100 Years of Selfless Service
World War I
The 82nd’s history began during World War I (WWI). The war had been raging in Europe for two years when the Americans felt compelled to join the fight in 1917. The United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917. As the Army expanded many new divisions were created. The 82nd was one of these new divisions.
The 82nd Division was formed on August 25, 1917, at Camp Gordon, Georgia. As the division filled with new excited draftees. The officers discovered that there were soldiers from every state.
For many young men, it seemed like the adventure of a lifetime. Many of these young men joined the 82nd Division. The soldiers of the 82nd came from every corner of America. They came from factories, farms, coal mines, offices, and universities from all forty-eight states. They answered the rallying cry from across the country to join the fight to make the world “safe for democracy.”
As new divisions were organizing and forming for the combat, they decided on nicknames. The nicknames helped build esprit-de-corps and to forge bonds between soldiers. Brigadier General (BG) W.P. Burnham of the 82nd held a competition with the soldiers of the Division, the citizens of Atlanta, and the Atlanta Georgian newspaper to get a nickname for his diverse unit. Georgia Governor, Hugh Dorsey, BG Burnham, and Major R.E. Beebe would be the judges.
After thousands of submissions, Mrs. Vivienne Goodwyn’s, The “All American” Division was selected. The nickname was fitting. The 82nd division was made up of men from each of the 48 states. To pay tribute to their nickname, 82nd soldiers began sewing the now familiar blue circle that sat in the middle of their red square shoulder patch, with the double “AA” for “All American.” The name reflected the unique composition of the 82nd Division.
The soldiers quickly started training for the Great War. The recruits changed from draftees into doughboys. On April 25, 1918, the division sailed for Europe. On May 11 the division commander chose the 325th Infantry Regiment to parade before the King of England to show America’s commitment to the Allied cause.
In early June American officers and non-commissioned officers were sent to the British held Somme section of the front. This was to gain experience in small unit operations and the brutal realities of trench warfare. On June 9, 1918, Captain Jewett Williams of the 326th Infantry Regiment was killed in action. He was the first 82nd soldier to give his life in combat.
After learning the hard and brutal lessons of World War I, the division moved to it’s main section of operation. On September 12, the division was committed to the Saint-Mihiel offensive.
The Allies planned two large offensive for the fall of 1918 that would reduce German resistance in France. The Allies hoped the arrival of the new American divisions would turn the tide in their favor.
The main thrust of the 82nd was on the west bank of the Moselle River heading north towards Norray. On September 14, German artillery shelled the area with high explosives and mustard gas. The 82nd held their positions. Enemy artillery caused heavy losses. The division suffered more than 8,000 casualties during the Saint-Mihiel offensive.
Colonel Emeroy Pike, who died of wounds received in combat, earned the Medal of Honor for his actions on September 15, 1918. Pike was the first member of the 82nd Division to earn the nation’s highest award for valor.
The aim of the second large scale offensive planned by the Allies was to reduce German-held positions in the Meuse River valley and the Argonne Forest. The 82nd’s role in the operation called for the division to fight astride the Aire River. Moving north, the 82nd Division captured St. Juvin on 14 October 1918. The division defended it against a heavy counter-attack the following day.
During its service in the Meuse-Argonne, the 82nd suffered more than 7,000 casualties. Another soldier was awarded the Medal of Honor. That soldier was Corporal Alvin York of G Company, 328th Infantry Regiment.
The 82nd was relieved on the Argonne on November 1, 1918. This ended the division’s participation in the Great War.
The Army demobilized the 82nd on May 27, 1919. The division became a reserve in September 1921 It wasn’t until Japan’s attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 that America needed the 82nd Division again.
Burton, G. Edward. Official History of the 82nd Division American Expediationary Forces “All American” Division. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1919.