If I had known this on the other side of Veterans Day, I would have written about it then. But I didn’t, and it’s too good to wait another year so …
Did you know that the Battle of the Argonne Forest was fought on the Mansfield square in 1921?
Talk about a great inducement for closing that Park Avenue cut-through, reuniting both sides of Central Park, providing a large arena for whatever war you want to re-enact — a real place to pick your mock battles, as it were!
Of course, the real battle in France was a long, bloody affair that lasted from September, 1918 until the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918, which became Armistice Day, later renamed Veterans Day.
On Nov. 11, 1921, Mansfield veterans, fresh from that war and still fitting into their doughboy uniforms, gave a large crowd a taste of battle. Older Spanish-American War veterans volunteered to play Germans.
The Mansfield News called the re-enactment “a real thriller” for several hundred observers ringing the square despite cold temperatures and a wet snow clinging to trees. Small arms “pinged,” and mortars “boomed,” all firing blanks, I hope.
To provide a dramatic backdrop, 2,500 pieces of fireworks were set off in the darkening sky, since the battle was being staged in the evening at the end of a long day of patriotic activities on the square.
In front of a crowd that hadn’t come closer to action than newspapers, letters and newsreels, the paper said the “realistic nature” of the mock battle “stirred the patriotism of every red-blooded American.” What was amazing was the veterans, the men of Company M, had participated a short three years earlier and still chose to relive it.
Red Cross ambulances also shuttling “wounded” soldiers from the field to an emergency hospital tent. Casualties in the real Battle of the Argonne Forest have been estimated at 117,000 Americans, 70,000 French and 90,000 to 120,000 Germans.
The Mansfield-area men who survived that battle were fortified for their re-enactment in 1921 by an earlier banquet in the Elks Home ballroom. Attending were several hundred veterans from three wars. Sitting side by side were those who had fought in the Civil War, Spanish-American War and the World War, which is what it was called back then — after all, it was also the “war to end all wars,” remember?
We can’t go back to the 1918 battle or even the 1921 re-enactment. The closest we can come are films of the real action taken by the U.S. Army. Parts are available on www.youtube.com. Or you can watch one more time the 1942 film “Sergeant York,” starring Gary Cooper as the most decorated soldier of World War I.
One of the Battle of the Argonne Forest veterans who kept the memories alive for many years was Capt. Albert L. Allen Sr., or “Cap,” as he was known to his comrades. He spoke often to community groups and wrote about the local Company M’s contributions.
Next week, I’ll pass along an unpublished speech about Company M, only one of the many pieces of his military experience that were donated to the Mansfield Memorial Museum. The museum is planning exhibits commemorating the 100th anniversary of World War I from its start in 1914 to the U.S. entry in 1917 to its end in 1918. Director Scott Schaut — email@example.com — is looking for local memorabilia and records.