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Americans in the First World War

The contribution of the Americans
to the Allied victory in the First World War

At the France/German border, near the end of May and beginning of June 1917, enormous problems faced wartime leaders on the Allied side. On both the Eastern and Western Fronts there were mutinies and mass desertions. After years of fighting, exhausted and desperate soldiers were feeling physically and emotionally crushed, unable to carry on. Tens of thousands left the battle areas. Mutinies occurred in 68 divisions (two thirds) of the French army. The French authorities reacted swiftly and carried out mass arrests of deserting soldiers. Thousands were quickly put on trial. 23,385 were found guilty of mutinous behaviour. Most were imprisoned, some sentenced to hard labour. Five hundred and fifty four of the mutineers were sentenced to death with 50 of them actually being shot and the rest sent into penal servitude in the French colonies.

It was at this time of developing crisis that General Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, and his staff set sail from New York heading for France.

A few days later, on June 5, US compulsory military service began with the registration of all men between the age of 21 and 30. These men were soon to bring new confidence and strength to the Allied side and new fear and doubt to the German side.

Following the overthrow of the Tsar in Russia the Russians signed an armistice with Germany on 3 December 1917, thus leaving the Germans free to send more troops to the Western Front.

The first Americans to go into action did so on 2 April 1918.

Eventually about 4 million American soldiers served in the First World War including 200,000 black Americans. 3.7 million Americans served in France. The Americans played a vital role in the ultimate Allied victory. There were over 306,000 American casualties in the war including 50,000 American soldiers killed.

Franklin D Roosevelt went out to France to tour the battle zones in August 1918. He reported on his experience in a speech in 1936 when he said, "I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen two hundred limping, exhausted men come out of line - the survivors of a regiment of one thousand that went forward 48 hours before. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war."

American Monument Chateau-Thierry

American Monument, Chateau-Thierry, a symbol of American/French friendship  -  photographed from 2 miles distance close to the River Marne

 Oise-Aisne American Cemetery Centre

The Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial in France (70 miles east of Paris and not far from the large town, Chateau-Thierry) is a 36.5-acre site It contains the remains of 6,012 American war dead, most of whom lost their lives while fighting nearby in 1918 during World War I.

Oise-Aisne American Cemetery Gates

Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial Gates

Oise-Aisne American Cemetery Crosses

A small section of this large cemetery

A poem by American poet, Alan Seeger


I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,

When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air -

I have a rendezvous with Death

When Spring brings back blue days and fair.


It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land

And close my eyes and quench my breath
It may be I shall pass him still.

I have a rendezvous with Death

On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear ...
But I've a rendezvous with Death

At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,

I shall not fail that rendezvous.

Alan Seeger


The poem is included in Minds at War and there are biographical notes, too.

It is in Out in the Dark with the addition of some explanatory notes and a brief biography.

Another American poet featured in Minds at War is ee cummings.