A century ago on September 29, 1918, Allied forces breached the formidable 400-mile Hindenburg Line, spelling the beginning of the end for Imperial Germany in World War I. In the vanguard that cool, misty morning were two American divisions under British-Australian command. The 30th division, nicknamed “Old Hickory” after Andrew Jackson, was drawn from North and South Carolina and Tennessee National Guard regiments.
The 27th division, commanded by Major General John F. O’Ryan and nicknamed “O’Ryan’s Roughnecks,” was drawn entirely from New York National Guard units. Fresh but inexperienced, the Americans lost heavily that day in the battle of St. Quentin Canal. Among the fallen was my great uncle, Everett Wallace Baker, not yet 20, who had enlisted with several Newburgh Free Academy classmates the previous year.
Without support from tanks waylaid by minefields, the 107th Infantry Regiment marched a mile into a maelstrom of enemy artillery and machine gun fire toward formidably deep defenses – forts, barbed wire and minefields – manned by veteran German troops. Wave after wave of New York’s young men, the Australians coming up behind them, eventually breached the line in front of the St. Quentin Canal Tunnel and poured through. More than 40 soldiers from Orange County perished that day, among more than 300 killed in the 107th.
Little remembered now is the importance of New York’s young men in breaking the Kaiser’s army amid the farmlands of northeastern France. Nine years later to the day, O’Ryan helped dedicate a monument to the regiment on the edge of Central Park at 67th Street and Fifth Avenue, depicting seven doughboys in their fight for freedom and for a world order unthreatened by militaristic nationalism.
“Against a veritable sea of barbed wire, a checkerboard of machine gun nests, a volcano of fire and an atmosphere of doubt, the regiment moved forward and was victorious,” the New York Times quoted the retired general as saying.“ I believe no infantry regiment ever excelled them as a fighting unit.” Take a moment on Saturday’s 100th Anniversary to remember them.
Photo of 107th Infantry monument in Central Park.