Battery D, 134th Field Artillery, 37th Division of WWI


 

Over a period of three months in 1991 Roz wrote several articles on Battery D,
134th Field Artillery, 37th Division of World War I. They have been collected here.

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on January 5, 1991

LIGHTNING STRIKES
YOUNG PRIVATE KILLED BEFORE BATTERY D CAN LEAVE THE COUNTRY

by Roz Young

 

            It was Valentine's Day, 1917. Battery D and the rest of the 2nd battalion took up stations for combat drill at Camp Sheridan. It had been raining, but the sun finally broke through and the Dayton boys cheered.
            Without any warning a flash of lightning and a loud clap of noise shook the air. Windrows of men and horses fell to the ground. The lightning jumped from one spot to another and finally spent itself. Slowly, men and horses got to their feet; many were in shock.
            One soldier, young crew-cut Daytonian Thomas W. Hawthorne, and his mount did not get up. His buddies rushed to him and found he was not breathing. Medics hurried to him and took him to a nearby farmhouse, where they tried to revive him. He had evidently received a direct hit of lightning.
            Men of Battery D soon received word that his body had been taken back to camp. The drill continued half-heartedly. Later in the day Battery D returned to camp. "It was a far different set of men from the one that left camp in the morning," one man later wrote, "for they had tasted death in their midst. Each man was silent and seemed to be in deep thought."
            The entire battery accompanied Hawthorne's body to the railroad station next day, and a military escort of six men returned with the body to Dayton.
            Time to leave
            Training continued for 10 months at Camp Sheridan. Then came word they were scheduled for overseas, and the young soldiers' spirits soared. It seemed a wonderful adventure to them. They left on May 20, 1918, on day coaches - no Pullmans this time - for New York, going by way of Baltimore, Philadelphia and Newark. All along the route admiring citizens gathered at every stop and handed in through the open windows gifts of candies, smokes, books and clothing; the soldiers felt like heroes. They stayed a week in Camp Upton on Long Island and then embarked on an English ship, SS HMS Nestor.
            As soon as the ship sailed, boat and fire drills began. Men of Battery D were assigned to man the life rafts. If the ship were attacked and had to be abandoned, they were to throw the rafts overboard, jump over and take aboard the rest of the ship's men.
            The voyage took 12 days, and most of the men spent the first half of it leaning over the railing. They disembarked at Liverpool and marched to camp. "The bed sack was about 2 feet wide at one end, tapering to 1 foot in width at the other," wrote Carl Evans, "and not long enough to stretch out in. Someone in our tent awakened and finding it light, aroused the rest of us, thinking it was morning. But it was only 10:30 p.m. Next day we learned that it did not get dark there until after 11 p.m."
            Next day the battery went by train through Birmingham and Oxford to Winchester to another camp six miles out in the country. "Why camps are always built a great distance from the railroads," said Evans, "and always uphill, I never discovered." Although they were in camp there for two days, they were not allowed to leave to see any of the sights around Winchester.
            An hour's train ride took them to the channel where they boarded a small boat and disembarked at LeHavre. Traveling part of the time jammed into boxcars where they were so crowded nobody could lie down, and part of the time by long marches, they arrived at Camp De Sourge at the end of July.
            Training lasted a month. Battery mechanics and section chiefs had to learn how to work the French 75 mm gun. Gunners and cannoneers practiced changing posts and limbering and unlimbering the guns. Specialists studied methods of laying telephone lines and installing switchboards. The troops took positions in the field and practiced throwing shells at piles of sand representing enemy trenches and roads. Gunners and cannoneers practiced swiftness and accuracy in firing.
            The men grumbled that they were not allowed to leave camp to see the sights, but the French people came to the camp bringing gifts and friendship. Battery D put on a vaudeville show for the rest of the troops. They were all light-hearted and viewed their experience as a great lark.
            August 27 was a beautiful, sunny day. The battery went out for range practice. Just when they set off the first volley. . . .
            Next week: Two men die and Battery D leaves for the front.

