“They Were Good Americans”
Survival and Victory on the Western Front
Private Harold Kalloch, an American-born member of the Yankee Division, received an unusual assignment as his unit took up combat positions for the first time. “We had Polish Americans, German and Italian Americans, about 40 in the battery,” Kalloch explained in a postwar questionnaire. “Just before we went to the front in April the Captain called me to his office. He told me to watch the Germans etc. and report to a major at the front.” Kalloch encountered nothing that was suspicious in the immigrants' behavior. “I never found anything,” he concludes, “they were good Americans.” 1
If being a “good American” in the trenches meant being a reliable soldier, then Kalloch's comments were also valid for describing his division's Italian machine gunners and the Jewish draftees of the Seventy-seventh. These men did not distinguish themselves as members of different ethnic groups, but as American soldiers who helped bring an end to a war that had wiped out approximately 10 million lives. Despite the many cultural, religious, and linguistic differences that pervaded the American Expeditionary Force, doughboys of all backgrounds learned quickly that they had to work together and rely on and trust each other if they were to survive. Lacking in training and combat experience, they showed tremendous courage and commitment in a series of major offensives in the last months of the war.
A number of historians have observed that the AEF never experienced the depths of disillusionment and despair that pervaded the European armies. 2 But though they fought in France for a comparatively brief period, the Italian machine gunners from New Haven and the Jews of the Seventyseventh Division were well acquainted with the war's carnage. Most fought in the infantry, the branch of the American armed forces that suffered by far the highest number of casualties. The Yankee Division suffered nearly fifteen thousand killed, wounded, and missing, while more than twelve thousand losses were inflicted on the Seventy-seventh. These men were no strang