Crusaders of To-Day
An Account Of The Personalties, Motives, And Ideals Of The Men Of The American Legion, Who Voluntarily Fight For The Allies
By Gregory Mason
[The Outlook; June 28, 1916]
"Not because our homes are threatened
Or our country calls to the fight.
We're fighting because we want to.
Because we love both Fight and Right."
Fifty young men, brown against the unwrinkled silver carpet of Lake Ontario under the moon, were standing on the abrupt bank of the lake, singing. There was a challenge in their voices, and a sort of religious fervor. They all wore the brown service cap, tan flannel coat, shirt, trousers, and puttees of Canadian soldiers. But they were not Canadians. They were Americans. The song was the hymn of the American Legion.
They were a few of the sixteen thousand Americans who have enlisted under the Maple Leaf of Canada since this war began. Why they had left their peaceful homes for a foreign war and an alien quarrel they told you in their songs. After they had sung and resung their hymn and other serious refrains their mood suddenly changed. Without an order and without a commander, by common consent they fell into marching order, four abreast, and, turning their backs on-the silver moon and the reflecting lake, swung across the lawn and up a path between the clustered buildings of the Canadian Exposition, lustily chanting their marching song:
"There's Tommy, and Mikey, and then Scotty, too,
Canadi-an, Australi-an, and the Hindu,
English, and Irish, and Scottish, all swank,
Turn out, look us over, for we are the Yank."
The tune was one from an old Princeton University musical show; the accent and delivery were wholly collegian in vigor. I had come to Canada to find out why Americans by the thousand had enlisted in Canada, until now the Dominion Government had given them their own unit—the American Legion—entirely American. I found their motives in these songs—about fifty, per cent the spirit of adventure and about fifty per cent the spirit of crusade. Only, instead of fighting for the recovery of the Holy Land, they are fighting for the recovery of land just as holy and more wrung by the grip of the oppressor than Palestine ever was—Belgium, northern France, Servia, Poland, the Baltic Provinces. Instead of fighting for a concrete and narrow creed and the promised reward of spiritual salvation they are fighting for an abstract idea of justice and the satisfaction of their own consciences.
They are fighting, to quote, their own recruiting posters, which in every Canadian border town are flaunted in the faces of Americans crossing the line, because they believe that "Germany is the foe of liberty and civilization, and is a menace to the welfare of humanity;" that "Canada is fighting for those very principles of liberty which every true American loves;" that "the battle-line of Flanders is the bulwark of civilization," and if it were to give way there would be a dangerous probability of "a line of German forts on what is now the peaceful border line between the United States; and Canada." Finally, to quote their posters again, "they have put aside nationalism—for this has become more a war of principles than of nations, of good against bad, of right against wrong." So they are going out
"To fight for God and justice
As they would for the Stars and Stripes."
In this discernment of the issues in this war you may or may not agree with them. The point is that they believe these things. Of course, in many of them the spirit of adventure is much stronger than the spirit of crusade ; for instance, Captain John V. Frazier, of the 213th Battalion, a veteran of the Spanish-American War, said it was "the call of the wild that had brought him, a major in the Michigan National Guard, to accept a captaincy in the Legion. But when I suggested that he could satisfy "the call of the wild" as well fighting for Germany as for the Allies, his snorts were amply explanatory.
Of course the adventure spirit is a motive with all of them. But so it was with the Crusaders, whom history has granted a halo of glory. In fact, what made the military expeditions to the Holy Land so attractive to the men who dressed in steel was that on those pious but martial junkets they could satisfy both the physical and spiritual sides of their nature. So the American Legion offers satisfaction to both the love of battle and the consciences of its members. Not one of them would be in the Legion had he not a strong feeling for daring and high deeds; but, on the other hand, every man Jack of them would break his sword before he would offer it to Germany. In short,
"We're fighting because we want to,
Because we love both Fight and Right."
