Rochesterians in World War One and the One Hundredth Anniversary of Château-Thierry

Rochesterians in World War One and the One Hundredth Anniversary of Château-Thierry

[Mt. Hope Cemetery, 7/18/18. A Centennial Remembrance of Sergeant William H. Cooper.]

Mt. Hope Cemetery, 7/18/18. A Centennial Remembrance of Sergeant William H. Cooper.

Today, at 11 a.m. the William H. Cooper Marine Post No. 603 of the American Legion conducted a ceremony in Mt. Hope Cemetery, noting the 100th anniversary of the death of its namesake.

Born in Rochester in 1892, Sgt. Cooper was an electrician when he enlisted in April 1917. Sent to France in October, he was killed in action July 18th, 1918 at Soissons. In August 1918, Cooper’s mother received letters William wrote before his death.

From Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County Historic Scrapbooks Collection, Obituary Notices Of Rochester Soldiers.

From Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County Historic Scrapbooks Collection, Obituary Notices Of Rochester Soldiers.

Dozens of members of the Cooper Marine Post 603 gathered for the Memorial service in honor of Cooper and others who fought in the Great War and are buried in Mt. Hope. The speakers mentioned how survivors of the battles often died young as the trauma of that horrific war lingered even after they returned from France.  Most did not reach age fifty. Gas effects, drinking, and possibly suicide took a toll.

See program:  A Centennial Remembrance of the Memorial Namesake of the Cooper Marine Post 603 of the American Legion.  01 WM. COOPER SEQUEN. PGS


Mt. Hope Cemetery, 7/18/18. A Centennial Remembrance of Sergeant William H. Cooper.

One hundred years ago today, the Kaiser’s armies made their last chance attempt to successfully cross the Marne and capture Paris which they bombarded by Big Bertha, a 47 ton 19 foot long seize gun. They were met by the American Expeditionary Force led by General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing.  As seen in the July 18th, 1918 New York Times headline, after an 96 hour battle, the Yanks halted the German attack, sending the Huns back over the Marne.

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Headline from the July 18th, 1918 edition of The New York Times. From The First World War: A Photographic History edited by Lawrence Stallings (1933). [Eugene Kramer’s collection]

The second battle of Château-Thierry on July 18th, 1918 — and the preceding battles of the first battle of Château-Thierry and the battles of Belleau Wood — are engraved into the American historical imagination.  An iconic 1919 lithograph declared:  “Chateau Thierry, the turning point of the World War.” In subsequent years, in American lore Château-Thierry is described as the Gettysburg of World War One, much like that fateful day in Pennsylvania was for the Confederacy. Children’s books still heroicize the triumph of the doughboys.


1919 lithograph

Today, military historians do not see Belleau Woods and Château-Thierry as decisive moments in a long war of attrition. But the battles were symbolic of the United States’ commitment to engage its full force against the Central Powers.  Four months later, Germany asked for an armistice.  I, personally, believe the United States should not have intervened into the world disaster that was World War One, but the bravery of the AEF is undeniable.

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The World War I soldier at Château Thierry by William R. Sanford (1991). Held at and scanned courtesy of the Brighton Memorial Library.

Many Rochestarians were at Château-Thierry and the battles of Belleau Wood, both considered to be part of the Second Battle of the Marne. By consulting the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County Historic Scrapbooks Collection, Obituary Notices Of Rochester Soldiers and other records, we know that at least 12 Rochestarians were killed during the Second Battle of the Marne and undoubtedly the number is higher.

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From Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County Historic Scrapbooks Collection, Obituary Notices Of Rochester Soldiers.

Among the dead was Miles H. Dodge, a 21 year old reporter for the Rochester Herald who was photographed by Albert B. Stone at a Rochester recruiting center.

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Miles H. Dodge, killed in action at the battle of Belleau Wood, June 1st, 1918. (left) recruiting poster in Rochester. Dodge, second from the right in the front row, was a Rochester Herald reporter. (bottom right) Dodge’s gravesite in Maine.

