The Wartime Odessey of Yang Kyoungjong

When the photograph below appeared in the American press not long after D-Day the soldier in question gave rise to the belief that Japanese soldiers where fighting alongside their German allies on the beaches of Normandy. While this possibility had long been pondered (as far back as 1941 some U.S. Naval personnel swore they saw Nazi planes over Pearl Harbor) the actual story behind this photo and the unlikely soldier in question – Korean-born Yang Kyoungjong – is in reality much more remarkable if not downright improbable.


Above: A U.S. military press photograph taken at Normandy not long after the June 6, 1944 landings depicting a rather disheveled and forlorn looking POW in German uniform. Although unidentified in the original photograph, some believe that the man may be Yang Kyoungjong. Others postulate that this soldier may have been a POW from Soviet Asia who had been pressed into German service. The photo’s original caption incorrectly identifies the subject as Japanese. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration.

Born on March 3, 1920, in what is today’s North Korea, Yang Kyoungjong was sent as a laborer to Manchuria by the Japanese occupiers of Korea in 1938. Once there he was conscripted into the Japanese Kwangtung Army which had set up a puppet regime of Manchukuo in the Chinese province. At the although officially at peace the Soviet Union and Japan were in fact in a low-grade shooting war. The confrontations escalated to the point of several pitched battles, during one of which – Khalkhyn Gol – Yang Kyoungjong found himself captured by Soviet Forces. The year was 1939.

Yang Kyoungjong was sent to a Siberian gulag – a virtual death sentence – along with other Japanese POWs. Yang would receive a reprieve of sorts after Hitler ordered the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Initial Soviet defeats left Stalin so hardpressed for troops that he offered pardons the prisoners provided they volunteer to military service against Germany. Yang Kyoungjong volunteered for service in the Soviet army probably more to escape death in a gulag than anything else but his previous experiences in fighting along the Manchurian border would have ill-prepared him for the unimaginable carnage of Europe’s eastern front.

Yang Kyoungjong would have found himself packed like cattle along with thousands of other unwilling Soviet conscripts headed west along the Trans Siberian Railroad. The 2011 Korean film My Way depicts Yang Kyoungjong taking part in the Battle of Stalingrad but I have found no information confirming this. He apparently took part in the Third Battle of Kharkov in the eastern Ukraine (1943) where he was captured by the Germans.

By this time Nazi Germany found itself in the same predicament that the Soviet Union had just a couple years earlier – suffering from a dire shortage of troops and she resorted to the same dubious solution to the problem. Soviet, as well as other Eastern European prisoners, were conscripted for service in the Wehrmacht. Many of these troops – volunteers and otherwise – were organized into Ost-Bataillonen (Eastern Battalions) with the intent that they perform labor duties in occupied territories freeing up regular German units for more important frontline service. Once again Yang Kyoungjong found himself in a new uniform of another army.

Above: Of related interest in the 2011 Korean film My Way which is loosely based on Yang Kyoungjong’s wartime experiences during World War Two.  Here is a link to a trailer for the film which makes for some pretty spectacular viewing even if it is filled to overflowing with some big-time anachronisms such as the Iowa class battleship USS Missouri bombarding the Normandy beachhead.

Yang Kyoungjong along with the rest of his fellow Ost-Bataillone members were apparently deployed to the area around the Cotentin peninsula, close by Utah Beach in Normandy, France sometime prior to the Allied landings on D-Day.  Uninspired and completely unprepared for battle the Ost-Bataillonen not surprisingly contributed virtually nothing to the German defense of Normandy. Yang appears to have surrendered to American forces not long after June 6.

Interestingly a wartime account made by Lieutenant Robert Brewer, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (of Band of Brothers fame) mentions his regiment capturing four Asian soldiers in German uniform not long after D-Day. Could one of these four men have been Yang Kyoungjong? In any event, Yang was reportedly sent to an American POW holding camp in England prior to being shipped to a permanent camp on the United States where he remained until 1947. One might guess that Yang was surprised not to have been shoehorned into an American uniform and deployed to fight the Japanese in the Pacific. Had that happened this remarkable journey would have indeed gone full circle.