 

 

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on January 12, 1991

HEROES ALL
MEN OF BATTERY D MARCH TO BATTLE TO DEFEAT THE GERMANS
by
Roz Young

 

            Battery D had gone out to practice firing on the morning of Aug 24, 1918. Cpl. John D. Puckett of Dayton was gunner for the 4th gun with a Dayton comrade, Pvt. Clarence B. Click as No. 1 man.
            They were preparing to fire at a target that represented a section of enemy trench.
            A flash, a roar of noise and pieces of metal flew through the air. A shell in the gun exploded prematurely because of a defective fuse. Puckett and Click lay on the ground, mangled and dead. The other men in the crew suffered cuts and shock, and one had a broken arm.
            Next day the entire battery attended funeral services and the two comrades were buried side by side near the camp.
            Late in September the battalion started to move toward the battle zone. Part of the time they traveled in boxcars, but most of the time they marched on foot. They marched in complete darkness and could not talk or smoke, as the slightest flicker of light could be seen by the Germans. The ground was hilly and uneven and was almost always wet. But the men were so tired that they bedded down in the mud under their half-shelters and usually slept very well. Near Fontenoy they were billeted in two barns and had as companions numerous cows and pigs.
            The battalion arrived in the fighting zone and took their positions. They did not see the enemy, but they could hear the shells and on occasion German planes flew over them. Their camouflage was so good that the Huns, as they called them, flew right over them.
            The men were itching to get into the fight but they had not fired one shot. Finally the officers organized a sniping party. "It was tough going," reported John Henderson, "as the road was narrow and the mud deep. The horses kept causing trouble by getting the wheels of the carriages in the ditches."
            They went into position in a field close to the road, and the signal detail laid a telephone line to the forward operating position and the guns were readied. Finally the order came to fire. "It was with strange feelings that we heard our first shots going over our heads and exploding within enemy lines," Henderson said. "We strained our eyes and ears trying to spot our shots, but it was too dark, and all we heard was the shell in flight and the explosion when she hit."
            They expected retaliation and were disappointed when it did not come. The nearest German shell landed 400 meters from their position.
            They spent the rest of the war moving to new positions, firing barrages, sleeping in the mud and moving on to new positions. They fought defensively in the Marbache and Pannes sectors and offensively at Bois-de-Bonseil and Meuse-Argonne. All the men came through the battles unscathed.
            Battery D went out to fire on the morning of Nov. 11 when they heard rumors of an armistice. Between 10 and 11 a.m. they wiped out a German ammunition train of 18 trucks.
            At 10:59 the command "Cease firing," sounded. The men cheered and immediately began to think of home.
            They did not, however, go home for some months. They stayed for weeks in a camp the men called "Mud Flats" - always wet and always hungry. Finally they took a boxcar train to a chateau called Le Lion de Angiers, where they were billeted for 30 days in barns and outbuildings.
            At last they arrived in boxcars at Brest, where they boarded the US President Grant for Newport News. They arrived in port April 2 and were greeted by crowd of Daytonians who had come to welcome Battery D home.
The men hoped to have a parade in Dayton, but they had to be content with one in Columbus on April 11. Back to Camp Sheridan they went for the necessary paper work and were mustered out April 16, 1919. They came home heroes with the loss of only three men and disappeared, as one of the men said, into the ranks of civilians in society.

Next week: The Memorial Artillery Bridge is dedicated ending a Dayton institution.

 

