10 American Heroes of the First World War You Should Know About

10 American Heroes of the First World War You Should Know About

Larry Holzwarth - February 27, 2018

By the time American troops arrived on the Western Front during the First World War the Empires of Europe had all but bled themselves white. Years of bloody stalemate had created casualties and little else. The fresh American troops were at first looked at as replacements for the exhausted French and British armies, to be inserted piecemeal into the lines where they were needed. The American commander, John J. Pershing would have no part of that. He demanded that the American Expeditionary Force be retained as a cohesive unit, under his command, operating in concert with but independent of the French and British Armies.

The Americans were unprepared for war when it was declared and such was reflected in their equipment. French and British tanks, artillery, and aircraft were provided to the Americans to supplement their forces. America entered the war in 1917 with a miniscule army, an unprepared Navy, and an almost non-existent air force. By the time the war ended four million Americans were in uniform, and all branches of military service had distinguished themselves among the world’s fighting forces. Involved in the war for a relatively short time, American soldiers, sailors and airmen nonetheless performed acts of valor which over the years have largely been forgotten, overridden by the world war which followed the War to End All Wars.

10 American Heroes of the First World War You Should Know About
American infantry in World War I had to learn the lessons of modern warfare in a few short months. Wikimedia

Here are some American heroes of the First World War, some of whom won everlasting fame, and others whom history has overlooked.

10 American Heroes of the First World War You Should Know About
Frank Luke Jr. poses with the wreckage of a downed observation balloon. Luke was the leading American fighter ace at the time of his death in 1918. National Archives

Frank Luke Jr.

Born in Arizona, Frank Luke was the fifth child in a family which grew to include nine children, so it is not a surprise that he was adept at using his fists from a young age. Luke developed his marksmanship skills as a youth, taking extended hunting trips in the Arizona mountains, a sign of his solitary nature. These trips helped him develop the toughness he later exhibited in high school football. When he broke his collarbone early in a game against his school’s main rival, he refused to leave the game and played to the finish, on both sides of the ball. It was during one of his hunting trips that he learned of America’s entry into the war, when he went to a mining camp for more supplies.

Luke enlisted in the US Army’s Aviation group in September, 1917. At the time Army Aviation was part of the Signal Corps and other than the American’s who had volunteered for service with the French and British air forces no American pilots had combat experience. Training was along the lines of learning to fly, a dangerous enough business in 1917 even without someone trying to kill you. Luke learned to fly in Texas, South Carolina and California before shipping overseas to France. The young aviator was assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron, equipped with French aircraft, as no US built fighter planes were ready for war. Luke was assigned a SPAD XIII.

In August 1918, after a month at the front, Luke engaged his first enemy aircraft, and claimed his first kill after landing his own plane, which exhibited combat damage. None of his squadron had seen the kill, and only one fellow flyer, Joseph Wehner, supported Luke’s claim, though Wehner had not observed the kill either. Luke and Wehner became close friends. The rest of the squadron found Luke to be distant, aloof and arrogant, and his routine success at nightly craps games helped to keep him at arm’s length. After his death, it was learned that Luke routinely deposited his gambling winnings in the alms box of a local church.

In September the squadron received orders to concentrate on destroying observation balloons, a target feared by pilots because of the antiaircraft fire and fighter cover which protected them. Luke devised a tactic through which he attacked at dusk or dawn, when in the dimmer light the antiaircraft fire was less accurate. Between September 12 and 29 he shot down 14 German observation balloons, which coupled with airplanes destroyed gave him 18 confirmed kills. He was at the time the leading American ace, his count surpassing Rickenbacker’s, who unlike Luke would live to add to his total.

On September 29, according to affidavits sworn to and signed by French citizens who witnessed the events, Luke engaged in a dogfight in which he destroyed two German balloons and two of the fighters which were protecting them. He then strafed the troops below before being force to land his severely damaged airplane. Refusing to surrender to German troops, he engaged them with his pistol until he was killed. The Germans buried him in an unmarked grave. Luke achieved his 18 victories in only ten sorties, and was the first Airman to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

10 American Heroes of the First World War You Should Know About
General John J. Pershing did not announce the American presence in France to Lafayette, one of his aides did. Library of Congress

John J. Pershing

When American forces began to arrive at the front in Western Europe the French and British generals wanted to insert the American units into the line as replacements for their own depleted divisions, under their control. Their opinion was that such an arrangement would be beneficial to the American officers, who lacked combat experience, and to their own troops, exhausted by nearly four years of fighting. Many of the weapons to be used by the Americans were supplied by the French and British, including artillery, tanks, and aircraft, the French especially wanted to keep these under their control.

