MAY 2019

 

On the first Memorial Day after World War I, Hicksville schoolchildren laid wreaths at three saplings, planted in memory of the local men who had died in the conflict: Sgt. Joseph A. Barry, Pvt. Charles A. Wagner, and Cpl. Walter S. Wheeler.

No one in the village visited the men’s graves that day, for they lay buried in France .

 


 
Gold Star Mother Ellen Barry stands at the grave of her son Joseph.
Plot A Row 1 Grave 29, Suresnes American Cemetery, Suresnes, France
Photo courtesy of Barry family relative C.E.B. Howard

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Prelude

 

Joseph and Maria Wagner emigrated from Austria in the 1890s.  They first settled in New Jersey , where their son Charles was born, and afterward moved to Division Avenue in Hicksville .  Charles later became a plumber.

He enlisted in the Army only a few weeks after the nation entered the Great War in 1917.

 


 

Huntington Long-Islander

Pvt. Charles A. Wagner
Find-A-Grave.com


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Already a young man, Joseph Barry moved to Hicksville from the Bronx , as part of his Irish-born parents’ family.   The Barrys first resided on William Street , and later moved to Harrison Avenue .  In 1915, like his father, he worked as a plumber, but by the 1917 draft registration he was working as a “chauffer” for Nassau Lumber.

Drafted, Joe was inducted into the Army on May 29, 1918.  His younger brother Edmund was already serving in the Navy.

 

Sgt. Joseph A. Barry
Photo courtesy of C.E.B. Howard

Huntington Long-Islander


*

 

Samuel and Mary Wheeler also moved their family from the Bronx to Hicksville , where they resided on Cherry Street near Division Avenue .   Samuel managed Tucker Electrical’s Hicksville branch, at which their son Walter worked as an electrician; Walter likely helped wire the new Huettner Building that opened late in 1918.  He also was a member of the Hicksville Fire Department.

 

Look at that Hicksville Telephone number!
Huntington Long-Islander

Huntington Long-Islander

 

 
Like Joseph Barry, Walter Wheeler was inducted as a draftee into the Army on May 29, 1918.

 

***

 

Civilians Become Soldiers

 

First Steps (HUP-two-three-four…)

 

After declaring war, America built sixteen “cantonments” at which nearly four million draftees would start their Army service.  The LIRR took men by the thousands, including Joseph Barry and Walter Wheeler, to the cantonment at Yaphank.

Camp Upton



Train-top view of draftees arriving at Camp Upton ;
the LIRR carried 20% of the country’s military rail passengers during the war

 

With a capacity of 18,000, Upton was not the largest new camp, but it may have been the busiest.  It did more than process human tsunamis of draftees.  When inland regiments came east, bound for France , many stayed at Upton pending assignment to ships – often waiting days for troop ships to arrive in New York Harbor in sufficient number to form convoys.

Between 1917 and 1919, Upton was served by more than 4,000 LIRR trains, which carried 4,400,000 passengers and delivered 500,000 tons of supplies.  All those trains, people, and supplies rumbled through Hicksville .  The men who operated the town’s crossing gates never got a chance to rest.

 

Some draftees from each train proved unsuitable (e.g., anarchists, the mentally incompetent, and immigrants who refused to profess loyalty to the U.S. ) and were sent home.  Those who remained were inducted into the Army and got uniforms, bunks, food, and perfunctory training.  Most would not remain in Yaphank for their real training – greater New York had too many draftees to fit into any one camp.  Instead, they would be scattered around the country to other Army posts.


*

 

After enlisting, Charles Wagner found himself in Waco , Texas at Camp MacArthur , where many of its 43,000 soldiers lived in a city of wooden-floored tents.

 



Tents at Camp MacArthur didn’t offer much comfort
when winter blizzards swept across Texas .

blogs.baylor.edu/texascollection/category/waco/camp-macarthur/

 

Just seventeen days after they arrived at Camp Upton , James Barry and Walter Wheeler boarded an outbound troop train, soon watched Hicksville speed past, and were on their way to Jacksonville , Florida and Camp Joseph E. Johnston.

 



Barracks at Camp Joseph E. Johnston
worldwar1centennial.org/index.php/261-florida.html

 

In their camps, in addition to normal Army training, soldiers also received further wartime instruction: they were taught basic French.  Whether on streets or battlefields, they would need to make themselves understood.


*

 

Many Kinds of Soldiers

 


raycityhistory.wordpress.com/tag/st-mihiel-offensive/

 

There was more to a fighting army than infantry and artillery.  It needed men to do a variety of critical jobs, and the Army decided which man would do which job.  And so, it happened that soldiers Barry, Wagner, and Wheeler all were allocated to Transport units of the U.S.Q.M.C. (Quartermaster Corps).  Let’s look at how such men served their country in the war.


