Heading to war a century ago
It was a century ago, almost to this exact day, that Watertown’s Company E left our city and headed to action in World War I. The exact date was Aug. 17, 1917.
Over the years and dating back to the Civil War, Watertown residents have responded to the needs of the military, but that day was the largest single effort in the city’s history.
When the unit departed there was scarcely a dry eye anywhere and the farewell crowd was one of the biggest in Watertown history. The armory back then was located at the present site of Heritage Inn on Main Street. Some of the old-timers will remember the building which was later used for park and recreation activities until being sold, razed and the hotel erected.
The city band and loads of local and area dignitaries were present when the unit departed that building and headed to the train station where the troops loaded and headed for Camp Douglas.
Of the original Company E, four members lost their lives in the war. They were Sgt. Frank L. Pitterle, Benjamin Potter, Fred Bergman and Luke B. Dunningan. Frank Pitterle’s name to this day is part of the name of our local American Legion post — Pitterle-Beaudoin Post No. 189, American Legion.
On that day a century ago, the unit left Watertown for Camp Douglas, a few miles northeast of New Lisbon, and a camp that is still used for some training today.
The local unit remained at Camp Douglas until Sept. 25 when it was transferred to Waco, Texas, where it became Company C, 120th Machine Gun Battalion. It later became Company D and had that designation throughout the war.
The company left Texas on Feb. 4, 1918, and headed to Camp Merritt, New Jersey. Two weeks later it left the camp for Hoboken, New Jersey. There the troops loaded on the George Washington and sailed for Brest, France, landing there on March 4. By mid-May the unit was on the front lines. In late July of that year the unit was engaged in its first major battle at Chatteau Thiery. From Sept. 10 to Nov. 11 the unit fought in the famous Argonne Forest. It was on that day the armistice was signed and all hostilities ended.
Just a few days later the company was ordered to Germany as part of the Army of Occupation, remaining there until April 20, 1919, when it was ordered back to France where it departed for America on May 5 on the Von Stueben, arriving on May 13. After a short stay at Camp Grant, Illinois, the unit headed back to Watertown on May 21, arriving that evening to a huge crowd of cheering well-wishers.
We found a copy of the roster of Company E in the archives and are printing it below. Some names will be familiar to our community and no doubt some of the descendants live here today.
The roster included:
A. F. Soliday, captain; J. T. Hale Jr., first lieutenant; L. W. Murphy, second lieutenant; Alfred Krueger, first sergeant; E. J. Dunn, quartermaster sergeant; Frank L. Pitterle, company clerk.
Sergeants — Allen Biefeld, Fred Hollenbeck, Elmer Kehr, William Kubow, James Monroe, Samuel Kontos.
Corporals — Edwin Kaercher, Walter Kuester, Edward McDall, Seth Perry, Benjamin Potter, George Semrich, Fred Ullrich, Lester Williams, Benjamin Winkleman.
Musician — Walter Simon.
Privates — Alvin Beerbohm, Percy Behlke, Ray Behlke, Fred Bergmann, Raymond Bock, Francis McCall, Ralph Dittman, George Draeger, Luke B. Dunnigan, Clarence Eickstaedt, Fred Erdmann, Herbert Euper.
Walter Flint, Thomas Gavney, German Gerth, A. C. Gillard, Anton Glun, Thomas Hady, William Hayes, James Hannes, Emil Hoefs, Frank Ihde, Albert Ihde, Delphus Jackson, Joseph Kioes, Arthur J. Koch, William Kortegast, Hilmer Krueger, Alfred Kuehnemann, Michael Kunitz, George K. Lambras.
Roy J. Lane, Arthur Lietzke, Elmer C. Luther, August J. Luebke, Frank W. Luebke, Edward J. Luebke, Edwin Mantz, Victor Marks, George McCall, Francis McCall, Lawrence Meitner, Bernhardt Neitzel, Alphonsus Noon, Henry Novotny, Jay Perry, Gustav Rennhack, H. E. Rennhack, George Ryan, George Schilling, Edwin Schlueter, Arthur Schmeling, Fred Schultz, Gustav Sendelbach, Irving Sommers, Joseph Stacy, Alex Stoebe, Albert Tews, Herbert Tolksdorf, Fred B. Verganz, Clinton Vesper, Ernest Wilde, Edwin Wilde, Alexander Woelffer, Harold Zickert, Oscar Zillich.
When the men came home from their foreign duty, they purchased a bottle of wine to be opened when only one member of the unit remained. It was called “The Last Man’s Club.” The agreement was that when one man remained, he would open the bottle, have a drink and share a toast to his departed comrades.
The years went by and reunions came and went, and gradually the “Last Man’s Club” got smaller and smaller.
Then, one year the club was down to a handful of people, most of whom were unable to attend the meeting. It was decided to open the bottle before none were left. We recall Art Lietzke was there for the ceremony. He opened he bottle and shared a taste with a few others, and it marked the end of the club and for all practical purposes the end of Company E. We were not at the ceremony, but were working at the Daily Times at that point. We’re guessing it was in the early 1970s.
It was 100 years and one day ago that the Watertown unit left for war, and fortunately nearly all of them came back home over a year later after some fierce battles.