As described by Poignant Photograph discovery,  Dodge may have been the first Marine killed at Belleau Wood:

Miles H. Dodge was a 21-one year old writer for the Rochester Herald when he enlisted in the Marines on April 18, 1917. He was from Camden, Maine and was with the 18th Company 2nd Battalion 5th Marines. He was killed in action June 1, 1918. I believe that he was the first Marine killed at the engagement at Belleau Wood. His unit had just moved into Bois de Veuilly a few kilometers west of Belleau Wood, St. Martin Woods and Lucy-le-Bocage. I am awaiting his records to verify the cause of death but undoubtedly he was killed by artillery fire although according to Capt. Elliott Cooke, an army officer assigned as a platoon commander with the 18th Company, there were casualties caused by strafing enemy planes.

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Rochester Herald 9/19/19. From Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County Historic Scrapbooks Collection, Obituary Notices Of Rochester Soldiers.

Rochestarian William Paul Higginson was killed in action at Château-Thierry on June 6th, 1918.  He would posthumously receive the Naval Cross.

From TogetherWeServed, we have a poignant description of Higginson’s death by a hail of machine gun fire:

On the left flank of Major Berry’s battalion, the 45th Company had already pressed forward with three platoons. Second Lieutenant Thomas H. Miles, in the absence of Captain Conachy earlier in the morning, assembled three platoons of the remainder of the company, left one in reserve and pressed forward into the open field. The company moved parallel to a small cluster of trees to the their left, a finger jetting out towards Belleau Wood, but it would not conceal them from the ferocity of the enemy guns. Almost as soon as they stepped forward, enemy artillery fire blanketed the wheat. With a violent collision that shook the ground and echoed across the rolling pasture, the explosions threw up dirt and debris only to leave a massive charred divot in the waving grains of wheat. Suddenly the bombardment increased. Second Lieutenant Thomas Miles (DSC/NC/SSC), out in front of his advancing platoons came under the barrage. After having advanced a little ways, a shell came screaming in with little warning and detonated nearly underneath the twenty-six year old. The resulting explosion blew him apart. An increasing volume of artillery shells fell among the company as they pushed forward. Private Frank P. Millage remembered standing next to Corporal Carl Stickle(sic), the company officer’s mess cook, when a shell landed nearby, killing him.

As the company pushed closer to the tree line of Belleau Wood, the machine guns erupted. Gunnery Sergeant Benjamin Geary (SSC – CdG)saw Charley Frehse knocked back as a bullet went through him. As he staggered another round struck him followed instantly by a third that hit him in the chest before he slumped to the ground. Machine gun fire cut down nearly anyone who dared show themselves. First Sergeant William P. Higginson (DSC/NC) and Gunnery Sergeant Harold Todd(DSC/NC)* also became victims of the enemy machine guns. Corporal Benjamin Strain, who only a few months before stood trial for telling a senior enlisted man to “kiss my ass” barely shifted his focus in front of him when a torrent of bullets struck the twenty-one year old in the head and face, splitting his upper jaw in half and instantly killed him. Men immediately dropped to their stomachs into the wheat in order to escape the sweeping machine gun fire. While men lay prone under the relentless volley, shells continued to land seemingly everywhere.

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(left0 Mt. Hope Cemetery. William Paul Higginson. Killed in action 6/6/1918. (right) From Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County Historic Scrapbooks Collection, Obituary Notices Of Rochester Soldiers.

Navy Cross
The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to First Sergeant William Paul Higginson (MCSN: 69889), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving with the 20th Company, 5th Regiment (Marines), 2d Division, A.E.F. in action at Chateau-Thierry, France, 6 June 1918. Killed in action, First Sergeant Higginson gave the supreme proof of that extraordinary heroism which will serve as an example to hitherto untried troops.

Also, Rochestarian Private Wesley John Christian, 24, of the 67th Co., 5th Regiment, U.S. Marine Corps died of wounds in action at Chateau-Thierry on June 6, 1918. Christian was buried in France and then re-buried in Riverside Cemetery on Sept. 24, 1921.

About 23,000 Rochestarians served in World War I and 609 Monroe County soldiers never returned.  Among the most well known to have served were local literary luminaries Arch Merrill (1894 – 1974) and Henry Clune (1890 – 1995).  Few readers today will recognize those names, but in the mid 20th century Merrill and Clune dominated the Rochester writerly scene.


