Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Sacrificing for a "Just Cause": The World War I Memoir of Edward F. Paule, U.S. Engineers

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Sacrificing for a "Just Cause": The World War I Memoir of Edward F. Paule, U.S. Engineers

Article excerpt

ON THE EVENING OF THURSDAY, August 7,1919, an elaborate "military party" was held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Herman P. Paule of Belleville, Illinois. The occasion was the return of the three Paule sons from the battlefields of Europe. Described by a newspaper reporter as a "military affair throughout," the Paule yard featured lanterns, bunting, and the flags of the Allied nations, while the beautifully decorated house displayed flags, birds, and pictures of three ships, "depicting those that brought the boys safely back to America." An elegant luncheon was served to the men in uniform and their guests, with tables and chairs at the disposal of the ladies, while the veterans ate from tin plates and sat army style, "cross-legged" on the floor or the ground. Dancing, singing and the exchange of war stories filled the evening until a very late hour.'

Such ceremonies were common as Americans welcomed the "dough- boys" home after World War I, but now, as the centennial of the conflict approaches, they are distant memories. With the death of the last United States veteran of the war in 2011, Americans lost their final living link to the men and women of 1917-18. Now, only the diaries, letters, memoirs, photographs, and memorials the veterans left behind, and the recollections of their relatives, preserve the legacy of what has become a forgotten war-a conflict lost in the popular imagination between the romantic fratricide of the Civil War and the heroic efforts of the "greatest generation" to defeat fascism during World War II.

We are fortunate, then, that U.S. Army enlisted man Edward F. Paule of Belleville not only faithfully served his country during World War I, but also penned an extensive memoir of his odyssey to "make the world ----safe for democracy" by helping defeat the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Paule's is not a stereotypical story of trench warfare, poison gas and mass slaughter, however. He extensively documented a wide range of experiences in the United States and Europe, including his enlistment, preparation in various training camps for service "over there," his voyage across the U-boat infested Atlantic, and his time in England and France. In addition, Paule's memoir is unique because he was a member of an engineer regiment, a critical component of the American Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F.). Comprising only about 12 percent of the total American army overseas, engineers played an essential role in military operations both behind and on the front lines. According to the U.S. Army's Chief of Engineers, among other duties engineers laid out and constructed field fortifications, constructed and maintained shelter (including barracks, quarters, and hospitals), and built and maintained railroads and highways.2 On occasion, engineer troops also served as infantrymen at the front.

Because there is no evidence he prepared his memoir for publication, Paule wrote in an unpretentious style, with occasional humor. Any reader of Paule's account will quickly realize that his is not a romantic, whitewashed account of the war, celebrating a victory gained by heroic doughboys. Although he noted the positive aspects of his military career, Paule did not hesitate to relate the "dark and dreary" nature of soldier life. More importantly, he also freely criticized his superiors and the army in general for poor planning and unfair treatment. According to the strict censorship rules of the time, such sentiments were usually removed from personal letters by commanding officers. His frank narrative, composed after his return to the United States and free from censorship, preserves the memories of a citizen-soldier who was proud of his contributions to a "just cause," but also admitted that life in the A.E.F. was certainly not carefree, and that the Kaisers forces were conquered only after a great deal of suffering and sacrifice.3

In addition, for historians of social history and military material culture, Paule recorded important aspects of army life during this period, including living conditions, army rations, troop transportation, the duties of engineers, and military construction techniques. …

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