Ceremony honors World War I veterans
In his farewell address to Congress on April 19, 1951, Gen. Douglas MacArthur said “old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”
The Korea/Vietnam Memorial took that sentiment to heart as they celebrated its 13th anniversary of the U.S. Armed Forces Plaza on April 29 at the Lisa Scheller-Wayne Woodman Community Services Center at Lehigh Carbon Community College, Schnecksville.
The program focused on the centennial of World War I, acknowledged Lehigh Valley residents from the U.S. Army’s 314th Infantry, the 79th Division, and honored those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
Their names were engraved on a granite section in the plaza.
They Don’t Know How to Retreat
Guest speaker Nancy Schaff, president and treasurer of the Descendants and Friends of the 314th Infantry, explained the history behind its formation, missions and some of the tribulations its members endured.
As the United States entered the war in 1917 to support its allies, the country faced a dilemma — more troops were needed.
“With about 100,000 troops, the U.S. was the 17th largest army in the world,” Schaff said.
President Woodrow Wilson signed the Selective Service Act in May 1917, which required men between the ages of 21 and 30 to register for military service.
Eventually, the men of the 314th began to assemble.
About two-thirds of the original 314th were comprised of Pennsylvanians, and about 82 percent of the 79th were made up of state residents.
Schaff, whose grandfather served in the unit, said the 314th Infantry almost immediately distinguished themselves during training.
“The 314th was awarded the highest honors for rapid fire work at the 100-, 200- and 300-yard rifle range,” she noted. “The regiment made the best showing of any unit in the national Army as 31 men qualified as experts.”
She explained the unit was shipped to Brest, France during July 1918 and trained until they were thrown into action a few months later in September.
Amazingly, half the 79th division troops had not received the standard 12 weeks training, but they were assigned to acquire terrain that provided an expansive view of the American offensive.
“They were the greenest,” was how Schaff described their formal training.
The men didn’t buckle to the odds and were successful.
So successful they were sent later that year to take part in the third phase of the Meuse Argonne Offensive.
Schaff said once again they carried out their mission, capturing four towns in just nine days and were advancing onward when armistice was enacted.
During her presentation, Schaff shared a quote from Col. William Oury, infantry regiment commander.
“These boys don’t know how to retreat,” Oury said, at the time.
“They never even made a strategic retreat.
“When they went at a thing they just kept everlastingly hammering until they got it.”
Camping at The Fairgrounds
The event also featured a short video about Camp Crane, a U.S. Army Ambulance Service training camp during World War I, located at the Allentown Fairgrounds.
The video, shown by Leslie Bartholomew, director of LCCC’s Veterans Services, noted how the camp’s mission was to train ambulance drivers to evacuate casualties on the Western Front in France.
The camp opened June 1, 1917, and was conceived to house about 2,500 men.
Those numbers were already obsolete before the month was out, as the grounds were accommodating 3,300 trainees.
In September of that year, those in training were joined by roughly 150 gas mask instructors who taught them how to use them while in France.
During various stages of the war, up to 7,500 men were crammed into the grounds.
The girth created serious housing problems.
The volunteers came from various walks of life, mostly U.S. Army recruiting stations, volunteer ambulance units and higher educational institutions and industrial organizations.
When armistice with Germany was announced Nov. 11, 1918, a large parade of recruits took to the streets of Allentown in celebration.
Training at the camp began to wind down over the next few months, formally closing April 10, 1919.
The event also featured speeches by state Rep. Gary Day, R-187th, who reminded the crowd, “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it,” and Ann Bieber, LCCC president, who thanked all veterans for their service to this country, and Krysta Roberts, president of the college’s Veterans Club.
There were somber remembrances by family and friends of soldiers who have passed into history. Many shed tears as they contemplated their honor and bravery.
Vietnam vets adorned in black leather biker jackets caught up with friends and colleagues they hadn’t seen in years.
All the attendees appeared attentive and respectful, bonded by a camaraderie few understand.
After two hours, the event came to an end with American Legion Post 576 retiring the colors, firing a rifle salute and Taps cementing the mood.