It was a distinct honor for Colonel William P. Screws and his 167th Infantry to be part of the Army of Occupation in Germany following World War I. After unimaginable hardships in the final offensive assaults of the war in the fall of 1918, the men immediately began their march across Europe to Germany.
They were greeted by cheering crowds and bands playing popular American songs in their trek through Belgium and Luxembourg. On 3 Dec 1918, they reached the Rhine River in Germany and upon arrival saw a beautiful rainbow arcing across the sky. According to the troops, this was not the first time the Division had observed a rainbow. Many soldiers had reported seeing one before or after several important battles. As Screws and his men entered Sinzig, Germany, their band began playing “Dixie.” 1
The Third Battalion, including Company I, stayed in the town of Sinzig while the other two battalions were in separate locations outside the town. On 1 Feb 1919, a military newspaper was created called The Alabamian to keep the three battalions informed of the others’ activities. Even though they continued to practice their drills and training maneuvers, they found time to enjoy the town, food, and scenery and take a much needed respite from their days of action. 2
On 6 April 1919, the 167th left Germany on their homeward journey. They reached Brest, France, after a 60-hour train trip in box cars, and Company I boarded the U.S. warship Montana to return to America. 3 In Send the Alabamians, Nimrod Frazer notes this about Company I:
Although the men had long awaited the departure, sadness was in the air. Corporal John B. Hayes of Company I, 167th, reflected that only fifty men who had come with him to France would be on the return voyage: ‘Many of the 50 had been wounded. During its combat operations, Co. I received 800 replacements to keep its war strength at 250 men.’ The Alabama men had served tenaciously and fiercely, and they had forged deep bonds in the process. 4
They arrived in New York City on 25 April 1919, convened at Camp Merritt, NJ, and then came home to Alabama by train on 9 May 1919. The men were honored with parades in Anniston, Birmingham, Gadsden, Mobile and Montgomery. 5 In all the towns and cities, they were greeted by dignitaries, bands, and cheering crowds throwing flowers and singing songs. In Montgomery, there was a parade, ceremony and speeches, luncheon, military ball, and receptions in the homes of city dignitaries. Company I was headquartered in the home of Mr. and Mrs. W. St. John Naftel on S. Perry St. At midnight, the troops boarded the train once again and headed to Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg, MS. 6
Granddaddy Bill was honorably discharged on 17 May 1919. As far as I know, Granddaddy never talked to his family about his service in France in WWI. Some memories are just too painful.
Thank you, Corporal Willie H. McCune. You were sure a good man.
- Amerine, William H., Alabama’s Own in France, Google Books edition, (New York: Eaton & Gettinger, 1919), 221-224. ↩
- Amerine, Alabama’s Own in France, 230-233. ↩
- Amerine, Alabama’s Own in France, 247. ↩
- Frazer, Nimrod, Send the Alabamians: World War I Fighters in the Rainbow Division (Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2014), 199. ↩
- Croix Rouge Farm Memorial Foundation, “The 167th (Alabama) Infantry Regiment,” (http://http://croixrougefarm.org/history-167th/: accessed 8 Feb 2016). ↩
- Amerine, Alabama’s Own in France, 267. ↩