It Happened at Madeleine Farm

Sharing family genealogy with the general public can sometimes be compared with sharing a slide show of past vacation photos. With the 100th anniversary of World War One upon us perhaps sharing my research into the largely forgotten wartime experiences of my paternal great-uncle José Garcia y Baca (1892-1966) of Belen, New Mexico, will hopefully be viewed as timely and not too much of a self-indulgence.

Researching the military service of my paternal grandfather’s older brother José has been problematic from the start. I had become aware that he served in the army during World War One when I came across a questionnaire sent out after the war by the New Mexico Historical Service. The questionnaire contained a quantity of information but left out some very critical details such as where he as stationed and or what unit he may have belonged to. He did mention one curious fact alluding to being “crippled on both legs” as a result of his military service but again failed to mention how this happened. He did list his army serial number – 1630987 – which would prove very valuable later on.

Jose Garcia y Baca Statement of Service

Above: José Garcia y Baca’s Statement of Service form issued by and submitted back to the New Mexico Historical Service just after the end of World War One. While offering some tantalizing clues to José’s wartime experiences, many important details were missing and had to be sought out via other sources.

Attached to the questionnaire was follow up letter to José’s mother Preciliana from Palace of the Governor’s archivist Lansing Bloom enquiring as to the circumstance of José’s injury which apparently went disappointingly unanswered.

Sometime later I found an Army Transport Service Passenger List for the SS Lapland dated June 28, 1918, which lists members of Camp Kearny Automatic Replacement Draft, Company 12 departing New York for an undisclosed European port. So José did indeed serve overseas during the war. To what combat unit he was assigned to was still a mystery since he was going overseas as a replacement and would be assigned to a combat unit once in the theater of operations.

Army Transport Service List Outward

Above: The passenger list from the troop ship SS Lapland, showing José Garcia y Baca as a member of the Camp Kearny June Automatic Replacement Draft Company 12. The Lapland departed New York for Europe on June 28, 1918. 

A bit later I found a February 5, 1919 casualty list in The Washington Post that lists José as “Wounded (degree undetermined)” while serving in France. This would imply that José’s injuries were the result of battle although the list still frustratingly failed to mention his combat unit. This article spurred me on to search out an Army Transport Service Passenger list for his return trip home, which after some time I was lucky enough to find.

Jose Garcia y Baca Wound List

Above: A clipping from the casualty list which appeared in the February 5, 1919 edition of the Washington Post. José Garcia y Baca is listed but no details are given.

Dated December 6, 1918, this passenger list for the SS Maui carries the names of wounded troops returning to the U.S. after the end of the war via Bordeaux, France. Perhaps it was a sign of the times that his name was Anglicized on the list from the proper Spanish José Garcia y Baca to Joseph B. Garcia. This happened a lot in those days so I was not unprepared for this eventuality. But quickly comparing the service number of this Joseph with my José – 1630987 – proved both were the same man. The list also gave me Jose’s overseas unit – “I” Company of the 30th Infantry Regiment.

Jose Garcia y Baca Wound Home Transport Manifest copy

Above: The passenger manifest for the SS Maui homeward bound from Bordeaux, France on December 6, 1918. Although José’s name had been Anglicized to Joseph B. Garcia, his service or serial number was correct as was his hometown of Belen, New Mexico. His father Antonio (here abbreviated to “Anton”) was also correct.

Knowing that the 30th Infantry formed part of the 3rd Infantry Division during the war would allow me to trace in a general way my great uncle’s movements in Europe from the time of his arrival time until he returned home on the SS Maui. Finding out how and when he was wounded would require me to find copies of his service records – if they still existed.

If they still existed was the question of the day. One of the most tragic events in U. S. genealogical history took place in 1973 when a fire swept through the National Personnel Records Center in St Louis, Missouri. The fire destroyed 80% of the U.S. Army personnel records dating from between 1912 and 1960. Prior to the fire none of the records had been microfilmed and it was long before the advent of digitalization. Finding records for s specific soldier is an 80% against coin toss.

I filled out a records request form and mailed it in and waited and hoped. It can take several months to hear back from the Records Center, most often only to find out nothing survived the fire. A strange as it may seem to this day none of the surviving records have been digitized and all searches are still done by hand. It should also be noted that many of the surviving records were severely damaged by the fire, by water used to fight it and the resulting mold that took root afterward. Six months later I finally received a reply.

The letter stated that some of my great uncle’s records were extant and gave the required information regarding payment, etc. which was duly dispatched. About a month later a large envelope arrived containing 70 pages of black and white Xerox type copies of José’s surviving records. Surprisingly the majority of the documents (most showed evidence of burning around the edges) dealt with his with his wounding and the subsequent medical treatment he received.

The majority of the records are daily medical reports relating to José’s injuries. They confirm that he was indeed wounded in action and not injured in an accident or disabled as the result of sickness. As shown in this daily report he was wounded on October 9, 1918, at the Verdun sector in France having been shot through both lower legs my German machine gun fire. One bullet had entered just below the head of his right fibula shattering the upper third of the bone. Another or possibly the same bullet had entered just below the head of the left fibula but had not done such extensive damage.