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on January 26, 1991

DAYTON REMEMBERS ITS WAR DEAD
MONUMENT, PLAQUE HONOR THE BRAVE MEN OF BATTERY D
by
Roz Young


            The old Bessie Little Bridge over the Stillwater River at Ridge Avenue became unsafe for travel in the late 1920s and construction of a replacement began in 1927 and was finished the following year. A citizens' committee voted to dedicate the new bridge to remember the men of Battery D and arranged for a stone tablet to be engraved with the names of all the men - 200 of them - from Montgomery County in the battery and a bronze plaque to be attached to the bridge.
            Dedication Day was Sunday, Nov. 11, 1928. The men of Battery D, city dignitaries, relatives and friends gathered at the bridge. It was a sunny, crisp, breezy day and the flags snapped in the breeze.
            Members of Battery E of the 134th Field Artillery opened the ceremonies with an artillery salute. Buglers of the 62nd Field Artillery Drum Corps blew Assembly. Dr. Hugh I. Evans, long-time pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church, gave the invocation.
            George B. Smith, executive secretary to Charles F. Kettering and chairman of the citizens' committee, made the opening remarks. Then followed the raising of the colors while Becker's Municipal Band played the national anthem. The Stillwater Glee Club sang an arrangement of World War I songs.
            Maj. Charles J. Brennan, assistant county prosecutor, presented the bridge plaque, the granite tablet of names and a captured German gun. Accepting for Battery D was Gen. H.M. Bush, chief of field artillery, state of Ohio. Mayor Allen C. McDonald accepted for the city of Dayton. First Lt. Mason Douglas of the 300 M.G. Battalion and holder of the Distinguished Service Cross and the Croix de Guerre and a local attorney, gave the dedicatory address and unvelied the tablet.
            Rev, B.F. O'Reilly, president of the University of Dayton, gave the benediction and the buglers closed the service with Taps.
            That was in 1928. Time has weathered the memorial plaque and a few initials have been carved on the wheels of the German gun, but both are firmly in place. The tablet with the names of the men of Battery D fell over some time last year. Liz Blume, of the Montgomery County Parks planning department, said that judging by the weight of the tablet and the thickness of the bent steel rods that had supported it, a truck must have slammed into it. The tablet has been cleaned, restored and fastened once again in place and looks as fresh as the day it way new. Restoration was paid for by the city.

 

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on February 2, 1991

THE DEATH OF THOMAS HAWTHORNE
STORY OF SOLIDER'S DEMISE REVEALED IN A PRESERVED LETTER
by Roz Young


            I told her I felt it was better to have him taken this way than to be taken prisoner or die in France and not even know where the body was. But she said she felt that he should have had a fighting chance. This way he was struck down without a chance.
            Thomas Hawthorne, you may recall, was the Battery D volunteer killed by a stroke of lightning at Camp Sheridan Feb. 14, 1918. The Hawthornes lived at 201 S. Broadway.
            Patricia Taylor's grandparents lived at 121; they had been friends of the Hawthornes for years.
            When Patricia read about Tom's death here, she went to her attic where there are preserved hundreds of letters written by her grandmother, Mrs. W.G. Rowe.
            A letter from her, dated Feb. 22, 1918, to Patricia's mother, then living in Illinois, said, "Tom's body arrived here on Saturday evening at 6:35. The government only furnishes $15 for a coffin. The boys of Battery D bought him a fine gray casket and (gave) money for a blanket of flowers. Of course the folks here knew nothing of what they did and ordered a white metallic coffin for $600. When the body came, he had stretched so that his head was tight against the top and his feet against the bottom . . . His leg was broken. We don't know if it was done when he fell or when the horse fell on him. The lightning struck him at the base of his brain and went down through the body and out the knee killing the horse, followed the chains to the other five horses, killing them and seriously injuring the other two riders. The one's throat is paralyzed and the other's mind is affected.
            "There were 80 horses and riders in the field. The horses dropped to their knees and the riders were thrown. They had a doctor with them wherever they went and he worked with Tom for more than an hour but of course, there was nothing to be done. He never knew what hit him. Archie Fisher said he was as black as ink and his hands were badly drawn when they brought him here, but the undertaker worked with them and got that all out, but the one hand was swollen some. None of us ever thought we would see him, but outside of his neck being swollen on one side a little you felt like he would open his eyes and speak to you. His clothes were torn off and his hat looked like something had exploded in the crown. There was nothing left but the brim.
            "Archie said they ate dinner together, but Tom had not eaten all his fried bread for breakfast so he put it in his pocket and ate it for his dinner. I don't suppose any of them had much food, yet the boys all looked fine. Tom weighed 190 and Archie has gained 15 pounds and looks so much like Tom. John got here Monday at 10 p.m. They all felt terrible about him, much worse than about their father. Tom had taken out $10,000 insurance for Ruth. When he sent the papers to her, he wrote such a nice letter. (He) said if he went to France and got hurt or such, he knew she would be the first one to come to his aid. Helen said today they seemed so much more to each other since they lost their father - the rest were married and they were alone. Ruth feels Tom was taken to punish her for something awfully wrong they had done. I told her I felt it was better to have him taken this way than to be taken prisoner or die in France and not even know where the body was. But she said she felt that he should have had a fighting chance. This way he was struck down without a chance.
            "He lay in state at the church from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday. Margie, Mr. Jones and I were the only people outside the family to go to the burial. They had three passenger cars for the family and one for the pallbearers. The church was crowded. All the Sunday School rooms were full and people were standing in the hall. Mr. Ingram preached a fine sermon - only lasted 20 minutes. It was only an hour from the time we went to the church until we got back to the house. Mr. Hawthorne had more but not as pretty flowers as Tom. The Battery D boys' mothers sent a flag of flowers, the loveliest piece I ever saw. It was red and white carnations and blue straw flowers and white narcissus for the stars.
            "Stivers sent a large S of dark leaves and on it was an S made of jonquils. The different classes sent flowers and so did Garfield School, the church and his Sunday School class, There were made pieces, baskets, great bunches of carnations and roses. They filled the sides of both the windows with sprays. They had flowers on the dining room table, several small tables, the mantel and bookcases all filled, and some on the floor. The church was beautiful.
            "I can't help but think that it was better that Tom was away seven months when it happened to him. This way they will not miss him coming in and out as they would had he been home all the time.
            "Before he went south, he gave me such a fine picture he had taken when he graduated from high school. Maude Gribler paid for two dozen pictures he had taken for Christmas, but I don't like either of them as well as the one I have.
            "The boys have to work so hard and he wrote home that no one ever should call Tom Hawthorne lazy again. Archie said they had just finished their dinner when the storm broke. They hurried to get the horses away from the wagons. They have to have the horses a certain distance from the cannon before they fire them. I suppose they must have thought there was danger in a storm like that of lightning striking the wagons. That if it had, they all would have been sent home in boxes. I suppose we never will get over wondering why it had to be Tom."

