Doughboys on the Great War
How American Soldiers Viewed Their Military Experience
Edward A. Gutirrez
It is impossible to reproduce the state of mind of the men who waged war in 1917 and 1918, Edward Coffman wrote in The War to End All Wars. In Doughboys on the Great War the voices of thousands of servicemen say otherwise. The majority of soldiers from the American Expeditionary Forces returned from Europe in 1919. Where many were simply asked for basic data, veterans from four states—Utah, Minnesota, Connecticut, and Virginia—were given questionnaires soliciting additional information and remarks. Drawing on these questionnaires, completed while memories were still fresh, this book presents a chorus of soldiers’ voices speaking directly of the expectations, motivations, and experiences as infantrymen on the Western Front in World War I.
What was it like to kill or maim German soldiers? To see friends killed or maimed by the enemy? To return home after experiencing such violence? Again and again, soldiers wrestle with questions like these, putting into words what only they can tell. They also reflect on why they volunteered, why they fought, what their training was, and how ill-prepared they were for what they found overseas. They describe how they interacted with the civilian populations in England and France, how they saw the rewards and frustrations of occupation duty when they desperately wanted to go home, and—perhaps most significantly—what it all added up to in the end. Together their responses create a vivid and nuanced group portrait of the soldiers who fought with the American Expeditionary Forces on the battlefields of Aisne-Marne, Argonne Forest, Belleau Wood, Chateau-Thierry, the Marne, Metz, Meuse-Argonne, St. Mihiel, Sedan, and Verdun during the First World War.
“A fascinating and lively book.”
“Gutiérrez delivers a well-told and researched narrative that greatly adds to our understanding of the American experience in World War I. . . . this volume will stand above the crowd as an influential work in the field’s historiography.”
“Gutiérrez has written a landmark study of soldiers whose living memory has faded, but whose voices are preserved within these pages.”
“A gripping and engaging view into the feelings and perspectives of the average soldier before, during, and immediately after World War I. It does a terrific job painting a picture of the soldier’s experience, to include an engaging description of the motivations driving Italian-Americans and African-Americans in proving their worth in battle to reflect their value as citizens. . . . A valuable contribution to the historiography on the First World War.”
“What gives Gutiérrez’s book such striking dimension, and what brings it alive are the voices of the soldiers mingled throughout the pages.”
—American Historical Review
“Edward Gutiérrez has been studying thousands of [World War I] soldiers. . . . What he has discovered ought to make Americans proud, for, although the veterans returned with an understandable hatred of war—“Sherman was right,” wrote one, “war is hell”—they were almost universally proud of what they had done.”
—Wall Street Journal
“Gutiérrez’s scholarship reflects a deep knowledge of the historical period. Anyone seeking to better understand the soldiers of the AEF will find this book invaluable.”
—Steven Trout, editor of Scarlet Fields: The Combat Memoir of a World War I Medal of Honor Hero
“Gutiérrez has done his homework. His book rests on thorough research in masses of hitherto-ignored primary sources, and presents a sweeping, compelling narrative of the experiences of American soldiers in World War I. Finally, the Doughboys have a historian able to tell their story in all of its many dimensions.”
—Edward G. Lengel, author of To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne, 1918
“Edward Gutiérrez has done us a great service by recovering the motivations, the experiences, and the voices of the Doughboy generation. His book should be of interest to anyone who wants to know more about the First World War, American history, and the experience of veterans.”
—Michael Neiberg, author of Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I
“Gutiérrez’s fine book is based on a truly remarkable treasure trove of respondent forms from demobilizing soldiers.Soldiers wrote with remarkable frankness on just how ‘war was hell’ and how they responded to it. Many recorded a disdain and horror for war in the abstract, coupled with a fierce pride in their particular participation in ‘their’ war.”
—Leonard V. Smith, author of The Embattled Self: French Soldiers' Testimony of the Great War
“This well-researched book features World War I veterans’ experiences that they wrote in 1919 when their memories were fresh. It is a fascinating read.”
—Edward M. Coffman, author of The Embattled Past: Reflections on Military History
The picture that emerges is often at odds with the popular notion of the disillusioned doughboy. Though hardened and harrowed by combat, the veteran heard here is for the most part proud of his service, service undertaken for duty, honor, and country. In short, a hundred years later, the doughboy once more speaks in his own true voice.