Nearly 100 years after President Woodrow Wilson called Americans to arms in a great crusade “to make the world safe for democracy,” there are reminders of the Argonne Offensive.
Men from Great Bend who fought in World War I were part of that crusade, which is why the name “Argonne” is still found here — from the Argonne Rebels Drum and Bugle Corps of yesteryear to the American Legion Argonne Post 180. It is also the namesake of the Argonne Forest, a collection of trees of varied species planted on the north said of Veterans Memorial Park.
However, many people don’t know the meaning of the name, said Toni Rice with the Great Bend Tree Board. That mayor-appointed group hopes to share some history as it strives to improve the city’s tree population.
This year marks the 100th year anniversary of the beginning of World War I. The Tree Board’s goal is to complete Phase One of its Argonne Forest Project by 2018, the 100th anniversary of the year soldiers from Barton County went to battle in the Argonne Forest in France.
According to the Museum of the Kansas National Guard, “from 1917-19 the entire Kansas National Guard, totaling 10,000 men, was called to federal service. All units were assigned to the 35th Division except an ammunition train assigned to the 42nd Division. These units served in Europe and participated in actions against the Germans, primarily the Argonne Offensive.”
The website for the Iowa National Guard notes that, “at the beginning of 1917, the United States was woefully unprepared for war. The first soldiers of the American Expeditionary Force did reach France in June, but it would be almost a year before their numbers reached the point where they could make a really significant impact on Allied operations. Eventually, more than 1 million American fighting men would bolster the Allied cause along the Western Front.”
After the Kansas National Guard was called up, men from Great Bend joined a group from Burlington to form Company C.
“Company C went to Oklahoma for training,” Rice said. From Oklahoma they were sent to New Jersey, then carried by ship to Liverpool, England. They marched to the Argonne Forest to fight the Germans. “We lost 26 men,” she said.
The history of Company C is on file at the Barton County Historical Society Museum. Karen Neuforth, research coordinator at the museum, said some artifacts can be seen in its exhibit on World War I and the Spanish American War. The museum is closed for the holidays but will reopen on Tuesday, Jan. 6.