This section was one of the original University of South Carolina sections recruited through the efforts of Dr. Marion H. Wyman of Columbia, S.C., assisted by Major Junneman. Dr. Wyman had recruited an ambulance unit at the University but the men came from many colleges such as: Clemson, The Citadel, Wake Forest, Alabama Polytechnic Institute, Virginia Military Institute, University of Georgia and some Yale and Princeton men. Dr. Wyman, who was commissioned a lieutenant in the Medical Reserve Corps, led the group of some 108 men to Allentown, arriving June 9, 1917. Lt, Wyman selected L. M. Smith as sergeant.
On their arrival at the training camp, this group, like many other large groups, was ordered to divide into three equal sections, taking Numbers 26, 27 and 28. The typical history of this section, and others like it, has already been told many times in the foregoing Chapters. They were all red blooded young men who wanted a chance to serve the French by driving ambulances which we all were told had been requested for early service. The months and months of waiting took a heavy toll of Section 526's original recruits. They left for other branches of the Armed Forces or transferred to sections which expected to go to France.
Section 526 took part in all activities at Camp Crane and Guth Station and became a part of the Italian Contingent, and their commander was Captain William G. Lackey, A.A.S., assigned to them December 1, 1917. The section left Genoa for the Front on September 7, 1918, going first to Mantua. In several days they were ordered to report to the Commanding Officer at Vicenza and from there were assigned to a post at Chirignago. Their billet was the former home of a rich German who had come to Italy to live in the "grand manor." This was a wonderfully beautiful mansion and grounds. The stay was short however, as they soon were moved to Carpenedo di Mestre. They did most of their work here evacuating to hospitals in the area. They served both the Italian and American troops, taking over the work of Section 532, the Red Cross and an Italian ambulance unit. This was their first contact with the Front, which soon moved on following the fleeing Austrian Army. Their ambulances covered great distances from above Treviso to San Donà di Piave. Until about December 10, Most of their cars served the 332nd U.S. Infantry Regiment. The runs at that time were from Undine to Treviso.
The Section was awarded the Italian War Cross for the excellent work they had done in keeping their ambulances running night and day in the evacuation of 29,852 patients, during the days of the great advance across the Piave. Their only loss in personnel was the untimely death of Howard Archer in Genoa, shortly after the Section's arrival.
Christmas 1918 was a gay time for many men of Section 526 when they were called upon to entertain the children of Undine at a Y.M.C.A. party. The Section supplied their heftiest man to take the part of Santa Claus. The only trouble was that this member of the Section had a faculty of "balling the jack" whenever music reached his ears. The "Y" had engaged an Italian Military Band, and when they struck up a tune, Santa lost all sense of his dignity and broke from behind the Christmas tree with his pack for a dancing partner.
When orders came for all sections to report to Genoa, Section 526 had a long run to make it in time to reach the docks to embark on the Duca degli Abruzzi for home.
There is quite a story on how Section 527 came about having this number. Original notes indicate that a large group came into camp from Columbia, South Carolina and were split up into three section, 526, 527 and 528. These sections were dissolved and Number 527 was given to the camp band. All this time, from early June 1917 until fall, a group of the Casuals which had been sent up from Philadelphia and assigned to the old agricultural building (a much better barracks than the "usual" lot which was the Casual hog-pens), were given a temporary lieutenant from Headquarters. They were later assigned Lt. Thomlinson, M.C.R. and took part in all activities under Section 537. In about six months the Section was absorbed into Evacuation Ambulance No. 7. It is hard to know exactly when this took place but we assume it was A.G.S (meaning After Guth Station). This is deduced from the fact that a review of E.A.C. No. 7 makes no mention of Guth Station activities.
At this time (which is thereabouts), there came to the Section Lt. E. T. Smith who at once brought new spirit and became the catalyst of Section 527, the Band having discarded that designation when absorbed into the Headquarters.
-- (Editor's note: As no further mention is made of 537, that section number is obsolete.) Lt. Smith heard rumblings at officers-mess about the activation of the Italian Contingent and made sure Section 527 would be included.
When the order came on June 12, 1918, the Section assembled in front of the Grandstand, and enroute to the station they crowded on the heels of the preceding section in their anxiety to get aboard. Section 527 was fortunate in having the most comfortable part of the steerage assigned to it, "the for'd t'ween deck," well ventilated and well supplied with portholes. The most eventful day of the whole two week crossing was when the "Joe Green" put in for coal at Gibraltar. Here on June 23, we were given a rousing reception by our brothers of the sea, the American Jackies. As. only a select few were allowed to go ashore, they sought to purchase souvenirs from the occupants of the "bum boats" that clustered around the hull of the ship. After the latter had refused to accept genuine U.S. bank notes, some USAACs decided to offer United Cigar Store coupons in exchange for native-made stilettos.
After leaving "Gib," which did not look too much like the Prudential Life ads, we moved slowly through the quiet moonlit waters of the Mediterranean. Having been warned by some humorous "Gobs" of the danger of enemy submarines, many felt nervous. One of the braver men laughed at our cowardice. However, upon our later rushing on deck with our life-preservers when the coal in the ship's bunkers shifted, we vainly looked for our "hero." Finally he was discovered laying prone on the bottom of one of the lifeboats,
The Section went through the carpet of flowers; took their turn at Provost guard duty; visited the hot spots in Genoa enjoyed the beach at their base camp on the Lido; finally assembled their GMC ambulances and supporting equipment. This lasted about four weeks. The Section was the second to go to the Front. The greatest honor the Section claims is the fact that is was chosen to work on Mt. Grappa.
The Section's principal posts were at Cima Grappa (the highest point), Mount Coston, Mount Columbera, Borso and Gherla. Auxiliary service was supplied to Cason di Meda and Valdi Negri. First base was set up at Santa Eulalia, then moved to Borso. Here the Section remained until the 6th Corps of the 4th Italian Army moved into liberated territory and followed them around Undine. The Section base was then moved to Tricesimo.
Whenever you meet Section 527 men you should ask them about The Smoke House. The Section had 28 out of the total of 36 men decorated with the Italian War Cross and was cited by the Commander of the Armies of Italy, General Diaz.
Recruited May 31 and June 1, 1917 at the Pennsylvania State College by Lt. W. J. Whitehouse, M.R.C., assisted by Dr. F. Kennedy of the College of Health Service. Fifty-five men, mostly under-graduates, were mustered in at the college Armory building on June 1, 1917. Pvt. John C. Herr took charge of the men and proceeded to the Concentration Camp, Allentown, Pa., on June 9th. As the number of men was well over the normal size of the ambulance units, they were divided into two sections, Numbers 29 and 30. They joined in the regular camp life, becoming a part of Major Metcalfe's Battalion.
