100 Years Ago: The First Americans Killed in World War I

A report from the Western Front in World War I tells of the first exchange of fire between Americans and Germans, and the first three U.S. combat deaths.

American soldiers during World War I

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100 years ago ribbonOn the night of November 3, 1917, German soldiers raided a trench in the French sector of the Western Front. However, this particular section of the trenches was held by American troops. There was intense fighting as the Germans surprised the Americans. When the fight was over, the Germans took 12 American soldiers back to their lines for interrogation. They left three Americans dead. In the year and nine days that remained of the war, those first American combat deaths would be followed by another 53,000, as well as 63,000 non-combat deaths, mostly from the influenza epidemic that swept through the trenches.

George Pattullo, one of The Post’s war correspondents, reported on the deaths, and their comrades’ reaction to it. His December 29, 1917 article, “The First Raid,” is a rare, full account of what happened that night in northeastern France.

Despite the American losses, Pattullo was optimistic. The doughboys had stood their ground, he reported, refused to abandon wounded comrades, and fought back fiercely. Now, American soldiers who had been homesick and bored were eager to strike back at the Germans.

He wrote, “The raid of November third, small though it was, has welded the men of the First Division as no amount of training and discipline could do. The boys who came back from those trenches are a hundred per cent better soldiers than before they went. So are all their comrades.”

 

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Click to read “The First Raid” from the December 29, 1917, issue of the Post.

 

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