by Alexander F. Barnes
Among the many similarities of soldiers from all recent historical periods, two in particular stand out: First, soldiers (and Marines, sailors, and airmen) love to have their picture taken. Second, they have a sense of humor that is often lost on outsiders. And in this case, outsiders would be defined as the civilian world, people from different eras, and even fellow soldiers outside the immediate group being photographed.
As a modern example of the phenomena described above, when I was serving in Co. L, Marine Support Battalion in Guantanamo Bay in 1975, we had no Christmas tree to decorate. So, we cut some long limbs from local cactus, jammed them into a garbage can, and decorated it as a “Cuban Christmas tree.” I’m sure that many photos exist of our efforts in the scrapbooks of the guys from the unit, but, without captions, those photos will leave future historians scratching their heads and wondering, “What were they thinking?”
For the Doughboys of World War I who were training in the States or serving in France and Germany, there were no end of opportunities to take pictures — and leave us wondering the same thing. Here are just a few that leave us wondering, “What were they thinking?”
Marked only with the words “That last night in San Antonio,” this group of happy 90th Division Doughboys certainly give the impression that they are well equipped with tobacco and alcohol, and ready to face the Kaiser’s Army. They would get that chance soon enough at St Mihiel and in the Argonne.
Nothing says “good times” after mucking out the AFG Mounted Detachment horse stables like taking your boots off, gathering your dogs, and having a beer while sitting on the cobblestones. Knowing that LTC Jonathan Wainwright (later General Wainwright in the Philippines)commanded the detachment and was a strict disciplinarian, what were they thinking?
A nicely uniformed transportation corps soldier from the 310th Mechanical Repair Unit, Sergeant Samuel Fleming, poses for a portrait in Coblenz. Fleming, a former University of Cincinnati student from Adams, Ohio, has chosen an interesting German-language book to pose with: Die Eroberung Der Luft (The Conquest of the Air). What is the message he is trying to give us? (Photo courtesy JAG Collection)
These two American Forces in Germany (AFG) NCOs have chosen to spend their time getting a portrait made with a German Fräulein. While the soldiers appear to be at their best, and now wearing rank also on their left sleeve, the German girl appears to be experiencing the “worst hair day ever.” What was she thinking?
Among the many off-duty pursuits of the US soldiers assigned to the Occupation of Germany in the early 1920s were trips to visit the battlefields of the Great War. Here two well-uniformed soldiers emerge from an old bunker brandishing a bayonet, a bottle, and a spoon. With most of the battlefields in France still covered with live ammunition of all sizes, such exploration was probably not the smartest way to spend their leisure time.
More 90th Division humor or accidental placement? The artillerymen from Battery “F”, 345th Field Artillery Regiment, pose for a “yard-long” photo. The soldier in the center behind the tree was either the unit comedian or just unlucky; either way, he had to know he was not going to be in the photograph. What was he thinking? (Photo courtesy USAMHI)
This image gives us an idea of what passed for humor in the mess sections of the Big Red One. Brandishing all of the sharp tools of their trade, these Doughboys of the 1st Division threaten each other playfully. During the occupation of Germany, many 1st Division photos portrayed the Division’s symbolic number “1” inside a wreath and these soldiers have replaced it with their current assignment: Kitchen Police.
A real head-scratcher; this orderly from the 19th Evacuation Hospital, located near Trier, Germany, has decorated his white over-garments with a Sam Browne belt, Croix de Guerre, a row of ribbons, two overseas stripes and an “early arrival in France” star.
A solemn group of 37th Division artillerymen and their French 5th Regiment comrades pose with a captured German field piece. Only the Doughboy on the far right seems to see the humor in the pose of the Frenchman seated on the cannon barrel.
What 322nd Field Artillery Regiment Doughboy thought it was a good idea to impress these two mademoiselles in Messac (most likely Massac), France, by letting their friend pose with his M1917 Enfield? Hopefully, the First Sergeant was busy elsewhere!
Perched bravely on Umbrella Rock over the historical marker for the Battle of Wauhatchie (28-29 October 1863), these two 51st Infantry Regiment soldiers would soon be on their way to France to serve in the 6th Division. Umbrella Rock still exists today, but it is now off limits to the general public.