On August 7th, they went to the encampment at Betzwood, Pa. and hiked around Valley Forge. Some of the men took part in the movie being made by Lobin Studios. Then came the march to Oakland Park, Martin's Creek, Wind Gap and Broadhead. On the return to Camp Crane, Section 529 was released to the President of the Pennsylvania State College to assist the Military Department at the college in the instruction of the cadet regiment. Living and eating at the Athletic Association boarding house was quite a welcome change from our stalls and mess hall at the camp. Their assignment lasted from November 19, 1917 to January 10, 1918. Following came the Liberty Loan jaunt into Lancaster and Bucks County for six days. Nothing more having been heard of Section 530 we must assume their remnants came over to 529 or went into other sections and thus dissolved.
The big date in the life of Section 529 was May 14, 1918, when the sections were picked for the Italian Contingent, and in the excitement 529 somehow got in the group. From then until arrival overseas and really until leaving the camp at Lido, section interests were sunk in contingent history, the preparation for work in Italy, learning some Italian and forgetting their French, the farewell to Allentown, life on the Giuseppe Verdi and the first two months on the beaches at the camp near Genoa. August 28, the Section under the command of Captain Edwin B. Lawyer, was ordered to Mantua, part in groups as guards to freight cars carrying government property. The rest of the Section drove the motor equipment north on September 6, in charge of Captain Shaffer.
On October 6, the entire section moved to Casello d'Asolo for duty with the 27th Army Corps, then a part of the 8th Italian Field Army. Their work was mostly in a defensive zone along the Piave River. They evacuated to hospitals at Caerona, Posmon and Altivole. Outposts were later at Bosco on the river below Montello.
During the great offensive beginning October 27, six ambulances worked with the 60th Div. with stations at Villa d'Villa, Brebano, Sedico, Landris and Ponto d'Muda. The other six ambulances were kept busy between dressing stations at Bosco, Caerona and Montebelluno, and later across the river with the 50th Div., through Col Sanmartino, Cambai, Miani and Follina. At this last point, the Section found an abandoned Austrian Hospital with 250 deserted patients which had to be evacuated to places where they could be given necessary medical attention. This followed the offensive victory at Vittorio-Veneto.
After the signing of the Armistice on Nov. 4, 1918, the Section accompanied the 27th Italian Army Corps, with the Section headquarters moved to Follina. Six cars worked out of Brebano and two at Lago. On December 8, the Army Corps headquarters having been transferred to the Fourth Italian Army, moved to Belluno. Three ambulances stayed there, and the three at Lago moved with the medical detachment with which they were working to Ponte Nella Alpi.
The Section received the citation of the Croce di Guerra on December 24, 1918. They continued evacuation work until ordered to Genoa where they embarked for home on the Italian Liner, Duca degli Abruzzi.
The Section 529 could have been called the Section of Athletes. Beck, O'Donnell, Cubbage and Wear, all played on the famous USAAC Football Team of 1917. Adam, Jester and Wear were on the Basketball Team. The Camp Crane Heavyweight Boxing Champion was Clarence Beck. Another boxer of note was Joe Cappellino.
This Section could very well be called the "Section for All States." In looking over the roster (which was prepared for the Ambulance Service News in 1919), it is hard to understand why this was identified as a Philadelphia Section. There were many states listed in the record of the home addresses given. Section 532 assembled in Philadelphia and went to Allentown, June 11, 1917, so it was one of the originally numbered sections, namely 32. They were billeted in the cooling stables, Grandstand and Building 8, while at the Fairgrounds. The Section had two lieutenants, first, Charles Weber and finally Lt. (later Captain) Allan F. Wherritt. The Section became part of the Italian Contingent following the long wait which included many hikes, the stay at Guth Station, and on first day of hunting season the men chased rabbits on foot and caught many.
Following their arrival at Genoa, the Section received its first assignment at Carpenedo and was attached to the Smistamento D'Intendenza of the Third Army. In view of their close proximity to Venice and Mestre, both objects of many enemy air raids, they were ordered to put their equipment under trees and to refrain from smoking at night or showing bright colors by day. The hauls were short and the work with the staff of the Smistamento was very pleasant.
When Section 532 went to their first post, they took with them the personal boxes of the other member sections of their Battalion, Section 520, 603 and 604. As these sections were later sent to France, their belongings had to be returned from Mestre to Genoa by rail, guarded by two Section 532 men. These men experienced several bombing attacks while on their mission. The Section endured the air raids while quartered in their pup-tents until they were assigned to the Villa Bularelli. On September 11, the Section was ordered to join the 28th Army Corps which was defending the lower Piave River sector between Montello and Musile. Ten minutes later, Section 526 took over and 532 moved on to Roncade and took up their abode in the Villa Selvatico.
Section 532 had ten posts to serve, located at Gendon, San Pietre Novelli, Villa Premuda, Casa Anna, Casa Amelia, Zenson, Fornaci, Casa Ginio, Casa Sile and Casa di Rosetta. From Roncade headquarters, the Section entered the great offensive with the Third Army and every available man and motor equipment was put to work day and night. The Italian Army crossed the Piave River on pontoon bridges, and the ambulances of Section 532 had to wait while the artillery and ammunition trucks crossed over. The Pierce-Arrow truck hauling the mobile kitchen nearly broke through the bridge, but finally made it across. The first stop was Abbazia, which was a pitiful sight with the building used as a dressing station filled and many wounded and dying on stretchers outside. Again all ambulances, trucks and touring cars of the Section were pressed into service. Thousands of Austrian prisoners were streaming to the rear of the Italian lines. After three days, the Section moved up to Prammaggiore as a base, but the Austrian retreat by this time had turned into a rout. Again they moved on to San Vito and stayed just long enough to gather all cars together. Then the Section moved into former Austrian territory at Gradisca. It was at this point that the Section made its first contact with the 332 U.S. Infantry Regiment. Four ambulances were assigned to the hospital established at Undine by the Americans. The rest of the Section moved forward to an Austrian hospital at Vippacco, a small town in the beautiful area of the Julian Alps. The only signs of war here were the trenches recently dug by the enemy soldiers, but the Armistice made them useless. Twelve members of the Section were awarded the Croce al Merito di Guerra.
Section 532 was widely separated from the other sections at this time, but made a real home for themselves in Gradisca which they nicknamed "Mount Grappa." This village had a population of 300 and was situated on a hill about five hundred feet high. The villagers welcomed the ambulanceers and always insisted on a drink they called "grappa" before leaving for quarters.
In spite of the enjoyment at Section 532's "Mount Grappa," they were ready to leave promptly when ordered to Genoa for home in April.
This Section was sponsored by Iowa State College (now a University) at Ames. They were assembled in May 1917, as the result of the work and interest of Dean R. E. Buchanan of the Science Department. Some hundred men made applications, from which 36 were to be selected to form the ambulance unit "to go to France." No physical or mechanical examination was ever given by the Government to match the test these 36 men had to meet. On June 4, they were ordered to Ft. Des Moines, Iowa, where they were mustered in the next day and left for Allentown. They arrived on June 12 at the Lehigh Valley Station and marched up the Hamilton Street hill to the Fairgrounds gate. This section represents another frustration in connection with the rumor that the best drilled units would see early overseas service. Section 545 had mastered the drill routine long before arriving at the camp. They had several false starts, but the cause for the delays may have been due to the number of Casanovas in the outfit. Certainly the reports indicate that Section 545 had more than their share of the fair sex in Allentown. The Section was billeted first in the floral hall, then down graded to the horse barns, moved up again to the Grandstand, and down to the cooling sheds, and we suppose a stay at Guth Station.
