Company F, 168th Infantry Regiment, Rainbow Division,

                    of Villisca, Montgomery County, Iowa,

           fought on six Western Fronts during the Great War

 

          ww1villisca.jpg

                                               Villisca, Iowa, USA; undated photo

 

The sixty-five men and three officers of Company F of Villisca left on

25 JUN 1916, for Camp Dodge on their way to the Mexican border.

They arrived in Texas on 26 JUL, and by the time September rolled

around the Company had been on the line for all of six minutes!

 

They returned home on 20 FEB 1917 to a huge red, white and

blue welcome, with banners, dinners and speeches.  But, just three

months later, the Company that had returned in joy from what was  

essentially a phony war was ordered to recruit men to attain war strength.

 

America had declared war on Germany on 6 APR 1917 and needed 

all of her fighting men.  This one was going to be a real war and

western Iowa’s troops were needed.

 

The unit was mustered into federal service on 25 JUL 1917, assigned

to the Rainbow Division.  When Colonel Douglas MacArthur had been

ordered to form a division of 42,000 men by selecting crack regiments

from practically every state, he responded that it would be “a division

that will represent every state, to cover the country like a rainbow.”

 

Our boys, part of the 3,600 Iowans in the 168th Infantry division,

departed for Camp Mills, Hempstead, Long Island, New York on 

10 SEP.  They boarded a transport ship, arriving in France in DEC 1917.  

 

By March they were in the trenches fighting the “Hun.”  Before
it was all over, our men would see service on six different fronts.

 

Battles at Champagne Marne, Aisne, Marne, St. Mihiel and

Meuse-Argonne took some of our men’s lives and injured others.

The war made heroes of our men, although not all of them received 

medals for their bravery.  Some would die from disease or suffer

for the rest of their lives from the effects of mustard gas.

 

Rest camps such as Ker-Arvor (NOTE 1) would imprint

themselves on the consciousness of the men from Villisca. 

 

But at 11 o’clock of the 11th day of the 11th month, it was over. 

The men from Villisca had helped win the war to end all wars. 

 

They came home on the transport Leviathan, which landed at

Hoboken, NJ, on a May evening in 1919.

 

The people of Villisca couldn’t wait!  The screaming headline in the

2 MAY 1919 Villisca Review said it all: “They’re Coming Home!” 

A joint celebration with Clarinda was planned.

 

The Herald summed it up: “The boys are on their way home and plans are

under way here and in Villisca to give them the greeting and welcome that

they have justly earned and deserve.  Just when the boys of Company F

will be here is not yet known, but it is a positive fact that when they

do arrive they will be welcomed back to us with the spirit of tried

and true heroes who have fought and bled for home and country.” 

 

Company F arrived in Villisca on Train No. 9 on 17 MAY and

were met by a large, exuberant crowd.  The official celebration

was held 20 MAY 1919.

 

Villisca heaved a huge sigh of relief: “Our boys are back!”

 

 

NOTE:

(1)  Ker Arvor was a French rest camp in the Vosges Mountains –

a collection of artistic huts set in the center of a magnificent pine forest.

 

While assigned to the 84th Infantry Brigade, Rainbow Division,

the 168th Infantry Regiment rested in Ker Arvor Camp for eight days,

during APR 1918 - by order of Brigadier General Charles T. Menoher,

Commander of the 42nd Infantry Rainbow Division, and Colonel

Douglas MacArthur, Chief of Staff.

 

 

n.b.  The WW I battle line between the Vosges Mountains and the Moselle

River followed roughly the frontier (1871- 1918) between France and

Germany.  30,000 belligerents (French, Americans, Germans) died in the region.

 

               ww1vosges.jpg   

                Hartmannswillerkopf French National Monument, Cemetery,

                and surrounding WW I Battlefield, in the Vosges Mountains  

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The Wood Called Rouge Bouquet

 

American poet, essayist, critic, and soldier Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918),
composed the lyric poem, published posthumously two weeks after
being killed by a sniper’s bullet, during the Second Battle of the Marne.  
He was in New York’s “The Fighting 69th” Infantry Regiment,
part of the 42nd Rainbow Division.
  Sergeant Alfred Joyce Kilmer
was awarded the Croix de guerre.

This poem was read over his own grave when he was
interred
at Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in France.  

 

In a wood they call the Rouge Bouquet

There is a new-made grave to-day,

Built by never a spade nor pick

Yet covered with earth ten metres thick.

There lie many fighting men,

    Dead in their youthful prime,

Never to laugh nor love again

    Nor taste the Summertime.

For Death came flying through the air

And stopped his flight at the dugout stair,

Touched his prey and left them there,

    Clay to clay.

He hid their bodies stealthily

In the soil of the land they fought to free

    And fled away.

Now over the grave abrupt and clear

    Three volleys ring;

And perhaps their brave young spirits hear

    The bugle sing:

“Go to sleep!

Go to sleep!

Slumber well where the shell screamed and fell.

Let your rifles rest on the muddy floor,

You will not need them any more.

Danger’s past;

Now at last,

Go to sleep!”

 

There is on earth no worthier grave

To hold the bodies of the brave

Than this place of pain and pride

Where they nobly fought and nobly died.

Never fear but in the skies

Saints and angels stand

Smiling with their holy eyes

    On this new-come band.

St. Michael’s sword darts through the air

And touches the aureole on his hair

As he sees them stand saluting there,

    His stalwart sons;

And Patrick, Brigid, Columkill

Rejoice that in veins of warriors still

    The Gael’s blood runs.

And up to Heaven’s doorway floats,

    From the wood called Rouge Bouquet,

A delicate cloud of bugle notes

    That softly say:

“Farewell!

Farewell!

Comrades true, born anew, peace to you!

And your memory shine like the morning-star.

Brave and dear,

Shield us here.

Farewell!”

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       The Restored Burlington Northern Depot & WWII Memorial Museum

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