In the old days American boys marched off to war with a sense of duty, a spirit of patriotism and a belief it was the right thing to do. In the song When Johnny Comes Marching Home, for the soldier who returned to their hamlet alive, there were parades, roses, the laurel wreath and the choicest pleasures of home-baked apple, blueberry and cherry pies and fried chicken and roasted ham which only their mommas could make.
The other side of the coin is those Johnnies who did not come marching home. In many cases they were interred on the battlefield where they fell, never to see home again, or to smell the sweet aromas of momma’s cooking, or the pleasant scent of their wife or girlfriend’s perfume, or the embrace from their son or daughter, or hold their baby in their arms.
During the First World War the USA sent many doughboys to France to fight the advancing Germans. One of these doughboys was a young man named Martin August Treptow, a barber from Iowa.
His National Guard unit was assigned to the famous Rainbow Division which was comprised of men originating from coast to coast. In the reference below it was a young Major Douglas MacArthur who coined the phrase Rainbow Division for the 42nd.
Martin Treptow was a Wisconsin boy who grew up playing and fishing on the banks of the Chippewa River. The smell of farms rich and loamy filled his nostrils daily, as did those dairy cows and the uniqueness of their aroma.
After becoming a young man he chose the trade of barber in Cherokee, Iowa. It was in the barber shop that the news of the war was discussed and debated. Some wondered why we should send our boys over there. It wasn’t our war.
Europe in 1917 was in chaos. Should America become entangled with that mess, many pondered.
After listening to his elders on both sides of the issue, Martin joined the National Guard. Soon he found himself landing on the shores of France.
It was on the shores of the Ourcq River that he eventually found himself. In many ways it reminded of his childhood in Wisconsin.
For in reality, communities founded on rivers share a common bond. People on rivers go about their lives until war or natural disaster intrudes into their tranquility.
As the battle raged on around the Ourcq, a message needed to be taken. Martin volunteered as the courier. Running was in his blood.
Unfortunately, as Martin neared his destination on that late July day, German machine gunfire ended the life of the young barber from Iowa. The blood-stained message had reached its intended officer.
As they were preparing Martin’s body, they found a diary baptized by his blood. The diary was returned to his parents Anna and Albert Treptow.
On the flyleaf of this leather-bound sacred book, hallowed by the blood of an American soldier, he wrote
“America shall win the war. Therefore, I will work. I will save. I will sacrifice. I will endure. I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the whole issue of the struggle depended on my alone.”
Martin was one of the over 37 million men, women and children who died in this global conflict. Each one had their story—their families and their lives ended all too soon on this planet traversing the cosmos.
Sergeant Alfred Joyce Kilmer, another young man, who was killed soon after Martin on July 30th before he left for France wrote an eloquent poem about war:
“In a wood they call the Rouge Bouquet
There is a new-made grave to-day,
Built by never a spade nor pick
Yet covered with earth ten meters thick.
There lie many fighting men,
Dead in their youthful prime,
Never to laugh nor love again
Nor taste the Summertime.”
For the honored dead he continued
“There is on earth no worthier grave
To hold the bodies of the brave
Than this place of pain and pride
Where they nobly fought and nobly died.”
Martin was returned home to the USA for burial. Alfred Joyce Kilmer was buried in France.
When you visit a veteran’s grave in your country, pause for a moment to remember their sacrifice. For it is in remembering that they achieve immortal honor among the living.
G. D. Williams © 2013
Private Martin A. Treptow (January 19, 1894-July 29, 1918)
On April 6, 1917, the United States Congress declared war on the German Empire and entered the Great War. In the rush to mobilize troops, individual states competed with each other for the honor to be the first to send their National Guard units into combat. Secretary of War Newton D. Baker authorized the organization of a Division made up of National Guard units from 26 different states and the District of Columbia. Douglas MacArthur, who at the time was a Major working at the office of the Secretary of War, is credited with saying “The 42nd Division stretches like a Rainbow from one end of America to the other.” MacArthur was instrumental in the formation of the Division and was appointed its Chief of Staff and promoted to Colonel.
When Johnny Comes Marching Home
Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye”
Rouge Bouquet & Alfred Joyce Kilmer (December 6, 1886-July 30, 1918)
The U.S. Army Band Sings Songs Of America
1st Inaugural Address: President Reagans Inaugural Address 1/20/81
World War I Statistics