Captain Joseph C. Horan, M.R.C. commanded the Section from July 1, 1917 to April 15, 1918. Captain Alfred L. Miller, A.A.S. took command on April 15, 1918, and saw them through the Italian service. Section 545 sailed on the Giuseppe Verdi with the Italian Contingent and accepted the plaudits of the masses in Genoa. With Section 527, they left the camp at Lido on July 23, and with only overnight stops, arrived at Villa Sega Fredda, Rosa, on July 27. Section 545 served this sector with the Sanitary Train of the Fourth Army continually until December 22. From the first aid station at Ponte San Lorenzo to Teleferica No. 8, their most advanced post was at Col dal Gallo, a post covering the Asolone and Col Moschin Sectors of Grappa. It was 1300 meters above the Brenta River and when the weather was too severe to use the telefericas, the ambulances had to go down that famous Mt. Grappa road to Pove.
The second post was at the head of the San Felicita Valley, hauling from the telefericas to the hospitals at Pove and Romano. The other post was at Pove, hauling to hospitals near Bassano and Cittadella. With the great offensive beginning October 22, until November 3, all the ambulances and the Pierce-Arrow truck ran night and day. On Nov. 3, we moved up the Brenta Valley through Cismon and Primolano.
As work slackened, the cars returned to do evacuation service at Bassano. On December 18, the Section received orders to move to Montegliano near Undine, to carry on the work with the same Sanitary Division. December 22 was the day of the Great Parade, including all rolling equipment, souvenirs, hand made coat hangers and dressing tables, and we assume the personnel. They advanced across the Piave, Livenza and Tagliamento Rivers and established their winter quarters in a house in Mortegliano. Still showing the Casanova trait, they announced their pleasure over the fact that the ladies seemed to improve the further north the Section moved.
For their excellent and efficient work, the Armata del Grappa awarded 36 men the Croce al Merito di Guerra. The Section returned with all United States troops from Italy on April 7, 1919, aboard the Duca degli Abruzzi.
Regular members of the original USAAC Band in Allentown which accompanied the Contingent to Italy, were James Guilford, piccolo, and Ralph Blakeslee, clarinet.
Histories like portraits are generally most interesting to the subject portrayed, and it may therefore happen that in writing this we will lose ourselves in our own reminiscences, forgetting the size of our audience and making hints and illusions understandable only to those who are or have been in our inner circle, and yet because of shake-ups and transfers, we are now connected by blood ties --- as it may be called --- with a great many if not most of the other sections and volunteer units, and it is very hard to think of a narrow section circle.
Formerly we passed in review every Saturday, now we are passing in what may be a final review in the successive issues of our paper. We of '55 will try as of old to keep our own line straight and keep step to the music, not forgetting meanwhile to applaud the success of others. (The Editor of this entire history says "Amen" to the above, and hopes that within these gold covers we have been true to these same principles.)
Ambulance Company No. 3 of the University of Chicago, which had been enlisted in the Medical Reserve Corps in April or early May of 1917, was sworn into the Federal Service on July 3, 1917. This unit of nearly 180 men had volunteered to drive ambulances in France and expected to go overseas in a few weeks. On August 11, they were ordered by the Central Department to proceed to Allentown, Pa., as soon as transportation could be provided. This was accomplished on August 20, and the next day the Philadelphia newspapers reported that Allentown saw the Midwest Huskies breeze into camp, 180 strong --- the largest single contingent from any college. As the first contingent was to leave the next night for France, there would be room in the camp for the University of Chicago unit. They were accorded a great welcome by the Fordham boys who were quartered just across from the Casual Building. The unit had to be split into three sections in accordance with the regulations and were numbered 555, 556 and 531. Section 555 soon took quarters vacated by the Fordham, Pennsylvania and Princeton sections in the Poultry and Pigeons Building.
The Section was first a part of Battalion VIII and were exposed to the usual hardships of camp life. They took many hikes and one trip included the famous Washington Propaganda Excursion. Then came another big shakeup and Section 555 became a part of Battalion XIII and went overseas in the Italian Contingent with Captain F. Phelps Todd, A.A.S., in command. Their original commander had been Captain Winfield Sweet.
The Section just missed leaving for the Front on the first order, and did not leave Genoa until September 10th. They went first to Mantua, and the next day to Vicenza where they received their assignment to Preganziol between Trèviso and Mestre. Their billet was in the large Villa Comello.
During the great offensive of Vittorio-Veneto, their sector was the Ronchi-Ponte di Piave. Four cars were sent up to San Ambrogio, north of Treviso, to help in the evacuation of a Smistamento there. The movement of materiel was slowing the ambulances and not until the Piave was crossed could some cars start working from Oderzo and San Vito. From here the cars moved up to a little town a few miles beyond Undine. On December 2, the Section moved to Cervigano.
This Section supplied one of the major artists the USAACs learned to enjoy in the years that followed, Gerrit Sinclair, Two men made the original Band, Goose Ulhorn and Red Heilman. The "Good Bye Bill" orchestra had Fred Huebenthal who played the violin and the Director was "Musk" Mellon.
Fourteen men of the Section were awarded the Croce al Merito di Guerra.
This Section, like many others, was formed in Allentown of men which formed the overflow from ambulance units recruited in other cities. Section 557 men were mostly from New York City and vicinity. They were assembled by Russel K. Dougherty at Governors Island, having been recruited by the active work of Dr. (Major) Francis T. Metcalfe. The date of the formation as a section is reported as June 14, 1917. Major Metcalfe will be remembered as one of the early prominent officers at Camp Crane, and when he was selected to take a contingent to France early in 1918, there were many transfers to those sections leaving early. Some of the original members of 557 went over to France with the Devereux contingent in 1917. Replacements were made to keep Section 557 up to regulation strength. They were commanded by quite a list of lieutenants including Bethel, Mauser, Felts, Wood, Lackey and Decker. Their commanding officer in Italy was Captain H. G. Tomlin who took charge of the Section, December 17, 1918.
We have no record of their early billeting quarters, but we have no doubt that the men passed through the stages of the animal exhibition buildings. The records show they returned from the encampment at Betzwood to Building No. 7, and following Christmas passes, were quartered in Building 35. They became a part of Battalion V and were selected for the Italian Contingent, being the second section in line leaving Camp Crane. During the first few weeks in Italy, the Section was doing their bit of M.P. duty and working at the Motor Park, assembling cars.