It is not inappropriate that the founder of the American Legion should have been a Unitarian clergyman, the Rev. Dr. C. Seymour Bullock, now Lieutenant-Colonel Bullock, of the 237th Battalion. Most of the sixteen thousand Americans who have enlisted in Canada are assigned to Canadian units, although there is one entire American company in the 149th Battalion, and the 99th Battalion, called the "International," is mainly composed of Americans from Detroit. Dr. Bullock had been urging the Americans living in Canada to enlist, and he reminded them "that in our Civil War forty-eight thousand Canadians, fought for the North. They responded so nobly that he got permission from Sir Sam Hughes, Minister of Militia and Defenses, to found an American Legion.
The first entire battalion of Americans, the 97th, sailed from Halifax the other day. The Canadian battalion is the equivalent unit of the American regiment, having slightly more men—about twelve hundred in all. In command of the 97th is Lieutenant-Colonel W. L. Jolly, veteran of the Spanish War, the Boxer Rebellion, and four other campaigns, who dropped a lucrative building business in Philadelphia to strike a blow "For God and Justice"—the motto of the American Legion. Lieutenant-Colonel Bullock has remained behind to use his magnetic powers in recruiting. He is now in command of the 237th Battalion at Halifax.
Up to date the American Legion consists of five battalions, one full—the" 97th, which is now in Europe—the others recruiting. These are the 211th, at Vancouver; the 212th, at Winnipeg; the 213th, at Toronto; and the 237th, at Halifax. As this is written, the number of Americans enrolled in the five battalions of the Legion is about three thousand. The term Legion is a flexible one and includes all Americans who enroll in distinctively American units under the Bullock plan, The term is not used in the Canadian army. In that force four battalions make a brigade, and four brigades make a division—a force of about twenty thousand men. The American Legion, therefore, already embraces units which, when full, will constitute a brigade and a quarter. Indeed, the Americans already enrolled in the Military Order of the American Legion are talking about an American division under an American general!
The distinctive thing about the battalions in the Legion, of course, is that they are all American, from the humblest private to the commanding officer. In the American army we have Negro regiments commanded by American officers, but the Canadians have placed all responsibility for the battalions in the Legion on American shoulders, and the Americans believe that they will consent to an American general at the head of a division if enough Yankees turn out to form one.
The only qualifications for enrollment in the Legion are that applicants must have good general physical development and good moral character and must be "between eighteen and forty-five, of American birth, parentage, or residence." This lets in a few men with American associations who are actually Canadian citizens, but the majority of the Legionaries are bona fide, legitimate sons of Uncle Sam.
The Legionaries are not worrying about questions of neutrality or loss of citizenship. Since they offer themselves to the Canadian Government merely as individuals without any official connections with the American Government, and since the Legion does no recruiting in the United States, the neutrality of that country is not affected. As for losing their American citizenship, the officers of the Legion tell me that the courts have already decided in the case of Americans who have returned to the United States after service in France that such conduct did not make them aliens.
In taking a special oath to serve King George the recruit to the American Legion is not asked to jeopardize his American citizenship. In his oath he says:
"I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to his Majesty King George V, and I will, as in duty bound, honestly and faithfully defend his Majesty in person, crown, and dignity against all enemies, and will observe and obey all orders of his Majesty and of all the generals and officers set over me."
Moreover, the recruit declares that he will "serve in the Canadian overseas expeditionary force for the term of one year or during the war now existing between Great Britain and Germany, should that war last longer than one year, and for six months after the termination of that war, provided his Majesty should so long require my services."
If Uncle Sam should suddenly go to war with John Bull, the members of the American Legion would be in an awkward situation, but they are not worrying about that possibility. The insignia of the Legion is the coat of arms of George Washington on the Canadian maple leaf, and the Legionaries are confident that no gust of international passion will blow that leaf away, until after the end of the English duel with Germany, at any rate.
