By Spc. Keegan D. Costello, 27th Public Affairs Detachment JournalistOctober 26, 2017
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Oct. 26, 2017) -- Soldiers of 3rd Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI) held a ceremony Oct. 23 at the battalion headquarters on Fort Drum to recognize the 100th Anniversary of the first round fired by the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I.
"We are here to commemorate the first shot of the American Expeditionary Force in WWI," said Lt. Col. Thomas A. Goettke, 3-6 FA commander. "The 6th Field Artillery Regiment was hand-selected by General Pershing to go over and support the 1st Infantry Division in Bathlemont, France, in the Alsace-Lorraine region.
"We are celebrating those who came before us," Goettke continued. "The history is rich, especially in the 6th FA. We have 36 campaign streamers, and that speaks for itself. We are the most decorated artillery battalion in the United States Army. There's a lot of history behind that, and so this is a commemoration of those who served before us and really their heroism and action. It's something that we aspire to every day."
On Oct. 22, 1917, Soldiers of C Battery, 6th Field Artillery, used the cover of the day's dense fog to carve out a firing position on a hill 1.3 kilometers outside the town of Bathlemont without being detected by the Imperial Germans. By nightfall the position was ready, but no order came to emplace a gun there.
Capt. Idus R. McLendon, C Battery commander, made the decision to move the 75 mm M1897 gun, but with the regiment's horses and tools in the rear, the 3,400-pound gun would have to be moved by hand.
The Soldiers under McLendon struggled for three quarters of a mile in complete darkness; with mud and muck up to their knees they pulled the gun uphill, all while wearing gas masks to protect from lingering German mustard gas.
"It was the end of a long day of the hardest, nastiest back breaking toil I have ever seen," McLendon later recalled. "My men were utterly exhausted and plastered from head to foot with mud and grime, but there was the satisfaction of knowing that we were all set and ready to fire as soon as our (French) major said, 'Go!'"
McLendon convinced his French superiors to fire upon the Germans at first light. It would be the first time in more than a century that American and French Soldiers were to fight a common enemy, and the first time Americans had come to fight on a European battlefield.
When the command was given to fire, the lanyard was pulled and the round impacted within the German lines. The time was 6 hours, 5 minutes and 10 seconds into the morning of Oct. 23, 1917.
"The importance of commemorating historic events such as these is for today's warfighters to understand there are Soldiers who have gone before them and to understand their service and their sacrifice and the legacy that we build on as today's warfighters," said Spc. Thomas P. Minton, regimental historian for 3-6 FA.
Minton tracked down the casing from the first shell fired and arranged to have it on display during the ceremony.
"I read of the first shell casing being sent to President Woodrow Wilson, and I knew that an artifact of that significance would survive the hundred years," Minton said. "All roads eventually led to the Woodrow Wilson House Museum in Washington, D.C. This is where Mr. Wilson lived following the end of his presidency, and he kept the shell tube on his mantle. After opening a dialogue with the museum, they were all too happy to lend the shell to our regiment and our battalion for this historic event.
"We cannot forget our history," he added.