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Third Army Celebration

The devil is in the details!

By Alexander Barnes

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The Details

Though only a single word, “Buddys” [sic], is written on the reverse of this real photo postcard, deciphering the clues within the image can help tell the story of this Army of Occupation group photo.

  1. In the center of the “Buddys” activity is the one officer in the group . He is wearing a Third Army patch. From his body language, it does not appear he’s enjoying the party as much as his enlisted troops. Note the bottle at his feet, close by, but he can honestly say he never touched it. 
  2. Do the mothers of these three guys know where they are and what they are up to? There sure seems to have been a lot of “twelve-year-olds” in the AEF!
  3. In every unit, there’s always one guy who hopes that there will be some chow along with the drinking — and this is that guy. He goes everywhere with his mess kit, canteen cup, and his spoon tucked into his right front trouser pocket — just in case.
  4. For some reason, the corporal decided to come to the party dressed as much like a civilian as he can. Third Army regulations prohibited the drinking of anything stronger than beer or wine so there’s a pretty good chance the corporal’s unlabeled bottle just might be some of the highly verboten schnapps or cognac?
  5. This is an interesting guy. Along with his glasses, he’s wearing a Railhead and Railway Regulating Station patch as well as officers’ leather leggings — another forbidden practice. It’s just a guess, but I would bet this guy is practicing to be Warrant Officer — he has booze, smokes, and a non-regulation uniform; most certainly, the trifecta required for a good Warrant.
  6. And finally, without a doubt, this guy is the ringleader of the party. He appears to be the only soldier with two overseas stripes so he’s the “old salt” (compared to the rest of the group). He’s already acquired the habit of smoking a long-stemmed pipe, and he has a firm grip on his bottle. His overseas cap at a jaunty angle, his body language, and his proximity to the lieutenant, all indicate that he is the real leader of this group.

Another in the line of photographic archeology vignettes taken from the American Occupation of Germany after the First World War, this time we take a closer look at a group of Doughboys who appear to be celebrating some great event. Perhaps it was just a celebration of having survived the double danger of combat in France and the Spanish Flu. Regardless, this group appears intent on having a good time and certainly deserve a closer look.

What do we know about these soldiers? Not much. The only writing on the photo is the single word: “Buddys” [sic]. From the markings on the doors behind them, we get an indication that they most likely belong to Company “E” of the 51st Infantry Regiment or a corps-level unit supporting the 51st.

The 51st was organized at Chickamauga Park, Georgia, in June 1917, and then assigned to the 6th Division. The 6th Division had been organized at Camp McClellan, Alabama, but did not assemble in the States. The subordinate units were shipped overseas separately. By late July, most of the division was in France and had begun the serious business of being a Regular Army combat division. After a short spell in the “quiet” Alsace region, the 6th moved northward and took part in the very end of the Meuse-Argonne offensive.

Following the Armistice, the US Third Army was designated as the Army of Occupation. The 250,000 doughboys in the combat divisions of its three corps (III, IV, and VII) made the long march from the Argonne to the Rhine River.

Among the Third Army’s eight divisions were two National Guard divisions, the 32nd and 42nd, and two National Army divisions, the 89th and 90th. By the early spring of 1919, these four divisions had already begun to redeploy to the States. Their places in the American occupation zone were to be taken by the 6th and 7th Divisions, thereby turning the combat forces of the Third Army into an all-Regular Army force.

It was not to be, however. With the signing of the Treaty of Versailles by Germany, the US Government (a non-signer of the Treaty) decided to greatly reduce the size of the Third Army. Though the 6th Division had begun to move into the occupation zone in April 1918, it received subsequent orders countermanding that move in May. Therefore, the 6th Division was only in Germany a very short period, meaning that this photo must come from that time. Perhaps the news that they were going home much sooner than expected was the impetus for this celebration.

A quick statistical analysis of the picture shows that there are eighteen soldiers, five are smoking, and they are sharing nine bottles of something alcoholic. Most of the soldiers appear to be wearing the Model 1918 Service Coat with hidden pockets. Only three, including the lieutenant, appear to have any pins or disks on their caps. Collar disks on their tunics are almost non-existent.

All in all, they appear to be a well-fed, well-clothed, and fairly happy group. They’re not cold, wet, nor hungry. For a soldier of any period, that’s worth celebrating.

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