The commander of the American Expeditionary Force, John J. Pershing, would have none of that. Pershing demanded that his troops receive extensive training in the United States before deploying to France, delaying the American arrival, and few troops reached the front before the end of 1917. By May of the following year American troops were arriving in France at the rate of 10,000 a day. They were supplemented by US Marines which operated under the AEF. Pershing had risen in the Army which promoted officers based mainly on length of service rather than merit but by 1917 he had both.

In his career Pershing fought the Apache in New Mexico, the Sioux in Iowa, and the Spanish in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. He commanded a troop of the Tenth Cavalry, black soldiers led by white officers, which became famous as the Buffalo Soldiers. He served as an instructor at West Point, where his rigid adherence to discipline made him unpopular with many of the young men who would later serve under him. During the Philippine – American War which followed the ouster of Spain from the Philippines, Pershing served as Adjutant General and received numerous citations for bravery under fire.

Pershing’s character was such that when he was recommended for consideration to be awarded the Medal of Honor he wrote to the board and requested that the recommendation be withdrawn. Similarly, when he was serving as Army Chief of Staff a recommendation that he be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (for the same action for which he previously was recommended the Medal of Honor) came to his attention and he ordered it quashed. Throughout his career his reputation for fairness was tempered by a martinet’s attention to discipline.

The troops he trained and led to France earned a reputation as highly capable fighters, and the American Expeditionary Forces fought with distinction. Once the Americans began arriving in large numbers the Germans could no longer contain them. Fighting alongside the French, the Americans helped halt the last German offensive and initiated one of their own, leading to the depleted Germans requesting an armistice. Although Pershing did not make the famous comment, “Lafayette, we are here,” (one of his aides did) it was his insistence on independent American command of well-trained troops which secured the American contribution to Allied victory.

10 American Heroes of the First World War You Should Know About
Alvin York poses for a photograph with his mother and younger sister upon his return home in 1919. Wikimedia

Alvin York

Alvin York was an American conscientious objector who changed his views and was eventually awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in combat. He was a man of contradictions in many ways, not displayed in the movie starring Gary Cooper which enhanced York’s reputation during his lifetime. In his younger days, before his military service, he was well known in the area of Tennessee in which he lived as a drunkard with a propensity for brawling. He had a record of several arrests for activities linked to his drinking. At the same time he attended church every Sunday.

In 1914 Alvin had an epiphany during a revival meeting of the Church of Christ of Christian Union, which opposed all violence. This belief led him to claim to be a conscientious objector based on his religion when registering for the draft in 1917. His claim was denied and he appealed, but was drafted into the army while the appeal was pending. While in training he discussed his beliefs with his superiors and became by all reports a good soldier. After a leave he spent at home he returned to his duties convinced that he was meant to serve in the war. Later in life he denied that he had ever claimed to be a conscientious objector, or any other exemption from military service.

York was a corporal when he performed the actions which led to him being awarded the Medal of Honor. During the St. Mihiel offensive York was part of a group of eighteen men ordered to destroy German machine gun positions which were opposing the American advance. The group, under Sergeant Bernard Early, maneuvered behind the Germans and captured a headquarters position along with a group of German prisoners. As they were assembling the prisoners they came under fire from other German machine guns. Six of the Americans were killed and three wounded, leaving York as the highest ranking of the remaining men.

Leaving the remaining Americans to cover the prisoners, York slipped around the machine gun position to put it under fire. After killing several of the Germans with his rifle six of the enemy attempted to charge his position and overwhelm him. York killed all six with his pistol, by then his rifle was empty of ammunition. Having lost several men and not knowing the strength of the enemy assaulting his position, the German officer in charge surrendered to York, calling out to him in English. York mustered the Germans with the previously taken prisoners under guard of his men and together they escorted all of the prisoners behind the American lines. There were 132 prisoners in total.

York received the Medal of Honor and the French equivalent, the Croix de Guerre, for his assault of the machine gun position and capture of the German prisoners. The French also awarded him the Legion of Honor and the Military Medal. Despite his actions York remained unknown in the United States until his story was told in a 1919 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. During World War II he tried to enlist but at the age of 54 and suffering from diabetes he was deemed unfit for service. He died in 1964 after many years of increasing health problems. Today his farm in Tennessee is a National Park.

