The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.
This is a front and back image of a semicircular metal German identification tag fragment. One side features the name, "KARL BIRKHOLZ" and consists of indecipherable text underneath the name. The other side reads "FARDI NR C159/BATT N. 451".
Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collections. 9352.17
Lester Allen McPheron was a soldier with the American Expeditionary Forces in France. His journal describes in detail his experiences on the front lines at the end of the war (specifically Oct. 22- Nov. 11). In his reflections from November 1st, McPheron describes going "over the top" on the front lines, describing the constant shelling from the Germans as they moved forward into no-mans land. This shelling often forced the soldiers to take cover in shell holes to avoid being killed. On his movement forward, McPheron saw many dead soldiers, which he writes was a common sight that people got used to when in no-mans land, and the troops continued into the area that had been held by the Germans. McPheron's journal goes into great detail about his experiences from Nov. 1- Nov. 11 and the things he saw while participating in the Allies final push before the end of the war.
[…] the maj said we will have to go now for we have to go at 4:30 at all costs. Very well said the Sgt so on we went thru that awful shell fire, our platoon was on the left and we sure had a Sgt who had plenty of nerve and that is what one had to have in a case of this kind. Every step we took some poor boy fell either dead our [sic] wounded and believe it would unnerve the bravest of men to go thru a place like that was that morning. It was not a surprise to see your pal or comrade with his head blown off and in lots of cases a shell would kill 6 or 8 men and there they would lay on a pile torn beyond recognition […] It was an awful sight to see that morning the ground was almost covered with dead and wounded from both sides. […] By this time the German prisoners had begun to come in by the 100’s some were wounded and able to walk and others badly wounded and had to be carried by there [sic] comrades, they carried there [sic] wounded in a blanket with a pole run thru and the ends tied together it was a pitiful sight to see, some were only boys and some old men[.] One of our men was eating by the side of the road and he let a piece of bread fall on the ground and a German prisoner passing saw it and pointed at it[.] the Yank picked it up and threw it into the bunch of prisoners and I thought they were going to fight over it that was how hungry they were[.] […] There were dead horses laying all over the ground and the smell was not very pleasant- going on a little farther we came to where the Germans had their dugouts and here the dead Huns were laying thick some torn all apart and some looked as if they had died a natural death some were in dug outs when a shell had hit and killed them in bunches. I passed one dead German who was laying on his side and it looked like he had tried raise (sic) up when death overtook him[.] […]
Citation: Lester Allen McPheron Journal. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1789
This is the Gold Star Roll of Sergeant William R. Peck of Zumbrota, Minnesota, who died on this date in Raymondville, France. When the enemy opened fire on his platoon, Peck pushed his commanding officer out of the line of fire, saving the man's life by sacrificing his own. Because of his actions, he was listed as one of General Pershing's Hundred Heroes, and his picture and story were published in the August 1919 issue of the Ladies Home Journal, along with all the other men who were cited on the Hundred Heroes list.
SERGEANT WILLIAM R. PECK
354th Infantry: Minneapolis, Minnesota
The many occasions on which our officers disregarded their own safety in the effort to spare their men were balanced by equally heroic sacrifice on the part of private soldiers and noncommissioned officers. Sergeant Peck’s company was advancing across open ground near Remonville on November 1 when enemy guns opened fire on them from two sides at the same time. The platoon commander’s attention was centered upon the gun which was directly in front of him when Sergeant Peck saw the other enemy weapon on the right was directed against the officer. Seeing the predicament of his commander Sergeant Peck threw himself against the officer, shoving him into a shell hole. In this way he saved the officer’s life, but in doing so exposed himself to the enemy’s double fire and was instantly killed.
"Peck, William R." Minnesota public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota 114.D.4.5B
This letter from Eber Berquist to his family, written on October 25th, 1918, talks about how he hopes to play music again soon at home with his family. Berquist was a saxophone player in the Army band. He also mentions how things are so much more expensive where he is in France compared to back in the United States.
“Somewhere in France”
Fri, Oct. 25, 1918.
