Thursday, March 31, 2016

Battlefield Burials and Missing-in-Action

Many people associate the term MIA or Missing-in-Action with the Vietnam War, but have you ever associated the term with those who served in the first World War?  I came across a great project that is underway called Doughboy MIA, run by Robert and Trinie Laplander.  Robert is best known for his book about the famous Lost Battalion of the 77th Division.  Their project has a ton of great information and it is well worth taking a look: Doughboy MIA

My interest in this website peaked when I found five members of the 313th Machine Gun Battalion on the list of those still considered Missing in Action.  The website offered a resource for ordering what is called a “Burial Case File” from the National Archives.  I contacted a researcher, paid the copy fees, and had 4 of the 5 case files sent to me in about a week.  Reading the reports were humbling and at the same time quite sad. There are copies of letters from some of the mothers of the fallen in these files asking the War Department for more information about the remains of their sons.  It is evident by the text that they are aware that the remains had not yet been located and one mother even questioned if she should be allowed to attend the Gold Star Mother’s Pilgrimage because she would not have a burial site to visit.  The Pilgrimage was paid for by the US Government and the trip was made available to the wives and mothers of the fallen.

I decided to look at some of the case investigations.  In doing so, I wondered if it was possible to identify any new information that could be cross referenced using today's technology and the use of archival information to take a second look at a case.  One particular case that I am drawn to is that of efforts to find the remains of Curtis A. Dye and John E. Conway.  There are inconsistencies in the information given and sometimes incorrect reporting found in the case file.   It also appears that there was a lack of follow up after new information was given to investigators.  It's doubtful that officials would mark the file "closed or unsolved" but we do know that the records show that their remains have not been identified.  This is in no way a criticism of the efforts of any one involved in past investigations.

Curtis A. Dye and John E. Conway were killed on October 6, 1918. Their bodies were buried in a temporary grave and marked with a wooden cross. Chaplain Charles C. Merrill documented their temporary “Grave Location” on the battlefield on October 11, 1918. He wrote down the map coordinates that placed the location of the burial in the woods of the Bois de Beuge, near Nantillois, France.

On July 30, 1921, Mrs. Fannie Conway, the mother of John Conway, wrote to the War Department pleading for help in locating the remains of her son.  It took nearly 7 1/2 years after Conway's death for the Army to do another physical search of the area in an attempt to locate his remains. Unfortunately,  Mrs. Conway passed away in 1924, before another search was ever completed.  

Some documents in the case file record these men belonging to the 315th Machine Gun Battalion. This was incorrect. They were in the 313th. At first I thought this may have been a simple typo, but on a different document the Army recorded the men as being part of the 79th Division. Again, this was incorrect. They belonged to the 80th Division.  This may not be a significant inconsistency, but it is worth pointing out to anyone reading the actual case file reports.

In July 1926, the Quartermaster General’s Office wrote to the Chaplain who completed the "Grave Location Blank" card asking for his assistance in recalling the location of the remains of Dye and Conway.  The Chaplain wrote back to the investigators in August 1926 stating that the soldiers were buried in a "shell hole dug out for burial," and they were "not in the same grave."  He wrote that they were "not buried in the woods, but in an open field."  The coordinates that he initially provided on the location card were inconsistent with his description of the surrounding area.

In December 1927, when the case was being reviewed, the Quartermaster General’s office made a physical search of that location. They did not find the remains of Dye or Conway and so they wrote back to the Chaplain in January 1928 asking him to mark on a sketch where he remembered the men to be buried. The Chaplain again answered back in February 1928 and included a notation on the hand drawn sketch of the possible location.  He placed a dot on the sketch and marked the names Conway and Dye.  He also made a correction in his letter as to the proper grid coordinates. See red arrow below.

When the file came up for review again, a report was written by Colonel Richard T. Ellis in September 1929 recommending that the Chaplain’s possible location be transferred onto a true map of the area and that it be sent to former members of B company in order to plan another physical search for the remains.  It was also recommended to once again send the map back to the Chaplain “to aid him possibly in recalling more accurately the precise interment location.”  This map was sent:

The case file does not show any further correspondence received by the Chaplain and only a few hand written notes giving information received from the members of the Company who tried to recall the burial site.  There does not appear to be any further report in the case file to indicate that another physical search of the location was ever completed after the Chaplain provided his notation on the sketch as to where a new search should be completed.  There are also inconsistencies in where the men recalled the location of the site in relation to the nearby roads. Because of these inconsistent reports, it is possible that the investigators may have decided not to pursue another physical search of this remote farm area without having better information.  We don't know if another search was ever completed as the file does not provide any later investigator reports.

