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'Great War' left local legacy

By John Sullivan Published: May 24, 2017 12:00 AM
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The message that came in the mail was brief, but contained welcome news.

"On board the U.S.S Leviathan 5th day out of Brest, France. Due to land Friday, April 25th, 1919. I will send a telegram if I get a chance so you will no doubt know of my arrival by the time you get this card. The Statue of Liberty sure will look good."

The YMCA supplied the postcard to Cpl. John Francis Adams, 112th Engineers, 37th (Buckeye) Division. The 37th would later become the 37th Infantry Division during World War II.

Adams, great-uncle of Northfield Village resident J.C. Sullivan, would be finally be home at last after having survived the terrible heat near El Paso, Texas, on the Mexican border and the trenches of World War I in France and Belgium.

In a history of the 37th Division, division historian Ralph E. Cole reports the unit had initially sailed on the U.S.S. Leviathan out of Hoboken, N.J. on June 15, 1918, debarking in France on June 23, 1918 ("The 37th Division in the World War," 37th Division Veterans Association, Columbus, Ohio, 1929.)

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When division forces moved to the front it was to the Baccarat Sector and "No Man's Land," where patrols captured Germans and built observation posts for sniping, the history states. The tranquility in this so-called "quiet sector" consisted of barrages against attacks and fighting them off with machine gun fire, automatic rifle fire, bayonets and hand grenades. Daily reconnaissance flights by German planes were combated with anti-aircraft artillery.

The history states the 112th Engineers "built dugouts, observations stations, wire entanglements, dug trenches, constructed machine gun emplacements and a myriad of other activities, constructing 57 in all."

On Aug. 6 Cole reports the engineers suffered their first casualty: Sgt. Frank I. Knack was "killed by fire from machine guns while making a personal reconnaissance of a trench." He was not the last casualty of the war.

Although the war had raged in Europe for many years before Americans arrived, U.S. forces participated during 1917-18. Following its arrival in 1918, Cole reports the 37th Division suffered 3,305 casualties from Sept. 22 to Nov. 18 in the Avocourt Sector, Meuse-Argonne and Ypres-Lys offensive.

In 1919, with much excitement and anticipated joy upon seeing him again, the Sullivan and Adams families gathered at the Union Depot railroad station for the return of Clevelanders and other returning 37th Division veterans.

As the throng of happy families thinned out, Cpl. Adams was nowhere to be found. Both families were to learn he was in a Virginia hospital recovering from pneumonia, the result of his having inhaled mustard gas delivered by German artillery.

He would suffer from the after-effects throughout his lifetime. The pneumonia that hospitalized him might have been exacerbated by the Great Flu Epidemic of 1918-19 that killed an estimated 675,000 Americans. One of its victims was the much-beloved Catherine "Kitty" Sullivan, Cpl. Adams' 6-year old Cleveland niece.

Sullivan, a widely-published writer and former Northfield Village Councilman, is a great-nephew of Cpl. Adams and is a U.S. Army 2nd Armored Division veteran who served stateside and in Europe. He is a member of Nordonia Hills American Legion Post 801.


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