After release, Yang declined repatriation to Korea and settled in Illinois. He is said to have passed away there on April 7, 1992.

So that is the remarkable story of Yang Kyoungjong. Remarkable? Yes, but is the story true? I was rather disappointed when after considerable research I was, and have been unable to find any verifiable/primary sources confirming the tale. For example, I can find no newspaper mention of Yang Kyoungjong with the exception of a 2012 review of the book The Second World War by Anthony Beevor. One might assume that given Yang’s notoriety an obituary might have been published in a local or national paper. None have been found. Versions of Yang’s life appear online in dozens of places, and while remarkably similar in detail, none provided any links to reliable and verifiable primary source material. Even a 2005 investigative documentary by the Seoul Broadcasting System found no evidence that Yang Kyoungjong ever existed.

It appears to this reporter at least that Yang’s story is one of the better peices of World War Two apocrypha. While it does not seem to be true, it is one tale that I wish could be verified.


Above: A group of Asian POWs in German Army uniforms under guard on board a U.S. Navy vessel sometime after D-Day. Being transported to a POW camp in England, many if not all of these men were probably Ost-Bataillonen conscripts from the eastern reaches of the Soviet Union, some may have indeed bee Korean and whose forgotten tale parallels that of Yang Kyoungjong. Photo: Photo: National Archives and Records Administration.




A Map of Barsoom: Or Mars as John Carter knew it.

Returning to the Red Planet – or more properly one man’s vision of that same Red Planet, I present to you A Geographical Chart of the Planet Barsoom as beautifully drawn by Larry Ivie in 1962. This map was intended to illustrate the locals visited by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter in his adventures which began in A Princess of Mars. This 11 inch by 17-inch map was included as a supplement to The Reader’s Guide to Barsoom and Amtor by David G. Van Arnam “and others” (1963). An unbound 84-page “fanzine”, the Guide is something of a “Holy Grail” for Edgar Rice Burroughs fans and is not commonly encountered in today’s collector’s market. Perhaps it is best to describe the Guide as quite rare. Two editions were published with the first numbering 500 copies of which 200 were signed and numbered. Signed first printings can sell for upwards of $500.00 USD. The unsigned the second printing also produced in a very limited run. This map comes from a copy of the second printing.

Barsoom Map

Above: Larry Ivie’s map of Barsoom (Mars) which was included as a supplement in The Reader’s Guide to Barsoom by David G. Van Arnam (1963).  11 inches by 17 inches, Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia.

The map is in many ways the culmination of John Carter fans attempts at overlaying Burroughs’ Barsoom (the name given by Burroughs’ Martians to their home planet) with the geographical features of the real planet Mars. Naturally, this process has met with mixed results at best given the ever-changing amount of knowledge available on Mars itself. In 1963 when this map was created Mars was still that canal-crossed planet that captured Percival Lowell’s imagination some 80 years earlier.

Barsoom Map Detail

Above: A detail from Larry Ivie’s map of Barsoom depicting Burroughs’ hero John Carter along with one of the huge multi-armed green Martians to the left of Carter’s and at right Carter’s ever faithful pet calot named Woola. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia.

Barsoom Map Detail 2

Above: A detail of the main portion of A Geographical Chart of the Planet Barsoom. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia.


Above: John Carter creator Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) in his office with another of his wildly successful creations Tarzan. As a young man, Burroughs would serve as a trooper in the 7th U.S. Cavalry at Fort Grant, Arizona Territory before receiving a medical discharge in 1897. He would then launch himself into a career as one of the great science fiction/fantasy authors of the early 20th Century. Image:

While several dozen maps of Barsoom have been published at various times and places – Burroughs created the first himself – none have been able to reconcile the real and imagined versions of the planet with any great success. The reason for this is quite simple – Burroughs wrote The Princess of Mars in 1917 when almost nothing was known about the actual surface of the planet. In a way, this worked out quite well for the author since he was in no way constrained by actual planetary science and could give his fertile imagination free reign to create at his own whim which he did with great abandon. A good example of his sidestepping what one might have considered major technical issues, Burroughs had his hero John Carter fall asleep in an Arizona cave and simply wake up on Barsoom. He would later return to Earth in much the same manner.

