Here’s the story of the Americans who died during the Great War. But, they were not fighting for their own country.
It is a well-known fact that the United States refused to take part in the First World War at first; it took the country two years through the war before it sent its first batch of troops to the Western Front to take part in the battle.
However, America’s neutrality did not stop a number of idealistic Americans from taking part in the war before the country did so — they fought, though, not for their country. They volunteered as ambulance drivers and saved many lives or chose to fight entering the French, British and Canadian fighting forces.
Edward Mandell Stone was one of these Americans. Stone’s name may be missing in most American textbooks but he carved a name in history when he died some one hundred years ago as a machine gunner in France.
Stone was one of those radical Americans who wanted to repel the German forces during the conflict and so, he signed up for the French Foreign Legion and became one of the force’s machine gunner. However, due to the shrapnel wounds he sustained while he was assigned in the trenches located near the Aisne River, Stone did not see the end of the war — he died.
And according to Gary Ward, writer in the VFW Magazine which is official publication of United States’ Veterans of Foreign Wars, his death in February 27, 1915 made him the first American killed while in WWI action.
Doran Cart, of the National World War I Museum located at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, pointed out that those idealistic Americans who chose to join other fighting forces when America was strong in its stand not to take side were considered to be ignoring US neutrality and though they were not viewed as traitors nor arrested, they weren’t highly regarded or looked up with affection either.
The US government frowned upon the number of male and female Americans who volunteered for the war as the country was staunchly isolationist at the start of WWI even when anti-German sentiments was growing among the public.
As the conflict raged on, the US entering WWI became inevitable and on April 4, 1917, the country eventually declared war against Germany. In the end, about 116,500 Americans – soldiers and sailors – died in the Great War. This number was more than the casualties combined during the Korean and Vietnam Wars but is only fraction of the total of the nine million killed throughout the four-year warfare.
Many Americans received the Croix de Guerre medal for valor from France after WWI ended as many of those who enlisted for the conflict while America remained neutral fought in the French army.
Some of the famous Americans who served before and after the United States’ entry in the Great War included:
Ernest Hemingway – the writer volunteered as an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross. Hemingway got wounded in the conflict. His experiences as a driver and the wounds he sustained were his inspiration in writing “A Farewell to Arms” in 1929.
Alan Seeger – this American poet entered WWI through the French Foreign Legion. He died fighting in the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
Walt Disney – the famous cartoonist, filmmaker and businessman volunteered for the American Red Cross Ambulance Corps on September 1918 and served after the Armistice in France.
Archibald MacLeish – the American writer and poet was a US Army ambulance driver who, later on, became an artillery captain.
Gertrude Stein – the feminist, poet and playwright became a volunteer driver for French hospitals during the Great War.