By Michael L. Kelley
Special to The Sun
One hundred years ago, the United States entered World War I to assist the French and British in their war with the Imperial German Empire. The Allied armies were exhausted after more than three years of static trench warfare and suffering millions of casualties. They badly needed the fresh and strong American army to come to their aid. On April 6, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson ordered the U.S. Armed Forces into action to turn the tide of battle.
The citizens of greater Lowell responded with patriotic fevor and many enlisted or answered the draft calls for active duty. Local women volunteered as nurses, Red Cross workers, and as home-front volunteers to make goods and materials for the troops, such as bandages and knitted caps. Some of these men became members of the 26th Yankee Division of the Army National Guard which consisted of units from all over New England.
The 26th was the first unit to deploy overseas to France as a complete army infantry division.
Soldiers arrived in the war-torn country in September 1917 and began training for trench warfare under the supervision of French and British army instructors who were veterans of fighting the Germans in the mud-filled trenches along the Western Front. The 104th Infantry Regiment of the 26th Division was the first American infantry unit to enter combat, and Lowell area men were a part of this action in February1918 near Adremont and St. Mihiel.
They withstood multiple German Army assaults under deadly artillery fire and beat back the Germans while inflicting large casualties on the enemy forces. For inexperienced troops, the Americans fought well and were decorated by the French government with the French Croix de Guerre Medal for their valor. Some were killed in action, seriously wounded or hit with poisonous gas. Others developed horrible trench foot disease, and many died of pneumonia from the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918.
According to Lowell historian Richard Howe Jr., the names of these Lowell area soldiers are listed on WWI monuments and memorials located in most greater Lowell’s communities.
n At the Cox Bridge on Bridge Street there is a memorial with the names of 18 soldiers who died in the war.
n At the intersection of Lakeview Street and Bridge Street there is a marker for Sergeant Frank J. Lyons, the first Lowell man killed in the war.
n At the corner of Andover Street and Nesmith Street there is a memorial in the park dedicated to Captain Paul T. Kittredge.
n On Fletcher Street there is a statue of a World War I “Doughboy” soldier and in the Highlands near St. Margaret’s Church there is a memorial to Private Arthur McOsker, who was killed in action on July 16, 1918.
Chelmsford has several WWI memorials such as the one in Vinal Square dedicated to Wagoneer Alberton W. Vinal. He was killed in action by a German artillery shell while serving with the 26th Yankee Division at Bouco, France.
Other memorials honor 2nd Lt. Egbert Foster Tetley, 23, of North Chelmsford who was killed in action on Aug. 10,1918; and Corporal George Quessy, 26th Yankee Division, of West Chelmsford, who was killed in action at the final battle of the Meuse-Argonne on Nov. 1, 1918, only 10 days before the war ended.
Tewksbury lost sons in the war too. Dexter E. Bailey, Dennis O’Connell, and Everett E. Fulton gave their lives for our country. The town has three memorials tothem. One is located at the intersection of East Street and Chandler Street near the Senior Center.
Not all the soldiers died in battles. Wilmington’s son, First Sgt. Harold R. Rogers, died of pneumonia in the post hospital at Fort Ethan Allen during the great Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918 on October 13, just a month before the war ended. The epidemic killed hundreds of soldiers at Fort Devens in 1918. My father’s uncle was on a troop ship on his way to France when he and other soldiers aboard ship died of influenza before ever seeing combat.
According to Dracut historian Rebecca A. Duda, 160 Dracut citizens served in the Great War with eight being killed in action. A monument was dedicated in Hovey Square to honor all 160 men who served in the war. Listed were those who died in the war: Paul L. Burden, James F. Costello, George Garner, Harold F. Harrison, Howard V. McCoy, Hollis Simpson, Jeremiah Sullivan, and Edgar Sykes. Many of these men fought at places like Aisne-Marne, Belleau-Wood, and in the final campaign that forced the German army to fall back to their homeland, ending in their defeat.
In November, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of 1918, the Allies and the Germans signed an armistice to end the Great War. The guns fell silent on the Western Front yet many soldiers on both sides would later die from their wounds or suffer for the rest of their lives with horrible injuries, damaged lungs and shell shock.
The 26th Yankee Division lost 1,587 killed in action, and 12,077 wounded in action. A total of 3,363 men were gassed by the Germans, 136 troops were taken prisoners of war, and 283 officers and men were listed as missing in action. This was the cost of their victory.
On Veterans Day, please take an hour to visit these memorials or go to the local veterans cemetery to pay your respects to these great American heroes who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.
Michael L. Kelley of Tewksbury is a U.S. military veteran and freelance writer.