Merrill is buried in the Brighton Cemetery is located at the end of Hoyt Place off Winton Road in the City of Rochester

For decades, Merrill wrote for the Rochester Journal-American and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.  Merrill is best known for his 23 books chronicling the history and folklore of the Genesee Valley and the Finger Lakes.  Merrill was know as the “Poet Laureate of Upstate New York.”  His anthropological studies of Native Americans are still considered relevant.

When he was at Hobart College in Geneva, Merrill joined the army in 1916 before the United States declared war on the Central Powers. In a 1943 Rochester History essay, Rochester and World War I , Sylvia P. Black and Harriet Julia Naylor show that college men at that time were especially patriotic.  Rush Rhees, President of the University of Rochester, exhorted so many of his students to enlist or join a militia that the University’s Men’s College was effectively shut down in 1918.

Merrill served with Company B, 33rd Engineers. From what I have gleaned, Merrill was proud of his wartime service but wrote little about his experiences.  The 33rd Engineers did not fight in the Second Battle of the Marne, but regiment histories show the 33rd endured the common horrors faced during trench warfare on the Western Front.


From the back dust jacket of Main Street Beat by Henry W. Clune (1947). Held at and scanned courtesy of the Brighton Memorial Library. Note that Clune’s WWI service is mentioned.

Henry Clune is best known for his prolific output at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, as well as six novels and seven books on regional subjects.  In 1990, in The Oldest Living Novelist Tells All, the Los Angeles Times reviewed Clune’s long career.  Upon reflection, Clune’s writing is hopelessly dated and clotted with clichés.  But he acquitted himself well for a native son of our provincial city.

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Main Street Beat by Henry W. Clune (1947)

In Main Street Beat, Clune recounts his war experience.  Clune admittedly lacked an adventurous spirit, but in 1915 he determined “that I did not want to live through the greatest conflict in knowing no more about it than had I read in the cable dispatches.” He asked for a leave of absence from the Democrat and Chronicle and headed off to London and Paris, returning in 1916.

Alas, Clune did not become an expatriate novelist like Hemingway. Instead, he wandered about, eating oysters in France, only slinking around the corners of the seamier sides of Parisian night life, often feeling homesick, enough so that he sought out fellow Rochestarians.  Clune somewhat embarrasses when he says of London: “I liked London, and admitted that it was a quite a city, even in wartime. But it wasn’t Rochester.”

In 1918, after having been drafted, Clune returned to France as a private, private first class as he liked to boast. Assigned to write for the Stars and Stripes, Clune later described himself as an “odd job soldier.” According to media historian Bonnie Brennen, Clune also served as a correspondent for the Democrat and Chronicle, supplying the newspaper with sketches of everyday life in war-torn cities.  Not unlike Merrill, in Main Street Beat, Clune says nothing about his soldierly experiences, simply that “I remained there [France] for nearly twelve months.”  Perhaps he wanted to forget the horrors he witnessed.

For all his hackneyed prose and his status as a novelist who only sniffed real success — a B-lister at best — Clune was a local treasure.  Always witty and charming, Clune attended a session at the Bibliophile Society when in his late 90s if not beyond. My father asked what advice Clune would proffer to the current generation. Clune said: “Always keep the shower curtain inside the tub when showering” i.e. despite his long life, he had no profound advice to give.  After which, Clune promptly sat down, thus ending his talk.


Clune is buried in Whitehaven Cemetery in Penfield.

Rochester World War One veterans are buried all around Monroe County. Riverside and Holy Sepulcher have many.  The most specific World War One plot is in Mt. Hope Cemetery were can be found the graves of 24 resting alongside veterans of the Spanish-American War, World War Two and the Korean War, as well as about 75 others across the road.

Graves overview

Mount Hope Cemetery. 7/13/18

Graves 1

Claude V.F. Kamke. Mount Hope Cemetery. 7/13/18

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Mount Hope Cemetery. 7/13/18

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One hundred years ago when America entered the War to End All Wars. And Rochester.

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Edmond Lyons Park., East Rochester. A German WW1 minenwerfer (literally, “mine thrower”) in 7.58cm caliber. 4/5/17

The Austrian cannon is back in Washington Square Park. And some Italian Rochester history.

WW1 cannon

January 2018

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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