Fighting the Hun in the Great War


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On April 6, 1917, John (Jack) Emory Swaim, a former Midwestern school teacher, was sorting mail in the post office in Bluffton, Indiana, when the United States declared war on Germany. Jack, seeing his destiny, immediately enlisted, and was assigned to Officer Candidate School at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indianapolis. His wife, Alice Belle, and their sons, Ivan and Marion (my father), stayed with Belle's mother in Humboldt, Kansas, for the duration. At thirty-two, Jack was older than most enlistees. First Lieutenant Jack Swaim reported to Fort Riley, Kansas, and the 89th Division, eventually to be dispatched by troop ship to Europe, where he was later elevated to the rank of captain. From France and Germany, Jack mailed home scores of postcard-sized photos, which are a vertible record of his combat days. The descriptions are in his own words. Jack was gassed by the Hun in the Argonne region on Oct. 20, 1918.

[Ehrang, Germany, 1918] Myself [3rd from left, front row], Lt. Wanter and my sergeants. (1) 1st Sgt. Schoolfield (2) Sgt. Lynn, Scout (3) Sgt. Page, Platoon Sgt. (4) Sgt. Jarman, Platoon Sgt. (5) Sgt. Tebbe (6) Sgt. Fetters (7) Sgt. Stark, Mess Sgt. (8) Sgt. Winn (9) Sgt. Prater. Two of my sergeants are not in the picture as they could be found when the picture was taken. With some German girl, I suppose.

[Ehrang, Germany, 1918] (1) Sgt. Tebbe (2) Corp. Milton (3) Pvt. Walters (4) Sgt. Todd (5) Pvt. Segler (6) Sgt. Lynn (7) Corp. Rippberger (8) Pvt. Hunt (9) Corp. Pugh (10) Pvt. Rumohr (11) Cook Weber, Head Cook (12) Sgt. Fedders (13) Cook Elliott, 2nd Cook (14) Corp. Doty (15) Pvt. Running (16) Corp. James (17) Corp. Blankenship (18) Corp. Grimes (19) Corp. Fluhart (20) 1st Sgt. Schoolfield (21) Sgt. Jarman. Captain Swaim [seated, left] 2nd Lt. Wanter. These are all old men of my company and came over with me.

Ehrang, Germany. 1918. The level plain on the right is our drill ground. This certainly must be a beautiful place in the summer time. The woods are all pine and everything is covered with snow, which fell night before last, so it is even beautiful now. But "we want to go home."

"Greetings from Ehrang, panoramic view"

World War One came to an end on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. But before the armistice ...

"Western Theater of War -- Soldiers grave and French ammunition wagon near Longwy"

A shell has struck a French ammunition wagon. See the result? Notice the cross, which indicates a grave.

See the crosses with the German helmets on them. These are German graves. I have seen "beaucoup" sights like this.

"Western Theater of War - Mercy-le-Haut - Soldiers grave"

This is a view of Essey, France in the St. Michiel Sector. We captured this place from the Square-head on Sept. 12 and fought our way about 6 kilometers beyond this town on the first day. I have marched my company through this town on several occasions, the last time on the darkest and rainiest night I ever saw on Oct. 7th.

Another view of Essey. This is the main street and your boy has marched down it -- not to the sound of bands, but bursting shells, and the night so dark you couldn't see your hand before you, and a man not allowed to even light a cigarette, for the enemy aeroplanes were hovering over our heads watching for such a mark. See?

"Essey, Hindenburg Street"

This is a view of the Bouillonville railroad bridge, destroyed by the Germans early in the war. The line I have drawn on the landscape represents our sector (the 356th) on Sept. 12th. The arrow shows which way we were going. We passed by the bridge about 3:00 P.M. on that date, and drove the enemy out of the town, and my battalion and company taking many prisoners here. My kitchen was brought up and located as indicated by my mark (X). This place being about 4 kilometers in the rear of the front line as established after this drive. The food was hauled up to the mess at night only. Why? Oh, because. The woods you can see in the distance was one mass of barbed wire, and German machine guns, and covered several square miles of land. Some of the hardest fighting of the day was done by us in this woods. Here is where your boy almost got his. I'll tell you about it when I come home.

The grave of 7 German officers and 48 men near Verdun.

"Western Theater of War - Mass grave near Dannevoux/Verdon - 7 officers and 48 men from Infantry Regiments 130, 135 & 145"

This is a view of Beurey, France in the St. Michiel section. We captured this town with the assistance of the 355th and some "tanks" late in the evening of Sept. 12th. We slept on our rifles on the ground in a field near this town that night and took up the fight again in the morning, and remember we had no breakfast of hot cakes and sausage before going to work either -- and no supper the night before, and no dinner the day before either, and no breakfast the morning before either. This town was about a half mile from the front line after the drive and about 12 kilometers from where we went over the [top?]. It was fired into the Square-head day and night, and Johnnie had many narrow escapes here.

A view of Bouillonville at which place the cemetery is where we captured "beaucoup" prisoners and where the ruined bridge is located. On the night of Oct. 6th my company was relieved in this section and marched back this far by daylight. And we were not allowed (in fact it wasn't healthy) to march on the roads by daylight, my company and I spent the day of Oct. 7th in the upper story of the building marked (X). At dark we took up the march, passing through Essey, and marching until daylight, spending that day in the woods. On the third night we again marched all night to Lagny where we were loaded into trucks and brought up to the Argonne Front. No rest for the weary.

"Western Theater of War - Crown Prince Bridge over the Maas [River] by Sivry"

I have been in this vicinity. Have crossed this stream into No Man's Land with patrols.

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