Using Google and Bing maps and comparing them to the hand drawn sketch, there appears to be an anomaly in the current open farm field.  What reason would a farmer have in not disturbing the land in the middle of an otherwise open crop field?  My photos point to a grow of trees/shrubs that appear to be out of place to the rest of the field, and the vegetation also appears to be close to the location noted by the Chaplain.

I contacted local historian Maarten Otte who runs a B&B and museum located in the town.  He knows nearly every square foot of terrain in and around Nantillois and reported back to me that the anomaly in the above photo is actually a natural spring in the field.  He told me that the last time the remains of an American soldier was found in this area happened in the 1950s.

Maarten is intrigued by the map coordinates and is willing to assist further when additional information is obtained.  I have also communicated with Robert Laplander of the Doughboy MIA project and he too will be looking into this case and give his opinion on these findings.

The burial card for Curtis Dye has two different coordinates. The first notation given reads "By road 500 yards below (North) 80:3 - 10:3 Montfaucon 1/50,000." These were changed in the Chaplain's letter and corrected on the sketch above to read 80.7 - 10.5

A later notation on Dye's burial card gives the coordinates placed on the sketch above to read: "CMME Nantillois (Meuse) ?? 179 SHT 35 NE COORD { E310.3 N280.3  "

A question that I would like to know: If the remains were taken from the battlefield and buried in an American cemetery under the inscription "Here rests in honored glory, an American soldier, known only to God" did government officials record where (using coordinates) that the remains were initially recovered from before they were moved?  Do records like this exist with the American Battle Monuments Commission?

I will update the blog after additional information is received.
"You Are Not Forgotten."
Semper Fi, 
Lieutenant Gladstone H. Yeuell, Chaplain, 313th Field Artillery

Full Map in the file showing Grid E310 N280 
Photo appears in "History of the 313th Field Artillery" 1920

Roadside crucifix located North of the field - unable to rear the inscription on this marker.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Pitt Football Head Coach Leads Machine Guns

Coach Joe Duff served with my grandfather in the 313th Machine Gun Battalion, 80th Division, during World War I.  Although Duff was drafted into the Army as a private, he was truly destined to lead men. Unfortunately, like so many brilliant young men of their time, his life was cut short in the killing fields of the Meusue-Argonne.  

Duff was a 1912 graduate of Princeton University.  He enjoyed a stellar career playing varsity football for Princeton and was voted a 1911 All-American.  In 1913 the Pittsburgh Press reported him to be the “best guard in football history.” Duff played nearly every position on the Princeton football team except quarterback.    After graduation he was asked to stay on at Princeton to serve as an assistant football coach.  The following year he received an offer to become head football coach at the University of Pittsburgh.  Duff delivered two winning seasons for Pitt in 1913 and 1914. Following the 1914 season, Pitt found an opportunity to hire legendary coach Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner, who would bring Pitt a National Championship in 1915.  That same year Duff obtained his Law Degree from the University of Pittsburgh and started work in his brother’s law firm in Pittsburgh.
Coach Joe Duff, "The Owl" 1915
It’s unclear why Duff was not commissioned an officer before his entry into the Army.  At the time of the national draft registration, Duff was already a college graduate. He enlisted in the Military Training Association, and was situated at the Reserve Officers Training Camp at Fort Niagara in June 1917.  At the end of his training at Fort Niagara, NY he was not assigned to a specialized unit as many of the other candidates listed on the roster.  It’s possible his later role as an attorney for the Justice Department delayed his commission as he was tasked with assisting in the prosecution of men who were at the time attempting to evade the draft.

His role as a government attorney, however, would not keep him from being drafted.  Duff was inducted into the Army in March 1918 and sent to Camp Lee VA to join the 313th Machine Gun Battalion that sailed for France in May 1918. During his time with the battalion, he would be promoted to a Corporal and then a Sergeant.  His commission as a 2nd Lieutenant came on September 30, 1918, just as the Meusue-Argonne offensive was beginning in France.  This promotion would transfer him out of the 313th M.G.B.  His new commission tasked him with leading a machine gun company in the 32nd Division, 125th Infantry.  