***

 

Men + Horses + Trucks = Trains

 

Supply Trains

 

It was a challenge to stretch the Army’s supply lines across the Atlantic , as well as across the country, in order to sustain 4,000,000 soldiers.  To bring the supplies to the fight, once in France the Corps would need men to organize supply depots, keep trucks running, keep horses shod, drive wagons or trucks, and load and unload supplies – and all of them might have to do their jobs while under enemy fire.  In order to keep a Regiment constantly prepared for combat, the U.S.Q.M.C. provided it with one or more “Supply Trains.”  This was equivalent to the Regiment’s having its own FedEx operation(s), complete with vehicles, a warehouse or two, and personnel.  Supply Trains acquired and stocked everything their “customers” required: food, cooking utensils, shoelaces, gas masks, etc.  Deliveries were made wherever and whenever supplies were needed.  Usually, medical supplies and ammunition were handled by special-purpose Trains (e.g., Charles Wagner served in an “Ammunition Train”).


*

 

Horses vs. Trucks

 

This war would test the Quartermaster Corps.  Teams of horses – its traditional way of moving supplies – could pull loaded wagons only about eight muddy miles.  With enemy artillery reaching further than before, many supply depots would have to be located further than eight miles from combat.

Motor power and horse power move side-by-side.
That’s NOT a Mercedes logo on the left; it’s the French-built truck’s Solex radiator.
2nd-division.com


Army “brass” was skeptical about relying on motor trucks instead of animals.  High-capacity trucks were new and unproved.  They required spare parts, gasoline, and mechanics, and they could not go off-road as easily as horses.  Not fully confident in either animals or trucks, the Army used both during the war.

 

One Truck to Rule Them All?

 

No one manufacturer could build enough heavy-duty trucks for the entire Army, so the U.S.Q.M.C. bought a variety of them, trained its mechanics to fix each variety, and bought spare parts for all of them.  Such diversity was a liability, as wartime maintenance would be frequent.

To resolve this issue, the U.S.Q.M.C. worked with a group of manufacturers to design a standard truck, which could be built by multiple corporations using identical critical parts.  For example, a defective radiator (or even an entire engine) in a truck could be replaced by a similar component produced by any of the manufacturers.

Eventually, orders were placed for over 52,000 such trucks.



First-series Liberty Truck; “U.S.Q.M.C.” can be seen stenciled on the tarp
Wikipedia

 

Dubbed “Liberty Trucks,” the vehicles seemed to work well, but none reached France until October 1918, and almost none served in the war.  At war’s end, the more than 40,000 orders still outstanding were canceled.


***

 

In Harm’s Way: Enemy Fire

 

For Some, the Enemy Too Soon

 

Charles Wagner was to sail for Europe as part of the 107th Ammunition Train in January 1918.  The men would first set out from Waco over the Texas and Pacific Railway in troop trains, headed for Ft. Merritt in Tenafly , New Jersey .  From there they were to take ferries to the Hoboken piers and depart on the SS Tuscania.

 



Troops bound for World War I disembark the Tenafly ferry at Hoboken .
Wikipedia


The night before Wagner’s Company was due to leave Camp MacArthur , however, a blizzard hit, marooning the men in their tents for several days.  In Hoboken , the Tuscania left on schedule, carrying those Companies of the 107th that had departed earlier, and also soldiers from other units, last-minute fill-ins for the vacancies caused by the Texas snowstorm.  During the voyage, the protection of the convoy and its escort was almost good enough – near the Hebrides , the vessel was torpedoed by U-boat UB-77.  Of the 2,000 men on board, 210 lost their lives when the Tuscania sank.

In the meantime, Pvt. Wagner’s Company had reached Hoboken .  On February 1st it sailed on SS Orduna – but the names of a number of its men, including Charles Wagner, were crossed off the Passengers List before the ship could depart.  A published history of the 107th alludes to some men being unable to travel because of “childhood diseases”: mumps, chicken pox, and measles.  The latter was especially dangerous; if untreated, it might lead to meningitis.  Evidently, Wagner was one of those affected.  A week later, he and a number of the others finally sailed on a third ship, SS Finland.


*

 

No Place for the Faint of Heart

 

Ship after ship, U.S. Army units kept arriving in France .  There were additional months of training with new weapons, and in July, the first 1,000,000 battle-ready Americans finally moved to the Front.  The U.S.Q.M.C. laid out its routes and set up its depots.  The Supply Trains began their perilous grind along the Front, and they had a new cargo to haul.  After years of combat, the trenches were rife with lice.  Hence the birth of the “Sanitation Train,” which brought spray nozzles, hoses, and tanker trucks filled with de-lousing chemicals to the fighting men.