On August 6, 1918, the Section left for the Front and after a three days trip, arrived at Trevignana, in the vicinity of Montello. They were attached to the 22nd Army Corps of the 8th Italian Army. Posts were established at Montello, and then the entire Section moved up on October 1, to Volpago. They were constantly under shell fire and their quarters was the target for air bombardment and even machine gun fire. The Montello is a long hill at the foothills of the Carnia and Cadore Alps. The Piave River runs on its northern side, and south of it stretch the Venetian Plains. From one point on this hill country one can see Venice, Treviso and Padova in the distance. From Volpago, the Section Headquarters moved to Bulluno and later to the Headquarters of the 22nd Army Corps at Gemona. Records show that Captain W. R. Putnam, M.C., was in command of the Section here, but there is no information as to whether he replaced Captain Tomlin or vice versa. There are many experiences reported by members of the section that went through great dangers of shell fire, but they all had good luck charms of some kind as no casualties were suffered.
Unusual photographs have shown the section to have had excellent billets at Belluno and Gemona while their posts were dug-outs, sand bagged shelters. Two men narrowly escaped serious injury when fire broke out in a shed housing some large shells. One ambulance was fired at point-blank as it had to go toward the enemy lines in order to turn around on a narrow road:
How many of the men were recognizable on release is not determined. Twenty-five pledged to grow moustaches at the war's end, until they were discharged. This did not prevent the Section from being awarded the Italian War Cross of Merit.
This was known as the Purdue Section from Lafayette, Indiana. Their history starts out with these words: "With bright visions of France in three weeks, some eighty men entrained at Lafayette, bound for Berlin via Allentown, Pa., and Paris. The first objective was reached in good time and an extensive stop-over was made at this point, too extensive by many months." On arrival in Allentown, the men were selected to form Section 559 and the remaining number formed Section 598. As fate would have it, 559 never saw France, while 598 went to France in the contingent under Major Metcalfe.
Section 559 had faith in an eventual order to go to France which kept their spirit up, and so they went about the camp life with zest. Lt. Decker, later Major Decker, took command for a short time, then was replaced by Lt. Craft. All Lt. Craft had time to do was get them uniforms and then some shots, before the Section came under the command of our present leader, Captain Henry L. Akridge. The Section graced the sheep barn, then the Grandstand, Building No. 7, and finally one of the new barracks.
Section 559 spent much of the summer of 1917 on the road and at what they called Luhin Farm, better known as Betzwood. They had their ambulances with them, or some anyway, and took driving lessons, to the point of feeling the war was surely coming to Pennsylvania. In October they went into winter hibernation.
Rumors of the Italian Contingent renewed the sagging spirit of Section 559. After a few more months of Liberty Loan assistance, many Equipment "C" and other inspections, rolling and re-rolling of packs, farewells three times a week, they were surprised to receive an extra meal, and orders to march to the Station. This was the memorable night of June 12, 1918. A night on the train, then marched on board the Giuseppe Verdi the following day and arrived in Genoa, Italy, June 27, 1918.
On August 5, 1918, Section 559 was sent to the Front where the Austrians suffered a disastrous defeat when they succeeded in crossing the Piave in June, 1918. Their forward posts were at Povigliano, Cusignana and Visna Della, the Section base being at Castangole. Except for some Austrian planes coming over the Piave to try to pick-off an Italian balloon, there was little activity.
At the time of the big Vittorio-Veneto offensive all cars of the Section were kept busy night and day, and when the Austrians were forced out of Vittorio, Section 559 moved their base up there. They worked out to posts in the mountains and over into Austrian territory. Sanitary headquarters were then at Cadores, and a detachment was sent to Tai.
The report on the Section activities ends abruptly, but seeing their last quarters pictured in the Ambulance Service News, we can understand.
Three fine men all succumbed to that dread disease, pneumonia, in Italy, all being buried with full military honors: Robert Leo McGrath, Charles Henry Holden, Genio Protevi.
Previous to the entry of the United States into the Great War, there were many organizations wanting to help France. The Red Cross was numbered among these organizations. Much has been written about the Pasadena Red Cross Ambulance Company. When America cast her lot with the Allies, this unit, with many others throughout the Nation, was ready and joined the Medical Service and were ordered to the camp at Allentown, Pa.
A special train left Pasadena on June 13, 1917, with 124 men and arrived at the camp five days later. Immediately upon arrival, a great change took place, as our unit had to be split into four Ambulance Sections and designated by Numbers 563, 564, 565, 566.
Here we are telling the story of Section 563. Although the group from Pasadena stayed pretty well together during the period of training, Section 564 slipped out of the picture somewhere along the line as the men filled the spaces left open in other Pasadena sections, due to transfers and drop-outs over the year at Camp Crane. Section 563 was a leader in all activities at Allentown and helped to spread the camp's reputation far and wide. Led into camp by Dr. (later Major) Charles D. Lockwood, they, came down to earth in the horse cooling stables as their first billet.
Then as the new recruits began to crowd them out, they took part in hikes to Reading, Lancaster and the memorable Pottstown raids on "German trenches" for the benefit of some movie cameras. They did their part of digging mud at Guth Station and snow at Camp Crane.
In June they marched with 565, 566 and the other sections making up the Italian Contingent, to the train for the trip to Hoboken to board the Giuseppe Verdi. The only submarine they saw was tied alongside another navy ship at Gibraltar. It had taken them a full year to get from Pasadena to Gibraltar. The next day they set sail again, taking four days to reach Genoa, where the Italians more than matched any welcome they had received in Allentown, Reading, or Lancaster.
Section 563 did their share of ambulance assembling. The commanding officer at this time was Lieutenant Miles W. Middough, and it was not long before they had mastered the gear shift GMCs and were off to Mantua. Here they received the assignment to the Front at Conco. The Section stepped into the thick of the battles and continued their steady work right up to the Armistice on November 4, 1918.
On the drive into Austria, the Section worked with the 265th and 266th Brigades, and arrived in Trent one and one-half hours behind the first Italian troops.
The Section held posts during their active work at Puffele, Fontanelle, Bosa del Termine, Sasso, Cima Echair, Montagna Nuova, Val Chiama and Rubbio. After the Armistice they established new stations at Asiago, Cima Undici, Cima Dodici and Gallio. At the end they were located at Comune Zezo in the Province of Verona, awaiting orders to return to Genoa and homeward bound. The members of Section 563 were awarded La Croce al Merito di Guerra in a ceremony conducted by Gen. Conte Ugo Sani.
Several of the men of this Section took part in the show, "Good Bye Bill," and joined the famous American Jazz Band, traveling in Italy and France after the war.
This Section was part of the famous Pasadena Ambulance Company which arrived at Camp Crane 124 strong on June 18, 1917, and were split up into four separate sections. Section 565 absorbed many men from their sister Section 564, which section was finally dissolved. The history of this Section so parallels that of Section 563 and 566 while training in the camp at Allentown, we assume this is why no history column was set up for them in the Ambulance Service News.
