American volunteers bled and led way to WW1 100 years ago

Wed Feb 18, 2015 10:08am EST
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By Alden Bentley

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Missing from chapters on World War One in most U.S. textbooks is the name of Edward Mandell Stone, a 27-year-old Harvard graduate from Chicago who made history with his death as a machine gunner in France 100 years ago this month.

Stone was not fighting for his country. The United States initially refused to take sides and was two years from sending soldiers to the Western Front.

He was in the French Foreign Legion. His death on Feb. 27, 1915, from shrapnel wounds in the trenches near the Aisne River, made him the first American killed in action, according to writer Gary Ward in VFW Magazine, the official publication of the U.S. Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Stone was one of hundreds of idealistic young men in 1915, '16 and '17 who volunteered to fight, save lives as ambulance drivers, and find glory helping America’s historic ally France repel the German army.

Others joined British and Canadian military forces.

"They were considered in many cases to be ignoring the neutrality of the United States," said Doran Cart, senior curator of the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri. "They weren't considered traitors and weren't arrested or anything like that, but they were not looked upon with affection."

America was strongly isolationist when the war began in 1914, even as anti-German sentiment grew. Volunteering was frowned upon by the government, but such men as Stone (and some women) pointed the way as U.S. entry became inevitable.

The United States entered the war against Germany on April 4, 1917 and eventually lost some 116,500 soldiers and sailors.   Continued...

A view of the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, Fere-en-Tardenois, near Chateau-Thierry, France in this picture taken in April 2008, with 6,012 at rest there including Paul Cody Bentley who died September 16, 1917. REUTERS/Alden Bentley