8 Things You Should Know About American Soldiers In World War I

In the last couple weeks, we’ve talked about America’s entry into World War I and the American pilots who’d been fighting and flying in France long before 1917. Today, we’ll focus on a few-facts about U.S. Soldiers in the conflict; it’s just an overview. There are volumes and volumes written with more details, but Gazette665 likes go for the quick facts that you can use to impress your friends.

You know, you really should ask your friends if they know what’s significant about this year and month? (America entered World War I in April 1917 – 100 years ago). They tell’em a few facts. World War I is one of the “forgotten” conflicts in American history, but we can start to change that by questions and friendly discussions.

And now – without further jabbering from yours truly – here are 8 things you should know about American soldiers in World War I:

  1. Sketch of a Doughboy

    “Doughboys”

Although it might sound odd to 21st Century ears, but “doughboy” was the affectionate nick-name for U.S. soldiers in World War I. Where did the name come from? Lots of theories.

Some say the name came from the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) when U.S. soldiers were covered in dust, and joking cavalrymen said it looked like they were bakers coated in flour. Others think the name came from English slang and implied that the Americans had a lot of money (dough). Another theory suggests they got the name from enjoy doughnuts! (I like that idea…)

However it came about, Doughboys made history and helped the Allies win World War I.

2. Drafted

In 1917, the United States Army had 300,000 trained soldiers; 175,000 of that number were National Guard. Congress passed the Selective Service Act in May to institute a draft to build the army force. All male citizens between 21-30 were required to register for the draft. (Later, the ages were changed to 18-35.)

Patriotically, 9 million men registered the first day the draft opened; during the duration of the conflict, 25 million registered. Some men chose to volunteer and enlisted, but records show that 2/3 of the American Expeditionary Force to France had been selected randomly from the draft lists.

Approximately 4 million American men actively served in the U.S. Army during World War while 800,000 more joined the navy or the air squadrons.

Bayonet Drill in a training camp

3. Military Training

Large training camps were established in the United States. Officers drilled the men, taught them to shoot and perform bayonet drills. The recruits practiced digging trenches, learned to pack and keep their equipment clean and ready.

One unique feature in the training camps were mock trenches where the new soldiers got their first ideas of trench warfare, practiced climbing in and out of the structures, and gained a limited idea of what was happening on the Western Front.

4. Troop Ships

The Atlantic Ocean separates the United States from Europe, and the new soldiers crossed on troop ships. Letters and diary accounts complain about the tight quarters for the enlisted men. However, the crossing had a danger more serious than Soldier Smith’s stinky socks.

German submarines. Several American troop and hospital ships were torpedoed between 1917 and 1918.

5. The Other Allies’ Feelings

American Doughboys were received with mixed feelings among the other allies. Officially, they were welcomed and paraded through Paris to celebrate the spirit of Lafayette. (Lafayette was the best-known Frenchman who aided the Americans during their War for Independence.)

However, once the new soldiers settled in the towns, villages, and homes in France, other feelings started emerging. One of the biggest problems and frustrations for both sides was lack of communication. Few Doughboys spoke French; few French spoke English.

Allied civilians and soldiers expressed doubts concerned the Americans. Why were they here? Why had it taken so long? What were they actually going to do?

6. Trench Warfare

By 1917, World War I had stalemated on the Western Front (in France). Both sides hunkered in their trenches, reluctant to go “over the top” into the killing field called “no man’s land.” Artillery barraged. Sharpshooters caused havoc.

Interestingly, German soldiers found out which trenches the Americans were in. (They been placed in supposedly quiet lines to acclimate to the scene before experiencing any hard fighting). The Germans launched attacks against the U.S. trenches, only to find that the new soldiers were more than willing to fight and would actually attack back.

7. The “Stars & Stripes” Newspaper

The “Stars & Stripes” was the official newspaper for the American Expeditionary Force in France. Publishing patriotic songs, stories, and jokes, it linked the soldiers and homefront and kept up morale. It also reported official military news, keeping the average soldier informed of non-secret military information.

8. Most-Remembered Battles Took Place In 1918

The large and best-remembered battles fought by the Doughboys took place in 1918 in defense and counterattacks which led to the war’s end. Cantigny, Chateau-Thierry, Belleau Wood, Saint-Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive were some of the battles where the Doughboys played significant roles.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, living history enthusiast, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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