Greg's Tour of France

Frank Gregory Charlton was my grandfather. He enlisted in the U. S. Army in 1917. For the next six months he traveled around the southern and eastern United States. He was assigned to the 23d Engineers. Then he left for France. He inscribed his itinerary into the lid of his mess kit.

Greg in France

Brest France 4/13
Bordeaux Gironde 4/19
Baccarat Moselle 5/11
Veney Moselle 5/17
Vacqueville Moselle 6/27
Clermont Meuse 9/23
Neuville Marne 9/26
Avocourt Meuse 10/4
Champigneulle Ardennes 11/3
La Guerre 11hr 11day 11mo Finis
Aubreville Meuse 11/16
Rarecourt Meuse 12/21
Souilly Meuse 1/5/19

For the last six weeks of the war, he participated in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Some historians describe it as the bloodiest battle in U.S. History. He later assured my grandmother that he was not involved in combat. Luckily for him, my grandmother did not have access to the internet.

11/2 - The U.S. 307th Light Artillery leveled Champigneulle.

11/3 - Greg arrived with the U.S. 23d Engineers to rebuild roads in and around town for the infantry.

11/4 - The U.S. 66th Infantry arrived.

On November 3, 2018 some family members, including me and two of my grandchildren, retraced Grandaddy's route through those six weeks. That put us in Champigneulle a hundred years to the day after Grandaddy was there.

Greg was in Clermont when the full-scale offensive started.

Avocourt was really heavy going.

Champigneulle is very pretty now.

By the time Greg saw Aubreville, the war had ended.

Greg went out of his way not to talk about the war. He claimed that his ammunition belt didn't have any bullets in it, just packets of Bull Durham that they were issued. He himself didn't chew, but it was great stuff for barter.

He did tell my grandmother that he only ever saw one German soldier that he could have shot at right at the end, but he didn't shoot.

He talked about his trip home, though. They again boarded the ubiquitous boxcars that the French provided, with the sides stenciled "40 Hommes / 8 Chevaux." The only way to get from the Argonne to Le Havre was to change trains in Paris. Paris was already too full of British and American soldiers at that time, so the 23d Engineers were formed up at Gare de L'Este and told that under no circumstances could they break ranks until the were aboard the boxcars at Gare du Nord. They of course were wearing their campaign hats (Smokey Bear hats) because they had no place to store them.

Greg was 25 years old, and a bit more experienced than the others. He slipped his little folding garrison cap into his pocket.

As they arrived at Gare de L'Este, Greg ran for it. Once he got around a corner, he threw his Campaign Hat over a wall, turned around, put on his little garrison cap, put his hands in his pockets, and started strolling back toward the station. A couple of MPs ran around the corner and asked, "Did you see a guy in a campaign hat?"

Greg pointed over his shoulder, and the MPs kept running.

When Greg ran out of money he went to the Gare du Nord and caught a boxcar to Le Havre. He figured he might never have another chance to visit Paris, and he was right.

The lid to the mess kit has been handed down twice now, eldest son to eldest son. I have put it in a frame that is lined with a piece of old army blanket. It hangs on the wall above me as I type this.