

Access Archives

TRENCH REPORT: The year 2010 is going to be a busy one for your editor. I will be leading a tour to the Western Front in May and then flying to Italy to do a full recon for my 2011 group tour to the Italian Front. In September, I'll be a speaker at the National World War I Seminar in Kansas City and then fly to London and Istanbul to lead a tour of the Gallipoli battlefield and historic Turkey. It looks, therefore, that we will be having double issues of the Trip-Wire for both May-June and September-October. I hope this isn't disappointing news for our loyal readers. As I did last year after my trips to Normandy for the 65th D-Day Anniversary and Gallipoli, I'll be providing fresh field reports on noted military history sites and events. MH

This Month's Internet Feature

Great War Antiques & Collectibles Videos

  • Lafayette Escadrille Memorabilia

  • WWI Binoculars and FDR Letter

  • "Pickelhaube" Picks

  • World War I Posters

  • World War I Trading Cards

  • Collecting German Gas Masks

    Learn More About
    Over the Top

    Online magazine of the
    First World War

    Next Issue:
    Part II: The Siege of Antwerp, 1914

    New at Our Own & Our Friends' Great War Websites

    Click on Title or Icon to Access

    From the History Channel:
    At Great War Society Sites
    At the WFA-USA

    Which World War I-era fighter held the world air speed record by the Armistice?
    Hint 1. Did not see combat. Hint 2. A triplane!!!

    Answer below.

    U.S. St. Mihiel Cemetery, Thiacourt, France
    4153 Dead and 284 Missing Are Honored Here
    (from Google Maps)

  • Explosion, Otto Dix, 1918

    On display at the Spencer Museum, University of Kansas. Details below about the exhibit.

    A World War I Event Calendar

    We continue to add important events to our WWI Calendar. There is simply more information than we can display here on the Trip-Wire. It is available for all, however, by downloading it from our Website.
    (download calendar as Word document)
    WFA-USA & TGWS Joint Annual Seminar
    September 10-11, 2010
    (Date Change)

    National World War I Museum,
    Kansas City, MO
    Mark your calendar. Check back for details.
    Western Front Association
    U.S. Branch Chapter Meetings

    Check for Your Region
    Regularly Updated
    Great War Society Monthly Chapter Meetings

    Berkeley, San Francisco, and Palo Alto, CA
    Regularly Updated
    Upcoming Events at the National World War I Museum

    Kansas City, MO
    Regularly Updated
    Send additions/corrections for our master schedule:
    Email Response

    Media & Events

    The Spencer Museum at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, is presenting an exhibit on graphic arts of the First World War from March 5 - May 23, 2010. The program, titled "Machine in a Void," includes pieces from Henri de Groux, George Grosz, Otto Dix, and many other WWI veterans. (link)

    At the History Channel shopping site you can now purchase the World War I episode from their 2006 series Declassified for $24.95. It might be of particular interest to Trip-Wire readers because some of the expert commentators (talking heads) include Trip-Wire editor Mike Hanlon, frequent contributor Ambassador Len Shurtleff, and individuals whose work we have featured like historians Tom Fleming and BG Bob Doughty. (link)

    The San Francisco Museum Website has information and a downloadable film (very large file)of the July 22, 1916 Preparedness Day Bombing in which 10 bystanders were killed and 40 more injured in one of the nation's most notable terrorist events, at least prior to truck and airplane bombs. (link)

    So it was that war in the air began. Men rode upon the whirlwind that night and slew and fell like archangels. The sky rained heroes upon the astonished earth. Surely the last fights of mankind were the best. What was the heavy pounding of your Homeric swordsmen, what was the creaking charge of chariots, besides this swift rush, this crash, this giddy triumph, this headlong sweep to death?