Dear Folks at Home:-
[…] Our band has not been playing now for some time. We have been doing other duties But am in hopes we'll soon get to playing again. It's a long time since I've seen a piano. They are not as plentious [sic] here as they are in America. Yesterday was pay day for the company. That's quite an eventful day over here. However, I haven't suffered any financial difficulties as yet. However, as I've mentioned before, everything is expensive. I bought a writing tablet a few days ago which would have cost a nickel in the states and paid three francs (60¢) for it over here. We are sure having plenty of rain here recently. Hardly ever see the sun. However this is the rainy season of the year. I suppose it’s been fairly cold over there by now. […] Was just wondering in what shape the piano was. [...]
Citation: Eber Berquist Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P2786
While flying with the 49th Aero Squadron in the U.S. Air Force, St. Paul native David Backus completed two military actions for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest honor bestowed upon a member of the Army or the Air Force. The first action occurred on September 26, 1918, when Backus risked his life to save his fellow pilot from nine attacking enemy planes. The second action occurred on October 23, 1918 when this diary entry was written. While flying near Landreville in north-central France, Backus and others were attacked by three enemy planes, two Fokkers and one biplane. He successfully maneuvered his plane above the attack and gave chase to the enemy, eventually shooting down all three planes. Since Backus had already shown exceptional bravery and flying expertise on the 26th of September, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross with a bronze oak leaf, which represents a double award.
Wednesday Oct- 23- 18
Out at 4 a.m. up to field had coffee in Aperatiar Tent - aweful fog. we were supposed to bomb and machine gun some Hun machine gun nests in the wood a mile north + alone [sic] Grandpre. But not clear up until ten. […] We were at 4700 metres - Seador proved his wings we dove on 14- Huns- 5 of us saw a bi plane make off- attacked it. Report here got three of them. Landed at Souily motor trouble. […] We got beautifully bombed this evening by the Huns. [.]
Citation: David Backus Collection. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 123.D.10.6F
Bernard Gallagher was born in Wilton, Minnesota and attended the University of Minnesota Medical School, where he graduated in 1916. During the war, Gallagher served at a doctor, treating wounded soldiers. In March of 1918, his battalion was forced to abandon their position, but Gallagher had not received word that his battalion was leaving so he stayed in his position with the wounded soldiers he was tending to. As a result, he was taken prisoner by the Germans. These photos are images that he brought back from his time at Camp Villingen in Badeau, Germany, which was located very close to Germany’s border with Switzerland. The first two are group photos of all the prisoners in the camp. Gallagher wrote the name of everyone in the photos on the back of the photograph. A large number of men posing in this photograph are smiling, and they all appear to be in good health and are wearing their own uniforms. The third photo is of guards from the prison camp, who are sitting casually in a wagon and don't seem to be carrying weapons. The last photo is of 4 men, posing for the camera, and Gallagher notes on the back that two of the men escaped from the camp. Look for Gallagher's post in December, in which he describes life in the camp.
Citation: Bernard Gallagher Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P487
Lee Beckman was a soldier from Minnesota who served in the Army in France from September 1918 to June 1919. In a letter to his wife, Beckman relays his opinions of the Americans' reputation with the Germans. He writes that the Germans are very afraid of the Yankees and that if a German ever even sees a Yankee they will run or throw up their hands in surrender. Beckman describes Yankees as Devils because when they get to the front lines they never want to stop. In addition to war news, Beckman muses about what to sent his wife for Christmas, and talks at length about missing her.
Camp de La Valboune,
Oct. 23, 1918
My Darling Eunice,
[...] The Yankees sure have some reputation over here. If a German gets in sight of a Yank the Boche either runs or throws up his hands. I guess you can't blame them tho, as the Yankees are regular "Devils" when they get in the front. They never want to stop. [...] I sure have lots to learn about an Army Rifle and bayonet as you know we didn't have any Rifles, but there is several machine Gun men here so I'm not alone. Wish I could have had a little more experience with the Company at the Front before coming here. According to the news in the papers we get, the Germans are trying every way they can think of to get Peace without ruining there [sic] country but if the Yankees keep on going Gen'l Pershing can eat christmas dinner in Berlin and they can make a Peace treaty that will last. I don't know what I can send you for Christmas but I'll try to get a picture, at least. About all one can buy is Cushion covers and Handkerchiefs but I think it would be better for me to bring them along wien I go back than to try to send them thr'w the mail. [...] Well Honey I must go clean my new rifle, So I'll close. Remember, Dear, I haven't changed a bit and I love you just heaps. I am yours always.
