Company F, 168th Infantry Regiment, Rainbow Division,
of Villisca, Montgomery County, Iowa,
fought on six Western Fronts during the Great War
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!”
(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.
Hartmannswillerkopf French National Monument, Cemetery,
and surrounding WW I Battlefield, in the Vosges Mountains<<<>>>
The Wood Called Rouge
American poet, essayist, critic,
and soldier Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918),
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.
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:
Comrades true, born anew, peace to you!
And your memory shine like the morning-star.
Brave and dear,
Shield us here.
The Restored Burlington Northern Depot & WWII Memorial Museum