Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Men of Company H – Part 1

Some of the men of Company H posing on Broadway in front of the Kresge Co. 
On July 4, 1919, Lorain honored the young men of the community who wore the uniforms of their country during World War I. "Up to this time the people of the community have had no opportunity to show their appreciation of the service rendered by the soldiers," stated a front page article in The Lorain Times-Herald on the eve of the celebration. "Now that chance has come, and Lorain will once more do its full duty."

Fifteen hundred Lorain servicemen fought in the war against Germany. Thirty-five of them gave their lives.

The highlight of the welcome home – victory celebration was a huge parade with 500 expected service men in a place of honor in the procession, followed by presentations of medals to the soldiers. There were also baseball games, aeroplane flights, a city championship bowling contest, boxing matches, a band concert, a marathon, an athletic carnival, and a special supper for the men in uniform. Fireworks concluded the day's events.

The Lorain Times-Herald published a special Victory edition that day, and it included the very special story of Company H, an infantry unit that was stationed in Lorain before being sent overseas. While they were here, the men of Company H became a beloved part of the community. Sadly, of the 150 men of the Company that left Lorain to fight the Germans, only 40 survived. Four of the soldiers killed were from Lorain.

Ex-Lorainite and history buff Paula Shorf (who now lives in California) suggested that the little-known tale of Company H be told in this blog, and she graciously provided me with a transcribed copy of the Lorain Times-Herald article about Company H. Below is the text of the article.

Of 150 Men of Co. H Who Left Lorain, Only 40 Are Living
Soldiers Chase Hun Until Armistice Halted Fighting
City’s “Adopted” Military Unit, Suffers Terrible Losses in Valiant
Fighting in The Argonne Forest – Four Local Boys Die in Battle