Jose Garcia y Baca Medical Record for Wounds

Above: The front and back of the daily report for January 11, 1919, taken from José Garcia y Baca’s service records. The report – which shows evidence of the 1973 National Personnel Records Center fire – lists in grim detail the nature of his wounds, the general sector of the front where they occurred and the date of the event. 

The records also state that at the time of his wounding he was serving with F Company, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Division. With this information, I was rather incredibly able to determine the exact action during which Jose was wounded. After having done a good number of such research projects in the past, this is the only time that this has happened. The following account described the event:

“On the morning of October 9th at 9:12 a.m. the 30th Infantry attacked the Bois de Cunel (Cunel Woods). All the preparations were made to have a smoke screen obscure the view of the enemy to conceal the 30th Infantry’s attack between the Bois de Cunel and a small patch of woods just south of it. However, on the morning of the 9th, a heavy fog hung over the engagement area. Under the cover of smoke and fog, the 30th Infantry commenced its attack. The 30th Infantry wasn’t discovered until they were almost to the Bois de Cunel. When they were discovered by the Germans their machine gunners poured heavy fire into their ranks. The 30th’s advance progressed steadily in spite of heavy resistance and continuous artillery bombardment. The Madeleine Farm was a German strongpoint not in the 30th’s sector, however, the machine gunners from the farm were inflicting heavy casualties on the 30th’s advance. “E” and “F” Companies were assigned immediately to reduce the farm. “E” and “F” Companies did so quickly with heavy losses and capturing a large number of prisoners in the process. The same day the entire Bois de Cunel was taken and the 30th’s line was reestablished in the Northern edge of the woods.”

Madeleine Farm

Above: A c. 1918 view of the partially destroyed Madeleine Farm. It was here while attacking German machinegun emplacements on the morning of October 9, 1918, that José was severely wounded in both legs.  

So José was wounded during the attack on the German machine gun positions at the Madeleine Farm sometime soon after 9 am on October 9, 1918. As stated previously this kind of specificity is remarkably rare.

German Machine Gun

Above: A late war German machinegun emplacement. Madeleine Farm was defended by several such posts and the attacking American troops suffered heavily before capturing the position.

José’s war was over but he had a long road to recovery. He would first be taken to Field Hospital #27, then to Evacuation Hospital #10, Base Hospital #32 and Base Hospital #114, all in France, until shipping home to Camp Merritt, New Jersey on the hospital ship USS Maui on December 9. 1918. He disembarked at the Receiving Hospital at Ellis Island, New York on December 17 and was then transferred to Base Hospital, Camp Merritt, New Jersey. He remained at Camp Merritt until December 30. 1918 when he was shipped west to the base hospital at Camp MacArthur, Texas. He was once again transferred to the base hospital at Camp Bowie, Texas on February 26, 1919. He remained to convalesce there until April 16. 1919 and was discharged on April 22, 1919. His final medical report states that as a result of his wounds he was considered to be 30% disabled.

Interestingly a letter from the Adjutant General to José’s mother Presiliana dated May 27, 1919, stated that besides his severe wounding on October 9, 1918, he had previously been slightly wounded on August 10, 1918. The records further confirm him being issued a wound chevron for his uniform. The wound chevron was made from gold bullion and was worn point down on the lower right cuff of the uniform jacket. As implied it signified that the wearer had been wounded in action. In 1932 with the creation of the Purple Heart veterans in possession of a wound chevron could submit an application to exchange the chevron for the new medal. Nothing in José’s records indicate that he did this although his slight wounding on August 10, 1918, would mean that technically he would have been entitled to the Purple Heart with one oak leaf cluster.

Jose Garcia y Baca Wound Notification Letter

Above: A photocopy of the May 27, 1919 letter from the Adjutant General to José’s mother Presiliana which revealed the previously unknown fact that José had been wounded not once but twice while serving in France. Note the charred edges – evidence of the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St Louis, Missouri.  

Also included with José’s service papers was his application for the World War One Victory Medal. This medal was issued to all U.S. service members who served during the war. Uniquely among U.S. issued medals the Victory Medal was issued with a wide variety of campaign/battle and service clasps that were worn on the ribbon in the tradition of British campaign medals. José’s application requested the “France” service clasp with his medal and the request was approved on December 11, 1920. The request for the “France” service clasp was a mistake on José’s part and its approval by 1st Lieutenant Irvine L. McAlister was in error. The “France” service clasp was intended for U. S. military personnel who served in France but did not otherwise see action. Troops serving in administrative capacities behind the lines in Paris for example. Being that José was wounded twice during the final great American offensive of the war – the Meuse-Argonne Offensive – he was in fact entitled to the battle clasp “Meuse-Argonne” for that action. Digging a bit deeper into his service papers showed he was in fact also entitled to the “St. Mihiel” and “Defensive Sector” battle clasps.

Jose Garcia y Baca Victory Medal Application Form

Above: José’s application for his World War One Victory Medal. He mistakenly applied for and was granted the single “France” service clasp and not the three battle/campaign clasps he was actually entitled to.

Sadly, I have been unable to find a photograph of José in uniform during the war.

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