My father enlisted within a few days of our country’s declaration of war on Germany. He was sent to Washington D.C. for his Basic Training. On December 3, 1917 he left from Hoboken, New Jersey on the German Liner, Frederick Der Grosse. The crossing on the Atlantic took 20 days. He spent Christmas Day aboard the ship in the harbor of St. Nazaire and enjoyed a turkey dinner. He fought in 5 major battles and was wounded on July 15, 1918 at Chateau-Thierry. He missed the battle at Verdun because he was still in the hospital, but his unit and pals were there and my dad was sorry he wasn’t with them. My father rarely ever spoke about his war experiences, but his diary shed light on his description of French life – the knee-deep mud, the awful stench, and the constant shelling – and looking over the French in the morning after a night of non-stop shelling to see only desolate land where once a forest stood and seeing bodies of dead and dying soldiers and horses scattered everywhere.
My father came home on a hospital ship and arrived in New York late at night. The wounded service men aboard the ship had heard about the crowds of people and bands welcoming the troops home. But no one was present at their arrival and they were disappointed.
My dad was always very proud of his Army life and proud to be of service to his country. He always told us “Every young man should experience Army life for at least one year, for it makes a man of him.” My dad was a hero to me and I loved him very much.
My father was employed as a foreman for the Chicago Surface Lines from April 1914 until he died in November 1954. He became a United States citizen shortly after he was discharged from the Army, May 1919.
We honor you, John Laing.