With this year marking a century since the Armistice agreement ended hostilities in World War One, we take a look at how Lebanon, PA experienced the Great War.
In many ways, America’s entry into this war can be understood through the lens of the Mexican Border Campaign that preceded it. The famous Zimmerman Telegram betrayed a secret attempt by the Germans to persuade the Mexicans to continue attacking the southwestern United States. Once German U-Boats sank a few American ships, it was on.
Former President Theodore Roosevelt was quoted as saying at the time of then-President Woodrow Wilson, “If he does not go to war I shall skin him alive.” Roosevelt would give everything to this last major fight of his life, including his youngest son Quentin, who would be remembered by the people of Lebanon County for all posterity. The United States formally declared its entry into World War One in April 1917.
A Patriotic Parade was held on April 19. Chris Sholly explains more in this excerpt from a Daily News article:
Newspapers reported the parade was so long – roughly 3 to 4 miles – that it took almost three hours to march through downtown Lebanon. Local photographer Luther Harpel took photos of the parade which he later sold in his shop as postcards.
Interestingly, local newspapers pointed out the great number of “aliens” who participated in the parade.
An American flag that was the largest in the town – 50 by 36 feet – was carried in the parade by 50 men of the Bethlehem Steel Co. and Cornwall Ore Bank Co. Following the parade, the flag was flown in front of the Colebrook furnace plant.
Lebanon would end up having three outfits serve in World War One:
- Company D, 109th Machine Gun Battalion
- Company B, 103rd Ammunition Train
- Headquarters unit of the 103rd Medical Regiment
All outfits were in the 28th Division, termed the Iron Division by General John Pershing. Interestingly, the man who defended the Blue-Eyed Six, Maj. General John Peter Shindel Gobin, was an earlier commanding general of the 28th Division around the time of the Spanish-American War.
Company D was borne out of Company H, 4th Regiment of the Pennsylvania National Guard, which originally was an informal group known as the Lebanon Rifles. A July 1942 article says that the Rifles struggled for nearly a year before they received their recognition by the Commonwealth. The group served in the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico, and the Mexican Border Campaign. Major campaigns in World War One included the Champagne-Marne defensive, the Alene-Marne offensive, the Oise-Aisne offensive, and the Meuse-Argonne offensive. They served July 15, 1917 to May, 1919, reaching home May 6, 1919.
Company B was the Ammunition Train, not a literal train by essentially a supply chain unit. Fifty-three men were signed into service on July 11, 1917 at the armory hall, which had been built just a couple years earlier.
The Company B troops were sent to Mt. Gretna for mobilization and left for Camp Hancock, Georgia on September 7, 1917. They’d train there through the winter before leaving for Liverpool on May 18 from Long Island, NY. They landed in Le Havre on June 6, 1918, where they supported efforts of the machine gun battalion to which they were attached. The 1942 Daily News article states that the ammunition train was making deliveries the day of Armistice, only to be turned around midway. The men returned to Camp Dix, New jersey on May 7, 1919, and were discharged May 26.