10 American Heroes of the First World War You Should Know About
America’s Ace of Aces in World War I, Eddie Rickenbacker poses in his French supplied SPAD fighter. Wikimedia

Eddie Rickenbacker

Eddie Rickenbacker – originally spelled Rickenbacher, he changed the spelling during the First World War – lived a life improbably fraught with danger and adventure. Before he became America’s most famous aviator he was a race car driver, competing in the Indianapolis 500 four times. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio, in a family which spoke German at home. His formal education did not extend beyond the seventh grade, but he was noted for his mechanical skills. He once tried to convince the Army that racers would make superior pilots due to their experience with speed but the Army remained skeptical, even after Rickenbacker demonstrated his own ability.

Rickenbacker enlisted when the United States entered the war and was among the earliest American troops to arrive in France, where he was soon working as a mechanic. The lack of a college degree was an obstacle to his becoming a pilot, but the Army couldn’t afford to lose his mechanical skills, and he bartered them for flight training. He also trained a mechanic to replace him and by the spring of 1918 Rickenbacker was assigned to the 94th Aero Squadron, which displayed the soon to be famous Hat in the Ring insignia on its planes. In late April Rickenbacker shot down his first enemy airplane.

Despite being grounded for most of the summer of 1918 because of a severe ear infection, Rickenbacker became the leading American ace of the war, eventually credited with 26 air to air victories, and rose to the rank of Captain. He became the commanding officer of the Hat in the Ring squadron in September, 1918, less than two months before the Armistice which ended the fighting. In the late summer and fall of 1918 the American air service was tasked with destroying as many German observation balloons as possible, a dangerous task which many avoided. Rickenbacker destroyed five.

Eddie Rickenbacker was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross eight times, the most of any American in history. One of these awards was converted to the Medal of Honor many years after the war. He was also decorated by the French, who awarded him the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor. When he returned to the United States after the war it was as the most famous aviator in the nation. He used his fame to generate publicity for the automobile company he founded, the Rickenbacker Motor Company, which lasted until bankruptcy in 1927. He also owned and operated the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He was also a founder and eventual owner of Eastern Airlines. He was nearly killed in the crash of an Eastern flight near Atlanta, Georgia in 1941, suffering severe injuries. The following year, on a flight at the behest of the Secretary of War, Rickenbacker and his companions were adrift at sea for 24 days after their aircraft was forced to ditch after running out of fuel. They survived on rainwater, sea birds which they knocked down, and fish caught with their bare hands. Not all of the men survived but Rickenbacker did. America’s leading ace of World War I cheated death many times, not all of them in the air.

10 American Heroes of the First World War You Should Know About
Survivors of the Lost Battalion in a photo taken only days after their relief. Library of Congress

Charles White Whittlesey

Charles White Whittlesey was by training a lawyer, having graduated from Williams College and Harvard Law School prior to joining the US Army in the spring of 1917, just after the United States declaration of war. Whittlesey was assigned to the 77th Division, a unit made up almost entirely of New Yorkers, most of them immigrants or the sons of immigrants. By the fall of 1917 Whittlesey was a Major in the division, in command of a battalion. In 1918 the 77th was in the front line in France, in the Meuse-Argonne region, preparing to launch an offensive supported by the French on their flank.

In October 1918 the battalion moved forward as part of a major offensive, and Whittlesey and his troops reached their assigned objective. The units which were to have supported them on either flank did not. Whittlesey and his men were cut off, pinned down by German fire from the bluffs above them and on either side, unable to advance or withdraw. They quickly ran out of both food and water and the strength of the German positions made resupply an impossibility. The men were able to crawl, under fire, to a creek to obtain water. The only communication with headquarters was via carrier pigeon.

Whittlesey attempted to dispatch messengers but none were able to elude the German patrols surrounding them. A carrier pigeon he sent to headquarters requesting supportive artillery fire led to the battalion being subjected to friendly fire when the message was misunderstood. The Germans continued to press in, and the American perimeter shrank under fire. On October 7, after being pinned down for five days under fire, Whittlesey received a message delivered by a blindfolded prisoner of war demanding that the Americans surrender.

Whittlesey’s Medal of Honor citation reports that he responded to the surrender demand “…with contempt.” The Germans had asked that he indicate surrender by displaying a white flag. Instead Whittlesey ordered several white sheets which he had already lain out to provide targets for aircraft to drop supplies to be brought back in to prevent confusion over a surrender. The German attacks renewed, supported by flame throwers. Over the course of the several days in which they had endured attacks, Whittlesey’s unit had become known in the press as The Lost Battalion. The Americans were as determined to relieve them as the Germans were to destroy them.