    H.G. Wells,
    The World Set Free, 1914

    Page Two

    The World War I
    Victory Medal

    World War I Headlines
    in the
    21st Century

    Not Just Mons: Other World War I Angels

        St. Louis WWI Memorial an Architectural Treasure

           Happy Birthday: Frank Buckles of Charles Town, West Virginia, America's Last Doughboy, Turns 109

              The Story of Prohibition (Intertwined with WWI) by Historian Thomas Fleming

                 Attempt to Reopen Investigation into the Murder of Tsar Nicholas II and His Family

    Two Noted Artists Depict the Battle of the Somme

    Top: German artist Franz Eichhorst portrays a German defensive trench. (Note partially buried corpse.) Below: French-American artist, Charles Hoffbauer, in one of a series of six paintings from the Somme Sector, shows German prisoners under French guard.
    Click Here to Visit the Website of Our Contributing Editor Tony Langley
    War in a Different Light

    (Click on image or email Mike Hanlon at to request a brochure for Western Front tour or more details on the other trips)
    Subscribe to Our Online Magazine

    Page Three
    Gone West
    John Babcock Canada's last known veteran of the First World War, has died in Spokane, Washington, the Prime Minister's Office has confirmed.

    (Article and Photo)
    The Real Deal

    French Mine Explodes Under German Trench, Vosges Sector, Western Front, Date Unknown
    (Compare to Otto Dix Cubist-Style Depiction at Top of Page)

    Announcing a Forthcoming Work

    The Long Way Home:
    An American Journey from Ellis Island to
    the Great War

    Editor's Note: Award-winning author David Laskin has a new work being published in March by Harpers Books. The Long Way Home: An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War is a study of the contributions made to the American Expeditionary Forces by recent immigrants. (Book Website) David has been most kind in expressing his appreciation for help for his project from the members of the TGWS and WFA-USA and our publications and Websites. Here is a profile David wrote last Armistice/Veterans day on one of his 12 subjects:

    Interviewing Private Pierro
    By David Laskin

    Pvt. Antonio Pierro, AEF
    Here in Seattle Veterans Day coincides with the height of the rainy season, which seems fitting given the wretched weather that the soldiers endured in France in the weeks leading up to the 1918 Armistice that Veterans Day commemorates. "During the night, a cold penetrating rain began," one soldier wrote of conditions on the first day of the Argonne offensive that ended the Great War. "We couldn't build any fires. We had no overcoats, and had left our blanket rolls in the Bois de Sivry. Some found overcoats and blankets left by the Boche, and rolled up in those. The army slicker is as good as nothing, as far as heat goes, and as to turning water -- well, we who wore them in the Argonne, knew what they were worth. The moisture from one's body collects on the inside of the coat, and as soon as the wind strikes you, you are cold for the rest of the day."

    Such was life in France in the fall of 1918. The rain and wind outside my window seem blessedly benign by comparison. But I really wasn't intending to devote this blog to the weather, rather to the back story of one of the 12 immigrant soldiers featured in my book. When I started researching in earnest in the summer of 2006, two foreign-born World War I veterans were still, miraculously, alive -- 106-year-old Sam Goldberg and 110-year-old Antonio Pierro. Naturally, I wanted to meet both of them as soon as possible.

    I don't recall exactly how I tracked down Tony Pierro, but I do remember that a radio producer named Will Everett was extremely helpful in the process. At the time, Will was taping interviews with the surviving World War I veterans for a radio program called The World War I Living History Project that he was putting together, and he had just spent a long, productive, if sometimes frustrating, day taping an interview with Tony at the Pierro residence in Swampscott, Massachusetts.

    I have learned over years of research and writing that some people jealously guard everything they know about a subject, while others share freely, even with perfect strangers. Will was one of the latter. When I called to pick his brain, he told me that the best way to set up an interview with Tony was to contact his nephew Rick, he advised me to use a loud clear voice in asking questions, and he warned me that I shouldn't expect too many combat stories -- after all the guy was 110. Will added that my best chance of getting Tony to talk freely was to bring a pretty young girl along to the interview.

    This last bit of advice amused me -- 110 and still an eye for the ladies! -- but Will was insistent so I pressed my oldest daughter Emily, who fits the bill nicely, into service. I can't say that Tony opened up much -- he seemed to be dwelling peacefully deep inside himself and far back in the past. But, with Emily sitting beside him and intercepting the occasional shy courtly smile, Tony talked some about the snakes in his family's vineyard back in Forenza in the south of Italy, the dangers of dodging exploding shells in combat, and a French girl named Magdalena he had loved nine decades ago. When we got up to leave, Tony took Emily's 21-year-old hand in his 110-year-old hand, leaned over and kissed it.