Barsoom Map Krenkel

Above: The special title plate by illustrator Roy G. Krenkel which was included in the Guide. 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches, Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia. 

Barsoom Map Preface

Above: The Guide’s preface by Dick Lupoff gives an excellent impression of the publication’s overall look and handmade quality. Mostly typewritten, the Guide’s 85 pages were unbound and mailed to subscribers looseleaf in a large envelope. In a nod to fans, Lupoff signed and dated the preface from “New York, Jasoom”. Jasoom being the Martian name for Earth in the John Carter stories. 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia.



All Aboard for Mars!

I am an avid collector of memorabilia connected with the planet Mars and the following pages of correspondence are probably the strangest Mars-related items in my possession. The following handwritten letter typed lyrics and music manuscript was sent sixty years ago to Professor Charles E. Waring in 1958 by a Mrs. Beatrice O’Malley of Dublin Ireland while he was head of the chemistry department at the University of Connecticut.

Mrs. O’Malley seems to have been enamored with the budding U.S. space program and sent her song and accompanying music to Professor Waring after reading about what must have been a hypothetical mission to Mars. The song originally titled The Satellite Song and then updated to All Aboard for Mars by Mrs. O’Malley when she read about the proposed trip to Mars. Mrs. O’Malley states that the lyrics were her original work and noted on the back of the sheet music that the tune was the work of a Mrs. Madge Carroll. Mrs. O’Malley dedicated the song to the U.S. Army.

Mars Song Letter

Above: Beatrice O’Malley’s 1958 handwritten letter to Professor Charles Waring of the University of Connecticut. She appears to have originally written the enclosed song and music to commemorate the successful launch of America’s first satellite Explorer I in January 1958. Mrs. O’Malley apparently updated her song and music after reading an erroneous news article about an impending U.S. manned mission to Mars. Why she chose Professor Waring as the recipient of her musical endeavor is unknown. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia.

Mars Song Lyrics

Above: Beatrice O’Malley’s annotated typed lyrics for the Satellite Song, retitled by her as All Aboard for Mars. She dedicated the lyrics to the U.S. Army which oversaw the Explorer I program. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia

Mars Song Music

Above: Beatrice’s music manuscript for All Aboard for Mars. I have made no attempt to have the music played. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia.

Professor Waring wrote back a kind letter to Mrs. O’Malley and seemed to be rather impressed with the music (I have never asked anyone to play it so am unable to offer my opinion on the matter) and suggests that she copyright her work.  He also mentions his time in Ireland during World War II and his affection for the country and the Irish people.

Mars Song Response

Above: Charles Waring’s file copy of his thoughtful response to Beatrice O’Malley’s letter of 12 June 1958. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia.

The following biography of Charles Waring by John Tanaka, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, at the University of Connecticut where Waring’s papers are held:

Charles E. Waring was born in Philadelphia, PA, in 1909 and attended Muskingum College for his undergraduate work (B.Sc., 1931). He then went to Ohio State University where he earned the Ph.D. in 1936. While at Ohio State, he met Geraldine Howald. On December 19th, 1936, Waring with a bright new Ph.D. also acquired a wife, Geraldine. In 1936, Waring was hired as an instructor of chemistry at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. In 1939, he was one of five to be awarded the Lalor Foundation award for proficiency in chemical research. He chose to carry on his research at Oxford University, England, in collaboration with the internationally famous authority on chemical kinetics, Dr. C. N. Hinshelwood.

In the period 1936 to 1946, he rose from instructor to assistant professor at Brooklyn Poly. It was during this period that he initiated his research in the fields of kinetics and mechanism of gas and liquid phase reactions and free radical reactions; kinetics of fast reactions at ultra-high pressures; kinetics and thermodynamics of solid and liquid propellant systems; and combustion mechanisms of high energy fuels.

In 1946, Waring joined the faculty at the University of Connecticut as Head of the Chemistry Department. There were eight on the teaching staff in the department at the time. When he relinquished his administrative duties in 1966 to return to full-time teaching, the department had grown to 22 members. Waring was able to carry on a full research program in addition to his administrative duties. During his tenure at the University, he served as an adviser for 24 Ph.D. students and nine M.S. students. It was under Waring’s leadership that the department was one of the leaders in the University to institute the Ph.D. program.

