California Goes to War

World War I and the Golden State

Detail of Liberty Map of the Western Front of the Great World War (1918) by Funk & Wagnalls CompanyCalifornia State Archives

A turning point in global history, the First World War shaped the twentieth century in immeasurable ways. It slaughtered millions of people, wounded countless more, obliterated entire towns, and all but annihilated almost an entire generation of young European men. The four-year war destroyed major empires and redrew the European map in ways that led to another, even more destructive world war less than two decades later.

Claiming neutrality, the United States attempted to keep all channels of trade and diplomacy open even after the fighting began in 1914. After President Woodrow Wilson decided that neutrality was no longer possible in early 1917, he took the country into uncharted territory by declaring war on Germany and its allies.

This exhibit presents an overview of the United States entry into World War I, the actions taken by the California government to prepare for war, and instances of support and opposition to the conflict. The actual war in Europe is then viewed through the experiences of a young Californian, Stanley Cundiff, who served in the 322nd Field Signal Battalion of the American Expeditionary Forces and the Army of Occupation. The exhibit follows Cundiff from enlistment, to the theater of war in France, occupation in Germany, and finally, back home to the United States.

President's War Message (1917) by Published by Pacific Novelty Company, San FranciscoCalifornia State Archives

"The World Must be Made Safe for Democracy"

When the conflict between Europe's major powers began in the summer of 1914, few could have imagined that it would lead to four years of brutal war, including the intervention of the United States military forces. The fighting began after a Bosnian Serb nationalist assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on June 28, 1914. Long-standing rivalries and secret agreements pitted the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire against the Allied Powers of Britain, France, and Russia.  Most Americans cheered President Woodrow Wilson's 1914 stand to remain "impartial in thought as well as in action." However, increasing reports of German atrocities, along with new methods of industrialized warfare, horrified the American public, most of whom were inclined to side with the Allied forces. Soon after winning the 1916 presidential election as the "man who kept us out of the war," President Wilson faced mounting threats by Germany, which ultimately forced his hand.  

Title page:President's War Message (1917) by Published by Pacific Novelty Company, San FranciscoCalifornia State Archives

On April 2, 1917, the president delivered his war message before a joint session of Congress, laying out his reasons why the U.S. could no longer remain neutral. Wilson cited Germany's violation of its pledge to suspend submarine attacks on passenger and merchant ships in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean, which continued to kill innocent civilians, including Americans. He also emphasized the implications of the recently intercepted telegram from German diplomat Arthur Zimmerman to Mexico, which promised restoration of the lands Mexico had lost to the U.S. in 1848, if it joined Germany's side of the war. The president declared

Neutrality is no longer feasible or desirable where the peace of the world is involved and the freedom of its peoples. We are about to accept the gage of battle with this natural foe to liberty and shall, if necessary, spend the whole force of the nation to check and nullify its pretensions and its power. The world must be made safe for democracy.

On April 6, 1917, after Congress voted to support a declaration of war, the president signed the war proclamation, which decreed "that a state of war between the United States and the Imperial German Government which has been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared."

Follow this link to read President Wilson's War Message in its entirety.

California National Guard - California Prepares for War (1916/1917) by Booklet and photographs of military maneuvers: Military Department, California National Guard. (95-12-28.f): J.D. Givens, photographer, Presidio at San Francisco, CA.California State Archives

California Prepares for War

Well before the formal declaration of war on April 6, 1917, federal and state officials began to prepare for the inevitability of joining the fight overseas. The National Defense Act of 1916 reflected the country's anxieties not only about remaining neutral in the global fight, but also regarding its overall military preparedness and its ability to respond to skirmishes along the southern border after the onset of the Mexican revolution in 1910.

