The 308th Infantry Association


L. Wardlaw Miles
The 308th Infantry Association


The 308th Infantry Association was organized at the suggestion of Colonel Averill two weeks previous to the sailing of the Regiment for France. On March 27th, 1918, the wives, mothers, and sisters of officers in the Regiment met for the first time in the Ladies Annex of the Metropolitan Club, where the Colonel spoke to them on the aims and purposes of the proposed association. We are all convinced that the inspiration of Colonel Averill's address on that occasion, which remained with the women of the association, was responsible in no small degree for the success of their efforts.

The first officers selected for the Association were: Mrs. Averill, president; Mrs. Snowden A. Fahnestock, vice-president; Mrs. Allen Lindley, secretary, and Mrs. George McMurtry, treasurer. Owing to the subsequent resignation of Mrs. Averill. and Mrs. McMurtry, the following officers were later appointed and served until the return of the Regiment: Mrs. Fahnestock, president; Mrs. Lindley, vice-president; Mrs. Lucien Breckinridge, secretary, and Mrs. Belvidere Brooks, treasurer.

An advisory committee was formed consisting of Mr. S. R. Bertron; Mr. Adrien Larkin; Mr. Joseph McAleenan, and Mr. Frank K. Sturgis. The executive committee, in addition to the officers of the Association, included Mrs. Bertron, Mrs. George Blackwell, Mrs. McAleenan, Mrs. Charles N. Schenck, Mrs. George Harvey, Mrs. Francis M. Weld, and Mrs. William F. Whitehouse.

It was decided that the relatives of the entire Regiment should constitute the membership of the 308th Infantry Association-the women relatives of the officers being the active members responsible for the direction of the Association,

A "Guaranty Fund" of $5,000 was pledged by five supporters of the Association to cover all expenses for the year; needless to say this amount was more than sufficient, and we therefore had the satisfaction of using all the contributions which we received directly for one of three purposes: the sending abroad of comforts to the Regiment,-the helping of needy relatives of the men, and the setting aside of a fund with which to erect in New York a bronze memorial tablet to the dead of the Regiment.

Rooms for the use of the Association was secured at 15 East 40th Street, and on April 1st, the office was opened. Every man in the Regiment was notified that such an organization had been formed, and was told to place its services at the disposal of his family. As a result, the relatives began coming to us the day our office was opened-and it is our earnest hope that we may never have failed them when they needed us,

A Supply Committee and a Welfare Committee were organized-the former to consider the needs of the men in the Regiment, and the latter to consider those of the relatives here at home. In addition, there was formed a Brooklyn Auxiliary under the chairmanship of Mrs. Charles N. Schenck, and this Auxiliary was at all times of the greatest Possible help and support to the main association.

Mrs. McAleenan, who was chairman of the Supply Committee sent out to our mailing list an exceedingly effective appeal, which brought in a large number of contributions for the purposes of this committee, and from July 1st, 1918, to January 1st, 1919, five thousand, three hundred and eighty-five knitted garments were shipped from the Association to the Regiment, through the agency of the American Red Cross. These socks and sweaters were collected by the Supply Committee, and a large proportion of the whole Association devoted itself to the making of them; in fact, garments were contributed from all over the United States. Owing to the stringent regulations made by the government, it was impossible for the Association to ship its cases direct to the Regiment, and so we were obliged to leave the matter of transportation entirely to the American Red Cross; but when we entered into this arrangement, it was with the assurance from Red Cross Headquarters that every effort would be made to insure the delivery of our cases to the 308th Infantry in France.

For the first four months after the Regiment sailed, the Association sent monthly a draft of five hundred dollars for the purpose of tobacco for the men, but in August we received the information that it was impossible to procure tobacco in sufficient quantities for this money to be used; so our drafts were then discontinued, but with the understanding that we would hold these funds on hand ready to be used for "smokes" whenever they might be needed.

