Marine’s Diary Documents World War I Armistice From the Front Lines

  • A photograph from Jacob Strickler's scrap book. Strickler is on the bottom left. The photograph of the Marines was taken by a German photographer in 1919. (courtesy Jim Strickler)

  • James Strickler turns to the Nov. 11 and 12, 1918, entry of his father's diary at his home in Norwich, Vt., on Nov. 8, 2018. His father Jacob Strickler served in Worls War I. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jacob Strickler's Marine batallion. The photograph was taken in Segendorf Germany, March 29, 1919. (courtesy Jim Strickler)

  • James Strickler, a doctor and dean of what was then called Dartmouth Medical School, at his home in Norwich, Vt., on Nov. 8, 2018. Strickler's father, Jacob Harold Strickler, served the Marines in World War I. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Norwich resident James Strickler remembers sitting with his father when Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that the United States was at war with Japan in December 1941.

Jacob Harold Strickler was “a very stoical person,” his son said, but as they listened to the declaration on the radio, he had tears rolling down his face.

“He said, ‘Son, you have no idea what this means to me,’ ” James Strickler said this week. “ ‘I really, really believed I was fighting the War to End All Wars.’ ”

Prior to World War II, that’s what World War I was often called, because of its many horrors and millions of dead and wounded.

J. Harold Strickler knew those horrors firsthand: 100 years ago today, he was a young Marine on the front lines of the war’s final battles. In the Blanc Mont campaign, a bullet stove in his belt buckle, knocking the breath out of him. After fighting in the Argonne Forest, in France, his unit, the 43rd Company of the 5th Regiment of the 2nd Marine Division, crossed the Meuse River on Nov. 10, 1918, expecting to assault German troops the next day.

Instead, peace was declared, the Armistice commemorated the following year in the first Armistice Day, which in the U.S. became Veterans Day.

Strickler kept a diary of his service, much of which was spent in Germany after the war’s end. The son of a Pennsylvania farmer, he wrote matter-of-factly about his experiences. Here is his account of the final full day of the war, and of the original Amistice Day.

— Alex Hanson

Editor’s note: A few terms bear explaining. “Fritzy,” “Heinie” and “Dutch” were throw-away words to describe German troops. A “Maxim” was a German machine gun much prized by American troops. The text below preserves the quirks of Strickler’s writing, much as his son and military historian George B. Clark preserved them in their 1999 publication of the diary:

November 10

All day long we lay in the woods then, as expected: — in the evening we packed up — ready to make a night attack and cross the river Meuse. At about 8:30 (p.m.) we moved down a deep ravine towards the river. In this we halted and sheltered by a hill side we waited till our own artillery opened up. “Fritzy” started to retalate with shells and machine guns with it seems some what success. Protected by a heavy mist and smoke screen the 2nd Engineers succeeded in putting a pontoon bridge across. At 9:30 our company emerged from the ravine, crossed the bridge in single file. Because of the mist Heinie’s flare lights were of no avail and in spite of a sweeping m.g. fire I got across O.K. being in the first (2nd Div.) across the Meuse — only 2 (battalions) of the 5th Marines got over the river that night.

November 11

All night we marched along the river bank — now dropping behind the high bank as protection from a withering machine gun fire then taking up the advance again until halted by a renewal of the fire. By day light (the noon on which hostilities ceased) we halted, dug in, and tried to rest a little — our battalion had become separated and any German counter-attack was expected. I finished digging my home at 9:15 (a.m.) and after an hour’s sleep I was called out to stand watch at a position on our right flank where we had set up a German “Maxim.” While I was still on this post — carefully looking for some sign of a Germans ahead, I noted that the artillery had ceased firing — not a gun was being fired. Everything had become quiet. I wondered if perhaps the “Dutch” had possibly agreed to Armistice terms; later in the morning confirming reports were received of this fact. At last fighting had ceased. One could hardly realize what it meant. Perhaps because of the 11 days strenuous campaigning that was not a joyous hurrah! The boys received the news calmly — taken as a matter of course —

That same day we moved to a near-by farm-house and billeted — in a dry place and under shelter for the first time in 3 weeks. Here the Germans — having news of the armistice — came to visit from their dug-outs, and many souvenirs were exchanged.