In addition to the academic research carried on in his research laboratories, Waring was very much involved in the application end of the science. From 1942 to 1946, he was a member of London Mission, OSRD (Office of Strategic Reseach Development). From 1946-1966, he was a Technical Aide, Division 16, NDRC. He spent the summers of 1951 to 1953 in Europe and England on a scientific and technical assignment for the U.S. Government. In 1961, while on leave from the University, he served as technical director and head of the Research Department, Naval Ordnance Test Station, China Lake. For his wartime service, he was awarded the Presidential Citation for Merit (WWII) for contributions in the field of physics, optics, and technical intelligence.

Charles Waring died on February 16, 1981.

Above: Not all past visions of Mars were kindly. In this apocalyptic telling of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds titled The Great Martian War the Martians launch their invasion of Earth while we humans are in the midsts of World War One. Source:

Signing Bonus – 1864

Private Tigle Milburn, “D” Company, 30th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry

During the American Civil War cash bounties were offered as an incentive for volunteer enlistment into the army in much the same way signing bonuses are offered to modern sports figures. The volunteer boom which followed the beginning of the war had long since passed and the ongoing and increasing carnage made finding willing recruits a questionable proposition.

The draft was introduced in 1863 by federal authorities and proved so unpopular that massive and very deadly riots resulted in a place like New York City. Bonuses had been offered since the beginning of the war and had initially been awarded at the time of enlistment. This led to a problem. Men would enlist, collect their bonus, promptly desert, then proceed to the next enlistment office and repeat the process. Some became a going concern.

It should be noted that when the draft was implemented, African Americans were specifically exempted from its provisions. Of the approximately 180,000 who served in the Union Army (another 20,000 served in the navy) all were volunteers.

Tigle Milburn

Above: Private Tigle Milburn’s $50.00 bounty application issued by the State of Maryland. Although not filled out completely, the document contains enough information to form the basis for further research into his wartime service and life after the war. 10 1/4 inches by 19 inches (25.5cm x 40.5cm) November 5, 1866. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia/

To remedy the problem it was decided to award the bonuses after the completion of the agreed-upon term of service. It was under this type of agreement that 38-year-old Tigle Milburn enlisted in “D” Company, 30th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry on March 31, 1864, at Baltimore, Maryland for a term of three years. The bounty offered by the state on Maryland was $50.00.

Dated November 5, 1866, Milburn’s post-war bounty claim list some particulars of his service and makes his formal claim to the $50.00 bounty promised him at the time of his enlistment by the state of Maryland. It also appoints George W. Fish to act as his attorney in the matter. Unfortunately, Minburn’s bounty application fails to note as to whether his request was honored or not.

Tigle Milburn Detail 1

Above: A detail of the upper portion of Private Milburn’s bounty application.

With the information on this document and copies of Milburn’s compiled service records found in the National Archives, Washington D.C. a brief outline of his life and service history is possible.

Tigle Milburn was born about 1826 in Dorchester County, Maryland. At the time of his enlistment, he stated that he was “born free” and although his parent’s names have not been found one might assume that they must have been free also for at least some portion of their lives.

Tigle Milburn Detail 2

Above: The signature block of Milburn’s bounty application. The fact that Milburn was not able to read or write is indicated by him have made his mark, an “X” between the first and last name of the signature. 

Milburn would have seen action with his regiment around Petersburg and at the infamous Battle of the Crater as well as other mostly forgotten actions such as Weldon Railroad, Poplar Grove Church, Boydton Plank Road, and Hatcher’s Run. His last battle was probably at Fort Fisher, North Carolina from December 7 to December 27, 1864.

The Crater

Above: A sketch of the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg by Alfred Waud. c. 1864. Source: Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs Division.

In January 1865 Tigle Milburn was taken sick and confined to Wilmington Hospital until July 1865 by which time the war had come to an end. No mention is given in his service records as to the nature of Milburn’s illness.

After returning to duty Milburn took part in various occupation duties with his regiment in North Carolina until the unit was mustered out of service on December 10, 1865, at Roanoke Island, North Carolina.