The Welfare Committee, of which Mrs. Bertron was elected chairman, undertook the direction of all relief work which was necessary among the families of the Regiment, and a professional Social Service Worker, who was also a trained nurse, was engaged to visit every home which required our care and attention. As the Home Section Service of the American Red Cross already existed for the purpose of aiding the needy relatives of soldiers, the Association was in many instances able to obtain the necessary assistance by appealing to this branch of the Red Cross, and without recourse to the funds of the Association itself. But of course in a great many other cases, upon the decision of the Welfare Committee -financial aid was given directly by the Association in the payment of rent and in the purchase of food, coal, clothing, and other necessities.

We were fortunate in obtaining the cooperation of a number of doctors and of several hospitals, and were thus able to provide medical examination and treatment for many cases of illness of all kinds; we also urged and arranged dental care for a number of those who needed it. All the mothers who desired it, were offered exceptional opportunities for care and comfort at the time their babies were born; and a complete "baby kit," sufficient to last six months, was given to the infants whenever we were informed of their expected arrival. Our Social Service Worker kept in continuous touch with all these sons and daughters of the Regiment, whose development was a matter of the greatest interest to the ladies of the Welfare Committee-and in the autumn each of these children received a warm coat. In addition, a large amount of clothing was collected and distributed among children of all ages, who were related to the men of the 308th and who had need of these garments.

As is well known, one of the chief causes of distress among the families of soldiers everywhere was the frequent long delay in the payment of allotments by the government. When the allotment became months overdue, there was uneasiness, discomfort, and sometimes-actual want in a case where the soldier's wife or mother was totally dependent upon this money. The Association soon came to know that this was one of the most pressing questions, which it had to meet-and we were wonderfully fortunate to discover in Washington a valuable friend and ally in Mr. John Cravens of the Council of National Defense. Mr. Cravens constituted himself our personal representative with the government departments which had this matter in charge,-he brought to their attention every instance of delayed payments which we sent him, and was instrumental in straightening out three hundred and one allotments for families of the 308th Infantry.

There is much to be said of all these practical activities to which the women of the Association gave their time and thought-but there is also a great deal concerning another side of our work, that could never be told in full. During those long and anxious days of fighting through the summer and autumn, when the 308th was continuously in the worst sectors of the front, an unending stream of visitors came to our rooms in search of information, encouragement and cheer. How often needless anxiety was relieved, and misinformation corrected, no one could well remember. And in the days when the worst tidings came more quickly by word of mouth, or by a "buddy's" letter than from official source, women of the Association had often the tragic task of breaking bad news to other wives and mothers of the Regiment. But there was also the cheerful side to be considered-the comfort which those whose letters were overdue might obtain from all the other letters which were kept posted on the bulletin boards at the office, and sometimes the consolation of knowing that we were all in the same state of uncertainty, with no news less than six weeks old!

Every Monday evening from June 1st to December 1st, the rooms of the Association were open till after 9 o'clock to any of the relatives who cared to drop in for news and congenial company. There were always knitting teachers, surrounded by their pupils, and interesting letters from the Regiment to be read aloud. Wives and mothers of officers were always in charge on those evenings, and it is also a noteworthy fact that during all the long strain of the summer, there was never one day when Willing volunteers were not " on duty " in the office.

It would be utterly impossible for any one not connected with this work to realize the value and the importance to the Association of Father Halligan's letters; written as they were in the scant moments of leisure at his disposal and at times under conditions of the greatest difficulty and strain, they brought to us all a sense of comfort and reassurance which is indescribable. As soon as we realized what these letters could do to stimulate the morale of the families, we determined to publish them-and in June there was issued the first number of our little Bulletin; through the kindness of the Harvey Press Company, the printing was contributed as a gift to the Association, and from June, 1918, through April, 1919, the Bulletin was sent monthly free of cost to three thousand, nine hundred and twenty relatives and friends of the Regiment. It contained, in addition to the Chaplain's letters, items of interest such as the award of decorations -and always the Roll of Honor for the month, as complete as our imperfect knowledge of casualties would permit. It is a pleasant fact to consider that wherever there was a home which had sent its soldier overseas with the 308th Infantry, there the Bulletin was regularly received. This, of course, was unfortunately an impossibility in the case of the men who came to the Regiment as replacements-for of these we had no record, nor did we know the address of their relatives except when notified by the soldiers themselves from France.