We do know that they were commanded by Captain Arthur M. Slee and went over to Italy on the Giuseppe Verdi. We do know that an early commander was a Lt. H. L. Van Doren, who on the way over, helped with the location of musical instruments in the hold of the ship. Smith Russell (and that's not reversed), Hugh Slayden and Malcolm Barrett, and especially Arthur Slee, all attest to the fact that they landed in Genoa and were assigned to the Mt. Grappa zone at the Front, but if you peruse the pages of the A. S. News, you will find this Section's LIFE was reported as "fun": a New Year's Eve Party held in American Fashion style with real live American girls, and One di Fonte (with the Italian grandmother who owned the town), where without her, their banquets would have lacked tablecloths and their clothes would have lacked buttons, etc.
But returning to the answers on the report sent in by Section 565, it is easy to understand their contribution to the war's end was equal to the other sections working in the Mt. Grappa area. They were attached to the 30th Army Corps and served them through the great battle of Vittorio-Veneto. The Section was awarded a unit citation of the Italian War Cross. It is reported Section 565 evacuated 17,543 cases to November 4, 1918. The Section returned home on the Duca degli Abruzzi.
Like President Wilson, the number "13" has been a great factor in the history and successes of Section 566. The original Section left Pasadena for Allentown, June 13, 1917, and was among the first to land in Camp Crane. With the Italian Contingent, it sailed for foreign service June 13, 1918, and strange as it may seem, there are today only "13" of the original personnel left in this Section.
As part of the Pasadena Company No. 1, the Section has little claim to California now. The long delay in moving out of Camp Crane caused transfers and replacements to where nearly every state was represented in the personnel of the Section going to Italy. After a whirlwind campaign by "Dame Rumor," the long awaited day came on June 12, when the Section marched to the station. The next day. June 13, they went aboard the Giuseppe Verdi (13 letters).
Their early days in Camp Crane were spent in the usual activities of drill, inspections and hikes. They were billeted when in camp in the Grandstand under the Headquarters offices. Lt. Charles D. Lockwood commanded for the first few weeks, followed by Lt. M. E. Perkins, then Lt. Adolph J. Menjou, and finally Captain Harold G. Tomlin who took charge March 10, 1918, and was with the Section during their service in Italy.
From June 27 to July 19 the Section was on guard duty, covering all U.S. Army property in the Genoa area. Leaving for the Headquarters at Mantua in their ambulances and other rolling stock, Section 566, with Section 545, received their assignment to move on to Vicenza. Their first assignment at the Front was with the 29th Division, with the 20th Army Corps at Bassano, including a modern Villa. The post at Valstagna received the first wounded carried by the Section, within 24 hours of their reaching the Front.
The first real action came with the 15th Division's raid on the Austrian lines on September 14. The men received four citations while under fire in this engagement.
Some of the ambulances of Section 566 were sent to the assistance of Section 527 on Monte Grappa, during the great offensive of October 24. All other cars were kept busy evacuating wounded brought in from our Front lines, and by other sections, as the Italian Army crossed the Piave River.
Their location near Lago di Garda was in a castle on a knoll overlooking the Lago. The nearest town was Ponti sul Mincio, where the 20th Corps di Armata was in repose. The Section had more posts at this time than at any previous assignment. The move from Bassano to this base was made on Thanksgiving Day, 1918, and they remained in the castle until called to Genoa for the trip home.
The Section had spent about five months at Bassano which was a famous battlefield down through the ages. The contending forces of Gauls and Romans, feudal barons, Austrians and Italians, French and Austrians have been fighting back and forth in and about Bassano. It was the first seat of power of Ezzelino, a barbaric leader, later it became a Republic; was conquered by Venice; taken from Venice by Austria; taken from Austria by Napoleon and made a duchy for his Secretary of State; at Napoleon's fall, Austria again took possession; and it reverted back to Italy when Garibaldi drove out the Austrians and broke up the Papal States to form the present united Italy.
Claims of "Firsts" by Section 566 have been many but some other history will have to settle these points for posterity. From the records it does appear that the men of the Section availed themselves of the wonderful sights during their periods of furlough in Venice, Rome, Milan, Florence, Naples, Pompeii and Lake Como.
Their happiest claim of a "First" was when the Section was released from duty with the Italian Army on February 6, 1919, awaiting orders to proceed to Genoa for the trip home, minus some important members of the American Jazz Band.
It would appear that your chronicler, selected for the report on Section 573, felt that enough would have been written about the activities at Camp Crane, Allentown, Pa., covering the sections between 501 and 573, that he would skip these repetitive remarks and drive right into the battles of San Ambrogio de Fiera, right out from Treviso.
We do know the Section was made up largely of men from New York City and that they arrived in Allentown June 13, 1917, that they were supposed to have been billeted in the Bandstand (or was that Grandstand). A sergeant, Claude G. Aikens, who arrived in Allentown with a group from Susquehanna University on June 21, 1917, and who won his spurs as a Lieutenant, A.A.S., was placed in command of Section 573 on January 21, 1918. We also know that all sections going to Italy left on the Ginseppe Verdi on June 13, 1918.
So, we pick up the history of Section 573 on duty at the Italian Front on August 10, 1918. - Their first reins were long ones between the Smistamento and Scorze, but as they moved up with the troops of the 11th Army Corps, the traffic became very heavy. In the run to Preganziol, the British troops were moving up their artillery and it was a real struggle and tangle at times, especially at night without lights.
We were very busy, with even our Pierce-Arrow truck being called upon, when we moved up to L'Ronchi preparatory to crossing the Piave. Four of our cars had been detailed elsewhere; two with the 37th Sanitary Div. at Vacil and two with the 55th Sanitary Div. from Pero. The base moved from L'Ronchi to Oderzo on November 2 and again from Oderzo to San Vito al Tagliamento on November 6th. During this move, always under bombardment, three of our cars volunteered to cross a badly shattered bridge over the Livenza River to evacuate some badly wounded civilians.
At San Vito the Section did local evacuation work until November 9th, when they moved up to Pradamando. They worked from here back to Undine and some runs to San Vito across the Tagliamento River. On November 14, the Section moved to their final base at Gorizia, working on the road back to Undine, some 25 miles. The Section was billeted in a beautiful old castle, occupied before the war by an Italian Baron. It had one wing struck by a shell in the early days of the war, but there were still 57 rooms remaining in perfect order, which gave the entire Section plenty of space.
On December 18, 1918, Colonel Luigi Mauri arrived with his staff to present to the men of Section 573 the Croce di Guerra. The Section lined up on the beautiful lawn in front of the castle, and with our Lieutenant at his side, called each man to step forward, pinning the medal on the tunic and shaking his hand. Through an interpreter, Colonel Mauri praised the work of the Section and thanked them for the splendid initiative and courage shown at all times.
Section 573 awarded their own medal to "Cognac," one of the few dogs to see active service on the Italian Front. He apprehended a thief while in the Section's castle, which won him the lasting endearment of all.
