U.S. Soldiers In The Western Front: Literature


Many, many factual books, novels, poems and articles have been written regarding American soldiers in the First World War and these include such works. These are only examples but a seminal work by John Keegan The First World War provides a harrowing account of the horrors of trench warfare and active combat in retrospect. This was years after the conflict but, it allows the reader to only imagine the conditions at the time and how from a soldiers perspective how desolate the scene would have been.

In Last of the Dough boys, The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War, Richards Rubin has recorded interviews with very old American First World War veterans and they can be harrowing. “And yes I was gassed several times”, A sniper shot him and not me” (“him” was his friend.), “A German sniper was shot in a tree in the daytime” and I was lucky”. Thus, from an American soldier's perspective the times and conditions were very hard and life and death seemed simply a matter of luck.

George “ Brownie” Browne in An American Soldier in World War 1 conducted a voluminous correspondence with his fiancée. The book itself provides an interesting account of the conditions and circumstances However, such was the issue of racism amongst white American soldiers that he was able to write 15 August 1917, “They are enlisting coons again, now. Perhaps you don't know, but they don't mix races. These are the first coons I have seen here. Perhaps they want a new division.”.

Given Browne's comments it is important to outline the role of African Americans fighting for America in World War 1. The military units were mainly segregated in the war. However, it is important to note that many African Americans willingly and keenly joined up for service after the entry of the United States into World War 1 and it is believed that by the time of the armistice there were some 350,000 soldiers. Many units did not see actual combat, but it is interesting to note that the 369th Infantry Regiment served on the front lines for six months which was longer than any other American Unit. In the regiment no fewer than 171 men received the Legion of Merit award. From a black soldiers perspective, they believed that fighting for America in World War 1 would lead them to more integration in American society and be treated with respect on their return home. Alas, they were to be sadly disappointed.

Freddy Stowers, a corporal in the 371st Infantry was posthumously recommended for a Medal of Honor pushing forward his men after receiving two wounds himself. This honor was never progressed most people believing this was due to the racism in the military which was rife. However, in 1990 following an investigation the posthumous award was granted.

In the essay, it has been attempted to understand the American soldiers in World War 1 and their perspective on it. There will be little more information to come through the passage of time and the men's death. There were fear and gallantry, hope and despair, dejection and joy. The common theme amongst many soldiers was the need to be engaged on the front and the extreme frustration when this did not happen are palpable. The patriotism and elation at the end of the war too are remarkable and the feeling that American soldiers had a real pride in the job they had done. Apart from the dead and wounded the only really dark side is the issue of racism in the American military.

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