Fort Meade hosts WWI symposium
November 15, 2012
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (Nov. 15, 2012) -- Historian Michael Knapp gave a presentation on American troops during a little-known chapter of World War I at a symposium held Saturday on Fort Meade.
Knapp, chief of the Field Museums Branch at the U .S. Army Center of Military History at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D.C., delivered a 45-minute presentation on the 332nd Infantry Regiment. Also known as the American Doughboys, the regiment served in Italy during the first world war.
Knapp was one of several scholars who presented lectures on various topics during the Western Front Association East Coast Branch's fall World War I History Symposium. He is the co-author of "Organization and Insignia of the American Expeditionary Forces, 1917-1923."
The daylong symposium was held at the Fort Meade Museum and Smallwood Hall. More than 60 people attended the event, which included tours of the museum and an optional lunch at Club Meade.
WFA East Coast is dedicated to furthering interest in the period of 1914 to 1918 and in perpetuating the memory, courage and comradeship of those who served their countries during the "Great War," according to the organization's website.
The museum displayed its World War I collection, including newly acquired artifacts from the 314th Infantry Regiment. The regiment was part of the 79th Division, which trained at the Camp Meade before deploying to Europe.
"WFA East Coast hopes that those who attend the symposium will take away an appreciation for the remarkable collection of World War I artifacts displayed and interpreted at the Fort Meade Museum," said Paul Cora, chairman of the WFA Branch. "We hope they gain an enhanced understanding of the role which Fort Meade played in preparing American troops for participation in World War I."
Barbara Taylor, museum exhibits specialist at the Fort Meade Museum and a member of WFA East Coast Branch, lectured on the many roles that dogs played in the armies of World War I.
Garrison Commander Col. Edward C. Rothstein stopped by the symposium and was made an honorary commander of the WFA East Coast Branch with a certificate.
The 332nd Infantry Regiment was formed on Aug. 30, 1917 at Camp Sherman, Ohio as part of the 83rd Division. Under the command of Col. William Wallace, the regiment arrived in Italy in July 1918.
"The regiment is identified as the best," Knapp said. "Most of the men are highly trained, motivated and very disciplined."
The regiment was assigned to train with the Italian Arbiti Regiment, who were known to be "ferocious Soldiers," Knapp said.
"They really learned to fight Italian style -- open warfare," Knapp said, noting the Arbiti was mobile in its defenses rather than static.
Wallace soon learned why the Americans were sent to Italy.
"Wallace realizes that the major reason why they are in Italy is diversion and propaganda," Knapp said. "The infantry is to make the Austrians and Germans think the American presence in Europe is so overwhelming they have would have to capitulate."
During the Vittorio-Veneto offense on Nov. 3, 1918, the 332nd Infantry established contact with an enemy rear-guard battalion, which was defending the crossings of the Tagliamento River near the village of Ponte-della Delixia. Early on Nov. 4, the 2nd Battalion of the infantry crossed the river on a narrow footbridge. After a brief struggle, the battalion captured the Austrian position on the far side.
Knapp said Tagliamento was the "only real, honest battle" the infantry fought. There was one casualty and seven wounded.
"It was well thought-out, well planned," Knapp said.
After the armistice between Italy and Austria-Hungary became effective at 3 p.m. on Nov. 4, the American troops were later ordered to occupation duty and sent to different areas throughout the Austrian-Hungarian empire. The infantry then assumed peackeeping duties.
After designing its famous winged Lion of St. Mark insignia in Genoa, Italy, the regiment later returned home to parades and fireworks.
Alexander Falbo, a history major at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and a World War I enthusiast, was among those who attended the symposium.
"I loved it," said Falbo, noting that the presentation on the 332nd Infantry was of particular interest. "This topic is not covered as a whole in World War I history."
Editor's note: Information for this article was taken from worldwar1.com/itafront/dbsitaly.htm.