Took 150 men when it left Lorain August 1, 1917.
Only 40 survived.
Remainder were killed and wounded.
Sailed for France, June 21, 1918.
Landed at Brest, July 5.
Took part in battles Argonne, St. Mihiel, and on Belgian front.
Took part in King Albert’s review when he returned to Brussels.
The following members of the company were killed at Argonne:
John Cedzo, Joseph Marconis, A. Nuszkilwicz, Adam Petrykowski.
One of the most heart-rending stories of sacrifice in the world war is revealed in the history of company H, 147th infantry, 37th division. This company which was formerly company H of the 6th regiment, Ohio National Guard, spent four months on duty in this city and was “adopted” by the community as its own. No other complete military organization left this city and the soldiers of company H while here became friends of thousands of residents of this city who looked upon them as their own boys. When they left they were guests of honor at a big farewell dinner in the high school dining room.
Of the 150 members of the company while it was in Lorain only 40 have returned from France. All the rest were either slain in battle, died of wounds or are in French hospitals suffering from wounds from which they may never recover.  A number will be maimed for life.
Boys Have Friends Here
Only a few short months ago these sturdy men in khaki camped on West Erie avenue.  The young and old of the city admired them as they went through their daily drills.  Scores of persons in the city had become their intimate friends.  Now a majority of those boys lie cold in death, buried beneath little mounds over in France, their names written on the roll of honor.
Few in this city who have not heard Sergeant Raymond Guertin’s brusk commands: “Fours right!” “Hep, Hep.” “For the love of Mike show some pep!” He was the champion pep-instiller in the company and to him fell a large share of the training that was given the soldiers here. Now Sergeant Guertin lies with his comrades over in France.
Four Lorain Men Killed
Corporal Gossard, Sergeant Hamlin, Corporal Coleman, John Gezida, Sergeant McFadden are among those who did not return. Four Lorain boys lost their lives while serving with company H. They are John Cedzo, Joseph Marconis, A. Nuszkilwicz and Adam Petrykowski. All were killed in the Argonne forest battle.
Shortly after the war was declared on Germany Company H was ordered from the Mexican border to Lorain.  It left Fort Riley, Texas, March 13, 1917, and came to Lorain shortly after April 1. For awhile it had quarters in the G. A. R. hall.  Later a camp was established on West Erie avenue. The members of the company guarded the Nickel Plate railway bridge, the Baltimore & Ohio railway docks, the Erie avenue viaduct, the water works and other plants which were in danger of molestation at the hands of German sympathizers.
Leave for Cleveland
In the last day of July the company went to Cleveland where it encamped at Edgewater park. On August 15 it left for Camp Sheridan, Alabama, where it completed its training. With the 74th brigade of the 37th division it went to Camp Lee, Virginia, on May 20, 1918. Here the company was augmented to a strength of 250 men.  Captain E. O. Powell, who had charge here was in command when the unit sailed from Newport News on June 21. The soldiers debarked at Brest on July 5. They were removed to Bourmont six weeks later.  Captain Powell was transferred to the service of supply. Lieutenant French assumed command and continued during the remainder of the war.
On July 12 the company joined the 73rd brigade at Bourmont. August 4 the company, with its brigade, took over trenches at Baccarat.  Company H was active in the Luneville sector and took a prominent part in the Meuse-Argonne battles.
In the Argonne it helped to start the great American offensive which played the most important part in ending the world war. It began the push along the left bank of the Meuse to Sedan, which resulted in victory for the allied arms.
Heavy Losses at Argonne
Company H sustained enormous losses in the Argonne. Of the 250 men who went into battle only 150 came out. The boys from Lorain pushed forward over shell holes, through a rain of machine gun bullets and bursting shells.  They spent six days in that hell of death and suffering. They were then relieved by the 32nd division but not until they had gained their objectives.
The company had been unable to get supplies regularly and the men subsisted on hard tack and bully beef. They were worn and nerve racked by their experience. Many came out of the Argonne with their hair turned gray.
After a rest of two weeks the remnants of Company H were sent to St. Mihiel. Here the little band of 150 went into the thickest of the fighting. Only 40 came out. They suffered heavily from gas attacks. It was here that Sergeant Geurtin was gassed. He died two days later.
Company Goes to Belgium
From St. Mihiel the company went to Belgium.  They were attached to the Belgian army and established headquarters at Hooglede. On October 29 and 30 they drove the Germans back three kilometers. At 5:30 a.m. they went over the top and crossed the Escaut or Scheldt river. On November 11, the troops were pushing ahead as rapidly as possible to gain as much as they could before the reported armistice was signed. They kept fighting up to 11 o’clock when the armistice became effective.
The war was over. Dinner was eaten. Then from some secret place someone produced a bat and baseball and a game was begun in celebration of the victory.
In King Albert’s Review
Company H was one of the American units which went into Brussels and was reviewed by King Albert on his return to his capital. The remnants of the company reached home on March 23 and spent two weeks at Camp Mills. They paraded at Toledo and other points and were mustered out in Toledo on April 19.
Sergeant Awarded Honors
Sgt. John Swadrak
Sergeant John N. Swadrak, who is widely known in Lorain, is one of the men who faced death a score of times in the battle fields. 
He received the French Croix de Guerre for bravery. One night he fell into a shell crater and nearly drowned.
Beryl Hutchins and Orrin Pero are Lorain men who served with Company H.  Both have returned here and are well.
The roster of the company when it came to Lorain from Mexico included the following names:
Captain E. O. Powell; First Lieutenant Leo C. Lemle; Second Lieutenant H. H. Hull.
First Sergeant Harry Duvall; Supply Sergeant John N. Swadrak; Mess Sergeant Yulbert Lakeland; Sergeants A. A. Bartlett, Charles Neff, W. P. Bryant, N. Altman, Raymond Guertain.
Corporals George M. Pershing, Charles Spencer, Hodhane Blekley, John White.
Mechanic L. J. Byers.
Musicians Charles Green, Francis Guilette.
Cooks Fred Gardner, John Caldwell.
Privates Alfred Beiter, Albert Blasi, Anthony Bonet, Stanley Bortles, John Burger, Harry Clark, Charles Coleman, Clarence Decant, Milo Downs, Edgar Faleer, William Fritz, Boyd Gossard, Hubert Hawlin, John Hawthorn, Robert Krieger, Charles M. Lewis, Daniel McCarthy, Paul McDowell, Harold Minnix, Frank Mohr, S. P. Morris, Bryant Nance, John Rumbaugh, William Rupert, Forest Semark, Robert Sheats, Donald Simmonds, Frank Smith, Orlando Truitt, George Wernert, Virgin Wirich.
Many Promoted
Nearly all the corporals who were here became sergeants and a number of the privates became corporals.  Many of these promotions occurred shortly after the company reached Lorain.
The Times-Herald is indebted to Sergeant John Swadrak for much of the information concerning Company H which is contained in this article.  Sergeant Swadrak is now in Toledo where he has taken a position.
While in Lorain a number of recruits were obtained by the company.  Shortly after the boys went to Cleveland a boxing match was conducted at stop 48. The boxers gave their services and no expense was charged to the fund. From this event about $1700 was raised for the soldiers.  It was given to them with the understanding that they use it for whatever they wished when they reached France.

Tomorrow: A selection of photos featuring the men of Company H

1 comment:

Drew Penfield said...

Great article. With the WWI vets gone many such stories seem to be forgotten.