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Frank Clark Nicholas

Submitted by: Dorothy Eleanor Nicholas {Daughter}

Frank Clark NicholasFrank Clark Nicholas was born April 28, 1892. Frank Nicholas served in World War 1 with the United States Army. The enlistment was in 1917 and the service was completed in 1919.

Story of Service

 


Chapter One The Official Record

My father, Frank Clark Nicholas, was inducted into the army September 10, 1917 at Local Board 63 Brooklyn, NY. He was 25 years old. He was honorably discharged May 9, 1919.

Dad was a Private 1st Class in Company M, 308th Infantry, 77th Division, American Expeditionary Forces (the Metropolitan Division _ New York’s finest). He received training at Camp Upton Yaphank, NY. He sailed from New York for England April 7, 1918. From Brest, France he returned to New York on April 28, 1919 sailing on the SS America.

Dad’s ship leaving New York for England was probably the SS Statendam (the Statendam was torpedoed in July which corresponds to information in Dad’s letter dated July 23, 1918).

The 77th sailed out of New York to Halifax 4/7/1918 and then to Liverpool, England. From Liverpool the 77th traveled by train at night to Dover and then in the morning by boat across the English Channel to Calais, France.

Upon arriving in France the Division trained with the British. From April 29 – May 26 my father went to signal school (approximate dates determined from Dad’s letters).

The 77th Division was to be the first National Army division to take over part of the front line. By the end of June this Division was in a quiet part of the front line near Baccarat (the Baccarat Sector), thus releasing veteran divisions for active battle. “Quiet” meant being shelled with gas. At 4 AM June 24 when the relief of the French 42nd Division was almost complete the Germans began shelling the 77th with mustard and phosgene gas. I have Dad’s gas mask and its condition indicates that it was used.

After only a month’s experience, Dad’s Division went into the Oise-Aisne offensive. From August 12 until September 16, Dad’s division advanced against strong opposition for 12 Kilometers from near the Ourcq River, crossing the Vesle, to a position a little west of the Aisne River (the Vesle Sector).

The 77th Division took part In the Meuse-Argonne offensive from September 26 to October 16 and from October 31 to November 11. The Division had to advance through the exceedingly difficult terrain of the Argonne Forest. It finally worked its way 22 kilometers from the Aire to the Meuse, capturing Champigneulle, Buzancy and all towns and heights on the west of the Meuse.

Judging from the dates on the letters Dad wrote to his family, Dad must have been in a hospital approximately from the end of September until October 26. He had blood poisoning in his right hand. He never talked about it.

Dad’s honorable discharge papers state that (his) service was honest and faithful and that (he) acted as Platoon Sergeant throughout the Argonne offensive and continued to do so until discharge.

Dad received two medals: the New York State Medal and a Victory Medal for the Oise-Aisne Meuse-Argonne Defensive sector.

Sources:
  • The History of the 77th Designed and Written in the Field, France August 25th, 1917 November 11th 1918 Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Company (1919) New York
  • “General Order No. 23 American Expeditionary Forces Office of the Commander-in-Chief France, March 21, 1919”
  • Dad’s letters written to his mother from France
  • Official Honorable Discharge from the U.S. Army May 9, 1919
CHAPTER TWO IN HIS OWN WORDS

The following are excerpts from letters my Dad wrote to his mother.

June 23, 1918 _ Just at present my company is located in a very nice town surrounded by wonderful country. The billets are very nice in fact I think they are the best we have struck as yet…The past week all the men were issued cigarettes and tobacco gifts from different newspapers back in the states. I hope more of these gifts come thru for they are about the only things a fellow wants in the worst way…Eleanor seems to be anxious to know something about the soldier’s life…Here is a little news anyway – First call 5:45 AM, Reveille 6 , Breakfast 6:30, Drill 8 – 12, mess 12:30, Drill for military reasons no retreat 1:30 – 4:00, mess 5:30 Call to quarters at 9:30…Lately my work has consisted of observing and orderly work and soon probably all signals… Believe me a good vaudeville show would be appreciated. Tonight the YMCA is giving an entertainment the principal attraction 2 American girls. Tomorrow night movies and I am out for both…

July 12, 1918 _ The YMCA in this town is about the best place yet, writing tables, canteens, etc and moving pictures. Elsie Janis (the sweetheart of the AEF) is in the neighborhood with several other stage folks…these shows are rare things like ice cream and soda water in no man’s land…At present I am working at Battalion Hdqus and it is very interesting work too. One thing also escaped me – the eats. They are very good…

July 25, 1918 _ My battalion is back in a town where it was several weeks ago…Several changes have taken place…The Salvation Army has opened a canteen. The canteen is located in a large disused glass factory…

