The American forces who fought in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive demonstrated a remarkable level of courage, competence and sacrifice. This tour will take visitors to eleven graves of those who were awarded the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, or whose actions were particularly courageous or honorable.
5th USMC Regiment, 2nd Marine Division
Plot D, Row 41, Grave 32
Sgt. Matej Kocak served with the U.S. Marine Corps at Vera Cruz, Mexico in 1914, followed by New Orleans, La., and then Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. In 1917 he returned to the United States where he joined the 12th Company at Quantico, Va. By December of that year he was in St. Nazaire, France. In January 1918 he was promoted to sergeant.
When a machinegun nest halted the advance of Kocak’s battalion in the Battle of Soissons, he went forward alone and unprotected to rush the enemy position. With only his bayonet, Kocak drove off the enemy. Later that day, Kocak organized French colonial soldiers who had become separated from their company. He led them in an attack of another machinegun nest.
He survived the Battle of Soissons, and participated in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. He was killed in action at the Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge on October 4, 1918. For his actions at the Battle of Soissons, Kocak was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army.
Awards: Medal of Honor, French Medaille Militaire, French and Italian Croce al Merito di Guerra
Matej Kocak is buried in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery Plot D, Row 41, Grave 32.
Marcellus H. Chiles
356th Infantry Regiment, 89th Infantry Division
Plot C, Row 31, Grave 23
On November 3, 1918 Capt. Marcellus Chiles’ battalion commander was killed during an advance south of the village Le Champy-Bas. Chiles assumed command and led his men through waist-deep water and heavy machinegun fire, encouraging them to be brave and to keep going.
Chiles was seriously wounded in the abdomen by the time he made it to the other side of the stream they were crossing. He turned over command to the next senior officer and was promptly evacuated to a hospital. His wounds eventually led to his death on November 5, 1918. He was 23 years old.
Awards: Medal of Honor
Marcellus H. Chiles is buried in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery Plot C, Row 31, Grave 23.
312th Infantry Regiment, 78th Infantry Division
Plot C, Row 9, Grave 33
Supply Sgt. William Sawelson was born in Newark, New Jersey on August 5, 1895. He served as a Supply Sergeant in the 78th Division.
Upon hearing someone call out for water, Sawelson left shelter and crawled through heavy machinegun fire to help. He gave the wounded soldier the rest of the water from his canteen and then went back to collect more. On his way back to the man for a second time he was shot with a machinegun bullet and died. He received the posthumous Medal of Honor for valor in combat, which was awarded to his father Jacob L. Sawelson.
Sawelson is one of 268 Jews buried under the Star of David in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery.
Awards: Medal of Honor and Italian Croix de Guerre
William Sawelson is buried in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery Plot C, Row 9, Grave 33.
George W. Quinn
308th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division
Plot B, Row 3, Grave 15
Pvt. George W. Quinn was killed in the Argonne Forest on September 28, 1918 while delivering a message from Maj. Charles White Whittlesey to Capt. Arthur McKeogh just before operations leading to the relief of a “Lost Battalion.” The message was never delivered.
Four months after the war ended an American burial squad found Quinn’s remains. Vines and underbrush had hidden his body. Near the fallen runner were the bodies of three Germans. Presumably, Quinn had killed them.
Quinn’s mother was not notified of her son’s death because she had moved without leaving a forwarding address. She found out about it after reading a poem published in the Saturday Evening Post, written by Capt. McKeogh. The poem, dedicated to Quinn, describes the event of his death.
Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the poem:
(To Private George W. Quinn, Co. D, 308th Infantry, killed in action near Dead Man's Mill, Argonne Forest.)
They didn't give Quinn the D.S.C, for they don't know how he died,
But three still forms around him sprawled, they could have testified;
They could have told before he was cold -
If he hadn't plugged their hide.
No one was there when the thing was done, deep in the Argonne glade,
No one but Quinn and the three in gray, and there the four have stayed,
Where the night winds' hush through the soughing brush
Is a psalm for the Unafraid.
George W. Quinn is buried in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery Plot B, Row 3, Grave 15.
Cleo J. Ross
8th Balloon Company
Plot A, Row 2, Grave 22
During World War I, balloons were used to conduct observations and coordinate artillery fire from aloft. Lt. Cleo J. Ross of Titusville, Pa. was the only member of the Balloon Corps to die due to aerial activity.
On the first day of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, he was aloft with Lt. Herbert Hudnut when a Fokker D-7 attacked them. As the balloon burst into flames, Ross delayed parachuting to make sure Hudnut had jumped clear. His parachute caught fire and he fell one thousand feet to his death.
Awards: Distinguished Service Cross
Cleo J. Ross is buried in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery Plot A, Row 2, Grave 22.
Fred E. Smith
308th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division
Plot A, Row 7, Grave 18
When communication between a forward regimental post and its leading battalion broke down, Lt. Col. Fred E. Smith personally led a party of two other officers and ten soldiers to reestablish runner posts and carry ammunition to the front line.
