Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Lost Battalion Site Destroyed

In 1921, L. C. McCollum wrote the following stanzas in a collection of poems he christened Rhymes of a Lost Battalion Doughboy:
At night, when all is quiet,
And I’m lying alone in bed,
There comes a vision of battlefields,
The fight, the maimed, and the dead.

Will I never forget that hell “Over There,”
And the tales the battlefields tell,
Of the price my “Buddies” paid with “their all,”
And the place in which they fell?

Illustration from Rhymes of a Lost Battalion Doughboy
Many of you are no doubt familiar with the ordeal of the famous “Lost Battalion” and the nightmare that they experienced in October of 1918. During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, roughly 700 survivors of two battalions of the 307th and 308th Regiments of the 77th Division were cut off and surrounded at a place called Charlevaux Mill. When help reached them five days later, they had endured intense combat, a tragic friendly fire incident, and a flamethrower attack, all with very little food and water. They would lose 500 casualties and four men would be issued the Medal of Honor. Dubbed, “The Lost Battalion” by American newspapers, McCollum would not be the only survivor who would struggle to come to terms with the trauma that he endured – Major Charles Whittlesey, who was in command and himself won the Medal of Honor – committed suicide in 1921.

For nearly 93 years, Americans have been able to travel overseas and visit the site where Whittlesey’s men fought and died. However, I recently saw on Facebook that the owner of the ground on which the Lost Battalion fought has leveled the site. The note states that, “The intent of the owner is unknown. However, a friend in France suggested that he was becoming increasingly frustrated / upset with the stream of pilgrims to the site.” The note further states that the owner was well within his rights, since the ground is private property, and that the ground south of the hill D66 is still preserved.
Location of former Lost Battalion foxholes. Courtesy Randy Gaulke.
Still, this news is very sad since we are now only three years away from the Centennial of the First World War.
It appears that the word “lost” has now taken on a more tragic and immediate meaning.