    Order Now at
    I listened to Will's documentary on Veterans Day 2006, and was blown away. Walter Cronkite hosts the program, and Will's interviews with the dozen centenarian veterans are absorbing, surprising, and moving beyond words.

    It never occurred to me when I set out to write The Long Way Home that I would be able to interview two veterans who had served when Woodrow Wilson was commander-in-chief. It saddened me that both men died before my book was finished, Sam Goldberg on December 10, 2006, and Tony Pierro on February 8, 2007. In fact, of the 12 men Will interviewed for his documentary, only one is still alive: Frank Buckles of Charles Town, West Virginia, is the last of the last. Even wonderful old Walter Cronkite passed away this past July.

    If you'd like to hear the voices of these veterans and share in their memories, I urge you to get hold of a copy of Will Everett's brilliant program. I'd like to end this blog by again thanking Will and Rick Pierro for their help. And I want to acknowledge Tony Pierro and the 4.3 million other Americans, half a million of them foreign-born, who served in the Great War that ended 91 years ago.

    From the Archives --
    A Very Long Engagement

    by Andrew Melomet

    In 1917 five French soldiers are court-martialed and are found guilty of self-mutilation. In punishment they are sent over the top into No-Man's-Land. Following World War I, polio-crippled Mathilde (Audrey Tautou) stubbornly refuses to believe that her lover Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) died on the battlefield. She sets off on a quest to find him.

    This is an authentic romantic epic filled with gut-wrenching scenes of combat and all the graphic violence possible through special effects and CGI. Postwar Paris and rural France are beautifully recreated. And since it's French there's a heaping dose of graphic sex as well. Mathilde is helped in her investigation by an inept detective named Pire (Ticky Holgado). (Pire means "worse" in French.) And there's another woman also searching out survivors from the battlefield, Tina Lombardi (Marion Cotillard), but she's on a mission of vengeance. She's the dark doppelgänger of sweet but slightly monomaniacal Mathilde. This entertaining subplot is done as homage to the French serial thrillers such as Les Vampires that were popular during the Great War.

    Mathilde's search follows up on all possible leads and eventually the back stories of each of the doomed five is filled in through many flashbacks. Now, ever since Saving Private Ryan, war films have been trying to out do each other in depicting the graphic violence of combat. But, sensitive souls who close their eyes during these moments in A Very Long Engagement will miss important clues vital to understanding the denouement. Finally, it's all sorted out; although I'm still not sure who exchanged identities with whom in their desperate efforts to survive.

    A Very Long Engagement, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunot, from a screenplay by Jeaunot and Guilliame Laurant, and based on a novel by Sébastien Japrisot, was disqualified as the Best Foreign-Language Picture nominee for France. However, it was nominated for Best Achievement in Cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel and Art Direction by Aline Bonetto. And in 2005 the Mystery Writers of America awarded A Very Long Engagement an Edgar Allan Poe Award for best Motion Picture Screenplay.

    Mathilde Visits Manech's Purported Grave

    The DVD release of A Very Long Engagement includes an especially interesting and insightful audio commentary by director Jean-Pierre Jeunot in French with English subtitles. Other special features on the two-disc release include a featurette on the making of A Very Long Engagement, deleted scenes (with commentary), documentaries on Paris in the 1920s, and Before The Explosion, about the hydrogen balloon explosion sequence.

    Click here to download the 2004-2008 Index for the Nickelodeon
    with Updates on Availability of Films and Videos in the U.S.
    Check the Archives for 2009's reviews.

    In August 1918 a prototype of the Curtiss A-18 Wasp set a record of 163 mph carrying a full load. It was a triplane designed for the U.S. Navy. (link) Thanks to each and every one of you who has contributed material for this issue. Until next month, your editor, Mike Hanlon.
    (Or send it to a friend)
    (Or send us a comment on the TRIP-WIRE)

    For further information on the events of 1914-1918 and membership information visit the Directory Pages of:

  •      The Great War Society

  •      The Western Front Association, U.S. Branch

  •      Over the Front -- League of WWI Aviation Historians