Williams Eugene Henderson, Sr. of Walter Hill, Tennessee enlisted in the United States Army September 17, 1917 as a Private #1907256. At the age of 22 he had been a sales manager for the Southwestern Publishing Company. Seven months later he was headed for The Great War with the 82nd Infantry Division (in WWII, this became the 82nd Airborne).
“W.E.” was assigned to the Toul Sector of France July 8th – 29th, and then to Argonne on September 5th, 1918. The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the largest in U.S. military history, involving 1.2 million American soldiers. It was one of a series of Allied attacks known as the Hundred Days Offensive, which brought the war to an end.
“He was drafted into the 82nd, became a Sergeant and then went to OSC while in France, sometime in the summer of 1918. He was then assigned as a 2nd Lt. to the 308th 77th Division. Oct 9 he went over the top with others to rescue the Lost Battalion. The Meuse-Argonne offense was already on. He caught the flu in the next couple of days after returng to his trench works. Someone there had stolen his rain gear and books. Going to OSC, he missed the St. Mihiel offense and the begining of the Argonne offense, as well as missing the rest of the Argonne offensive due to the flu* probably saved his life. From there, he went to Nice France to recover. He was a Town Major of two small French villages from about Jan to April of 1919.” – Blake Henderson
This mostly New York City division, must have been an interesting leadership experience for this former farm boy from Tennessee.
“The Lost Battalion is the name given to nine companies of the United States 77th Division, roughly 554 men, isolated by German forces during World War I after an American attack in the Argonne Forest in October 1918. Roughly 197 were killed in action and approximately 150 missing or taken prisoner before 194 remaining men were rescued.” – wikipedia
* 2nd Lt. Henderson contracted the “Spanish Flu” just prior to this offensive, possibly saving his life. Germans called it the French Flu, French called it the German Flu. It’s origin is likely have been from America.
Transcription of letter dated August 18, 1918
Eugene Henderson to mother:
“I certainly do wish I could at least spend my Sundays with you home folks, but of course that is impossible – but still I want you to know that I think of you and the dear home folks often – more than I ever did before, and home means more to me now than it could have ever meant if I had not [sic] France. Now you said something about me being home by Christmas well of course mother we could get back by xmas – but while we are over here, and to keep from ever having to do the thing once over again, we are going not only to run the beastly Huns out of France, but we are going to give them such a beating that what few are left will be only too glad to stay in Germany and let the rest of the world alone – that is if we decide to leave any of Germany – we haven’t quite decided about that yet. But one thing we are decided on is not only to run the Germans out of here, but to give them the biggest beating in history. I doubt if we can whip them as much as we want to between now and xmas. We whip them now every day, but we enjoy it so well and know we are doing the world such a good turn we are going to keep on whipping them until Germany as a whole is on her knees ready to accept peace terms the allies offer. Germany doubtless will be giving out peace terms pretty soon, we don’t care for them – they started the war, we are going to end it. Peace terms will be made by us, not by Germany.
Mother I am well as can be, and doing 2 [sic] very well ended at school, am working really harder than I ever have in my life, they schedule calls for work from 5:45 o’clock in the morning until 10 at night. Of course this is allowances for meals, but we have to keep our [sic] all the time, and everything fixed in first class order, so all of our spare moments are spent doing these little things that really amount to work. The discipline is very rigid. Everything exactly so. I’ll have lot of interesting things to tell you about it when I get back. Am sorry mother that you did not get the first letters wrote you. Maybe you have before now – no I did not get very seasick – was a little sick one day. With words of love, and good wishes and [sic]. Your devoted son Gene”
A month later, he was awarded a battlefield commission. On September 29th, 1918 Sergeant Henderson was promoted to Second Lieutenant. He was transferred to the 77th Infantry Division.
My grandfather “Pop Pop” convalesced at the family farm for some time after the war. I asked him once, if he was ever scared. He recalled a story that he apparently never shared with my father, or anyone else for that mater. One night, under the cover of darkness, Sgt. Henderson infiltrated enemy lines leading a small squad. I’s possible that’s what earned him a battlefield promotion to 2nd Lieutenant.
He later rejoined his older brothers business and became the general sales manager of the Southwestern Company. He held that position until his death in 1965. He was also a Mason and Rotarian.