Maryland veterans share striking memoires of day when fighting ceased in 'the war to end all wars' The Last of the Doughboys

November 11, 1993|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

Because of an editing error, yesterday's article on surviving World War I veterans had an incomplete first reference to Frank J. Trimble, 99, of Charlotte Hall.

The Sun regrets the error.

They were young then, most of them teen-agers when they learned names like Verdun, St. Mihiel, Chateau Thierry, Belleau Wood and Meuse-Argonne.

Now they are old men with fragmentary, frequently fleeting memories of the soul-searing events that ended 75 years ago today with the Armistice of World War I.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

As doughboys they marched into battle in their khaki uniforms singing ditties like "Over There," "It's a Long, Long Way to Tipperary," "Mademoiselle from Armentieres" and "Pack up Your Troubles in Your Old Kitbag (and Smile, Smile, Smile)."

The Yanks went over the top, leaving miserable, muddy trenches to charge through withering fire in No Man's Land. Poison gas tore their eyes and lungs. Their artillery thundered and rained death upon the German lines, which replied in kind.

As sailors they manned cannon to protect convoys from elusive U-boats and from the decks of destroyers they rolled depth charges onto the subs. After the fighting stopped, they brought the soldiers home.

Between 30,000 and 40,000 veterans of the Great War survive. About 25 die each day, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates. The Maryland Department of the American Legion lists 223 World War I vets, men and women, on its statewide roster.

The exact origin of the nickname "doughboys" for World War I American soldiers is unknown but it may derive from the Civil War when the big brass buttons on Union uniforms were called "doughboys" for their resemblance to pieces of fried dough.

For some of those vets, distribution of the World War I 75th Anniversary Commemorative Medal, commissioned by the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation, has revived memories shared joy and grief, pain and despair, the blank staring faces of the dead.

The Sun found some of Maryland's old soldiers and asked them to remember that time when they fought in what was called "the war to end all wars."

When the war ended, Matthew Brandt, now 91 and living at the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home, was a young corporal recovering from arm wounds suffered at St. Mihiel.

"I ran into Paris from the hospital camp [at suburban St. Denis] and for the first time in my life I got drunk, on vin rouge. Everybody went crazy, screaming and banging on anything that would make noise. I met a lot of mademoiselles that day -- but not the one from Armentieres," he said, a smile creasing his face.

.` Peace came quietly for others.

"la guerre fini!"

Frank H. Drager, 96, of Catonsville, was a sergeant in Maryland's 115th Infantry Regiment. Just back from 28 days in the front-line trenches facing the Kaiser's crack battalions in the Meuse-Argonne, his unit was resting in the French village of Senaide, preparing for a push on the German fortress city of Metz.

Only women, most of them elderly, were left in the village. With no newspaper, they depended on a town crier to bring each day's news, which one of Mr. Drager's men translated into English. "But on that day, when the crier said, 'Le guerre fini,' we didn't need any interpreter, we knew what it meant," Mr. Drager said.

"The women went off quietly to their homes; we returned to our billet and sat down. There was no cheering or anything. I just said, 'Thank God,' " said Mr. Drager, who later became an executive for a Baltimore meatpacker.

Mr. Drager's postwar career may color his memory of Army chow, particularly of creamed chipped beef, a military staple better known by the scatological term "SOS." To Mr. Drager it was a delight: "I liked every bit of it and to this day I still love creamed chipped beef on toast."

Building roads, digging trenches and stretching barbed wire barriers, frequently under German artillery or machine gun fire, was hard dangerous duty, but not the worst, said Eugene T. Fitzpatrick, 92, who lives at the Charlestown Retirement Center.

"The worst was going out to bury the dead where we found them. Some bodies had been there a week or more. We took their identity tags, if we could find them, and then stuck their rifles or something in the ground to mark where we buried them," he said.

After the war, Mr. Fitzpatrick served in the Merchant Marine and became a marine engineer. He then joined the Navy and served on submarines for three years before being discharged in 1927. His military career behind him, he became a diesel repairman for Standard Oil and for the Arundel Corp. Later he worked at the naval experimentation station in Annapolis, testing and developing diesel engines.

Like Mr. Fitzpatrick, Edward F. Potter, 97, is another veteran of the 29th Division's 115th Infantry. He lives at the Fort Howard VA Hospital. He was with the Maryland National Guard, chasing Pancho Villa along the Mexican border when the United States entered World War I.

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