But while the Legion does no recruiting in the United States, an American has only to step across the border to be arrested by vivid posters which urge him to join "THE BIGGEST ADVENTURE IN THE WORLD." Stepping off a car at the Canadian Niagara Falls, I saw the following mute challenge on a billboard:
You believe in fair play
You really love liberty
You want to fight for right
You are a real man
COME OVERSEAS WITH US
If a man must fight for a living, from a material standpoint he could not do better than join the American Legion. In the first place, the Canadian army is the highest-paid army in the world. Privates in the ranks get $1.10 a day, as against a shilling a day in the British army, $15 a month in the United States army, and much less than that in the armed camps of Germany, France, Russia, and other countries of the world. Moreover, if a soldier is married, the Government sends his wife while he is away a monthly stipend of $20, called a separation allowance, and $5 a month additional for each child. Moreover, in the Legion the officers are recruited from the ranks. For instance, among the officers of the 213th Battalion, which I visited at Toronto, only Lieutenant-Colonel Byron J. McCormick had joined as an officer, and even he began as a lieutenant. The only qualifications for officers is that they must be twenty-five years old and of high intelligence and some previous military training. Nowhere in the world are chances for "promotion and pay" so high as in the American Legion. In spite of that, pay is the last thing that appeals to the men in the Legion. Indeed, most of them are there at a great financial sacrifice.
Social standing and pull do not count at all in the Legion. Of course every man who joins wants to be an officer, but, as the Legion is not modeled on the Mexican plan, obviously the majority of them must be disappointed. The selection is left entirely to the commanding officer, and in most cases those who are rejected as officers enlist as privates. Recently Colonel McCormick refused a commission to a millionaire who brought a letter of introduction from former President Taft. On the other hand, a good many of the privates in the Legion have their own automobiles in camp with them, and these men are the best of pals with other privates whose entire property can be carried in a knapsack.
They are interesting fellows, these men who have embarked on this "biggest adventure." There are all conceivable types among them except the coward. And, with all their differences, they have two common traits: their unquenchable love of romance and their underlying conviction that they are fighting for a cause. Modern knights-errant are they all. There are many college men among the Legionaries, including some West Pointers, and there are also frontiersmen from the beaches of Alaska and the hills of Mexico who "ain't had no chanst at learnin'," as one of them said to me. These are men who have been fighting all their lives, the harder fight with nature mainly, to whom a duel with their fellow-man is a vacation and an entertainment. But most of them have campaigned before—in fact, more than sixty per cent have learned to carry arms in former wars. I expected to find a band of callow youths—dime-novel readers—when I entered the Exhibition Camp at Toronto. This expectation was strengthened when, in response to a question as to the whereabouts of the American Legion, a sentry at the gate of the grounds where the annual Canadian International Exposition is held said, "Stable 24." Their assignment to this shelter proved to be no reflection on my fellow-countrymen, however, as I soon learned on seeing that most of the units in camp were quartered in buildings occupied by quadrupeds in fair time. A floor of wood had been built over the one of cement in Stable 24, the ceiling had been whitewashed, a fireplace built, and the interior partitioned off for the sleeping-quarters of the officers of the 213th Battalion. Inside the first of the rooms—as snug and clean as a stateroom on a liner—an American flag covering one wall caught my eye. Stopping, to peer in, I interrupted the tenant of the room reading his diary.
This diary was not in buckram bound, nor was it even on paper. It consisted of a series of medals, each one referring to some notable exploit in their owner's long military career. This was explained to me by the owner, the Captain John V. Frazier already mentioned, who blushed like a boy with his sweetheart's picture when he caught me watching him.
"I don't like writing, and journals are too bulky to take around," said he. "This string of junk is the only property I take with me in the field. It serves as a journal, for looking on these foolish trinkets I live over the whole past."