National Defense Act of 1916 - war preparedness (1916) by (95-12-28.d):J.D. Givens, Photographer; (B3474): Adjutant General of California; (F3757-43-06): Unknown.California State Archives

Enacted on June 3, 1916, the National Defense Act was a sweeping reorganization and expansion of the country's military forces. The act authorized an increase of the Regular Army to 175,000 soldiers over five years in times of peace, and to 300,000 during war. It created an Officers and Enlisted Reserve Corps to provide the cadre for the new force, as well as a Reserve Officers' Training Corps. The act also provided for a fourfold expansion of the National Guard to 400,000 men, and required that their military organization and training standards follow those of the Regular Army.

The act expanded the president's authority to mobilize the National Guard in case of war or national emergency, for the duration of the event. It allocated over $17 million for 375 new airplanes, created a new Air Division, and began measures to ensure the immediate production and availability of wartime weapons and equipment.

California Governor Hiram Johnson, pictured here in his capitol office, quickly answered the preparedness demands of the National Defense Act. He directed the California National Guard to immediately assemble at the state's armories, in order to begin the mobilization process necessary to set up defensive positions along the Mexico – U.S. border.

National Defense Act of 1916-Mexico Border (1916) by (B3474): Adjutant General of California; (F3416-1-02, 09): Military Department, California National Guard; (95-12-28.f): J.D.Givens, photographer at Presidio of San Francisco.California State Archives

In March of 1916, Mexican Revolutionary leader Pancho Villa raided the town of Columbus, New Mexico, and then retreated into Mexico. President Wilson ordered U.S. Brigadier General John J. Pershing to pursue Villa and bring him to justice. This almost yearlong mission ultimately proved futile. Furthermore, the existing, small Regular Army was left with insufficient manpower to both protect the border and support an expedition to pursue Villa. U.S. presence along the border was stretched extremely thin.

Shortly after President Wilson signed the National Defense Act in June, he ordered National Guard units to prepare for service to assist in securing the border. Despite the short notice, the California National Guard troops were mustered and transported to defensive positions on the Mexican border within two weeks.

In the upper photographs, the California National Guard's Machine Gun Company, 5th Infantry Unit trains for military maneuvers in San Rafael in June 1916. The bottom photograph shows the California National Guard's 5th Infantry, stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco in 1916, having recently returned from Mexican border service.

Governor William D. Stephens (1917) by Office of the California Secretary of State; Bain News ServiceCalifornia State Archives

Governor William Stephens

On March 15, 1917, California's then Lieutenant Governor William D. Stephens assumed the state's governorship, taking over after Governor Hiram Johnson's election to the U.S. Senate. Three weeks later, the U.S. declared war on Germany. As the Golden State's new governor, Stephens faced a host of complex and difficult circumstances while preparing and guiding the state through an intensifying world war.

Legislation- SB761,SB1169, SJR12, (1917) by Office of the California Secretary of StateCalifornia State Archives

In response to the increasing pace of state and federal preparations for war, California's State Legislature passed several bills in support of the war effort. Pictured is a sampling of such bills.

Senate Bill 761, Chapter 207, Statutes of 1917, was in part a response to the National Defense Act of 1916. It aimed "to comply with the requirements of said national defense act and in view of the unsettled condition of the relations of the United States with foreign powers, this act is declared to be necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace and safety." To achieve this goal, the new law applied federal laws, rules, and regulations to the organization, qualifications, and training of California's National Guard troops.

Senate Bill 1169, Chapter 32, Statutes of 1917, created a State Council of Defense to study and prepare for the potential effect of war on all aspects of the lives of Californians, and to consider measures for public defense and security. The Council consisted of thirty-three members appointed by the governor. The official Report of the Activities of the California State Council of Defense, dating from April 6, 1917 to January 1, 1918, may be accessed here.

Senate Joint Resolution 12, dated April 2, 1917, was a response to President Wilson's war message to Congress on that same date, requesting that Congress support the President in any measures deemed necessary.

Legislation-SJR14, Universal military training (1917) by Office of the California Secretary of State; (F3416-1-02, 11):Military Department, California National GuardCalifornia State Archives

The California Legislature, through Senate Joint Resolution 14, issued its endorsement of a universal military training bill that was at that time being deliberated in Congress after President Wilson's address on April 2, 1917.

