My Grandfather’s World War I Log Book – Part 18 – France
October 24 – 31, 1918
“Sure thought my time had come.” + Choctaw Indian Code Talkers
My comments: My grandfather was with the U.S. Army 111th Engineers battalion. In this excerpt from his Log Book, he thought a German aviator was going to end his life (it didn’t end), and his battalion continues keeping roads open to support the Argonne offensive.
Though my grandfather did not mention them in his Log Book, I am including a section about the Choctaw Indian code talkers. I learned about them as I was doing research for this installment of my grandfather’s Log Book. The U.S. Army used them for the first time on October 26, 1918, only 27 miles from the location of my grandfather’s platoon. The Navajo code talkers of World War II are now famous. The Choctaw code talkers of World War I did not receive official recognition until 2008, and are still little known.
Excerpts from Log Book*:
“October 24th: Jerry [Germans] insisted upon coming over last night and dropped the bottom out of his plane. Sure thought my time had come.”
German AEG bomber 1918 (photo by Australian armed forces)
“25th: Working on road toward Apremont.”
“26th: Put in rail-track at quarry & extended dumping platform. Worked under Lieut. Granger in afternoon at quarry near Chatel Chehery. Received Sept. pay today.”
“27th: Pvts. Hunter and Cummings were promoted to Corporals.”
“28th: Sgt. Worrell returned yesterday a bit thin but feeling good. Pvt. John Ferguson passed away.”
“29th: Worked on road near Apremont in morning & at Chatel in afternoon. Sgt. Sands returned to the platoon. Pvt. Ray Corbiener was sent to the hospital face all swelled.”
“30th: Worked on road in Apremont. Pvt. Tucker sent to hospital.”
“31st: Marines 2nd and 77th Divisions going up to the front. Preparing to give the dutch [Germans] some hell.”
I found this photo of the 2nd Division artillery going to the front on the road from Apremont on October 29, 1918, just two days before my grandfather wrote that he saw them heading for the front while he was working on that road…Amazing!
(photo from http://2nd-division.com/_div.images/girard/4th.mg.bn/4th.mg.bn.jpg)
Choctaw Indian Code Talkers of World War I
Some of the Choctaw Indian code talkers of the 142nd Infantry (photo from army.mil)
[Comments: Many Choctaw Nation Indians of Oklahoma fought in World War I. Among them were 16 members of the 142nd Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army 36th Division. It is interesting to note that the 142nd Infantry trained at Camp Bowie in Texas during the same time that my grandfather and the 111th Engineers were also training there.
In October 1918, the 142nd Infantry was fighting in the Argonne offensive about 27 miles from where my grandfather was stationed. Colonel A. W. Bloor, the commander of the 142nd Infantry Regiment, described why the code talkers were needed, and then what happened, in a memo he sent to the commanding General of the 36th Division after the conclusion of the war. Here are some excerpts from his memo. (If you wish, you can read the entire memo here.)
“In the first action of the 142nd Infantry at St. Etienne, it was recognized that of all the various methods of liaison the telephone presented the greatest possibilities.”
“There was every reason to believe every decipherable message or word going over our wires also went to the enemy. A rumor was out that our Division had given false coordinates of our supply dump, and that in thirty minutes the enemy shells were falling on the point. We felt sure the enemy knew too much.”
“While comparatively inactive at Vaux-Champagne, it was remembered that the regiment possessed a company of Indians. They spoke twenty-six different languages or dialects, only four or five of which were ever written. There was hardly one chance in a million that Fritz would be able to translate these dialects and the plan to have these Indians transmit telephone messages was adopted.”
“The first use of the Indians was made in ordering a delicate withdrawal of two companies of the 2nd Bn. from Chufilly to Chardoney on the night of October 26th. This movement was completed without mishap, although it left the Third Battalion, greatly depleted in previous fighting, without support. The Indians were used repeatedly on the 27th in preparation for the assault on Forest Farm. The enemy’s complete surprise is evidence that he could not decipher the messages.”
“Within twenty-four hours after the Code Talkers began their work, the tides of the battle had turned”
The Texas Military Forces Museum website added this comment: “Eighteen men were recruited to transmit messages and devise a system of communications for the Code Talkers. Within twenty-four hours after the Code Talkers began their work, the tides of the battle had turned, and in less than 72 hours the Germans were retreating and the Allies were on full attack. The achievements were sufficient to encourage a training program for future Code Talkers, but the war was over in a few months. The armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. But the Choctaw’s, the first Code Talkers, had established the standard for all other Code Talkers to follow.”
Choctaw Nation code talkers recognition by the U.S. Mint, 2008
Next post will be — “Saw some sights that I never hope to see again.”
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*Quotes are from my grandfather Sergeant 1st Class Lou Sheckard’s World War I handwritten Log Book. He describes his experience with the U.S. Army 111th Engineers from March 1, 1917 to June 15, 1919. To learn how I discovered this 100-year-old family treasure, click here.
Peter Finkle bio: Husband, Father, Writer | Herbal Health Researcher | Co-Founder: Vets Vites dietary supplements
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