At Christmas time, the Association endeavored to provide the best celebration possible under the circumstances by sending five thousand dollars as a gift to the Regiment. Every returned wounded soldier who could be located in a hospital here received from us a Christmas box, containing a pair of gloves, two handkerchiefs, a box of candy, a pad and pencil, and five packages of the inevitable "Camels." At the hospitals in or near New York, the distribution of these boxes was made personally by the officers of the Association, and of all the pleasant memories which we have retained of this memorable year, there is none which we will more gladly recall than that of Christmas Eve in the big military hospitals, with the cheeriness and appreciation of the wounded men from "our regiment" and the satisfaction of wishing each one of them a "Merry Xmas. "

The Association also participated in the " 77th Division Christmas Party" which was held in the 71st Regiment Armory on the afternoon Of December 25th. Here there was a huge tree, beautifully trimmed, and brilliantly lighted-a military band, various side shows, and a toy and box of candy for every child. Two hundred and fifty-three children represented the 308th at this celebration, and two hundred grown-ups related to the Regiment also were present,-some with the children, and some admitted to escape a sad or lonely Christmas in their own homes.

With the signing of the Armistice, and the return to the United States of so many wounded officers and men of the 308th Infantry, the Association entered upon a new phase of activity. During the summer, the officers and men who came home to instruct almost without exception called at the Association rooms when an opportunity was afforded them of meeting the relatives of men in their own companies and of delivering innumerable messages. But when the wounded of the Regiment began to return in large numbers, we were of course eager to get in touch with as many of them as possible here. There was no official way in which we could be informed of these arrivals, but thanks to the interest of so many of the relatives, to the communications from the men themselves, and to the tireless study of lists in the various Debarkation Hospitals, we were soon able to hear from a large number of these wounded men from the 3o8th. From that time on, many of those who were able began to drop in at the office and scarcely a day passed when veterans of the Regiment did not meet in the Association Rooms--meeting for the first time since they had parted in France. In the matter of men who were assigned to hospitals at a distance from New York, we were able to be of some assistance, for by appealing to the War Department we obtained a transfer to a hospital near home for every man who asked this favor of us.

The intense interest felt by all these men in meeting each other and their former officers convinced us that some way should be found of providing for this desire on their part, as their loyalty to their Regiment seemed far too fine a thing to be ignored. So, at the suggestion of one of our re-turned officers, it was decided to hold a "smoker" for officers and men every Saturday afternoon in the rooms of the Association-and the providing of coffee, cake, and cigarettes was a small measure of the Association's enthusiasm for the plan.

These "smokers" started under the direction of Lieutenants Harold Bache, John Flood, and Alexander L. Barbour, proved a remarkable success, and clearly demonstrated the existing demand for some sort of Regiment Veteran Association to perpetuate the spirit of the 308th.

No account of the Association would be complete without mention of the big "Family Meetings, "-with an attendance of over a thousand people at each one-which were held from time to time in a large auditorium secured for the occasion. We arranged for these meetings an entertainment of music and moving pictures, but the climax of the evening came with a talk by some recently returned officer of the Regiment, which was invariably greeted with enthusiasm by the audience. There are two officers of the 308th who are endeared for all time to the families of the Regiment by their appeal of both personality and address-Captain L. Wardlaw Miles and Lieutenant John Flood.

It would be impossible to call by name all of the devoted and enthusiastic women who contributed their time and their interest to the " carrying on " of the 308th Infantry Association. Among them, there existed always an extraordinary degree of congeniality and cooperation, and it is their spirit which was so largely responsible for the success of their undertaking. The year of waiting and anxiety which they shared was made more bearable by the very fact of sharing it-and the experiences which they faced together were of those which create a firm and lasting bond. They realized, every one, that the Association was a responsibility which the officers of the 308th had entrusted to their keeping-and their single desire was to fulfill that trust with a faithfulness and a sincerity worthy of the glorious Regiment which they had the honor to represent.

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