It was hard for the Trains to avoid enemy fire for long.  Artillery shells perforated the roadways; biplanes occasionally flew overhead and strafed people on the ground.  At night, crews might reluctantly decide to sleep under their vehicles, as the enemy knew where their quarters were, and sometimes shelled them.  Per Charles Wagner’s entry on the list of passengers sailing from Hoboken , he was part of Company E, which the history of the 107th describes as a “Horsed Company” (i.e., not a “Motor Company”).  Horse-drawn wagons slowly bringing ammunition to the Front must have been very attractive targets indeed for enemy gunners.


***

 

In Harm’s Way: Disease

 

Worse of Two Evils

 

Medical practice was primitive in 1918.  Many doctors had “learned their medicine” from teachers who misunderstood or rejected Louis Pasteur’s germ theory.  No one yet grasped how viral and bacterial infections differed.  Practicing doctors could only guess at how diseases spread.  Doctors disagreed about how to treat even common illnesses.  It should be no surprise that



Let’s look at how disease got to run rampant at Camp MacArthur , using measles as an example.

Measles had always existed, but it had not always reached epidemic levels.  When children contracted it, they were kept home from school – a simple step that isolated the healthy from the sick, reducing the number of people infected.  But things were different in wartime.  Unless soldiers exhibited symptoms, they were moved around the country even after being exposed to it.  They lived in high-density accommodations, and they traveled on overcrowded trains and ships.

At some point in 1917, unknown infected soldiers introduced measles to Camp MacArthur .  The men stationed there had come from all over the country.  They had been exposed in their youth to different diseases, and thus had varying immunities and susceptibilities.  Perhaps thousands of them could catch measles – and they certainly would be given the chance: they lived cheek-by-jowl and constantly worked in close groups.  Putting an infectious soldier into such a camp was like sending a free neutron into a critical mass of Uranium: the chain reaction would spread the disease at an alarming rate.  Almost overnight, the camp became a measles incubator.  Even casual contact with civilians (e.g., a group of soldiers might go into Waco for an evening, ride a trolley, sit in a movie theater, and along the way expose scores of people to measles) unleashed the virus en masse, simultaneously exposing far more civilians than ever would be exposed in peacetime, and propagating measles throughout the nearby civilian populace.

The scenario described above happened again and again, camp after camp, ship after ship, disease after disease.  Through it all, healthy military personnel had to live and perform their duties in close proximity with their infected peers, unwittingly magnifying the spread of contagious disease.  In its haste to prepare for war, the country was failing to safeguard the health of the public, and of the soldiers who would fight on its behalf.


*

A Different Flu

 

For years, heart disease and stroke had been the leading causes of death in America .  That changed in 1918.

 

During the few days when Charles Wagner probably was too sick to sail to Europe, a handful of soldiers at a camp in Kansas were diagnosed with a new influenza.  No one worried; every new wave of influenza was always a little different.  The Army went about its business, its four million men clustered in camps like bees in hives.  Like chicken pox, mumps, and measles before it, the new influenza began to fester in those camps.

Then it mutated, and became so deadly that some doctors who saw its victims mistook it for the Plague.  It killed often, and it killed quickly – soldiers, nurses, even doctors collapsed without warning, and died within hours.  To everyone’s surprise, more than half of those it killed had been young, healthy adults.  The disease triggered catastrophic immune responses, and young adults had the most robust immune systems – their bodies were well-suited for destroying themselves.  Extreme allergic reactions rendered lung tissue useless for absorbing oxygen, or so damaged spinal nerves that victims died of meningitis.

 

Medical researchers advised the Federal government to cease cramming contagious men into trains, ships, and barracks – it refused.  Even late in 1918, with the war’s end in sight, overcrowded trains still carried soldiers to the eastern seaboard.  By the time they reached their destinations, the corpses of flu victims were stacked in the baggage cars.  Soldiers boarded overcrowded troop ships, and the deaths continued.  Victims were buried at sea, at first only one or two each day, then more and more.

Some ranking Army doctors who heard about the warning misunderstood it.  Over-impressed with the value of fresh air, they took what they considered a daring step: they moved the crowding outdoors.  Thus, these men at Camp Joseph E. Johnston (where Sgt. Barry and Cpl. Wheeler had been posted) got to enjoy the steamy Gulf air – unaware that they should have been avoiding close contact. 