African American Soldier

Above: Although no known photographic representations of Tigle Milburn exist, this 1/6th plate tintype of an unidentified African American Union Army private gives an excellent impression of how he would have been uniformed and equipped. c. 1864 Source: Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs, Library of Congress.

With the war’s end Milburn settled at Deal Island, Maryland and in the U.S. Census for 1880 he was listed as married with his wife’s name being Elizabeth. The couple had been married since before the war and had five children: John (born about 1858), Francis (born about 1860), Julia (born about 1862), Oscar (born about 1864) and Alice (born about 1866). By 1870 Milburn and his three sons had taken to the sea and were all listed in the census as sailors by trade. The 1890 census shows them to have been specifically employed as oystermen. Milburn died sometime around 1901 with his widow, Elizabeth filing for his pension on May 25 of that year. In these later documents, his name is given as Teagle Milbourne or Milbourn.

Come Fly With Me…

…or Stories of Adventure of the land, Sea and in the Air. I have always been fascinated by early examples of “Science Fiction”, especially examples from before the genres we know it today actually existed. Although classic works by the likes of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells were quite well known and highly considered as literature I have always been attracted to the more obscure and mostly forgotten examples that cropped up in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The weekly pulp adventures of Frank Reade Jr. and his amazing airships are a case in point.

Frank Reade 1903

Above: The August 21, 1903 issue of Frank Reade Weekly Magazine. This still sealed example never found its way into the youthful hands of an eager reader more than a century ago. Issues of the magazine measured 8 inches by ll inches (approximately 20.3cm x 28cm). Source: From the collection of Edward T. Garcia.

The Frank Reade Jr. magazines were in some ways a bridge between the so-called dime novels that glamorized such things as America’s Wild West in the late 1800s and the comic book which burst into the popular consciousness in the 1930s. In these stories – inevitably penned by the anonymous author “Noname” who in name was actually Cuban born Luis Philip Senarens (1863–1939) – followed the exploits of Frank Reade Jr. in a series of remarkable airships in journeys that took them around the world and into and out of all the exotic perils that the publication’s adolescent readers could hope for. Frank Reade did not limit himself and his friends to adventures in just airships but found himself on board submarines, steam-powered landships or becoming involved with similarly powered robots. The 16 page Frank Reade, Jr. adventures were published in New York by Frank Tousey between the 1890s and first decade of the 20th Century.

The well-preserved example shown above dates from August 21, 1903, just a few months before the Wright Brothers first powered flight. Naturally, Frank Reade’s airship was far more advanced than that which would soon fly at Kittyhawk and certainly much more elegant and stylish than the flying cars we had all been promised would be gracing our own 21st Century skies. The cover illustration brings the action of the inside text to life and shows Reade and several of his friends fighting off a group of mounted Tartars while the good airship Orbit comes to a timely rescue. This particular example is still sealed – each issue had to have its covers cut open in order to read the inside content. This was done to prevent people from reading the magazine at the newsstand to avoid paying for it.


Above: An earlier issue of the Frank Reade Library magazine from September 24, 1892, featured the adventures of Frank Reade, Jr. and “his new steam man. These earlier issues lacked the full-color covers of the later issues: Source: University of South Florida Libraries.

Revolt at Taranto

Inscribed “Yours very faithfully, Walter Alves.” This c. 1918 real photo postcard provides us with an outstanding portrait of a member of the British West Indies Regiment.

Walter Alves Front

Above: Private Walter Alves of the 3rd Battalion, the British West Indies Regiment photographed while in southern Italy at the end of World War One. The only uniform concession to the warm Mediterranean climate is the quilted tropical service helmet that Alves wears. The rest of his uniform is of the heavy wool pattern issued for wear in France and Belgium. His cuff band indicates that Alves was a member of the regimental military police. c. 1918 Source: Edward T. Garcia/ collection.

Often confused with the long establish West India Regiment, the British West Indies Regiment (B.W.I.R.) was raised specifically for duty during World War One and was made up of black volunteers from the British West Indies as well as British Honduras and British Guiana. With the regiment eventually increasing to ten battalions in strength the B.W.I.R. saw its 1st and 2nd Battalions serve in Egypt and Palestine against the Ottoman Empire with the other battalions seeing service in France, Flanders, and Italy.

