World War I: Discovering Facts About One Wisconsin Soldier
As I was growing up I had heard stories of an ancestor who served in World War I and was an uncle to my father. However, my own father never knew this uncle since he died before my father was born. My Great-Uncle Theodore Rettammel died in March 1919, while in the military but after the armistice on November 11, 1918, that ended World War I. The information I originally had about him was limited. As well as many from his generation were also deceased before I took an interest in genealogy, in the late 1970s. Theodore’s tombstone was always something I saw every Memorial Day when my Dad would put flowers on his grave. I also knew something about his dates of birth and death since they are listed on the tombstone in the family cemetery in Wisconsin.
Over the years, I discovered a photo of a few of my great uncles on my paternal side that served in World War I. One of these was (as learned) of my Great Uncle Theodore. So, between seeing his tombstone and the only picture I have of him (below), he was in a way always in my family history but never with any facts of who and what happened to him as Doughboy in World War I.
Theodor A. Rettammel, Private
Born: Chicago, IL.
Died: Camp Sherman, Ohio, March 14, 1919
Cause of Death: Pulmonary Tuberculosis
Contributing Factor: Wounded and gassed in France on August 3, 1918. Gas inhalation chlorine.
One of my interest was to locate the place and battle where my great-uncle was wounded and gassed. I visited the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum in Madison, WI. recently to look for his service record and found that he enlisted in the 3rd Infantry Wisconsin National Guard on June 29, 1917 at Camp Douglas, Wisconsin. Later the U.S. War Department directed the National Guard to form the 32nd Division on July 15, 1917 and thus Theodore was transferred to Company 128th Infantry 32nd Division of American Expeditionary Force, on August 4, 1917. The 32nd Division was composed of troops from Wisconsin and Michigan. The division was trained in Waco, Texas at Camp McArthur. Eventually Theodore served overseas from May 23, 1918 to December 18, 1918 (nearly 7 months). Wounded in battle on August 2 or 3, 1918. Returned to the United States in December 1918 and died at Camp Sherman, Ohio on March 14, 1919, age 32.
The Division selected a red arrow piercing a line to show that the division went through every line the enemy threw up before them. The insignia did not get officially approved until November 11, 1918, the last day of the war.
Wounded in What Battle?
Theodore was overseas and said to be wounded in battle on August 2 or 3, per two sources, one his death certificate from Ross County, Ohio reports the 2nd and service record says the 3rd. During this time the American Expeditionary Force was fighting in the Second Battle of the Marne and Chateau-Thierry. Specifically, on August 1st an attack by 63rd and 64th Infantry Brigades of the 32nd Division attacked and forced the enemy to abandon Bellevue Farm. On August 3rd, the division pushed forward to the Vesle River and the 32rd Division captured the town of Fismes, France, in northeast France. Theodore as a soldier in Company D, 128th Infantry was part of the 64th Brigade that fought on those days and area.
I have learned the battle and area where he was wounded. I also know that he stayed overseas until December 18, 1918. This was 4 months after his being gassed and wounded. I also know he was hospitalized when he was back for 3 months until his death on March 14, 1919 while still in the Army. The time from August 4 to December 18th I still do not know how much he suffered because of the initial damage he experienced or how much more fighting he did. I can only guess that he continued to fight and eventually his wounds in early August made him too weak to continue.
1. The 32nd Division in the World War, Copyright 1920 by the Wisconsin War History Commission, Madison, WI (author’s family copy)
2. Wisconsin Veterans Museum, Archives
3. Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953, database FamilySearch
Copyright Bob Rettammel 2017