Ole Larson's Folks

Some days ago, I posted a one-paragraph “digest” of Smith Larson’s career as a US Marine, as assembled by North Dakota Military Men, 1917-1918 . The same day that I found that information, I also found several dozen “muster rolls” containing Smith’s name. These rosters were apparently produced each month by each unit. Most months the report is quite routine, and contains little or no specific information about Smith. Occasionally, though, there is considerable detail, abbreviated in ways not always easy to decipher.

Smith first enlisted on March 27, 1906. Until December 1906, he was stationed at the Navy yard at Mare Island, California. From January 1907 until April 1909, he served aboard the cruiser USS Milwaukee. Except for a couple of cruises in 1907 and 1908, partially documented in Smith’s postcards to Mabel Johnson, the Milwaukee was harbored in reserve status at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. From June 1909 until March 1910, Smith’s station was shown as the Puget Sound shipyard itself. He was discharged March 26, 1910.

Of more interest is Smith’s second enlistment, beginning April 23, 1918. World War One had been ravaging Europe for four years. A bloody trench-war stalemate had dragged on for most of that time along the Western Front, especially in France. Most of the sixteen million total war dead (military and civilian) had already been killed.

The US was only now entering the war, after pursuing a policy of isolation since the beginning. Hundreds of thousands of US Army troops, and a smaller number of Marines, were pouring into France to join an enormous offensive against the Germans’ Hindenburg Line.

In the summer of 1918, Private Larson sailed to Europe as part of the 55th Company, 2nd Batallion, 5th Regiment, to join the American Expeditionary Force. The muster roll for September 1918 is the most detailed of all. It is the “Supplemental Roll, Company ‘G,’ 5th Regiment.”1918 Sept Smith MusterThe Battle of Saint Mihiel was the first major operation of the war in which US forces took the lead. It lasted only four days, was partially successful, but the Americans suffered over 7,000 casualties (dead and wounded).  It appears that Private Larson was not wounded, but spent two days “sick in hospital” at the end of this battle, then transferred back to the “Replacement Battalion” (Repl Bn) on September 18.

According to the Ancestry.com index, Smith’s name does not appear on any rolls for the next three months. I think it is likely he returned to combat action in the Battle of the Argonne Forest, the last, longest, and bloodiest engagement for American forces in WW1. The battle lasted from September 26 until the armistice was signed on November 11. US forces lost 15,000 dead and 100,000 wounded. No doubt record-keeping was difficult or impossible in the midst of such chaos, hence the missing reports.

Another interesting and detailed roster is dated July 1919, the month Smith sailed for home. This roster is titled “Addenda Roll, AEF” (American Expeditionary Force).1919 July Smith MusterI’m guessing about a lot of these abbreviations, but it appears that the dates have to do with time Smith spent in hospital, and being transferred from one hospital to another. Note that from Sept. 17 to Sept. 24 1918, he had diagnoses of enteritis and bronchitis. Then on the 24th, “tr(ansfer?) to HT.” I don’t know what HT stands for, but let’s assume for a moment that it is at least out of hospital, and possibly back to a combat unit.

The next date, November 5, is near the end of the Argonne Forest offensive, and the diagnosis is “Exhaustion.” Another hint suggesting further combat after Smith’s first period in hospital.

Another roll from the same month (July 1919), shows Smith as part of Marine Guard Company #70. His rank is now Private First Class, and is shown “Trans(ferred?) to Camp Hosp(ital?) #85” on July 17 (two days before sailing). No diagnosis or other information is given. He was discharged at Quantico, Virginia on August 21, 1919.

That’s all for now. Hopefully, the official military record, when it arrives, will fill in some of the blanks.

Smith Larson in 1910 and 1920
Smith's Obituary