July 31, 1918 _ Just a few lines about the people over here…outside of the large towns the people wear wooden shoes and on entering the house leave them at the door. They wear felt slippers inside…

August 27, 1918 _ This is the first opportunity I have had of writing you this month…we were up to the line the biggest part of the time and what a time it was too. The horrors of war were surely brought home to everyone and thank the good Lord I got out of it safely. We are back for a rest just at present …all hands are very busy cleaning up equipment guns etc getting haircuts and trying to get a regular bath in a very small creek…

September 18, 1918 _ I was up at the front…(our boys) sure did cover themselves with glory and especially the boys of Co. M. Just at present we are resting being the one of the first days out. Just how long it will last is hard to say but one thing I do hope for it’s a good long rest for everybody for they need it…

October 10, 1918 _ Some time has passed since my last letter to you…excuse…being laid up at a hospital with an infected hand. The hospital is located close by a large city of south central France and it’s made up of a collection of small buildings and tents about twenty five wards in all…

October 26, 109 _ After considerable traveling I got back to my company…

November 8, 1918 _ Today we have pulled into a town formerly occupied by the enemy and are located in fairly good billets…we consider ourselves lucky after spending so much time in the woods and up in the hills…The weather is rotten, plenty of rain and fog. The roads are very muddy…There is nothing but water and mud…One thing that bothers me more than anything else these days is cooties…There are plenty of (men) in the same boat with me…Ada mentioned about airplanes in one of her letters. Believe me I never saw them like I have the past couple of weeks. The sky is almost black with them…

November 30, 1918 _ While we were up guarding the border after the armistice had been signed I received a letter from Dr. Carter telling me the bad news about Charlie Skelton…

December 8, 1918 _ Certainly did seem funny to read in your letter where you and Ada had gone out and voted. Pard’s wife also said the same thing. Won’t know the women folks when I get back…Mighty sad indeed to learn about George Scheidermantles death…

December 22, 1918 _ The “Y”, K of C, Red Cross and the 308th Association are all doing the best to make Christmas worthwhile…Was shocked to learn that my old chum D’Szabo has passed to the great beyond,,,

January 1, 1919 _ Today is another day of rest and we are due for beaucoup eats…

January 19, 1919 _ To tell the truth I am sure getting sick of hanging around in this muddy, rainy country…When we read in today’s paper about the States going dry – well that was the limit…

February 8, 1919 _Sorry to learn of Mrs. Greeves’ death. The flu surely has taken off a great many people and I hope that it has been checked by this time. Au revoir and I hope you are all well…

March 9, 1919 _ I don’t believe I have told you about the review by General Pershing. When the general entered the field we presented arms and he rode up and down and inspected us. We wore our steel hats and carried skeleton packs. After riding around the field the General dismounted and went around and inspected each outfit. He surely impressed me with his soldierly bearing, his pleasant smile and pleasant way of talking…The news of Titus’ death sure was a shock to me (Titus was a cousin)…

April 5, 1919 _ A week ago Sunday _ everyone was inoculated. Talk about a sick bunch of soldiers the following day…they surely could be found in any of the billets in Saulges…It sure was a big surprise to me to learn of Fredie’s Salvatore’s death,,,

[Dad’s letters refer to major events of the 20th century: women getting the right to vote in New York November, 1917, ratification of the 18th amendment (prohibition) and the flu pandemic of 1918 – 1919. The letters also reveal the origins of Dad’s lifelong passion to raise money for the “Y” and the Red Cross.]

CHAPTER THREE “WHAT THE CLOSING DAYS WERE LIKE”

Letter From an Officer of the 308th Infantry Nov. 19, 1918
The 308th Association Monthly Bulletin New York, New York January 1919

“(Here is) what the closing days were like…The first Argonne drive (Sept. 26 – Oct. 16)…(was) the drive that broke the German resistance…(we) hiked to a support position behind the line division in the pouring rain…they camped us in the rain in a field a mile back… (there) we were notified the greatest drive of the war was in preparation…The first day (of the final drive - Nov. 1, 1918) some resistance to the left of Grand Pre was encountered. As Fritz had blown out the roads and bridges our kitchen and artillery could not follow us and for three days we lived on Boche flour and cabbage, and very few of them, uncooked. We slept in billets Fritz had occupied the night before…The next day my company (M) took up a flank support patrol position…That night (Nov. 8) it rained and Fritz shelled the woods and I had a rotten night… the next day, the ninth, we were pulled back into Harcourt...magnificent…The next day we were officially notified that the armistice was on… (we) were…(ordered) across the Meuse near Monzon to keep an eye on Fritz as he pulled out. There we stayed and starved, for all the bridges were down, for four days.”

Frank Nicholas image

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