By Guest Blogger Ron Ammons
Earl B. Kennedy registered for the military service at age 30 in the spring of 1917, and perhaps because of his age and aptitude, was assigned to the Officer Candidate School at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana from May 11 to August 14 of 1917. Kennedy emerged a 2nd Lieutenant in the infantry. After further officer training, he became a 1st Lieutenant on December 31, 1917. Kennedy was then transferred to Camp Sherman in Chillicothe, Ohio where he was assigned to Company I of the 332nd Infantry Regiment. Kennedy would serve in the Vittorio-Veneto Defensive Sector in Italy from June 8, 1918 to April 14, 1919, and witnessed the capitulation of the Austrian Army prior to the Armistice. Kennedy’s regiment was the only American unit to serve in Italy. He then sailed back to the USA and was honorably discharged on May 3, 1919. Kennedy resumed his military service after the war in the reserves with Company C of the 148th Infantry Regiment, attaining the rank of Captain in 1925.
American soldiers had typically received much acclaim and status when returning from war, and this was even more the case after The Great War (later called “World War I”). The large number of Americans in uniform (1.3 million men and 20,000 women), the relatively low number lost (116,700 – half from disease), length of engagement (only 18 months) and the impact of American troops on the resulting victory elevated the status of our country in the world. Many of the other nations engaged in the war had lost an entire generation of young citizens and suffered collapse of their economies, infrastructure and in some cases, their empires. The United States, on the other hand marshaled its economic, technological and manufacturing capability to become the most powerful nation on the earth. The USA has maintained this status since, despite “The Great Depression” and other tumultuous events.
The “Doughboys” and the women who served during The Great War, and the civilians who backed them at home in the fields and factories – including those who performed volunteer work for the Women’s Relief Corps, The Red Cross, or purchased government bonds (‘Liberty Loan Drives’) – helped the USA to earn its place as the most advanced nation in the world. American life began to resemble what we are familiar with today. Servicemen returned with skills that had been honed while operating and repairing modern armament and machines such as trucks, cars, ships, trains and airplanes. Our Armed Services of WWI were the best-equipped, the most highly-trained and the most professional force yet produced by our nation, and those young men and women directly applied their training and skills in civilian life. Lastly, it was this generation who parented and socialized what would be called “The Greatest Generation.”
Earl B. Kennedy and his comrades returned home with something else that would influence their lives – the experience of war. For generations American soldiers had experienced war, and some on foreign soil. The experience of The Great War, however was different. Death had been dealt on an industrial and technological scale that was unimaginable. Massive, rolling artillery barrages, poison gas, submarines, tanks, aircraft and machine guns mowed-down scores of men in massive numbers, and were uninhibited by the unwritten “codes” of warfare that had been observed from Alexander the Great to Robert E. Lee. Kennedy describes seeing rows and piles of bodies on several occasions in his letters from Italy. The old Civil War and Spanish-American War veterans could spin intriguing “yarns” based on their experiences, but the men of Earl Kennedy’s generation had witnessed the inhumanity of total war, enhanced by rapidly-evolving technology. Additionally, Kennedy’s family could receive correspondence from him in about the same (or less) time that a Union soldier had sent a letter from Tennessee to his home in Ohio. In Earl B. Kennedy’s lifetime, the manner in which humans “wage” both war and peace were revolutionized.
Ron Ammons is a retired YMCA Director and head softball coach at The University of Findlay, who currently stays busy coaching boys’ baseball and golf at Findlay High School. A sociology major (B.S. from Findlay and M.A. from BGSU), his lifetime passion has been local military history, primarily World War II.