After only ten days of receiving his commission, Joseph Miller Duff Jr. was killed at the age of 29 while fighting in Gesnes-en-Argonne. His body would be buried in a temporary grave site in Dur-sur-Meuse, France.  His brother, Captain George M Duff, a Chaplain in the 305th Infantry, also serving in France, sent a telegram back home to his father Rev. Joseph M. Duff Sr. advising the family of the death of their son.  Local papers reported the death of the Pitt coach and former football star who was beloved by so many. Duff’s body was returned to the United States and is buried in the Chartiers Cemetery in Carnegie PA.
His brother James H. Duff (1883-1969) would later become a prominent figure in Pennsylvania politics and served as the 34th Governor of Pennsylvania from 1947-1951 and also a United States Senator from Pennsylvania 1951-1957.  

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Company photo taken in France 1919

The 313th Machine Gun Battalion, Company C, had their photo taken while in France in 1919. For years I assumed it was taken in the town of Bordeaux due to the name of the hotel printed on the building. Just recently, I did a Google search of the hotel name and found this postcard for sale on eBay in France for €5.00 EUR. I purchased the postcard and also located the exact location in France of where the photo was taken. It was in the village of Saint-Vincent-du-LorouĂ«r. The back of the postcard has not been translated, nor does it appear it was ever mailed. For those family members that also have a copy of the Company photo, I hope you appreciate this postcard as much as I do. 
Partial photo of Company C shown to illustrate the Hotel name.

Back of the postcard. If you can help translate it, please let me know.

The location today:,0.489797,3a,75y,37.39h,89.36t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s9eWEk7riInLyfGED-G09SA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!6m1!1e1 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Distinguished Member of the 313th

Alexander MacWilliam, Sr. was born in Edinburg, Scotland in 1891.  He enlisted in the Army while living in Erie, Pennsylvania.  He served in the 313th Machine Gun Battalion, 80th Division.  MacWilliam was awarded the second highest military honor, the Distinguished Service Cross.
Alexander MacWilliam Sr 

In order to understand the events that led to MacWilliam's actions, it is important to remember that these men were subject to absolute brutal conditions in terms of an enemy defense as well as evidence of poor planning on the part of his superiors.  The entire First Army was to attack on October 4th, 1918 during the ongoing offensive of the Meuse-Argonne.  The 80th Division was just part of the an overall strategy to capture the German strong hold known as the Heights of Cunel.
Field Order No. 22 directed the 80th Division to attack on October 4th. When looking at the Google map to the right, you can see a large patch of woods just to the right of the road marked "D15" known as Les Ogons. Maps and orders of the time referred to this as "Bois des Ogons." The 80th Division had to advance through these "bois" or "woods"    To the south is the village of Nantillois.  The Cunel objective is to the north. 
Germans maintained a strong defensive line in these woods consisting of artillery, multiple machine gun nests and barbed wire.  The woods could not be taken in previous attempts made by the 79th and 4th Divisions.  Senior officers scouting the objective advised that "artillery fire had to be put down on the flanks of the woods or a frontal attack would be useless."
The Division command ordered the 313th Machine Gun Battalion to support the attacking battalions of the 317th and 318th Infantry.  Company B was  ordered to be attached to the 3rd Battalion of the 318th Infantry. MacWilliam was in Company B. The remaining companies of the machine gun battalion would cover the flanks of the attacking Brigade.  The map below shows the line held by the 80th Division on October 4th, 1918. It was in this sector that MacWilliam distinguished himself. 