On June 21, 1917, the Brown University Section arrived at Allentown 36 strong. An ambulance unit had been established at the University by Prof. James Q. Dealey, chairman of the military committee at Brown. On May 31, 1917, the War Department authorized the unit to be sworn in, and Lt. R. B. Parker, M.R.C., completed this duty June 6 and 7. They arrived at the Concentration Camp for three weeks intensive training in the United States Army Ambulance Corps, before going to France. The Section was given the Number 79 (later 579) and introduced first to the Horse Cooling Sheds, before taking up winter quarters in the Pig Pen Exhibition Building. They were made welcome into Allentown homes through the gracious help of their Big Brothers, Messrs. Lotte and Reinsmith.
It was not to be the good fortune of Section 579 to have a short period of training in Allentown, and there were only eleven men of the original Brown Ambulance Unit who marched to the station nearly a year later, to go to Italy instead of France. (It was the "Old Sarg," John Parcell, who told your Editor shortly before he died, that there was a lot of politics involved in the selection of the sections which went over first to France.)
Section 579 was rewarded with a very important assignment at the Front, after spending a longer time than necessary at the base camp outside of Genoa. On September 9, the Section left for Mantua and there received orders to relieve Section 596 at their posts on the Asiago Plateau. Two cars went to Lugo; two went to Velu; four at Mt. Cavalleto; one at Grenezza; and two at Campo Rossignola. Headquarters was set up at Sandrigo. These assignments were held until just before the big Vittoriu-Veneto drive. Headquarters then was moved to Madonetta.
During the big offensive and until November 23, Headquarters was moved up to Mt. Cavalleto. The cars from Veto, Lugo and Mt. Cavalleto were used during the time of the offensive, wherever the military exigencies of the moment demanded; through Asiago to Campo Rovere and Vezzena, on to Caldonazzo and Pergine, as far as Trent, in the recaptured territory from Austria.
On February 8, all the cars were called in to Madonetta to prepare for the move to the new Headquarters at the Villa San Francesco on Lago di Garda, where the Sixth Corps of the Italian Army was on repose. This was a fine villa on the shores of the beautiful lake, but they were both designed for summer use, so Genoa with its warm weather would be a welcome spot on their way home.
Although they had three commanding officers, we assume Lt. R. B. Parker was number one, a Lt. Philips was number two, and number three was the man who took the Section across and was with them during all their activities at the Front, Captain Harold C. Schaffer. From the pictures shown in the Ambulance Service News, it would appear that Section 579 had some pretty rough posts until they holed-up for the winter in their villa by the Lago di Garda.
In reviewing the names of the men in the Section, it is easy to see why they were in great demand both in the States and at the Lido camp. They contributed greatly to the entertainment of the USAACs in the show, "Good Bye Bill." Also there were artists of note for the show's program cover, and another who did murals on the walls of their billets, and the better half of the Mechanics' Quartette which became famous in the Genoa Opera House.
Before leaving for the United States, 36 men (which would appear to be the entire Section) were awarded the Italian Medal of Merit by the Italian Government.
A quotation states, "This Section is in its third year of the war, which is reason enough for setting down a few notes for the record, lest it actually begins to fade from the memory of man," Section 587 arrived in Allentown on June 23, 1917, with what was then a full quota of 36 men, all from Oberlin College.
Army life began at once with fifteen days in Betzwood which furnished no promise to the would-be ambulance drivers, and when the call came in the fall to "Fight or Buy Bonds"---well the Section bought bonds. This work saved them from the serious trench warfare training at Guth Station. With "Imogene" and "Asphalt," they tramped over lawns and potato fields and learned how to execute "Section Front" regardless of difficulties. Eighteen hours with gas masks were endured, and then with sheathed axes, they were ready for Carangelo's "worst night." They preceded the other sections by one day to the port of embarkation, but held up the sailing of the Giuseppe Verdi for the arrival of the Italian Contingent.
After a month in Genoa, they left for the Front on July 31, 1918, where they were stationed in the Mt. Grappa sector near Asolo until December. The base was at Castelcucco which lies between Asolo and Bassano. Setting-up exercises with some evacuation of sick to hospitals, for most of the summer and early fall, gave the Section the wrong impression of war. Then it burst upon them all at once, and for three weeks all cars and trucks were continuously busy.
To those who took it, the drive up Mt. Tomba was the most difficult experience in mountain driving. One man who slipped over to see the Monte Grappa road to visit Section 527, returned at record speed and said that "anyone who would take an ambulance over that road is a damn fool."
Section 587 had two commanding officers, Lieutenant (now Captain) H. G. Walker and Captain Carl C. Moore. Captain Moore took command in September 1917, and was with them until the end. Their Italian assignment was with the 2nd Sanitary Section of the 70th Division.
On October 24th, Coniezza became their post and then they moved up to Feltre. As the Austrians fell back, they returned south with the 2nd Sanitary unit to Fanzola, near Castelfranco, and Hospital No. 316. Later their base was as Borgaricco, midway between Castelfranco and Padova. Two of their cars served the 332nd Regiment of U.S. troops at Treviso.
Late in the summer of 1918, they received a surprise visit from President Henry Churchill King of Oberlin College, who was visiting the Italian Front in connection with his work in the Y.M.C.A. In addition to this high light of events, something should be said about the famous event in the lives of 22 men of Section 587 and 565. It took place at Castelfranco on December 26th, and was billed as "The Lions and The Lambs Lie Down Together." Which was which depends entirely on whose side you were on! The lambs gamboled and frolicked while the lions bared their fangs in a scoreless tie.
We guess that Section 587's just claim to fame can be the birth of the Oberlin Octette. From a humble beginning in the horse sheds at the Fairgrounds in Allentown, their rise to the La Scala Opera House in Milan was heart warming. They have records made by The Società Italiana di Fonolipia to prove it.
We are sure the Section was awarded the Medal of Merit by the Italian Government.
Representing the University of Arizona and recruited at the University of Tucson, Arizona, on June 11 to 14, 1917, 32 men were sworn in by Captain Wilde, U.S. Army. They went to Nogales, Arizona, on the Mexican border, and were attached to Base Hospital No. 5, where the rudiments of drilling were given by Sergeant Johnston. They left as a Section for Allentown, arriving in the early part of July. They were placed in charge of Lt. Boyd, and became a part of Major Devereux's Battalion on hikes to Kern's Dam, Slatington and Bath. The men made many friends in camp and were well entertained by their Big Brothers, Mr. Ormrod and Mr. Whittaker at Summit Lawn and at the Country Club. Slowly the original group transferred to other branches of the Armed Forces or into other sections, which they believed were leaving earlier for overseas.