Seen here is the California National Guard's Machine Gun Company, 5th Infantry Unit, checking weapons and equipment while conducting military maneuvers.

Preparedness Day Parade (1916) by Photograph by Walters Company, San Francisco, July 22, 1916.California State Archives

The Preparedness Day Parade Bombing

While the war preparedness movement swept across the country, anti-war sentiment also spread, rooted in and led by feminist and social reform groups, peace societies, and labor advocates. The July 22, 1916 Preparedness Day parade in San Francisco was one of many across the nation, organized by groups wishing to show their patriotism and support for war preparedness. In a time of severe labor strife in San Francisco, however, many labor leaders and radicals opposed such an idea, arguing that America's entry into the war would only benefit corporate and imperialistic powers. In the midst of the parade, a deadly bomb exploded. The accused, labor leader Thomas Mooney, was sentenced to death after being convicted of murder on what later was revealed to be perjured testimony. 

Preparedness Day Parade bombing/Tom Mooney (1916/1918) by California Department of Corrections; unknownCalifornia State Archives

The San Francisco Preparedness Day parade was the largest ever held in the city, attracting over 50,000 attendees. Participants included fifty-two bands and more than 2,000 organizations, from military and civic groups, to divisions representing a variety of professions and trades.

At 2:06 PM, approximately half an hour after the start of the parade, a bomb exploded at Steuart and Market Streets near the Ferry Building, killing ten people and injuring forty more. Damage from the bomb's blast can be seen in the uppermost photograph.

Known to be local labor radicals, Thomas Mooney (seen here as San Quentin prisoner #31921) and his associate, Warren Billings, were soon targeted by the city's District Attorney, Charles M, Fickert, and arrested for the crime, although there was almost no physical evidence from which to draw that conclusion. Billings was tried first, convicted of second-degree murder, and given a life sentence. Mooney's trial was held in January of 1917. Found guilty of first-degree murder, he was sentenced to hang. The testimony upon which the verdict was based was soon discredited, but Fickert refused to reopen the case.

Soon after Mooney's conviction, supporters beyond his fellow labor radicals began to hold protest meetings and appealed to Governor Stephens, demanding a new trial.

Governor William D. Stephens and letters he received relating to Thomas J. Mooney (1918) by Bain News Service; John McFarland; R. C. Porter; unknown.California State Archives

Governor Stephens faced increasing controversy surrounding the Mooney case and conviction. National and international sympathy for Mooney spread, with many appealing to the governor to pardon him, or allow for a new trial. There were a few, as evidenced in the lower right-hand letter from R. C. Porter, who discouraged the governor from pardoning Mooney, claiming government officials were "altogether too lenient with Pro-Germanism." Porter's claim reflected a growing fear that German spies had infiltrated labor groups.

Others adamantly opposed the governor's refusal to intervene on Mooney's behalf. Some even delivered death threats, as seen in the letter on the bottom left, sent by unnamed members of the National Organization of Laborers. Although this particular threat was not carried out, the Governor's Mansion in Sacramento was bombed on December 17, 1917. Governor Stephens escaped injury, but the residence sustained considerable damage. Stephens responded, "As Governor, my entire energy will continue to be devoted to the task of having our state do its full share in support of the nation's patriotic program."

In March of 1918, President Wilson, anxious over the international implications of Mooney's case and worldwide labor unrest, personally telegraphed Governor Stephens. His message, quoted in the telegraph shown here, implored Stephens to commute Mooney's sentence because it "would have a most heartfelt effect upon certain international affairs, which his execution would greatly complicate."

Letters requesting Governor Stephens pardon Mooney (1918) by Samuel Gompers; Upton SinclairCalifornia State Archives

One of the most influential labor leaders of the era was Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor. Gompers joined those appealing to Governor Stephens in this August 10, 1918 letter.