 

floridamemory.com/items/show/141993

Forensic historians now believe that the cases of flu seen at that Kansas Army post were the first instances of this influenza recorded anywhere in the world.  Although parallel paths of contagion may have existed, the progress of the disease across the U.S. can be tracked accurately by following it through the military.  It went from one Army post to another, and from Navy ship to another, spreading to civilians in nearby communities and ports.  Navy ships’ visits to other nations coincided with the first influenza outbreaks in the South Pacific and Asia .  American troop ships seem to have brought this influenza to England and France , whence it spread across Europe (even to Germany , via French prisoners-of-war).


*

 

The “Spanish” Influenza

 

Washington forbade American newspapers from reporting on the epidemic, so as not to panic the public (who, of course, already knew that all the funeral parlors for miles around had literally run out of caskets).  Other combatant countries did the same.  But in neutral Spain the press remained free, and it wrote about the country’s horrible experiences with the deadly flu.  As reports from Madrid got translated and distributed in other countries, the disease that had appeared in reality first in Kansas , but in print first in Spain , came to be known as “The Spanish Influenza.”

One cannot really tell from death records how many people died.  This influenza typically evolved into fatal pneumonia or meningitis, so that officials often named those diseases on death certificates, rather than citing influenza itself.  Statistics sometimes make the magnitude of the toll clear.  In Philadelphia , for example, in the depths of the epidemic, each day’s death figure exceeded the city’s normal weekly total.  It now is believed that during the pandemic about 5% of the world’s population died from influenza.


***

 

Rest In Peace, At Least for Now

 

Five weeks after leaving Camp Upton for further training in Jacksonville , Walter Wheeler was assigned to the 417th Motor Supply Train.  By August 22nd he had been promoted to Corporal, and his unit boarded SS Lutetia, bound for France .  Most likely, the voyage actually ended in England , where the troops marched to a second ship, which crossed the English Channel .  They set foot in France on September 5th.  Once the men and equipment had re-grouped, the 417th was ready for the Front, and the Supply Train headed for the Argonne Forest .

On September 26th, the war-changing Meuse-Argonne Offensive began, and the 417th was in the thick of the fray – but Cpl. Walter S. Wheeler was not.  On that day, only three weeks after his unit had set foot in France , he died of bronchial pneumonia.


*

 

To do its part in sustaining the Offensive, the 107th Ammunition Train worked around-the-clock, supplying not only “its own” 32nd Division, but also whichever troops were closest and most in need of ammunition.  The weapons fire was intense.  As the German troops slowly retreated, an additional threat was revealed.  Enemy machine-gun nests remained hidden in the forest, quiet; they opened fire only as the advancing Americans passed by.

Just how and when Pvt. Charles A. Wagner was wounded I do not know, but he died of wounds on October 2nd.  Obviously, Wagner and the other men in the Trains understood their extreme peril, but they found the resolve and courage to do their jobs nonetheless.


*

 

Joseph Barry left Camp Joseph E. Johnston about three weeks before Walter Wheeler, as part of the 416th Motor Supply Train.  On July 31st he sailed from Newport News, Virginia on SS Tenadores.  A month later, he was promoted to Corporal, and soon after that to Sergeant.  Judging by where in France the dead of his unit were later buried, the 416th also must have seen action during the Meuse-Argonne advance.

On November 3, 1918, a mere eight days before the Armistice, Sgt. Barry died of meningitis.

 

***

 

Remembering the Fallen

 

The American Legion was established in France, in 1919.  When the Hicksville Post was formed not long afterwards, it was named after Charles A. Wagner.


*

 



Huntington Long-Islander, January 24, 1919

 

Hicksville began planning its war memorial only weeks after the war’s end, but before long the effort became contentious.  Who would build the memorial?  Whose names would it bear?  Who had authority to make such decisions?

Less than a year earlier, the “Tail Light Riot” (see http://hixnews.com/1901/Hixtory.htm ) had laid bare a rift between the village’s leading citizens – in any disagreement, some looked to Justice Joseph Steinert for guidance, but others looked to Dr. Elwood Curtis.  This rift again now came into play again with regard to the memorial.  An ad hoc group had started planning a soldiers’ homecoming celebration and the war memorial.  Within months, snarky letters about the group’s infighting appeared in the Long-Islander, the group’s original leaders were ousted, the contractor selected to build the monument was replaced, the once-independent group became part of The Patriotic Sons of America, and Dr. Curtis was named the revamped group’s leader.

Despite the rather shameful discord and strife, Hicksville got its monument in time for a grand July 4, 1919 dedication ceremony at Depot Square (aka The Triangle).


*

 

On January 20, 1924, a Knights of Columbus Council was formed at St. Ignatius parish.  Its founders named the Council after Joseph A. Barry, in consideration of his having been “a young man of the highest character.”