In all the confusion, a guide strayed to the left flank beyond the outposts of the troops, coming under fire from a group of enemy machineguns just 50 yards away. Lt. Col. Smith, in complete disregard for his personal safety, drew his pistol and opened fire. He was severely wounded on his side but refused first aid until the men in his party were out of danger. In plain view, Lt. Col. Smith made his way to a hand grenade dump and returned to deal with the heavy machinegun fire. While attempting to locate the nearest nest, he fell, mortally wounded.
Awards: Medal of Honor, French Legion d’Honneur and Italian Croce al Merito di Guerra
Fred E. Smith is buried in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery Plot A, Row 7, Grave 18.
Frank Luke Jr.
27th Aero Squadron
Plot A, Row 26, Grave 13
â 2ndLt. Frank Luke Jr., nicknamed “Arizona Balloon Buster,” enlisted in the Aviation Section of the U.S. Army Signal Corps following America’s entry into WWI. He is credited with shooting down 14 German balloons and four airplanes between September 12 and 29, 1918, ranking second among U.S. Army Air Service pilots in the number of aerial victories.
The 27th Aero Squadron was ordered to attack German observation balloons. These balloons were heavily defended by machine guns on the ground. Luke, along with his good friend Joseph Frank Wehner, continually volunteered for these dangerous missions.
On September 28, 1918 Luke landed his SPAD XIII airplane at the French aerodrome Cicognes because of engine trouble. When he returned to base the next day, he was confronted by his squadron’s commanding officer who threatened to arrest him for being AWOL. Luke then took off without authorization and flew to an airbase at Verdun. Here a sympathetic senior air commander cancelled the arrest order and authorized Luke to continue his balloon hunting.
Subsequently Luke was badly wounded by a machine gun bullet fired from a hilltop above him. He landed near the Ruisseau de Bradon, where he collapsed 200 meters from the plane. The Germans buried him in the Murvaux cemetery. His body was retrieved two months later by American forces.
Awards: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross and Italian Croce al Merito di Guerra
Frank Luke Jr. is buried in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery Plot A, Row 26, Grave 13.
Hall A. Taylor
148th Infantry Regiment, 37th Infantry Infantry Division
Plot E, Row 19, Grave 28
During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Lt. Hall A. Taylor of the 37th Division made the ultimate sacrifice for his men on September 29, 1918. In the midst of fierce fighting Taylor and several of his soldiers were wounded by a shell explosion. He lost his left foot, but refused first aid until the other men were treated. Taylor died in the field hospital not long afterwards. His grave in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery reflects the sacrifices American officers made for their men.
Hall A. Taylor is buried in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery Plot E, Row 19, Grave 28.
Oscar F. Miller
361st Infantry Regiment, 91st Infantry Division
Plot F, Row 10, Grave 36
Maj. Oscar F. Miller fought in the Philippine-American War as a private. Over ten years later, Miller re-enlisted in the U.S. Army to fight in World War I.
He received field officer training in England and France before rejoining the 361st Infantry Regiment, 91st Division. After two days of strenuous fighting in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Miller inspired his troops to attack through open ground filled with machine gun and artillery fire to capture a vital objective. Miller received wounds in his right leg and right arm but continued to lead his troops until mortally wounded. He was remembered to have remarked, “there is no more glorious death than to die on the battlefield.”
Awards: Medal of Honor and Italian Croce al Merito di Guerra
Oscar F. Miller is buried in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery Plot F, Row 10, Grave 36.
Erwin Russell Bleckley
130th Field Artillery Regiment, 35th Infantry Division
Plot F, Row 25, Grave 33
2nd Lt. Erwin R. Bleckley and his pilot, 1stLt. Harold E. Goettler, left an airdrome in the late afternoon on their second trip to drop supplies to a battalion of the 77th Division, the “Lost Battalion” in the Argonne Forest. Enemy fire made this a perilous trip, as the Lost Battalion was completely surrounded by the enemy.
Bleckley and his pilot came in low for better precision even though this doubled the odds against them. The plane was brought down by enemy rifle and machinegun fire. Bleckley died before he could be taken to a hospital. He was postumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1922.
Awards: Medal of Honor
Erwin Russell Bleckley is buried in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery Plot F, Row 25, Grave 33.
371st Infantry Regiment, 93rd Infantry Division
Plot F, Row 36, Grave 40
Cpl. Freddie Stowers was drafted into the Army in 1917. Because the Armed Forces were segregated at the time, Stowers was assigned to the 93rd Division, a unit comprised of African Americans serving under white officers. Troops from the 93rd Division attacked Hill 188 on September 28, 1918. As the Americans advanced, German forces signaled their surrender. This proved to be a ruse. The Germans bombarded the approaching Americans with mortars and machinegun fire. When his commanding officers fell to this enemy fire, Stowers assumed command of the platoon. Breaking through the forward defenses, Stowers led a charge on a second line of German trenches. During this advance he was hit twice by machinegun fire and collapsed. What remained of the 93rd Division went on to capture Hill 188.
Stowers was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor in 1991 by George H. W. Bush.
Awards: Medal of Honor
Freddie Stowers is buried in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery Plot F, Row 36, Grave 40.