Although the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I has passed, the work of the United States World War I Centennial Commission (WWICC) is not done yet. Ongoing projects emphasize remembrance of both the war and its aftermath – and one of them is intimately bound up with The American Legion.
In 2018, calls went out for information about Legion posts named after World War I veterans. According to David Hamon, VSO/military director for the commission, more than 250 entries have since come in to him. "It has been a moving and inspiring experience working with American Legion posts across the United States who shared history and story of the veterans who served and sacrificed during the Great War, later to be remembered by having Legion posts named after them,” he commented.
“They left behind family and careers to serve in the AEF, and in many cases were immigrants here in the U.S. for a brief time but fighting for their new country. They were buried – some in American cemeteries in France and Europe, some in local cemeteries, still others in family plots, all enshrined for posterity as part of their communities. The newly formed American Legion thus honored their sons and daughters. There are some incredible stories needing to be told …. It has been a tremendous education for me as I spoke with and got to know so many post historians and commanders as they shared the legacy information on their World War I veterans, complete with photos, letters, newspaper clippings and in some cases written histories.” Hamon is especially appreciative of the post historians, commanders and other officers who provided the information and materials for these stories.
WWICC has several platforms (https://www.worldwar1centennial.org/index.php/communicate.html) on which they are re-presenting these post stories – newsletters, a podcast and more. Among the doughboys profiled:
- Sgt. Frederick Withoft of Post 76 in Fort Valley, Ga. Spanish influenza ravaged the world from 1918 to 1920. This version of influenza infected a staggering 500 million people, a third of the world’s population at the time. It haunted the ranks of the world’s militaries throughout the war. World War I provided ideal conditions for the spread of infectious disease, particularly the flu. Soldiers lived in close quarters in training camp and in the trenches, often in terrible living conditions with no access to modern vaccines or medicine. Over the course of the war, the flu spread from the fronts to tightly-packed civilian centers and then back again. Withoft was serving with the 28th Division in Europe when he died of pneumonia a few months after the war ended, on Feb. 25, 1919. He had survived the horrors of war, but like so many other thousands of Americans, could not withstand the ravages of the flu. Post 76 was first chartered in 1919.
- Cpl. James Claire Carmody of Post 39 in Poultney, Vt. Carmody (9th Infantry, 2nd Division, AEF) sacrificed his life in France on July 18, 1918. On June 12, he had written to his mother that he had “just passed through Hell!” While the armies of Europe had been fighting the war for nearly four years by 1918, the Americans were extremely green in combat. Their first experiences of World War I quickly awoke them to the war’s incredible horrors and inspired them toward feats of heroism. Carmody and his comrades played a key role in the defense of France in the spring and summer of 1918, when Germany attempted its last great offensive of the war. The Kaiserschlacht, or Spring Offensive, briefly threatened Paris and put the Allies on their heels. But thanks to a valiant Allied defensive effort and the overextension of the German supply lines, the Allies were soon pushing the Germans back. Carmody’s division defeated so many Germans that he claimed in another letter that he had “never saw so many dead people or soldiers in [his] life.” Post 39 was first chartered in 1919.
- Sgt. John Berg of Post 976 in Crosby, Pa. Berg (Company C, 317th Infantry, 80th Division, AEF) was born in Kalsvit, Sweden in 1889. He and his family immigrated to the United States in 1893. Immigrants became a backbone of the U.S. military effort in World War I, with roughly 500,000 immigrants – or 18 percent of the total U.S. military – serving during the war. Berg enlisted on April 3, 1918, and saw military action between July 1 and the end of the war in continuous service. He participated in key battles during the war’s final months, including the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne offensives. For his bravery and accomplishments, Berg earned the Distinguished Service Cross and the Croix de Guerre with gold star, the most famous French military decoration of the war. After the war, Berg was honorably discharged from the military and went on to live a long and happy life. He died of cancer on July 29, 1956. Post 976 was first chartered in 1957.
WWICC is still looking for additional post stories; contact Hamon at email@example.com or (540) 379-8584.
A special microsite is designed specifically for members of VSOs and MSOs; learn more at www.ww1cc.org/veterans.
Another ongoing project of WWICC is working on a permanent national World War I memorial in Washington, D.C. American Legion posts have the opportunity to donate to the memorial in the name of their namesake. Visit www.ww1cc.org/donate, or send a check to:
US World War One Centennial Commission
Attn: David Hamon
701 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Suite 123
Washington, DC 20004
Hamon stated, “As Americans we must never forget the doughboys and their war. Let's build this memorial!"