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    Pa. Guard honors WWI centenary

    Pa. Guard honors WWI centenary

    Courtesy Photo | Soldiers with the 28th Division march through the ruins of Varennes, France in 1918....... read more read more



    Story by Sgt. Zane Craig 

    Joint Force Headquarters, Pennsylvania National Guard

    FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – The Pennsylvania National Guard is recognizing the legacy of our contribution to the U.S. and Allied victory in World War I, which ended exactly 100 years ago at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918.

    Pennsylvania contributed enormous resources of manpower and industrial production to securing victory in what was then known as “The Great War” and “The War to End All Wars.” Though the war began in 1914 and soon engulfed most of Europe, the United States did not formally join the Allies until 1917, following a series of German provocations.

    The Guard engaged in combat for the first time ever in WWI with the official name of "National Guard." These National Guard forces fought alongside the American active-duty component and our foreign partners. This united effort halted the German advance that had recently menaced the entire Allied effort on the Western Front.

    By May 1918 the 28th division arrived in Europe, and began training with the British. On July 14, ahead of an expected German offensive, the division was moving forward, mostly committed to the second line of defense south of the Marne River and east of Château-Thierry. As they took up defensive positions, the Germans attacked with a fierce artillery bombardment, which became the Battle of Château-Thierry. After a brutal clash involving hand-to-hand combat, the 28th repelled the German forces and decisively defeated them. However, four isolated companies of the 109th and 110th Infantry stationed on the first defensive line suffered heavy losses.

    After Château-Thierry, General John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, visited the battlefield and declared that the Soldiers were "Men of Iron" and named the 28th as his "Iron Division." The 28th developed a red keystone-shaped shoulder patch, officially adopted October 27, 1918.

    Some European accounts of the war can be dismissive of the American contribution to Allied victory in WWI. It took the U.S. until the summer of 1918 to get a sizeable army into the field, and even then it was not decisive. However, President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to enter the war in April 1917 was key to an Allied victory.

    American industrial strength, much of it based in Pennsylvania, had been supporting the Allied war effort for three years. Additionally, the full participation of U.S. military power ensured the Allies did not collapse and enabled them to push the German armies back in the late summer and autumn of 1918.

    American forces may have lacked the experience of the British and French, but they showed an impressive ability to learn and adapt quickly. This forced German commanders to realize that they needed sue for peace as soon as possible, because if the war continued much longer American combat power would be overwhelming. Without US involvement the war could have ended in a German victory in 1918.

    The German High Command recognized the prowess of National Guard fighting units in its post-war evaluation of the American Expeditionary Forces in 1919. It rated eight U.S. divisions as "superior or excellent," and among them was the 28th “Keystone” Division.

    More than 297,000 Pennsylvanians served as soldiers in the Great War, with 10,278 combat deaths, and 26,252 wounded. The American Expeditionary Forces list of those Missing in Action includes 449 names from Pennsylvania. The exact number of Pennsylvanians who served in the Navy is not known, but it is estimated that from Philadelphia alone, 10,500 men and women served. At the time of the First World War, the U.S. population was far more concentrated in the East than it is today, and in the 1910 Census, Pennsylvania was ranked the second most populous state after New York.

    While the formal end of the War came through diplomatic talks that started in 1919 with the Treaty of Versailles, the end of war required Allied forces to serve occupation duty, including the National Guard units previously serving in combat operations, including the Pennsylvania Guard’s “Iron Division.”

    During World War I, the 28th Division was involved in the Meuse-Argonne, Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne including the Battle of Fismes and Fismette, Oise-Aisne, and Ypres-Lys operations.

    Many Pennsylvanians remain in France, buried in military cemeteries maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission. Pennsylvania is home to six WWI Medal of Honor recipients: James I. Mestrovitch and Joseph H. Thompson of the 28th Division, and Joel Thompson Boone, Orlando Henderson Petty, Dwite H. Schaffner, and Oscar Schmidt, Jr.

    Sgt. James Mestrovich was born in Montenegro in 1894 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1913, soon finding himself serving with the 111th Infantry Regiment, 28th Division, in a European conflict that began in Serbia, very near to his homeland. Mestrovich received the Medal of Honor for his heroism in rescuing his company commander who had fallen injured 30 yards in front of the line in August, 1918. Mestrovich received three purple hearts, and was even tagged as dead in an Army hospital in September, 1918, from where he walked out to rejoin his unit and continue the fight. He died one week before the armistice when his vehicle hit a mine.

    After the war, Mestrovich’s mother had his remains repatriated to Montenegro. Recently, Maj. Gen. John Gronski, formerly the 28th Infantry Division commander and currently with U.S. Army Europe, laid a wreath at his grave. Mestrovich was one of many recent European immigrants who made the ultimate sacrifice so that ultimately, the old continent could achieve peace. Cementing that peace is the NATO alliance which emerged in the wake of the second World War, binding the continent together with the U.S. and Canada, and which now includes Montenegro, to ensure that this time, the peace so many hoped for on Nov. 11, 1918 really lasts.



    Date Taken: 11.09.2018
    Date Posted: 11.09.2018 15:45
    Story ID: 299457

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    Pa. Guard honors WWI centenary