The first medal recalled the Northwest Rebellion. Captain Frazier had been born in Canada, and served the Dominion with distinction before he went to the United States. The second medal told that the private in the Canadian service had become a captain in the Thirty-second Michigan Volunteers during the Spanish War; the third mentioned the bravery of a major in the medical branch of the Michigan National Guard during an epidemic in that State. Crowded on the small surface of a fourth disc was a brief account of the possessor's part in the Houghton-Hancock-Calumet Copper Mine strike of 1913-14. From this center of industrial cyclones Major Frazier was detailed for service on the Mexican border as an observer with the regular army on behalf of the National Guard of Michigan, and was attached at various times to the Third Field Hospital, the Eleventh Cavalry, and the Fifteenth Infantry.
"I was on the Mexican border when the war broke out in Europe. I soon got restless. My wife saw this, and said, 'Go.' So I went, and here I am. Like the rest of them"—his hand pointed toward the clean lounging-room floored with boards and wallpapered with stiff cardboard where a group of officers were swapping yarns—"I'm in it for love."
Another man who is in it for love is Tom Longboat, the Indian professional long-distance runner, who dog-trotted the seventy miles from his home up north to Toronto to enlist. Longboat was assigned to the 213th by virtue of the time he has lived in the "States" and his acquaintance with Americans, but when he learned that the 97th was about to sail for France he smuggled himself into that battalion and got as far as Halifax, when he was arrested for his excessive patriotism.
Colonel Byron J. McCormick, commanding the 213th, offered his services to the Canadian Government on August 8, 1914, four days after the first spiked helmet was sighted on the Belgian border. He went to Europe, in a Canadian battalion, was promoted to the rank of major in the regular British army for bravery at Ypres, and was then sent back to England to lecture to recruits on some of the peculiar phases of modern warfare, and to explain to them the use of the gas mask. Later he returned to Canada to take command of the 213th, leaving a son in the trenches in Flanders, who will join his father's command when it reaches the front. Before he enlisted Mr. McCormick was Industrial Commissioner of the town of Welland, Ontario, and during his incumbency of that office he boosted the pay-roll of the city's industries from about $50,000 to $2,000,000. Tall and alert, he looks every inch a soldier, and he is one, with sixteen years' service in the Michigan National Guard behind him. His motto, "Never let a fault go unchecked," explains his rapid rise in the army.
When Colonel McCormick left Welland, he took with him Mr. H. L. Hatt, now Captain Hatt, of his staff. Mr. Hatt was President of the Board of Trade of Welland and a member of the City Council. He began his services to the Allies by helping to recruit the Ninety-eighth Battalion in the quick time of two months at Welland. Then he entered the Forty-fourth Canadian Militia, and 'later joined the Legion. As I have said before, most of the men in the Legion are there at great financial loss to themselves—in fact, most of them in civil life could earn at least three times as much as they earn in khaki. But Captain Platt's sacrifice was much greater than that. When he stepped out to serve the King, he left a prosperous business in the manufacture of metal bedsteads at Welland.
Nutshell biographies of other men in the Legion are interesting.
Lieutenant R. E. Smith sprang from English parents and has served in the Royal Engineers, but his name is still remembered in western New York as the champion amateur aviator of that section, the man who built and flew the first aeroplane ever seen in Rochester, New York, when he was living in that city.
Two of the most picturesque characters in the entire Legion are Captain Alexander Rasmussen and Lieutenant Tracy Richardson. Rasmussen, offspring of a Danish father and a French mother, won his spurs fighting for the United States in Cuba in 1898. Afterwards he went to the Philippines with the Fourth Cavalry, and still later the roulette wheel of fate threw him into Mexico, where he took out a commission as a captain under Alvaro Obregon, the Carranzista, and fought the Yaquis who had wrecked his mining schemes. He was one of the delegation to the Legion that was sifting the drifted sands of ancient Alaskan beaches for the yellow dust that is the basis of our currency, when the fighting fever got him again.
In the eyes of his companions Tracy Richardson has been uncannily lucky. For Richardson has been hit by fourteen bullets between Mexico and Flanders, and rejoices in the nickname of the "Human Sieve." The doctors sent him home from Europe and got him a pension under the belief that he would be a cripple for life, but he is returning to the firing-line without the pension but with the full use of his limbs and shooting eye. He is a kindred spirit to the English admirals who, Stevenson tells us, "courted war like a mistress."