It was the American’s who won out, after a soldier dispatched by Whittlesey finally managed to elude the Germans and reach American units, which he then guided to the Lost Battalion’s position, driving the Germans back. It was found that supplies of food which had been intended for the Lost Battalion had inadvertently been dropped to the Germans. Of the over 550 men trapped by the Germans, more than 350 had been killed, wounded, or captured. Three men of the Lost Battalion were awarded the Medal of Honor, including Whittlesey. In 1921 Whittlesey committed suicide, leaving the German request for surrender to one of his former men who had endured the plight of the Lost Battalion with him.

10 American Heroes of the First World War You Should Know About
Samuel Woodfill, called America’s greatest soldier of the war by John Pershing, with the Army version of the Medal of Honor at his throat. United States Army

Samuel Woodfill

Samuel Woodfill was one of three World War I veterans selected to act as Honorary Pallbearers at the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in 1921, joined by Alvin York and Charles Whittlesey. John J. Pershing said that Woodfill was, “…the greatest American soldier of the World War.” Woodfill was decorated by several of the nations which fought as Allies during the war, including the French, the Italians and Montenegrins, as well as receiving the Medal of Honor. Today, he is all but forgotten.

Woodfill enlisted in the United States Army in his hometown of Bryantsburg, Indiana in 1901, having already developed excellent marksmanship by hunting as he grew up. He served in several different posts prior to the First World War, gaining combat experience in the Philippines during the Philippine – American War. When the United States entered the First World War a shortage of experienced officers led to his being offered a temporary commission as an officer with the 60th Infantry Regiment, which was sent to France. By the end of summer 1918 the 60th was at the front in the Meuse-Argonne region, and took part in the Meuse-Argonne offensive.

An often forgotten aspect of the First World War was the use of mustard (and other) gas as a battlefield weapon. When the Meuse-Argonne offensive began both sides used poison gas. Woodfill and his unit advanced under fire from three machine gun emplacements. Woodfill directed his men to cover and assaulted the first of the three, engaging in hand to hand combat with a German officer after killing the machine gun crew. The second machine gun was then overrun by Woodfill and his men. When Woodfill rushed the final machine gun nest he ran out of ammunition when confronting the two man crew.

Woodfill used a pick lying near the nest, presumably left there after the emplacement was dug, and used it to kill both Germans. By that time he and his men were all but overcome from the mustard gas which blanketed the battlefield, made worse by the lack of wind to disperse the gas. Woodfill led his men back to the American lines before collapsing from the effects of the gas. It was Woodfill’s last combat of the war, he remained hospitalized for weeks following the action and never fully recovered his breathing capacity.

Woodfill retired from the Army in 1923, but in 1942 he and Alvin York were commissioned as Majors in the US Army, largely as a morale building gesture during the Second World War. Both men were designated to train new recruits and to help in War Bond drives. Woodfill retired permanently in 1944 following the death of his wife in 1942. After his death in 1951 he was interred near his Indiana farm, but in 1955 he was reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery.

10 American Heroes of the First World War You Should Know About
Later Captain Willis Bradley was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism saving the USS Pittsburgh from a potentially disastrous fire. US Navy

Willis W. Bradley

Willis Bradley was a graduate of the United States Naval Academy who was commissioned as an ensign in 1908. He developed as his specialty a wide knowledge of explosives and naval ordnance, studying the topics at the US Naval Postgraduate School in Newport, Rhode Island and serving as a gunnery officer in several ships. At the time the United States entered World War I Bradley was the gunnery officer in USS Pittsburgh, an armored cruiser which had been built nearly fifteen years before. Pittsburgh was the former USS Pennsylvania, and carried some of its guns in casemates, rather than turrets.

Naval ships carried saluting guns and charges for rendering honors to visiting dignitaries, other ships, and when entering or departing ports. A specified number of these charges were fired based on the salute being offered. Pittsburgh carried these charges in an after casemate, along with charges for the firing of the casemate’s guns in action. On July 23, 1917, the gun crew was in the casemate when an accident while handing one of the saluting charges led to its detonation, and a resulting fire. Bradley was in the casemate when the accident occurred.

