Major Charles Whittlesey
On October 7th, 1918, the Germans sent a soldier over with a white flag to offer terms of surrender. Presaging Gen. Anthony McAuliffe's famous "Nuts!" response to the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, the legend has it that Major Whittlesey's response was, "You go to hell!" which he later denied. Later that day, more American troops arrived to relieve the 77th. 107 men had been killed, 63 were missing, and 190 were wounded, leaving 194 men able to walk out of the forest under their own power. The 308th Infantry of the 77th Division quickly gained fame as the "Lost Battalion," and for his gallant efforts in holding his ground and preventing his men from being totally overpowered, Major Whittlesey was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Upon returning home, Whittlesey returned to his law practice in New York City, but he found peace and quiet hard to find. Clients would press him for war stories instead of legal advice. In a letter to a friend, he remarked, "Not a day goes by but I hear from some of my old outfit, usually about some sorrow or misfortune. I cannot bear it much more." In November 1921, Whittlesey was selected to be one of the pallbearers carrying the casket of the Unknown Soldier to Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknowns. He was not the only Medal of Honor recipient there; Sgt. Alvin York was another pallbearer that day. On November 25th, Whittlesey purchased a ticket for a steamer sailing to Havana out of New York City. The following night, he dined with the captain and excused himself out of the smoking room. Whittlesey never returned to his quarters, and most accounts claim that he jumped overboard. In modern times, we would consider him to have a severe case of "shell shock" or PTSD, the effects of which were too much for him to bear. Thus was a sad fate to a notable Wisconsinite who served his country during the Great War.
Colonel Billy Mitchell
Billy Mitchell left his mark on WWI history as a tactician with far-reaching ideas on aerial warfare. Fascinated by machines, especially airplanes, Mitchell joined the fledgling U.S Army Air Corps in 1916 and quickly became an expert on aerial warfare. In planning the St. Mihiel offensive in September 1918, Mitchell proposed assembling an armada of over 1,400 airplanes to attack the German lines in conjunction with the ground assault. The aerial forces made quick work of German hangars, aircraft facilities, and defensive positions, and their efforts convinced Mitchell that future wars would be fought and won in the skies. After the Great War concluded, Mitchell became dismayed by the reduction of power in the United States military, particularly its preference of constructing naval ships over aircraft. Mitchell was convinced that battleships could easily be destroyed by bomber aircraft, but his superior officers did not believe him. To prove them wrong, Mitchell arranged for three captured German capital ships and two decommissioned U.S battleships to be anchored off the coast of Virginia, where a fleet of bombers under his command made quick work of them. On July 20 and 21, 1921, several waves of bombing attacks sunk the assembled mothballed fleet, shocking traditional military tacticians and proving Mitchell's case that a ship could be sunk by an aircraft.
As the years went on, Mitchell's views on air power became both prophetic and troublesome to his superiors. After a tour of Hawaii and several Asian nations' military facilities in 1924, he became convinced that a surprise attack by Japanese airplanes would make quick work of any opposing fleet. Such an attack, launched at 7:30 in the morning by airplanes based hundreds of miles away, could cripple an entire navy. (This eerily prophetic plan would come true on December 7th, 1941, when airplanes launched from Japanese aircraft carriers attacked the naval base at Pearl Harbor...shortly after 8:15 AM local time.) After the loss of an Air Corps airship in 1925, Mitchell blamed his superior officers for what he believed to be a needless loss of life against incompetent leadership. This outspoken outburst caused Mitchell to receive a court martial, where he was all but stripped of his rank. Mitchell would retire from the military the same year, not knowing that his theories on aerial warfare would become commonplace in the decades to follow.
During WWI, MacArthur was a Major in the 42nd Infantry Division. The unit was nicknamed the "Rainbow Division," since it contained soldiers from nearly every state in the country. MacArthur soon developed a bold but effective style of leadership meant to increase the morale of the men under his command. He would often lead attacks or conduct reconnaissance missions all by himself, more often than not without his standard issue gas mask! MacArthur was also a dashing commander with a sense of style, often carrying a commander's baton and wearing a silk scarf more suited to a cavalry officer. By August 1918, MacArthur rose to the rank of Brigadier General. By the end of the war, he had earned seven Silver Stars, two Distinguished Service Crosses, one Distinguished Service Medal, two wounded chevrons, two Croix de Guerre, and was appointed commandeur of the Legion d’honeur, both notable decorations from the French military and government.