 

 

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on March 9, 1991

JOHN D. PUCKETT
FAMILY PICTURES TELL STORY OF FALLEN SOLDIER
AND THE TREE THAT WAS PLANTED IN HIS NAME

by Roz Young

             

            There's one more story about one of the boys in Battery D, John D. Puckett. He lived with his parents and three brothers and a sister on Parnell Avenue. He attended Franklin Elementary School and Stivers High School. He enlisted April 7, 1917 when he was 19 and after training at Triangle Park went with Battery D to Camp Sheridan.
            He sent snapshots home to his family, one of himself standing outdoors barefoot and in his BVDs, another half dressed with his boots and trousers on, and a third fully dressed in boots, puttees, trousers, tunic and hat.
            John died in 1918 in France on his 20th birthday, Aug. 27., when a shell prematurely exploded in gun practice.
            The first his family knew of his death was when a friend, Harlan Jackson, wrote to his parents in Dayton of the accident, which had happened three weeks previously. The government had not notified his parents, Ben and Margaret Puckett. He was buried in France, but later his body was shipped home and he is buried in Woodland Cemetery, Xenia.
            The family grieved for John. His sister, Mrs. Verna Chambliss, saved all the clippings that appeared in the newspaper at the time and passed them on to her daughter Mrs. Margaret C. Haney, who has preserved them along with snapshots of her uncle.
            When Victory Oak Knoll was established in Hills and Dales Park in 1941 to honor the Montgomery County soldier dead in World War I, one of the oak trees honored Cpl. Puckett and bore a small bronze plate with his name. The plate has long disappeared, but the tree has grown and is now a giant.
            After the Battery D. Memorial Bridge was dedicated, the Puckett family held a reunion picnic at Triangle Park and posed for their pictures by the memorial tablet.
            It has been more than 70 years since Battery D went off to war, yet the memory of those happy young men is still green in the hearts of their families still living in and around Dayton.