Cousin Eddie: WWI Soldier KIA
by Trent Smth
(New Albany, Indiana, USA)
Cousin Eddie's Veteran Compensation Card
"On the morning of September 28, the 316th was ordered to relieve the 313th and resume the attack. When they got within range, the enemy opened fire..."
I have a handful of WWI soldiers in my family tree. This project and others like it helped to deepen my familiarity with military genealogy research. It helped me really see the story behind the records.
This story is just one of several. I'll add more as I am able, so keep checking in!
Early in the year 2016, I found my second cousin twice removed. He was killed in action while serving as a WWI soldier. His name is Corporal Edwin Daniel Miller.
He was born the son of Franklin C. Miller and Emma David on 8 November 1893. Family and friends called him “Eddie”. Frank Miller's parents were Alexander Miller and Ellen Smith. Ellen Smith's parents were August F. Smith (formerly Schmidt) who immigrated from Wurtzbach, Sachsen in modern-day Germany to Pennsylvania in the United States and married Catharine Fisher in 1850. August F. Smith is my fourth great-grandfather. Eddie Miller – the veteran in question – is my second cousin, three times removed.
According to census records, in 1900, Eddie and his family lived in North Whitehall Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. On 5 June 1917, he registered for the draft. On 19 September 1917, he was inducted into the army as a private at Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Inducted Into the Army
Army experts will have to forgive me here; I've done the best I could to make sense of the abbreviations listed on his veteran's compensation card and to extract relevant details from an extensive history of the 316th Infantry Regiment.
On 19 October 1917, he began his service in the army with the 14th Training Battalion, 154th Department Brigade, likely at Camp Meade. On 9 July, 1918, he was promoted to corporal and sent across an Atlantic Ocean teeming with packs of menacing U-boats to France with Company L of the 316th Infantry Regiment.
Headed to the Argonne Forest
Throughout July and August of 1918, he underwent intensive training intended to convert laymen to soldiers. In the first week of September, he marched with the 316th to Tremont, where mud and rain ruined rations and made the nights miserable. On September 13, with Allied warplanes frequenting the skies overhead, they received marching orders to go to Bar-le-Duc, then down the Verdun highway, to the Argonne Forest. Once there, they often saw enemy airplanes getting shot at by Allied gunners. Nights were punctuated with gongs called "Klaxons" warning of incoming gas attacks – the more cautious among them learned to sleep in their gas masks. The regiment did some training in the trenches while enroute to Camp de Normandie, where they were to relieve the 315th Infantry, beginning on September 24. Rumors of an offensive began to mount as cannons and naval guns were put in place and big gaps were cut in the barbed wire in front of the trenches.
All day long on the 25th, tanks and guns on tractors were heard moving into battle positions. The 316th was to be a second wave of soldiers in the offensive, behind the 314th on the right end of their mass-movement. They were to cross no-man's land through the German barbed wire and trenches to attack the Montfoucon citadel, which was held by the Germans. All through the night, the offensive guns softened enemy defenses.
The battle began at 2:30 on the morning of September 26. In the early morning darkness, the men of the 316th experienced firing their weapons on the enemy for the first time. At 5:30 in the morning, the big German guns opened up on the American forces. At 6:00, the 316th stepped out into no-man's land to begin their advance among the 20-foot holes made by enemy artillery. They made their advance, taking their first prisoners and their first casualties. By noon, they had established a new headquarters at what just a few hours before had been the German front.
The next morning, they continued their attack. All day long, the 316th stayed behind the 313th as they continued their advance on the citadel. On the morning of September 28, the 316th was ordered to relieve the 313th and resume the attack at 7:00am – into the teeth of the German mortars. When they got within range, the German soldiers opened fire with their machine guns and began mowing down soldiers of the 316th, who were forced to leave their dead and wounded behind them as they pressed on toward the enemy. At one point, Company L, commanded by captain Charles E. Loane, Jr., was left alone to make its advance, so deadly had been the effect of enemy fire on other companies.
Corporal Edwin Daniel Miller was one of thousands to die that day in a desperate attempt to break German communications and gain the upper hand in the region. Such had been the objective of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, also known as the Battle of the Argonne Forest – a drive that had ultimately proven successful.
Telegram From the Department of the Army
A short time later, Eddie's parents, Frank C. and Emma David Miller, received notice that their son had been killed in action in faraway France. His body would soon be sent home to Pennsylvania for burial.
I, for one, have Cousin Eddie to thank for his incredible courage and sacrifice in laying down his life to protect freedom from the grasp of tyranny.
I hope one day I get a chance to shake his hand.