Several months before leaving Allentown as part of Major Decker's Battalion No. 5, a Lieutenant Mosley was in command and brought the Section up to regulation strength by replacement. The Section then had eighteen states represented. They went over on the Giuseppe Verdi, landing at Genoa June 27, 1918. One month later, after taking part in their share of guard duty and assembling the GMCs, they left for Mantua. They were assigned to Sandrigo as a base. The ambulances worked from Lugo, Velo, Campo Rosignola and Mt. Cavaletto (where five cars were stationed). There was also a post at Granezza, the British Headquarters on the Asiago Plateau. The Section runs extended from Vicenza to the Asiago Front. The roads on these mountains were famous for the very steep grades and "hairpin" curves. Section 596 spent two months in service at this Front, and then were relieved on September 15, and established Headquarters at Castelfranco.
It then became the duty to get back to their old job of freight handling. The Q.M.C. and Motor Transport Detachments were located there, and began receiving three to five carloads of freight daily. The men did their work willingly but not with too much joy, After two weeks of this kind of work, they finally were assigned again to ambulance work in charge of Colonel Frugoni and Captain Notari, both of the 8th Italian Army. Lt. Moseley was taken sick and was evacuated to the Base Hospital at Vicenza. Captain Winfield C. Sweet became their commander. The Section was kept busy evacuating thirty-one hospitals to the trains at Castelfranco, Camposampiero and Padova. One of their most difficult assignments was a trip to Pontebba near the border of Austria, north of Undine, to pick up Italian prisoners-of-war and return them to Montebelluna. This trip took three days.
Section 596 was awarded the Italian War Cross on April 5, 1919. They suffered one casualty when Harry Arnold, one of their cooks was severely scalded. He was evacuated to the hospital at Vicenza, and contracted influenza and died in a few days.
The Section returned through Genoa and sailed for home on the Duca degli Abruzzi, and was discharged at Camp Dix, N.J.
This Section was formed from the pool of men brought about by the reduction in manpower of each section, following their arrival in Italy. This was exactly what happened in Paris with the great majority of sections sent to France, with a complement of men numbering 45 instead of 34. There is no record covering the basis used in the selection of those to be cut. In the case of France, the pool so formed was used to select replacements for American Field Service sections following their militarization, and the formation of Parc units. In the ease of the Italian Contingent's sections, the reduction was made to form new sections to replace those the American Army requested from the Italian Government for immediate service in France, due to the widening of the offensive there. (This explanation is required at the outset, to correct any impression that the three Provisional Sections, so named, were any different than any other United States Army Ambulance Service sections.)
At first the pool from which the three Prov. Sections A, B and C were formed, was designated as R.S.D. and commanded by Captain Arthur E, Murphy. The unexpected depletion of the rolling stock made it necessary for these men to do work in and about the Headquarters at Mantua. As motor equipment became available, the sections were assigned commanding officers and active work at the Fronts. Prov. Sec. A had Captain Guy O. Walser as their leader and moved to complete some work at Castelfranco. At the beginning of the major offensive, this Section moved to San Ambrogio on the Piave River Front. Their cars were kept busy day and night. Just before the Armistice, Prov. Section A moved to Mestre and then to Carpenedo where their headquarters was in the beautiful Villa Burgarella. Their ambulances evacuated from the hospitals at Carpenedo and Mestre Smistamentos. The Section shared this activity with the men of Prov. Sec. C who spent a great deal of time at the villa, but the men of "A" considered it their base. The villa had been the base of Sections 532 and 526 earlier in the war period.
The monkey "Garibaldi," the buddy of "Cognac," holed up in the Villa Burgarella, and was acquired by Sergeant Calvin King of "Good Bye Bill" and "Let's Go!" fame. Whether the monkey was appreciated by Cav. Prof. Dott. Antonio Burgarella who shared his home with the Americans, we do not know! (If the abbreviations in front of A. Burgarella are puzzling, your Editor says to blame it on "dead-lines.")
Organized at Mantua, Italy on October 17, 1918, under the authority of Par. 1 50 93 Headquarters, USAAS, this Section was assigned to the Third Army as a mobile unit to follow the advance of the Italians. Lieutenant Presley D. Stout was their commander, and shortly after their formation, were ready for active service. On October 24, on a cold and rainy day with every man soaked to the skin, the Section drove to Vicenza and on up toward the Asiago Plateau. It was well after dark when they arrived at Madonetta where they were billeted with Section 579. The following day the Section moved on to Treviso and spent the night with Section 573.
The Section then moved back to Chrignamo, about two miles from Mestre, and was placed under the direction of Captain Pagano of the Third Army. "We were anxious to go to work and from the time our first ambulance was called out on October 27, we had little rest until we reached Monfalcone. On the way we had stations at Sambughe, serving the Smistamento at Preganziol." The rush of work lasted through the week ending Nov. 13, and on Nov 17, the Section moved on up to Monfalcone. This was the furthest advanced post of all ambulance sections in Italy.
Monfalcone was very badly ruined by enemy shell fire in the early days of the war before the fall of Caporetto. From early Roman times, down through the ages when Goths and Huns made this land the pathway for their crossing in the Julian Alps, until the days of 1915-1917. the city has played a major role in the life of the Roman Empire and modern Italy.
The Prov. Sec. B had plenty of time to study this historic spot and make other sight-seeing visits. The ambulances were kept busy and the Section established an advanced post at Trieste. The Section was awarded the Croce al Merito di Guerra on February 26, 1919.
We have heard much of the sulphur baths of the region, and we guess the Section was the envy of all other sections for their proximity to these watering retreats. The harbor at Porto Rosega in the very northernmost indentation of the Adriatic Sea, was an important ship building port for the Austrians. Many damaged, partly completed ships were left in the harbor by the fleeing enemy.
This Section was formed at Mantua on October 19, 1918, but without a commanding officer. They went about their drills and guard duty as any true soldier should. Then came the day when Captain Arthur E. Murphy was given command of Prov. Sec. C and orders to move to Mestre. This was the last day of October and the great offensive was moving at high speed: Their ambulances were ready for the call but it never seemed to come. The bridgehead had been won by the Third Army across the Piave, and that was the Section's opportunity for which they had been waiting.
Up into the shell shot hell bordering the Livenza River, their ambulances worked day and night, close on the heels of the advancing troops. At one time three cars became detached, but continued to work with Italian and British regiments as they pushed up along the Tagliamento River. Then the Armistice put an end to their work under fire. All the work from then on was in evacuating hospitals in the recently devastated country.
The Section sought better quarters further from the distractions of Venice and the rather cold reception received at the hands of Prov. Sec. A, in their fine Villa Burgarella. This move took place on November 17, 1918, when the base was moved to Oderzo on the north side of the Piave. A villa at this station was soon put in order and the Section carried on its work from there. They were doing odd jobs, chiefly hauling passengers and a communication service.
This Section's claim to fame was made while stationed at Mestre. Two of their men volunteered to carry a safe, including the Queen's Regimental Flag, to the victorious troops then entering Trieste. These colors had been the original ones used by the Regiment at the time of their occupation of Trieste in 1849, when this area was a part of Italy. It later came under Austrian rule.
