American Duty in Volunteer Fashion
The year is 1917 and the United States had just declared war. Americans had not been involved in a world war since the Revolution. But just as their grandfathers had, the men of Cumberland County, in true volunteer fashion, did not shy away from their American duty.
While other counties in the state were required to draft men, Cumberland County was not. Company D of the Second Tennessee Infantry was formed. David Southard was named their captain. That September, Cumberland County sent 85 of their men to South Carolina to train for war.
In South Carolina their unit designation became Company G of the 30th Division, 119th Infantry. Nearly a year later the division went to France in May of 1918. They were among the first of the doughboys to arrive. The men fought in Ypres, the Somme, St. Mihiel, and the Meuse Argonne.
One local man is quoted saying, “ We’re fightin’ men… That’s why our boys make good soldiers– leastways, all o’ them that can pass the tests. They’ll soon be over there in France just like this bunch that got their first crack at Kaiser Bill yesterday.” (Cumberland County Tennessee, W. Calvin Dickenson, p. 41)
The most decorated Cumberland County soldier from WWI was First Sergeant Milo Lemert, son of E.L. Lemert. He won the highest military honor our nation gives. He was a soldier in G Company, 119th Infantry. As the story goes, he was fighting in the battle near Bellicort, France on September 29, 1918. He single handedly charged a machine-gun nest that had stopped his company’s left flank. Sgt Lemert threw grenades killing the first enemy crew. He continued along the trench to take out another machine-gun emplacement with more grenades. After destroying a total of four nests, he died of fatal wounds in the battle. His brother Nathan described, “he was right in the heaviest of the fighting, trying to keep the boys together and run out a nest of machine guns.” (Dickenson, p. 41-42)
Sgt Lemert was not alone in the battle. He had Sergeant Litton T. Thurman beside him, who won the Distinguished Service cross for helping destroy the fourth machine-gun emplacement.
In total 26 men from Cumberland County lost their lives in WWI.
WWI did take some men from Cumberland County but what stands out the most is the dedication and volunteerism. Southerners will always lend a helping hand.
- Cumberland County Tennessee, W. Calvin Dickenson
- Legends & Lore of East Tennessee, Shane S. Simmons
- Rural Life and Culture in the Upper Cumberland, Birdwell & Dickinson
- The Way it Was, Bryan Stanley
- Library of Congress
- Cumberland County Archives