Well, as some of you may know, last week’s post about the destruction of the site where the Lost Battalion was surrounded for five days in October of 1918 has caused a bit of a stir. Within 24 hours after I posted the story, I was very fortunate to begin corresponding with Robert J. Laplander, who is the world’s foremost expert on the Lost Battalion, having written a massive 613-page volume entitled Finding the Lost Battalion: Beyond the Rumors, Myths, and Legends of America’s Famous WWI Epic. After getting his take on which portions of the battlefield have been destroyed and which are still intact, I asked Mr. Laplander to write a piece which I could share on this blog and he was kind enough to do so. The following is what he has to say about the recent activity at the Lost Battalion battle site:
Some of the bottom of the Charlevaux Ravine has been logged off. This means that many of the shell holes that were down there, as well as the few outpost holes from early in the event, are now gone. Although I have not seen the extent of the damage (outside of a few photos), it may mean that a couple of the sites where German machine gun nests were located might also have been taken out as well. However, I do not think the actual hillside where the Lost Battalion was trapped (the Pocket) has been affected. The hillside where the Pocket was located is separately owned from much of the land surrounding it. Statements said to have been made by the owner of the surrounding land are unsubstantiated. On last visit, and by further report since then, serious illegal digging for artifacts had been going on along the Pocket on the hillside, as well as gathering of unexploded ordinance. I can confirm that the spring that emanated from near the left flank of the Pocket has been dug out and a pipe driven into the hillside to create running water, which has flooded a section of the left flank, where a small camping trailer was moved in on a semi-permanent footing. This occurred prior to 2005 and was the beginning of the 'transformation' of the Pocket.Logging along the Ravin d'Argonne extending from the 'Small Pocket' up to the Pocket in the Charlevaux Ravine have eradicated important positions and stretches of former trench line of the Giselher Stellung at the foot of Hill 205, as well as 'Turner's Ravine' and sections of the former narrow gauge rail bed along the bottom of the ravine. This is confirmed, as I saw this with my own eyes.Fortunately, I and my team made a complete, detailed photo record of the Pocket and much of the important surrounding locations between 2002 and 2008 before any damage was done to the area, as well as gathering an extensive collection of period photos of the same area. Despite recent events, the Pocket can be remembered through the collection.For the most complete story of the Lost Battalion, please see my book 'Finding the Lost Battalion: Beyond the Rumors, Myths and Legends of America's Famous WW1 Epic'. Available at Amazon.com, or my website at www.lulu.com/lostbattalionRobert J. Laplander
Many thanks to Mr. Laplander for taking the time to share his expertise on this matter!