It appears that both Prov. Sections A and C were formed from men in a pool which had been ordered into existence as Company B. Therefore new orders were sent through placing Provisional Sections on a permanent status, the same as all regular USAAS sections.
This unit was attached to the Italian Contingent on March 1, 1918. They were organized at Camp Meigs, Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1917, and enlisted in the Q.M.C. and were transferred to Camp Crane, where they picked up five more mechanics. Following several months of service at the Lido. outside of Genoa, they left with Section 566 for Mantua. While there the men of MSTU 350 were transferred from Q.M.C. into the Motor Transport Service. They spent most of their time at the base camp at Mantua until relieved by orders to proceed to France. Their commander was Lt. Harry M. Vale, M.T.C. The unit took all its equipment with it and drove the rolling stock through the pass in the Alps to France.
No report was received as to their assignment in France.
This appears to have been a regular Army unit organized and developed at Camp Joseph E. Johnston at Jacksonville, Florida. The personnel was not enlisted originally in the United States Ambulance Service, but was drawn from several companies, among these being: Motor Repair Company No. 1, Provisional Motorcycle Company No. 1, Instructors Company No. 1, and Motor Truck Company No. 412. The unit was in charge of the Motor Repair Division of Camp Johnston and performed the usual camp duties.
Not until April 29, 1918, was the unit sent to Camp Crane to become part of the Italian Contingent, arriving in Allentown, Pa., on May 2, 1918. It proved a haven of rest as far as the "Motor Shop Truck Unit 355" men were concerned for outside of a short course in the use of gas masks, there was little else to do. In a matter of six weeks they went on board the Giuseppe Verdi bound for Italy as part of the Italian Contingent. Upon arrival in Genoa the unit joined in the great welcome march through the streets, and then helped in establishing the camp at Lido d'Albaro. The Machine Shop Unit worked hand in hand with Captain Harper's Mechanics Detachment. The MSTU 355 was commanded by First Lieutenant Peter Keith, M.T.C. The MSTU was to look after the Dodge motor car assembling and Pierce-Arrow truck repairing, while the Mechanics Detachment was to look after the assembling of the G.M.C. chassis and bodies, with help of men from the sections.
Suddenly as the work was completed at the Lido camp, the MSTU 355 was ordered to Castelfranco to be nearer the Front for the important work of keeping the rolling stock in repair. They found plenty to do in preparing their new post for use. The place where the men would live was an old hotel. The stable, fitted with a new cement floor, was the garage.
In November the influenza took nearly half of the men to the hospital, but with the help of the charming nurses, they all pulled through with no casualties. As the winter passed and a new spring was upon them, the men of MSTU 355 were ready for home, and with the decorations of the Italian War Cross awarded to them, left with the Detached Mechanics Detachment.
Your historian hesitates to try to master all the alphabetical names within the Italian Contingent, and therefore asks for some patience and understanding if mistakes in identification are made under this heading of "Section Reviews." We first found the letters MRSD when we were reading about the pool of men selected to make up the Provisional Sections A, B and C. But in subsequent research we shortly realized MRSD included a much broader and important group in the service. Within the Italian Contingent--- the food they ate, the clothes they wore, the mail they received, the copies of the Ambulance Service News they read, yes, even the YMCA and the hospital detachment personnel--- all could be traced to the activities of MRSD, and the Headquarters Detachment.
They could be found at Genoa, Mantova (Mantua to the men in those days), Verona, Vicenza, Undine and Milan, and even Cattaro in Montenegro. And some further explanation would appear to be necessary, when one unfamiliar with the several details should by accident come upon a page in the A.S.N. (Ambulance Service News) and find pictures covering the personnel of MRSD, listed as "First Army," "Second Army" and the "Third Army," all apparently under the leadership of Lt. W. W. Fanes, certainly further research on succeeding pages of A.S.N. reveals additional pictures of personnel representing the Headquarters Detachment, under the leadership of Captain Clifford F. Truesdell, Jr.
Both groups were billeted (which does not correctly describe their quarters) in the beautiful Ducal Palace at Mantova. From this Palace, went out all orders covering the assignment of sections to the Front, and the movement of other units within the jurisdiction of the commander of the Italian Contingent. This Headquarters Detachment had its beginning in Philadelphia at the Cooper Battalion Hall. The War Department then ordered the Service to transfer all activities to the new Concentration Camp in the Fairgrounds at Allentown, Pennsylvania. As enlistments increased by leaps and bounds, so did the personnel of the Headquarters, so that men had to he loaned by the different sections and picked up from the Casual Unit to keep abreast of the paper work. Eventually there came a time when the Headquarters men had to he formed into a permanent organization and at first they were designated as Section 117, which later became 617. As a unit, they were housed in the usual unhappily named buildings, such as the pig-pen exhibit or horse cooling sheds, but later Section 617 was moved into the Casual Building. Still later they billeted in one of the new barracks. When it became evident that the Camp Crane Commanding Officer, Colonel E. E. Persons, would lead the majority of the remaining sections in training to Italy to serve as ambulance sections with the Italian Army, a select group was named to become the Headquarters Detachment with the Italian Contingent. Some of these men preceded the main contingent with Col. Persons, on May 22, 1918, going to Italy by way of France. Then a group went ahead to set up the Headquarters at Mantova while the sections were equipped with their cars at Genoa. The balance of the Detachment moved up in September, and the main headquarters for the Italian Contingent remained there until the Service was called in to Genoa for the return home.
We liked the Editorial in the Ambulance Service News, which was written by our fellow USAAC who has helped so much with our history. He said: "In this war, more than ever before, the man behind the man behind the gun has played a most important part . . . to alter the simile, we of this detachment are in a sense the men behind the men behind the wheels." So be it for all USAAC Headquarters --- Paris, Allentown, Mantua!
This organization consisted of selected men from ambulance sections at Camp Crane and was made up of men detached from Headquarters. They were divided into two groups, mostly mechanics, one being sent for special training to the GMC plant at Pontiac, Michigan, and the other the Babcock Boche Plant at Watertown, New York. The D.M.D. was placed in charge of Captain Robert L. Harper. They went direct to Hoboken from their separate instruction plants, and then aboard the Leviathan which sailed on May 22, 1918. Colonel Persons, Lt. Colonel Franklin, Captain Harper, Captain Sexsmith and Lt. Adolph Caruso, as an interpreter, with a selected group of men from Allentown Headquarters, made up this contingent.
They arrived at Brest, France, and while Colonel Persons and Lt. Col. Franklin went to Paris, the other officers and men went to a large camp outside of Brest for about 8 days. They then went by train to Genoa, Italy, arriving there several weeks ahead of the main Italian Contingent. They were the first Americans to arrive in Italy, and set about preparing the camp site at the Lido. They then unloaded the 10,000 ton collier S.S. Plymouth which had brought over most of the rolling stock and supplies.
Their base was later moved up to Castelfranco with the MSTU 355 Unit, and kept the ambulances and trucks in good working condition during the great offensive which started late in October. These units were awarded the Italian War Cross for their efficient service.