While often relegated to secondary roles, the B.W.I.R. drew a mention from Field Marshal Douglas Haig in France who said: “[Their] work has been very arduous and has been carried out almost continuously under shell-fire. In spite of casualties the men have always shown themselves willing and cheerful workers, and the assistance they have rendered has been much appreciated by the units to which they have been attached and for whom they have been working. The physique of the men is exceptional, their discipline excellent and their morale high”.

Equally, General Edmund Allenby, commander of British forces in Palestine lauded members of the B.W.I.R. who served under his command: “I have great pleasure in informing you of the gallant conduct of the machine-gun section of the 1st British West Indies Regiment during two successful raids on the Turkish trenches. All ranks behaved with great gallantry under heavy rifle and shell fire and contributed in no small measure to the success of the operations”.

By war’s end the regiment had been recognized with the award of five Distinguished Service Orders, nineteen Military Crosses, eleven Military Crosses with Bar, eighteen Distinguished Conduct Medals, as well as 49 Mentions in Despatches.

The end of the war found the entire regiment concentrated at Taranto in southern Italy for demobilization. Discontent began to arise with the B.W.I.R. when a post-war pay raise being granted other British troops was denied them. Also contributing to the rising ill-feeling was the endless fatigue duties that were assigned to the regiment. These included the loading and unloading of cargo ships in Taranto’s harbor to the cleaning of latrines for the Italian Army. Resentment finally boiled over when members of the B.W.I.R.s 9th and 10th Battalions refused to do any additional work until their grievances were addressed. These points were put forward in a letter signed by some 180 sergeants of the regiment. Violence broke out which lasted three days before being put down by elements of the Worcestershire Regiment which were also in Taranto at the time. One white British officer – the very one who had ordered his men to clean the Italian latrines – was attacked and one black sergeant shot and killed a private of the B.W.I.R. in self-defense before what became known as the Taranto Revolt was suppressed.

In the wake of the revolt, some 60 members of the regiment were court-martialed and received prison terms ranging from three to twenty years. One man faced a firing squad.

The animosities and resentments that brought about the Taranto Revolt and the circumstances of its aftermath would centrally figure in the Caribbean independence and self-rule movements that began to spring up not long after the end of the war.

Above: A short but outstanding documentary commemorating the Caribbean’s contribution to the Allied cause in the Great War. Produced by the West India Committee.

Not much has come to light concerning the soldier in our photograph. His regimental number being 2443, Private Walter Alves was a member of the B.W.I.R.s 3rd Battalion which did not take part in the revolt. As a member of the 3rd Battalion Alves would have served in France and Flanders prior to the end of the war and being transferred to southern Italy. Alves’ service records have not been found (possibly destroyed during WWII) but his medal index card, as well as his entry in the British War and Victory Medal Roll, have. These two sources confirm his service number and battalion and state that he was entitled to both of these medals. Interestingly both of these official sources show Alves’ medals going unclaimed and being returned to the War Office. Of the twenty members of the B.W.I.R. listed on the same page of the medal roll, seven show their medals going unclaimed. Is it possible that there may have been a statement being made by these men?

Alves himself cut quite a soldierly – and very young – appearance in his photograph. He wears the regulation uniform of the British Army at the time a sports a quilted tropical helmet on his head which reflects the warm and sunny Mediterranean climate of southern Italy. On the cuff of his left sleeve is an armband which shows he had been appointed to the regimental military police. In his hand, he holds the ubiquitous “walking out stick”. Often called a swagger stick and associated with officers, these were in fact carried by all ranks with the main purpose being to keep a soldier’s hands busy – nothing was considered more unsoldierly as a soldier with his hands in his pockets.

Walter Alves Reverse

Above: The reverse side of the postcard, Alves dedicated it to “Mrs. Pennington, with compliments.” The said Mrs. Pennington has not been identified. The postcard’s label is in Italian which coincides with the B.W.I.R.s station at the end of the war. C. 1918, Source: Edward T. Garcia/ collection.

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.