The Poison of War

On this day in 1915 in World War I history, Germany first makes large-scale use of poison gas in warfare in the Battle of Bolimów against Russia.

Some three years later, my grandfather was hit with poison gas. He barely survived and lost a lung in the process.

The following is an excerpt from my script Clean Dry Socks: Diary of a Doughboy, based on my grandfather’s World War I diary.

Both mustard and phosgene gases were used at Meuse-Argonne, one causing internal and external blisters. The other had soldiers coughing up pieces of their lungs.

The night of September 28th and 29th were the most disagreeable I had ever spent in my life.

It rained all night and a very cold wind blew. Shells were falling everywhere. As we were coming out of the trenches just east of Montfaucon we received orders to go in support of the 79th division just north of Bois de Montfaucon. We pulled over in a field to prepare supper. Jerry had a good observation and sent over lots of shells.

Some of the shells made a direct hit on a hospital nearby and some landed in the field where we were.

In her commentary my aunt wrote:

Although my father’s diary makes no note of it, this was the time he was gassed. I’m certain that he was wearing his gas mask, otherwise he would have had even more serious complications.

Still the masks were not too effective and were crudely made. They consisted of a pair of goggles with a nose cone attached from which protruded a hose that connected to a metal canister. The idea was to recycle the wearer’s own breath and since their oxygen was soon used up they sometimes had no recourse but to snatch the mask off and many of them were blinded, or even killed.

My grandfather survived, but thousands didn’t. Those who did survive had their live changed forever.

On this day in 1916

Crater of a Zeppelin bomb in Paris, 1916

On this day in 1916, Germans first bombed the City of Paris from zeppelins.

The Zeppelin was an airship named after the German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. They were first formulated in 1874.

During World War I, these German airships were operated by the Army and Navy. The missions flown against Paris killed 23 people and injured another 30. But the aircraft was severely damaged by anti-aircraft fire and crashed during the return journey.

Modern Zeppelins are still in use today, but they’re not to be confused with Led Zeppelin.

Peace Without Victory

Woodrow Wilson announces to Congress on February 3, 1917 that official relations with the German Empire have ceased. (Wikimedia Commons)

On this day in 1917, prior to the United States’ entry into World War I, President Woodrow Wilson addressed the Senate and called for “peace without victory” to settle the European conflict.

Wilson said “The present war must first be ended; but we owe it to candor and to a just regard for the opinion of mankind to say that, so far as our participation in guarantees of future peace is concerned, it makes a great deal of difference in what way and upon what terms it is ended. The treaties and agreements which bring it to an end must embody terms which will create a peace that is worth guaranteeing and preserving, a peace that will win the approval of mankind, not merely a peace that will serve the several interests and immediate aims of the nations engaged. We shall have no voice in determining what those terms shall be, but we shall, I feel sure, have a voice in determining whether they shall be made lasting or not by the guarantees of a universal covenant; and our judgment upon what is fundamental and essential as a condition precedent to permanency should be spoken now, not afterwards when it may be too late.” Full Text.

A little more than two months later, Wilson addressed Congress to request permission to declare war against Germany. A formal declaration of war was issued on April 6, 1917. The war would end the following November. By the end of the war 116,708 American military lives and 757 U.S. civilians would die from all causes associated with the war (influenza, combat, and wounds).