Wheeling Soldiers in World War I
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series about Wheeling during the First World War leading to a centennial observation of Armistice Day (Veterans Day) to be held at 2 p.m. on Nov. 11 at the Doughboy monument at Wheeling Park. If you are a descendant of a World War I veteran or nurse, contact email@example.com.
By HAL GORBY
For the News-Register
The Great War reached Wheeling in 1917, as families prepared to see more than 3,000 of their sons serve from Ohio County.
The Selective Service Act of 1917 required all men ages 21-30 to report to their local draft boards. Thousands of men reported from around the county on June 5, 1917, while the Wheeling Intelligencer also printed all the names and addresses of those who failed to report as “slackers.”
Starting in late September 1917, young draftees boarded trains at the B&O station. Most served in the U.S. Army’s 80th Division and trained at Camp Lee, Virginia. Wheeling soldiers served primarily with the 314th Field Artillery, fighting in several crucial battles at St. Mihel and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Battery F was composed of men from Wheeling’s ethnic communities, including Sgt. Peter Templin (Polish), Steve Bankovich (Croatian), Michael Brazdovich (Slovak), Michael Campagnia (Italian) and Alex Habak (Ukrainian).
During the war, 244 men from Wheeling served in the 314th, with the majority in Battery C (86). Each battery was a horse-drawn unit using 75mm field pieces.
Battery C embarked for France on May 26, 1918. After more training behind the Western Front, the men marched to the Meuse Argonne. On Sept. 26, they opened fire on the Germans, but they were hit by a German counterattack on Sept. 28, during which Sgt. William G. Kaltenbach of Wheeling was hit and later succumbed to his wounds.
The men of the 314th provided artillery support for mobile infantry, which worked well for small infantry penetrations, but left men exposed to swift German counterattacks. This happened to the men of Battery F in the Meuse Argonne.
On Nov. 1 at 5:30 a.m., the 314th was ordered to attack. The 1st battalion delivered a gas attack then opened a zone of fire. The 2nd battalion, which included Sgt. Peter Templin and Pvt. Alex Habak took a position to the north to provide supporting fire against German machine gun nests. A heavy morning mist fell over the field, and when it lifted the men realized they were too close to the German machine guns. In the heavy fire, three were killed and 17 were wounded, including Sgt. Templin.
Local families suffered the pain of learning late in the conflict that their sons had died in combat. Sgt. John P. Weiss’ family had been receiving letters from him for some time. A cashier at the State Bank of Elm Grove, his parents unfortunately were notified of his death on Oct. 12, 1918.
Most Wheeling families learned with relief that their sons were alive. Pvt. William O. Phillips of Company D, 28th Infantry (1st Division) from Wheeling Island was thought dead after his family received a final letter dated May 27, 1918. His sister could not believe this, and she continued to write, even though her letters came back marked “deceased.”
She finally reached a Paris Red Cross Hospital, learning her brother was safe. Phillips was wounded the day after his last letter, and was listed as “missing in action” during the AEF’s first major offensive, defeating the Germans at Cantigny.
Families also enjoyed happy reunions when their sons came home in the spring of 1919. When chief machinist Sgt. Leo Emmerth of Battery C, 314th Field Artillery, arrived at his home at 310 Huron St., he was met by his father, mother and siblings. He noted to the local press that they were so happy to see him that his “Dad talked to me until 5:30 a.m.”