June 24, 1918: Going Over There
America entered WWI in April 1917, but it took a full year to prepare large numbers of troops to send to France. Seventy percent of the two million American troops that went to France during WWI arrived between May and September 1918. And so it was that one hundred years ago today, the men of the U.S. Army's 91st Division boarded trains at Camp Lewis, outside Tacoma, to begin their shipment to France and the battlefields of WWI.
Each Army division had four infantry regiments and a number of supporting artillery, engineering, supply, and medical units. For the 91st Division's 361st, 362nd, and 364th Infantry Regiments and many supporting units, the first leg of the journey was a six-day cross-country journey on the Great Northern Railroad to the East Coast. Some elements went to Camp Merritt in Bergen County, New Jersey; others to Camp Mills on Long Island for final processing before shipping to France. Much of the 363rd Infantry Regiment traveled on the Canadian Pacific Railway on a public relations tour and were celebrated in a number of Canadian cities before ending up from Philadelphia. Other elements of the 363rd traveled east through the States.
It is safe to assume that most of the men on the trains heading to the ports saw the lands east of the Rockies for the first time in their lives. For many, the trip was the last time they would see those sights.
The 91st spent a week in the processing camps prior to sailing for Europe. New uniforms were issued, paperwork was checked, and medical exams were administered for each man. Given the size of the division, its units were allocated across several ships. Parts of the 361st boarded the S.S. Karao in Brooklyn, with others sailing on the S.S. Scotian from Hoboken. The 362nd boarded the R.M.S. Empress of Russia (picture at the top) in Brooklyn. The 363rd sailed on the S.S. City of Cairo from Philadelphia and the 364th boarded the R.M.S. Olympic in New York. Some attached units found space with the infantry regiments and others, particularly artillery units, sailed up to a week later.
Joining the 364th aboard the S.S. Olympic was the head of the U.S. Food Administration, Herbert Hoover, who gave a speech to the men during their ocean passage. Also in the convoy was the Under Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who crossed the Atlantic on the U.S.S. Dyer, a Navy destroyer. You can read more about Hoover and Roosevelt's journey and the purpose of their travels in an earlier blog posting, FDR and Herbert Hoover Went Over There with the 91st Division.
The convoy left the States during the second week of July, zigzagging throughout the twelve-day journey to Liverpool. From Liverpool, the 91st traveled by rail to Southampton and then by channel boat to Le Havre, France, arriving on July 23. They trained in France for another five weeks before moving into reserve positions for the St. Mihiel Offensive in early September.
Over the next few months we'll follow the 91st Division and the Marines from Mare Island that played in the 1918 Rose Bowl as their journey to the battlefields of WWI progresses.
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