 

***

Graves

 



Sommerance Ridge Cemetery, Sommerance, France
History of the 328th Regiment of Infantry

 

During the war, American soldiers who died in service typically were buried as soon as possible, often in makeshift cemeteries near where they fell, such as this one (shown in the snows of the first post-war winter).  After the war’s end, the soldiers’ remains usually were given proper burials in permanent cemeteries.


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How Many Times Should A Man Be Buried?

Americans felt two ways about where the war dead were buried.  Some longed to be near the graves of their children or spouses, and thus wanted them to be buried in hometown cemeteries, close to their families.  Many people, perhaps most (and certainly the Federal government), believed instead that it was more appropriate for those who died in France to remain there.  But in actuality, the dead would not be allowed to lie where they were.  The American Battlefield Monument Commission was building a number of American Cemeteries in France, to which the remains of the nation’s war dead all would be moved for yet another burial.  Despite this fact, the Commission argued publicly that to exhume a loved one’s remains in order to send them home for reburial would be cruel.

A compromise was reached: families were given until 1923 to decide whether or not the remains of loved ones should be repatriated at government expense.  For families that so wished, the remains were disinterred, disinfected, and placed in simple wooden coffins, which were enclosed by sturdy purpose-built shipping crates.  The crates, draped with flags, were loaded into boxcars or canal boats, to the outside of which large American flags were affixed.  The trains and convoys of boats were blessed by French priests, and then traveled to ports.  The vessels onto which the remains were loaded all arrived in Hoboken.  From there, the remains were sent across the country by rail, to the hometowns of the soldiers’ waiting families.


*

 

A Quiet Journey Home

In the spring of 1921, Walter Wheeler and Charles Wagner were disinterred, and together their coffins were sent back across the Atlantic.  They arrived at the Hicksville railroad station several days before Memorial Day.  As was customary, the coffins were taken to the homes of the soldiers’ respective parents.

On the following Saturday, Cpl. Wheeler was buried at Plainlawn.  The pallbearers were members of his old Fire Department unit, the Volunteer Engine and Hose Company.  The next day, Pvt. Wagner was buried at St. Brigid’s in Westbury.  Each man was buried with full military honors, with the Charles A. Wagner American Legion Post attending and firing a salute. 

 

Wagner family plot in St. Brigid’s Cemetery
Find-A-Grave.com

Wheeler family plot in Plainlawn Cemetery
Find-A-Grave.com


*

 

A Quiet Journey Abroad

The repatriation matter may have been settled by 1923, but the mourning did not go away.  Thanks to the efforts of the Gold Star Mothers organization (see http://hixnews.com/1806/hixtory.htm  ) in 1929 the government polled mothers and widows about their interest in making “pilgrimages” to the graves in which their children and husbands were buried.  From 1930 to 1933, many of these women were able to travel in escorted groups to France, at public expense.

Joseph Barry’s remains are buried at Suresnes American Cemetery, less than four miles from the Eiffel Tower.  Fifteen hundred other doughboys are buried in the same cemetery, including two other members of the 416th Motor Supply Train (one of whom, like Barry, died of meningitis).

Unlike Maria Wagner and Mary Wheeler, Ellen Barry could not take comfort in knowing that she and her son would someday be buried in the same family plot.  But like them, Mrs. Barry had her chance – although only too briefly – to stand peacefully beside the grave of a first-born son while she prayed and pondered.

 

† † †

 

 

Sources

 

In addition to sources noted in the photo credits, the following were consulted:

Ancestry.com

United States Army Transport Service, Lists of Passengers (re soldiers departing from Hoboken, New Jersey)

Various Federal and New York State Censuses

World War I Draft Registrations

Abstracts of New York residents’ military service

Family Tree and related items posted by C.E.B. Howard

Huntington Long-Islander

 

numerous articles re the soldiers, their families, and the Hicksville War Memorial

Through the War with Our Outfit, Being A Historical Narrative of the 107th Ammunition Train

 

John C. Acker

The Great Influenza; The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History (2018 edition)

 

John M. Barry

U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History, Chapter 11 (Meningococcal Meningitis)

 

John J. Phair, MD

The 314th Supply Train in the Great War

 

Milton E. Bernet

American Battle Monuments Commission website

 

https://www.abmc.gov/

History of the Three Hundred and Twenty Eighth Regiment of Infantry, 82nd Division, American Expeditionary Forces

 

Historical Committee of the 328th Infantry

Military Operations of the American Expeditionary Forces

 

Center of Military History, United States Army

 

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This Memorial Day,
Please Wear a Poppy and Remember