Saturday, May 31, 2008

Cantigny, France - May 28th 2008

Battle of Cantigny, France - May 28, 2008 – 90th Anniversary

In the pre-dawn hours of the 28th of May 1918, the men of the 28th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. 1st Division made last minute preparations for battle.

They had come from all over America. They were hastily trained, but were eager to take on the German army; the largest and best equipped fighting force in the world. General John J. Pershing, of the American Expeditionary Forces, and the Allied high command (France and Great Britain) chose America’s first strike on the Western Front to be at the village of Cantigny, which is about 60 Kilometers north of Paris. General Pershing wanted to prove to the Allies that America was a full, determined partner and willing to shed the blood of its young soldiers.

At first light the 28th Infantry Regiment’s artillery units began firing on the German positions in the village. The thunderous barrage lasted for an hour and then as the sun rose higher the regiment went “over the top” and charged the enemy with bayonets fixed. The Big Red One charged on to victory and into American military legend.

The spring of 1918 was not going well for the Allies, so the American victory boosted morale and confidence among the French and British troops and just as important it de-moralized the German army.

Thus May 28, 1918 began the American drive that would help the Allies defeat the German Army and force the Armistice six months later on November 11, 1918.

The 90th Anniversary began at 11:00 on Wednesday morning the 28th. It was heavily overcast, but thankfully it did not rain! The village of Cantigny is tiny, only a few homes and nothing commercial. The commemorative ceremony took place in a small, serine park in the center of the community. It was an all-military program.

There were four battalions: French, German, and of course the Big Red One, and a small group of American WWI re-enactors from England known as the Pershing Doughboys. There was also a French Military Band.

The centerpiece of the ceremony was the unveiling and dedication of a magnificent sculpture of an American Doughboy charging forward into the fight. Stephen Spears, from Alabama, had recently completed the sculpture. I told him on the scale of human pride he must be near the top. “Oh yes I am, this is incredible!”, he said.

There were many speeches by Generals and officials from France, Germany and America, but there was on speech that to me stood out from the others.

“After America entered the First World War and the Big Red One struck us [German army] here at Cantigny, it began to knock some sense into us, if we ever had any sense at all. Then the Second World War, well (pause) it was simply good versus evil. Today I am grateful to be living in a free Europe with self-determination."

Christian Duhr, German Military Attache’ in Paris

I talked with Mr. Duhr at the reception (vin d’ Honneur) following the ceremony and he said that his remarks were not officially scripted but came from his heart.

Another meaningful moment was when I talked with American General Cradock (four star) and Supreme Commander of NATO. As I shook hands with the general I said, “It is important to be here and living this history.” He thoughtfully replied, “That’s right, but it is living because we are here.” “How true.” I said.

The victory in Cantigny was an important moment in American history. It marked the beginning of the end of Kaiser Wilhelm’s bid to dominate Europe. No one from a U.S. press company was there.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff!

Birgitta spread the word, and now were following your steps through the French countryside with excitement.

I know it might be hard while being on the road, with maybe no internet access or little time, but please see if you could find time to update the blog. You know, you now have an international audience waiting to hear the latest from the front :)

Best regards,

Andreas Törner, Gothenburg, Sweden

PS. I added your blog in my RSS feed reader. So whenever you post something, I will directly get a notification. :) DS.

Dolph said...

Dear Jeff,

What a story! Congratulations on turning a dream into a reality and for keeping the memory of your Granddad and the millions of other WWI vets alive. You are a true patriot and your noble act at the grave of John Hunter Wickersham struck me as so characteristic of your compassion and devotion: “I swung the pack off my back and set it on the ground. Then I pulled the out the American Flag from the outside of the pack and on bended knee placed it at the base of the cross and thanked Mr. Wickersham and all those brave men around me for perpetuating freedom and what they did for our great country.”
Best wishes always from your Issaquah neighbors,
Dolph and Kuni

JP said...

ific and gives me insight into my great uncle's death in Cantigny on May 28, 1918. He was killed by a sniper toward evening. I've visited the Somme American Cemetery where he and 1,843 other Americans rest, and did a slideshow commentary about it. If you're interested, you can see it at

or simply search Jim Nolan 1918 at YouTube

I look forward to reading your blog.

Cheers, Jim Nolan

JP said...

Sorry about the above post, the top got cut off. I just wanted to say that I think this blog is really terrific and has taught me a lot, so thanks.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for the information you have provided. The namesake of our local American Legion Post was KIA at Cantigny on May 29, 1918. It was good to find your blog as I am trying to gather information about him and the battle.

Sorry to hear that there was no American press there - that is a shame.

Thanks, Jim

JC Nelson said...

I didn't make the 90th anniversary of the assault at Cantigny, but I visited a little later -- Aug. 31, 2008, where I met a guide provided by the Cantigny First Division Foundation. I was there researching my WW1 book The Remains of Company D: A Story of the Great War (St. Martin's Press, 2009) an account of Company D,28th Infantry Regiment, which took the southern half of Cantigny on May 28,1918. Went on to Soissons and the Argonne to trace the company's movements in the last half of 1918, a truly terrific experience. Glad to see someone else has such a passion for this important part of our history.
James Carl Nelson

Rudi Carben said...

Lieber Jeff, ich moechte dir zum Buch hier "Salutieren America's Heroes WWI" meinen Glueckwunsch aussprechen. Das ist eine tolle Arbeit von dir die man hier zu sehen bekommt. Schade dass wir uns im Jahre 2009 nicht in Santa Fe treffen konnten. Einen lieben Gruss an dich und deine Familie sendet aus Deutschland, dein Freund Rudi Carben

glendraeger said...

Nice site, Jeff. My grandfather also fought in WWI. You may find the memorial website I created for him interesting:

Some day I hope to get to Europe and visit some of the places he where he fought and lived.


Glen Draeger