World War I: In the Trenches

It was the coming-of-age war for the United States, and for the men who served in combat overseas, it provided a sobering lesson in the realities of twentieth-century warfare. Barrages of immense artillery shells snuffed out lives by the thousands, trenches filled with water and rats and worse were home for months on end to weary soldiers, and geographical orientation was often impossible. Though Americans had a sense that the tide had turned with their arrival, the sense of certain victory remained a rumor until the very end.

Featured Story: James Nelson Platt

“If I ever wanted to be about the size of an ant, it was when I crawled through that hell of shellfire and slid over onto that sunken road.”

(Memoir, page 162)

James Nelson Platt sailed for Europe in the spring of 1918 as a private and returned home eight months later as a sergeant. Not long after landing in France, he volunteered for typing duty and was given corporal’s stripes; he soon became a map reader and then was promoted to mess sergeant. When his company’s commanding officer was killed, Platt took over briefly. His familiarity with maps helped him guide his men out of trouble. In his memoir, he vividly describes the war’s devastation and is honest about his fear of being shot.