Wednesday, April 17, 2019

April 1919: “I have lots of things to tell when I get home”

by Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

March 1919 was the last month of occupation duty for the 151st Machine Gun Battalion. By the close of the month preparations were underway for the battalion to leave their occupation billets and return to France to begin the long journey home.

On the final day of March, Sgt. Robert Gober Burton wrote home to share news of his impending departure as well as an anecdote about Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Kripp Germany
March 31, 1919
My Dear Auntie,
Will drop you a line and also send this citation that we received some time ago. I have sent one to mama, but I got this one this afternoon and so will send it to you. Gen. MacArthur has been our brigade commander ever since Chateau Thierrey and he is a fighting man. When we went over the top, he went with the first attacking wave of the Infantry and he stayed there until the objective had been reached. One of his staff officers asked him why it was that he was always up with the infantry and he said, ”well, it is like this when those Soldiers see me up there and see the star on my shoulder they say ‘hell, we don’t belong here, we belong about six kilometers ahead of that guy,’ and they drive the Dutchman that much farther.” That was pretty good reasoning don’t you think? He didn’t stay back like most of the general officers. Not that I blame them for not going up for if they could direct the operation from farther back it was better that they did stay there. But Gen. McArthur thought that he could oversee things better from the front line and there he was.
I am getting along fine and very much ENTHUSED over the idea of coming home. We leave here on the 2nd of April for Brest and then home. I think that we won’t stay in Brest very long as we are getting everything ready before we get there.
I have lots of things to tell when I get home and I am afraid that you all will get tired of the war tales after I get there.
I noticed where several of the boys had gotten back and told such fabulous tales that I am afraid that what we tell will not be believed. I am not going to tell anyone any war tales tho. Only the home folks and perhaps a girlfriend???

The battalion departed Kripp Germany April 5, 1919 and proceeded to Sinzig where the Soldiers entrained and began a three-day journey to Brest, France. In contrast to their first European train ride where the men were given three days rations and crammed into French freight cars for a five-day bone jarring trip from Brest to Vaucouleurs the train carrying the 151st back Brest was an American train equipped with kitchen cars which provided the Soldiers with hot meals.[ii]

On April 8, 1919, the 151st MGB arrived at Brest and was placed in barracks at Camp Pontanezen, the same location which had house their former comrades of the Georgia National Guard’s 121st Infantry Regiment. Twenty-six years later, Georgia Guardsmen with the 121st would fight to capture Pontanezen Barracks and liberate Brest from German control.[iii]

Pontanezen Barracks. Library of Congress

After five days at Pontanezen, the battalion was cleared for departure. An advance party consisting of the battalion commander, staff and 84 Soldiers left Pontanezen and boarded the battleship U.S.S. Minnesota. They were joined the following day by the remaining Soldiers of the 151st who marched to the embarkation point from the barracks.

At 3:35 pm April 15, 1919 after 405 days on the European continent, the 151st departed France bound for Newport News, Va.

The U.S.S. Minnesota. Georgia Guard Archives

Next chapter: End of the Rainbow

[i] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. W. H. Nunnally. March 31, 1919
[ii] Peavy, Arthur and Miller, White, The 151st Machine Gun Battalion 42d (Rainbow) Division: A Battalion History and Citations of the Rainbow August 13, 1917 to April 26, 1919. J. W. Burke Co., 1919, 22.
[iii] 121st Infantry Regiment. The Gray Bonnet; Combat History of the 121st Infantry Regiment. Baton Rouge, LA: Army & Navy Publishing Co., 1946, 42