On the flat greensward of the training-grounds I saw Americans drilling shoulder to shoulder with Canadians. Then I watched them in the lecture hall elbowing the same Canadians and all drinking in the wisdom emitted by Colonel Lang, director of the school for officers, a typical British colonel, round, ruddy, and risible, hard, hale, and human! His advice was that, the two prime desiderata in an officer are "guts"—i.e., character and "cleanliness," the latter emphasized by a sweep of the colonel's hand over his round face to indicate the clean-shaven condition below the upper lip, which is the sine qua non of a British soldier. Beards may do for the French and Russians, but a beard on a Briton to a British soldier means mental and moral flabbiness.
All the American officers that I saw in the training school were mature men. One of them, W. H. S. Taylor, of Port Huron, Michigan, a veteran of the Spanish War who saw the surrender of Santiago, was grizzled till he looked perilously near the upper age limit. But the recruiting officers will strain a point for an applicant who carries himself with the unmistakable "set" of the knight of many battles.
Like the officers of the Legion were the men. Those of the 213th were quartered in a similar and adjacent building to Stable 24. Dropping in here after mess one evening, I found veterans of every campaign of importance during the last quarter of a century reminiscing over old fights and speculating on future bloodletting. My host was private John P. Heywood, of Indianapolis, Indiana, a Rough Rider in 1898, later for two years in the Illinois Naval Militia, now looking for a joust with the Kaiser. His "pardner" was a man with a squint caused by the back-fire of one of Castro's cannon in Venezuela. In the tiered bunks beneath the whitewashed ceiling were men who had fought in all the principal Latin-American revolutions within the memory of the present generation—men who were scarred in South Africa, in the Boxer Rebellion, in the Philippines, in the Balkans, in Turkey, in traders' wars in the Yukon, and in racial bickerings on the Barbary coast. No striplings were they, but seasoned fighters all; strong-limbed, thick-chested fellows like the men-at-arms they would have been had they lived in the days of mail and broadsword.
They had come from all parts of the United States—in fact, from all parts of the world—paying their own expenses to be in at Armageddon. The following residence statistics of the first eight hundred and seventy-five men to enlist in the 97th Battalion are typical of the whole Legion:
Instead of the green and raw-boned youth that I had expected to find in the Legion I found mature and red-corpuscled manhood. The Legionaries are thinkers every one, men of initiative. Most of them have borne arms before, some in foreign wars, some in our militia, some in our regular army, from which a few have deserted for the greater glamour of life in Europe. The cook of the officers' mess of the 213th has an honorable discharge, granted after seventeen years in the American army. Because so many of them are already trained, the Americans are more easily whipped into shape than the other elements in the Canadian overseas force. That is why the Americans are popular with clever Sir Sam Hughes—well dubbed "the Kitchener of Canada" by Captain E. B. Hesser, of the 213th. At Niagara-on-the-Lake, where the battalions go to gain polish in drilling, bayoneting, and bomb-throwing, the Americans have proved themselves in most cases already well trained in the art of war. Colonel McCormick told me that within three months after the 213th has been recruited to full strength he can have his men ready for the trenches.
They are not boys, these Legionaries, neither are they in the mass hot-headed adventurers. There are a few soldiers of fortune, but most of them are sober, hard-working, everyday citizens who have left their families and livelihoods for deeper reasons than the mere fun of soldiering. Whether you are pro-Ally or pro-German, you must face that fact. And they are changing the attitude of Canada toward Americans. As I was watching the candidates for commissions drilling on the grassy stretches of the Toronto training-grounds a native boy of twelve, who was playing with a Ross rifle, asked me, with a glance of contempt at my civilian clothes:
"Why aren't you in the army?"
"Oh," said I, "I'm an American."
"That's no excuse," the boy continued.
"Americans are fighting, too, thousands of them. We used to think they were afraid, but they're just as brave as we are, after all."
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald