By Leon Schmidt and Gary Blum
In January, 1918, American soldiers began to be sent to Europe in large numbers. before that, there were only a handful of American soldiers in France.
The soldiers from Wisconsin Rapids had originally been sent to Camp Douglas, Wis. in 1917. Then on Sept. 11, 1917, the men boarded trains in Camp Douglas for the trip to Camp MacArthur in Waco, Texas where they would be part of the 120th Field Artillery soon to be incorporated into the 32nd division.
The men trained for months at Camp MacArthur to prepare themselves for war. They fired weapons as long as their ammunition lasted. The soldiers from Wisconsin Rapids brought their own ammunition, so it lasted longer than many of the other units. They drilled, practiced using horses with their artillery, went to classes on warfare, and learned about trench warfare — as well as athletics, sports, and inspections. They endured the weather in Waco which soon turned cold. There were frequent dust storms and high winds. In January, the temperature dropped to 5 degrees above zero.
On Jan. 13, 1918, the headquarters and engineer units of the 32nd Division began boarding trains to head for Camp Merritt in New Jersey. On Jan. 27, the soldiers at Camp MacArthur were informed that they would only get 48 hours notice when the time came to ship out. When the time did come, it would take 61 trains to transport the 23,000 men and the livestock and equipment of the 32nd Division.
According to his pocket diary, Herman J. Christensen, the grandfather of Wisconsin Rapids resident George Zimmerman, enlisted in the military in May, 1917. On Aug. 10, he was sent to Camp Douglas where he was part of the 107th Engineer Train, which eventually became part of the 32nd Division. Thereafter, he was shipped to Camp MacArthur on Sept. 29. After several months of training, he was shipped out of Camp MacArthur on Jan. 10, 1918, and arrived at Camp Merritt, New Jersey on Jan. 15, 1918.
One week later, Christensen was sent to New York City to a dock on the East River to board a ship named the “Tuscania”. The “Tuscania” was carrying the first members of the 32nd Division to head for Europe. Two days later, the ship arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia and the next day, the “Tuscania” left Halifax bound for England across the North Atlantic. The men on board didn’t know it, but the “Tuscania” was headed foe a date with destiny before it would ever arrive in England.
The “Tuscania” was one of the earliest boats to carry American soldiers to Europe. by August of 2018, more than 2,000,000 American soldiers had been shipped to France. That was an average of almost 10,000 soldiers a day.
In 1917, George M. Cohan wrote a song which expressed the feelings of most Americans about what we could do to support England and France in the war. The song was hugely popular in the U.S. In January, the men at Camp MacArthur sang the song when they got up in the morning. The song’s chorus went as follows:
Over there, over there,
Send the word, send the word over there,
That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming,
The drums rum-tumming everywhere,
So prepare, say a prayer,
Send the word, send the word to beware-
We’ll be over, we’re coming over,
And we won’t come back ’til it’s over, over there.
Submitted under the auspices of Post 9 of the American Legion of Wisconsin Rapids.