The official citation presented to Alex MacWilliam reads:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to First Sergeant Alexander MacWilliam (ASN: 1815486), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in action while serving with Company B, 313th Machine-Gun Battalion, 80th Division, A.E.F., near Nantillois, France, October 4 - 5, 1918. Concealing the fact that he was severely wounded, Sergeant MacWilliam remained on duty until the afternoon of the following day. While in this condition he went to the aid of a wounded comrade and brought him to a place of safety, his route being subjected to a concentrated artillery bombardment.
The accounts of that day reported heavy fighting and what may be viewed as haste decisions that led to multiple casualties suffered by the 80th Division. By the end of the day, the Bois des Ogons would remain German. The Operations report that followed an evaluation of the attack stated that "Orders for Corps attack on 4th October 1918 were not issued in time to permit proper reconnaissance or instruction of subordinate commanders. Casualties from flanking machine gun fire and violent artillery fire from the front and right flank were severe."
The detailed events of this one day of fighting by the 313th Machine Guns Battalion may be recounted in a later blog, but I wanted to highlight the date during the war that Alex MacWilliam made a name for himself in the eyes of his men.
MacWilliam was treated for his wounds and remained with the 313th Machine Gun Battalion. He was soon promoted to Second Lieutenant.  Upon returning to the United States, the City of Erie Pennsylvania prepared to receive their heroes. Mayor Miles B. Kitts wrote this letter to MacWilliam in anticipation of their arrival. 
Mayor Miles B Kitts 1919 letter to Alexander MacWilliam, 313th Machine Gun Battalion
After the war, it was recommended to MacWilliam that the cold northern climate would be difficult on his health due to the condition of his lungs as a result of the gas attacks he suffered while in France. At the urging of his doctor, who was investing in property located in Florida, MacWilliam moved to Vero Beach to supervise the construction of a golf course at Riomar. MacWilliam continued to make a name for himself and would become the Mayor of Vero Beach in 1927.  His political ambitions did not stop there. MacWilliam again distinguished himself by serving in the Florida State House of Representatives.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Battalion Reunions

My grandfather, Andrew A Capets, is standing in the back row directly under the number 55. He was only about 5'2" in height. This photo was taken in September 1975. It would be the last reunion my grandfather attended. He passed away less that a year later (May 1976).

I had this photo on line under the website and was contacted by someone who also had a grandfather in this unit - Jim Agostine saw this photo and sent me a note. I emailed him back and asked, "where is your grandfather in the photo?" The response was "The man standing next to the man under the 55, by the American flag, is my grandfather. Luigi Agostini."   I had the feeling this was not a coincidence.

The 1975 photo above was in an envelope addressed to my grandfather with a return address for Leroy E. Welk, 9th Street, Erie PA. Mr. Welk was also a member of the 313th MGB. Other men in this photo (front row, third from the left, Clifford MacPherson).

I am grateful to Jim Agostine for sharing with me a copy of this 1938 reunion photo.

The photos from 1945 and 1969 show the men standing outside the Peach Street Club. The club was located at the present day "King's Rook Club" on Peach Street, Erie PA.

In this 1969 photo it is not hard to find Andrew Capets in the back row, far right, second from the right.

This 1945 reunion photo below was sent to me from Andy Specht who had a great grandfather in the battalion - Charles Vermeire. Andy sent me a few photos of Charles Vermeire in uniform that I will add here in the future. Thanks Andy - Semper Fi.  

Joe Wykoff of had this 1941 picnic reunion photo below on his site, as well as other "period" photos of the unit that you should also check out if you have a family connection to the 313th Machine Gun Battalion.
This reunion photo does not allow you to zoom in to see the faces well enough to identify the members. Chris Knecht Sr pointed out on Joe's Facebook post that Stephen Schemeck is in the front row, 6th from the right.  Another person that stands out to me is in the center of the photo, back row, Lt. Otto Leinhauser. Leinhauser was one of the tallest members in this unit.

If you notice the ribbons the men are wearing in the 1945 photo above, they were name tags and ribbons generally given out at the reunions. My grandfather had several ribbons that were passed down to me. Here is an example from the 50th reunion:
Two more reunion photos (1944 and 1950) shared with me by Chris Knecht Sr appear below:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Searching for stories about the 313th Machine Gun Battalion

I am interested in hearing from anyone that may have had a relative (father, grandfather, uncle, etc.) who served in the 313th Machine Gun Battalion during World War I.  This unit was part of the 80th Division A.E.F. also known as the Blue Ridge Division.

The 313th MGB trained at Camp Lee before heading to France. They arrived in Fance in June 1918 at Brodeaux. They served in places like Picadry, St. Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne.

My grandfather, Andrew Capets, was in "C Company" of the 313th MGB. I am in the process of collecting stories, diaries, journals, photos, or any artifacts that will help tell the story of ALL these men.  As we approach the 100th anniversary of the events that led these men into war, I hope to be able to share my findings with other families or anyone interested in learing about the events of that time. 

A large contingency of these men came from Erie PA during the organization of the unit.  After the war, the men created a social club on Peach Street in Erie, Pennsylvania called the 313th Machine Gun Battalion Club.

I have heard from a few family members already and plan to share their information for all see. Thank you for your interest in our military history and your interest in the service of the men of the 313th M.G.B.

Andrew Capets