Bradley was at first knocked out by the explosion and the concussion which resulted. Coming to his senses, Bradley immediately took action to lead all of the casemate’s gun crew out of the damaged and burning compartment. After taking a muster to ensure that the entire gun crew was accounted for he re-entered the burning compartment, which contained multiple charges, to assess the damage and extinguish the fire. Bradley managed to extinguish several of the small fires which threatened to ignite other charges, an action which prevented further explosions.

He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the casemate fire which undoubtedly could have done severe damage to Pittsburgh, including the potential destruction of the ship from a magazine explosion. Bradley recovered from the burns suffered during the incident and continued his Naval career, serving for the rest of the war and through World War II. When he finally retired from the US Navy in 1946, after forty years of service including two World Wars, he wasn’t finished with his service to his country.

In 1947 he ran for Congress from the Eighteenth District of California, winning election and serving as their Representative for the Eightieth Congress. In 1952 he ran for and won a seat in the California State Assembly, where he continued to serve until his death in 1954. Bradley’s was one of several Medals of Honor awarded to US Navy service members during the First World War. Naval officers and sailors accounted for 21 Medals of Honor during the war, and the US Marines, a branch of the Navy, accounted for another eight.

10 American Heroes of the First World War You Should Know About
Lieutenant Louis Cukela after his return from France. He was wounded twice in Europe, but never received a Purple Heart. USMC Archives

Louis Cukela

Louis Cukela was born in the Kingdom of Dalmatia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (today Croatia) in 1888. After being educated there he went to the United States and lived in Minnesota before enlisting in the United States Army in 1914. He served two years, was honorably discharged, and enlisted again, in the United States Marine Corps in early 1917, the United States then still neutral in the First World War. Cukela was assigned to the Fifth Marine Regiment, which distinguished itself in several notable actions in France.

The Fifth Marines were part of the forces which blunted the German Offensive in 1918. Cukela, despite speaking only a heavily accented, broken form of English, rose to the rank of Gunnery Sergeant while in France, where he was awarded the Medal of Honor from both the United States Army and United States Navy. He also was the recipient of several honors from the Allies, including France’s Medaille Militaire, the first ever awarded to a United States Marine. In July 1918 he was engaged in the fighting in the Soissons region.

During this fighting Cukela observed two machine gun entrenchments which were placing American troops, including his own men, under heavy fire. Cukela crawled around and past them, after which he assaulted the first with his bayonet, killing the German gun crew. Cukela then used the grenades found in the gun pit to assault the second, calling up his men while he engaged the remaining Germans. Four surviving Germans were taken prisoner. Cukela was uninjured in the assault, which removed the strongpoint holding up the American advance.

Cukela remained with the Fifth Marines throughout the remainder of the war in France, being wounded twice before the campaign ended. Neither wound was serious enough to warrant his removal from service. The first occurred during the battle to reduce the German salient near St. Mihiel, the other occurred in Champagne. In addition to his numerous awards Cukela received a commission as a Second Lieutenant in September 1918, and chose to remain in the Marine Corps after the war.

Because Cukela did not choose to receive medical attention for the two separate wounds he received in combat in France, the Purple Heart is not among the medals he received for his service during World War I. He was promoted to Major at the time of his retirement from the Marine Corps in 1940. In addition to his two Medals of Honor he was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry under fire, the Croix de Guerre with Palms (twice) and the Croix de Guerre with Silver Star. He was the second to last living double recipient of the Medal of Honor when he died in 1956.

10 American Heroes of the First World War You Should Know About
French and American pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille in 1916. Hall went to France to write about the Escadrille and ended up joining them. Wikimedia

James Norman Hall

James Norman Hall was a graduate of Grinnell College working as a social worker in Boston in 1914, when he went to London England for a vacation. He was still there when the European empires began their mobilizations and Hall convinced a recruiter that he was a Canadian, enlisting in the British Army and serving in combat in France. When he was found out he was discharged and sent home to the United States. He wrote of the experience in his first book, Kitchener’s Mob. In the meantime a group of American aviators had begun service with the French Air Force as volunteers, known as the Lafayette Escadrille.

Hall went to France under a contract with an American magazine to write about the group, but once there he decided to join them. The Escadrille was by then both a combat group and a service to train American volunteers to serve with other French units, and Hall remained for a time with the group, referred to as the Lafayette Flying Corps. While with the unit Hall met another American adventurer, Charles Nordhoff, with whom he would later write several books, including one telling of their experiences with the Escadrille called Falcons of France, and the famous Bounty Trilogy including Mutiny on the Bounty.

