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.