DID YOU KNOW?
“Our Boys on the Front in the Great War”
by Susan Soderberg
The animosities that had been simmering in Europe for many years burst into war on July 28, 1914. It was precipitated by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria, by a Yugoslav nationalist. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and alliances made in previous years were called in. As the war proceeded, other countries affected joined one side or the other.
It was called “The Great War for Civilization” by the Allies, which eventually included France, Great Britain, Russia (until their revolution in 1917), Serbia, Montenegro, Belgium, Greece, Siam, Japan, Italy, Portugal, Italy, Romania, Brazil, the United States, and Hejaz (western section of what is now Saudi Arabia – see T.E. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell).
The Central Powers included Austria-Hungary, Germany, the Ottoman Empire (including Turkey), Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Emirate of Rashid, Dervish State, Sultanate of Darfur, and some other small countries.
The War ended on November 11, 1918 with the Allies as victors. Over 9 million combatants and over 7 million civilians lost their lives in the more than four years of brutal warfare involving new weapons such as airplanes, heavy artillery, poison gas, and U-boats.
The United States did not enter the war until April 1917 even though we had been manufacturing weapons for the Allies since the war began, and beginning in 1915 German agents had been sabotaging U.S. ships, trains, canals, bridges, and plants.
In Montgomery County the local unit of the Maryland National guard was called up and formed Company K of the 1st Maryland Infantry in the 29th “Blue and Gray” Division. This division was made up of men from both the southern and northern states, and was, as such, a symbol of reconciliation after the Civil War. The 115th regiment was based on the original Revolutionary War Maryland Unit called the “Maryland 400” which fought with distinction in the Battle of Long Island, holding their line when all the other units retreated, giving to Maryland the nickname, “The Old Line State.”
Company K was led by Lieutenant E. Brooke Lee of Silver Spring. Lee and Frank Hewitt had organized the building of the first armory in Silver Spring in 1914.Other men from the County joined Company K, and they prided themselves on being an all-volunteer unit. They were sent to Camp McClellan near Anniston, Alabama for training. On arrival in Europe the division was assigned to guard the border between Germany and Switzerland. In September 1918 it was ordered to the Meuse-Argon offensive. Beginning October 8 the offensive began a steady advance against the German forces which lasted for 21 days with heavy losses. Company K lost 41 men in the War, nearly 1/3 of its strength. Armistice was declared on November 11.At the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 the “Big Four” (U.S., Great Britain, France, Italy) imposed terms on the defeated nations. National borders were redrawn, the Middle East was carved up into protectorates, and the Ottoman Empire and Austro-Hungarian Empire ceased to exist. Many say the harsh terms imposed on Germany led to World War II.
The 115th Regiment returned home in June 1919 after 21 months of mobilization. Two members were awarded the Medal of Honor, and five members of Company K were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
We are grateful for their service. Unfortunately, there is no monument in Montgomery County to honor the men of Company K in World War I, although this War is included in two other war memorials in the County.
Here is a list of the men from what is now Germantown who served in Company K, 115th Regiment infantry, 29th Division in World War I:
John W. Best
John Walters -- Killed in Action, D.S.C.
Walter "Big Train" Johnson
The famous pitcher for the Washington Senators baseball team, Walter Johnson. called "Big Train" because his fastball was so fast and straight, retired to a dairy farm in Germantown in 1935 with his mother and five children (his wife had passed away). In his 21 years with the team he had become know as the fastest pitcher of all time, chalking up a record that put him as one of the first five inducted into the Basball Hall of Fame. He threw 3,497 strikeouts and had 113 shut-out games. He pitched a nine-inning no-hit game against Boston in 1920. He lived in Germantown until his death in 1946 from a brain tumor. He was so respected by the local community that they elected him a County Commissioner 1942-46. There is a statue of him in front of the Nationals stadium.
The train running through Montgomery County and Germantown was "the way west" for all cargo from both Washington, D.C. and Baltimore after it was built in 1873. This track still carries about 16 freight trains a day and 9 trains each way on the MARC Brunswick Line. For more information see our newly updated and re-published "The Met: A History of the Metropolitan Branch of the B&O Railroad, Its Stations and Towns" in our Sales Catalog.
"Take Me Home Country Road"
The song "Take Me Home, Country Roads" made popular by John Denver in the 1970s was inspired by our very own Clopper Road.
Singer/songwriters Taffy Nivert and Bill Danoff (Fat City) were driving to a family reunion along Clopper Road in the fall of 1970 and to pass the time they made up a song about winding roads in the country. Denver met up with them in December after Danoff and Nivert opened for him at the Cellar Door in Georgetown and they stayed up all night re-writing and re-arranging the song. John Denver first sang the song at the Cellar Door on December 30, 1970 and recieved a standing ovation. He then went on to record "Take Me Home, Country Roads" on the album "Poems, Prayers & Promises" that came out the spring of 1971 -- and the rest is history.