Citation: Lee Beckman, Letters Home from France. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P2353
Private Gustaf F. Erlandson was a resident of North Branch, Minnesota before the war. From October 20-27 Erlandson lived in shell-hole in the middle of No-Man's-Land, as the German machine gun fire was constant and he could not return to the trench. This feat of bravery is recorded in the Victory: Chisago County, Minnesota in the World War. Erlandson died a few days later on November 4th, 1918, when he was instantly killed by shrapnel.
Taken from Chisago Co. War History.
I had the pleasure to be with Gustaf Erlandson while in training and overseas, and knew him as a good cheerful, soldier, enduring the hardships without complaint. Having met the enemy on October 18th he was forced to remain in a shell-hole for seven days from October 20-27 without food under constant shell and machine gun fire. He emerged from there, his spirit unbroken as shown by the fact that he refused to take a well-earned rest behind the lines and set out to find his company which he found, encouraging his comrades by his splendid determination and courage. A few days later on November 1st, when the German lines were finally broken, he was one of those who formed the advance guard of the 78th division in pursuit of the enemy and gave his life while fighting on the battlefields near Seadan [sic]. He proved himself a real soldier, a true American, and true to the cause for which he died.
"Erlandson, Gustaf F." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.3B
In this diary entry from this date written by Granville "Granny" Gutterson about his experiences during the war. His family had his diary published into a book in 1919. Granny writes in this entry about taking a trip with his friend Jack, who drives a scout ship. The scout ship's job was to attack the camera gunships. Grann writes that Jack doesn't give many people rides because many people tend to get sick. Granny's solution for this was "I told him that if I got really under the weather I would motion him and he should duck his head and keep dry." The purpose of these exercises was that the man who operated the camera gun could practice taking shots at them when they dove at him or looped to the right or left around him. Granny also notes that "The dog wanted to follow me when I got in, but I'll have to take her up some time when there are not going to be any acrobatics." Which is interesting to imagine, Granny flying with a dog in the cockpit.
Mon. Oct. 21.
One o'clock is getting to be my time of retiring. I can stand it O.K. though, as it's the first real work that I've done for some time. Had a real "jazz" trip to-day with Jack. He was driving the scout ship that attacks the camera gun ships and I took a trip with him. He didn't care to take me along, as it makes a lot of fellows sick to ride in a ship and have some one else stunt it continuously the way that the scout does on the work here. I told him where to go to and climbed in, and told him that if I got really under the weather I would motion him and he should duck his head and keep dry. He just had a pilot up with him who forgot all about Hooverizing and wasted a perfectly good meal. The dog wanted to follow me when I got it, but I'll have to take her up sometime when there are not going to be any acrobatics. We put in our time stunting around the ship and letting the man with the camera gun take shots at us. We would dive at him and go in under the ship and come up in front and turn a loop right around him, or else start a roll when on his right and roll over him and come out on his left side. The rest of the stuff was a few stalls and Immelmans, or else a zoom up from in under the other ship so that our wing would come up between the wing and tail of the other ship. That boy sure can fly! He had about 800 hours of that stuff at this field. And to think that a little while ago whole squadrons of ships would cross the lines and none of the pilots had over twenty hours in the air!
Gutterson, Granville. Granville: Tales and Tail Spins from a Flyer's Diary. Minnesota Historical Society. Minnesota History Center, St. Paul. D570.9 .G76
These shell fragments were collected by Ezra Curry when he was stationed abroad during the war. There are thirty-two metal shell fragments total, including a large conical nose piece. Shrapnel Shells were munitions that carried a large number of individual bullets. Once the shell was fired, it would eject the bullets from the larger shell to get the bullets closer to the target. It was an effective weapon against advancing or withdrawing troops out in the open, but it also had many disadvantages. The bullets could not penetrate sandbags or certain steel helmets, so soldiers in bunkers had a degree of safety. It was also critical to get the correct fuse running time in order to burst the shell at the right time to get it to hit the targeted area. Since the targets were mainly moving, it was a difficult process to perfect. The weather also affected the fuse running time. Because of all this, shrapnel shells were not widely used after World War I.