Hall was shot down and seriously wounded while flying for the French, but recovered and returned to service. Eventually he received the Croix de Guerre with five Palms, the Medaille Miltaire, and the Legion of Honor from the French for his service. After transfer to the American service Hall received the Distinguished Service Cross from General John J. Pershing. The number of his victories in the air is disputed because of differences in how the Americans and the French counted them (the French often awarded a full victory to two pilots involved in the destruction of one enemy plane, the Americans gave a half credit to each).

Hall’s experience as a fighter pilot was mixed, and when the United States entered the war he transferred into the American Flying Service. Thus his war service included combat on the ground with the British Infantry, in the air with the French Air Service, and in the air with the American Flying Service. One of the pilot’s assigned to Hall’s command with the American Service was Eddie Rickenbacker. One of Rickenbacker’s early kills was shared with Hall.

Shortly after Rickenbacker’s arrival with the Hat in the Ring squadron Hall was shot down again, over the German lines, and taken prisoner by the Germans. He suffered a broken ankle in the crash of his airplane. Sent to a prisoner of war holding area, he either escaped or was overlooked by the Germans as their armies began to disintegrate in the last days of the war. On November 16th he left the prison where he had been held in Germany and returned to France by train. For most of the rest of his life he resided in Tahiti, with visits back to the United States about once every two years.

10 American Heroes of the First World War You Should Know About
US Marine and Medal of Honor awardee John J. Kelly, who earned the honor in one of the last actions of the Great War. USMC Archive

John J. Kelly

John Kelly enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in May of 1917, deploying to France in January of 1918. He was assigned to the 6th Marine Regiment when it moved to the front lines in France. By October 1918 his unit was opposite the German positions at Blanc Mont Ridge, which had been held by the Germans since 1915. The long occupation had allowed the Germans to erect considerable defensive positions, with interlocking paths of machine gun fire and well-sighted artillery. The 6th Marines were attempting to dislodge the Germans from the heights.

As they moved forward, under heavy artillery barrage, Kelly observed one machine gun position directly ahead of him which was causing numerous casualties among the advancing Marines. Rather than take cover from the incoming fire, Kelly sprinted toward the German emplacement, throwing a grenade into the machine gun nest and then opening fire with his pistol. Kelly then pinned down eight German troops with gunfire before accepting their surrender. He then marched all eight back to the American lines, again through the artillery barrage.

Kelly was awarded Medals of Honor by both the US Army and Navy, receiving his Army award from General John Pershing while wearing his Navy version awarded earlier. When Kelly was awarded his Army Medal of Honor he took precedence over several generals waiting to receive their awards because though only a private, he was already wearing a Medal of Honor.

For his actions at Blanc Mont Ridge Kelly was also awarded three silver stars to be worn with his Victory Medal. Kelly was also awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French Army. Like many highly decorated Americans of all services he was recognized for his conspicuous heroism under fire, and no doubt his actions saved many American lives. But there were many other American heroes of the First World War who never received such adulation.

The young Americans who served in the American Expeditionary Forces had to undergo conditions which had never been seen in warfare. Mechanized killing, poison gas, attacks from aircraft and the introduction of armored assault were all new terrors on the battlefield. Combined with the miserable lifestyle of living in holes in the ground, bad food, disease, and the shattered landscape of Europe, all who were there were heroes. Many of those who survived the combat did so only to succumb to the influenza pandemic which followed in the war’s wake.

World War One is often called the Forgotten War, its memory displaced by the Second World War which the treaty ending World War One helped create. It should not be forgotten. Far from being the War to End All Wars, its results still resonate, particularly in the Middle East. It produced heroes from each of its participant nations. They deserve to be remembered.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Luke, Frank Jr.”, entry, The National Aviation Hall of Fame, nationalaviation.org

“Pershing; Lessons in Leadership”, by Jim Lacey

“Legends and Traditions of the Great War: Alvin York”, by Dr. Michael Birdwell

“Lost at Sea for 24 Days”, by Thomas Fleming, American Heritage Magazine, Fall 2008

“Rickenbacker’s Luck – An American Life”, by Finis Farr

“The Lost Battalion”, by Joe McCarthy, American Heritage Magazine, October 1977

“Samuel Woodfill: America’s Greatest Doughboy”, by Dawn Mitchell, Indy Star, January 2017

“Bradley, Willis W.”, entry, Naval History and Heritage Command, NHHC online

“Louis Cukela”, entry, Arlington National Cemetery, online

“James Norman Hall, the Man”, Find a Grave, online

“Private John J. Kelly Web Page”, United States Marine Corps History Division online