Davenport Doughboys in the St. Mihiel Offensive, September 12, 1918

September 12, 2018 marks the centennial of  the Battle of St. Mihiel, the first American-led offensive of the Great War in France. General John J. Pershing commanded the newly-organized First Army in a successful campaign to push back the bulge in the German lines and capture positions held by the enemy since 1914. Our “doughboys” from Davenport were there.

The experiences of several local infantrymen of the 90th Division who fought at St. Mihiel were later reported in the Davenport newspapers. In honor of their service, we gather their stories here today.

Two Davenporters of the 358th infantry regiment both suffered hand wounds in the fighting at St. Mihiel. Private George W. of  Moore of Company G, like so many other American soliders in the early morning of the 12th, moved out of the trenches and “over the top.” In a letter published in the Daily Times, he said, “we went so fast that day that we passed a Hun machine gun. After we had passed he opened up on us, and when a machine gun starts barking it is time to move. I got hit in the hand, and in making a run for a trench to get under cover, my foot got caught in some wire, so I went in head first and broke two ribs.” [1] 

Upon the safe return of Frank Krotz, also of Company G, the Democrat and Leader reported that in the “[e]arly morning of Sept. 12,”  he “went over the top, and shortly after was wounded, reaching the first line trenches, one of his ‘buddies’ bandaged the wounded hand, and Krotz was ordered to the rear for first aid treatment.” Along the road, “a Frenchman in charge of artillery made a sling from a piece of towel, and the Davenport boy then made his way, three miles, to the first aid station.” He had been “hit by a flying piece of shrapnel.” [2]

Harry Kasparian of  Company M, the “sole survivor of an Armenian family massacred by Turks” and “resident of this city for four years before his enlistment” captured eight German prisoners in the St. Mihiel offensive. He was modest about the achievement, saying “some boys captured more.” He told an audience at the Red Cross rooms that the Germans forced women to “man” their machine guns. [3] [4]

The experiences of Davenporters in the 357th infantry of the 90th Division were also reported in the local press. Frank C. Paustian of Company A,  “on guard and patrol duty at the front…went over the top for the first time on Sept. 12, and was severy wounded when gun shot pierced his left chest.” [5]  The “bullets seemed to sing too unpleasantly near for comfort” for Ray Murtha, also of Co. A, who emerged “unscathed, ungassed, …and still at the top notch of enthusiasm.” [6]  Private Henry Otten of Company C went missing for ten hours on September 12, having been “sent to look for a part of the company” while the remainder moved forward [7]

Henry Otten

Dr. Emil O. Ficke of the 90th’s medical corps, who “worked the front line trenches…under almost constant shell fire,” may have aided some of his fellow Davenporters in the same division at St. Mihiel. [8]

The blue lines on the map below from the Library of Congress shows the advance of the American lines, including the 90th Division, from September 12-15, 1918.

The St. Mihiel offensive. [France?: Creator not identified, ?, 1918] Map. https://www.loc.gov/item/2016432169/.

While we do not have accounts of their individual experiences, artillery and infantrymen from Davenport (in the 101st and 102nd regiments) fought in the Battle of St. Mihiel as part of the famous “Yankee,” or 26th Division.

Lines of the 26th Division, in the Battle of St. Mihiel.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader for April 24, 1919 featured thsee returning men of the 101st: Charles Murphy, Eugene Mack, John Nagel, John Mulligan, Otis Widdrington, Fred Kiefer, Herbert Mohr, John Morrison, Myron Roeske, and Edward J. Gadient, as well as Chris Ehmson, Wendell Tornquist, Clifford Dawson, Joe Costello, Elmer Bowling, and Arthur Vetter.

More research on the fate of these men after their return to Iowa has yet to be done; please contact us here at the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center if you have information about any of the brave soldiers from Davenport who served in the First World War.

Please also join us on November 14, 2018 at 6pm at the Davenport Public Library’s Eastern Avenue location for “Armistice, the Russian Expedition & Occupation of Germany,” the final installment of the World War I Lecture Series with Kevin Braafladt of the Army Sustainment Command at the Rock Island Arsenal.

(posted by Katie)



[1] Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), Feb. 3, 1919, p. 7.

[2] Davenport Democrat and Leader, Apr. 6, 1919, p. 14.

[3] Davenport Democrat and Leader, Jan. 15, 1919, p. 9.

[4] Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), Jan. 14, 1919, p.8.

[5] Davenport Democrat and Leader, Feb. 25, 1919 p. 13.

[6] Davenport Democrat and Leader, June 19, 1919, p. 11.

[7] Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), Jan. 15. 1919, p. 7.

[8] Davenport Democrat and Leader Feb. 20, 1919, p. 15.

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