Citing the "deep feeling manifested among the workers of France, England, Italy, and Russia" (all allies of the United States), Gompers declared "that a gross miscarriage of justice has taken place in the Mooney trial." He went on to tie the case directly to "the cause for which we are all so stoutly contending and making sacrifices to win this universal struggle, I appeal to you to exercise your prerogative in behalf of Thomas J. Mooney."

Well-known socialist author Upton Sinclair also appealed to the governor on Mooney's behalf. Sinclair's message was simple and direct. He claimed that Mooney's execution would weaken President Wilson's influence with Labor and Socialist forces abroad, and that it would "make almost impossible a peaceful issue of the impending struggle between labor and capital in America."

Commutation of Sentence for and Pardon of Thomas J. Mooney (1918/1939) by Governor William D. Stephens; Governor Culbert L. OlsonCalifornia State Archives

After months of pressure to reconsider the case, Governor Stephens commuted the Mooney's sentence from death by hanging to life imprisonment. The November 28, 1918 commutation read in part:

I have carefully reviewed all the available evidence bearing on the case. There are certain features connected with it which convince me that the extreme sentence should not be executed. Therefore, and because of the earnest request of the President for commutation, and conscious of the duty I owe as Governor of this State to all of its people, I have decided to commute Mooney's sentence to life imprisonment. In doing so, I accept full responsibility for the wisdom and justification of the action.

Mooney spent twenty-two years in prison, during which time he and his supporters continued to pressure succeeding governors to review his case, insisting upon his innocence. Finally, on January 7, 1939, newly-elected Governor Culbert Olson issued Thomas J. Mooney a full and unconditional pardon.

Camp Kearny and Selective Service Act of 1917 (1917) by San Diego Photo Service, 3rd and PlazaCalifornia State Archives

The Selective Service Act of 1917

President Wilson signed the Selective Service Act on May 18, 1917, shortly after the U.S. committed to joining the global war. The Act authorized him to temporarily increase the country's military forces by conscription, for the duration of the war. Overall, twenty-four million men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five registered. Of these, about 2.7 million were drafted, and about two million more volunteered. The U.S. War Department constructed thirty-two training camps across the country and within eighteen months two million troops were mobilized to Europe.  This 1917 photograph shows the increased number of troops led by General George Cameron at Camp Kearny in San Diego, one of the military training camps built in California after the enactment of the Selective Service Act. 

Nelson Miles Holderman (1915/1918) by California Military Department; Stanley CundiffCalifornia State Archives

In July of 1917, the first draftees were ordered to report to specified Army and National Guard units. That month, the 40th Infantry Division organized at Camp Kearny, consisting of draftees, volunteers, and Guardsmen from California, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Nevada.

One of these men was California Guardsman Nelson Miles Holderman. Holderman had enlisted in the California National Guard on June 15, 1915, serving in Company L, 7th Infantry Regiment, during the Mexico Border Service. By the time the U.S. entered the war in 1917, Holderman was Captain of his unit, which later organized into Company L, 160th Infantry, assigned to the 40th Division. This Division, and others, was officially drafted into the National Army on August 5, 1917. After a year of training, Holderman and his company were assigned to replace Company K, 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Division, of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) fighting in France, where they arrived in late August 1918.

Holderman's unit took part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in late September 1918. He then led his unit in the five-day siege of the "Lost Battalion" in the Argonne forest from October 3-8. Surrounded by enemy fire, without food, water, or sleep, Holderman, although wounded numerous times, continued to lead and inspire his men until relief arrived. For his service in the AEF, Holderman was awarded a Medal of Honor, a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, a World War 1 Victory Medal, and numerous medals from France, Italy, and Belgium.

California Soldier's Home, Commandant Nelson Miles Holderman's Residence (1918) by California Department of Finance; Santa Ana RegisterCalifornia State Archives

Upon his return to California after the war, Holderman rejoined the California National Guard and was appointed a Colonel. In 1926, Governor Friend Richardson appointed him Commandant of the California Yountville Soldier's Home (now the Veteran's Home of California – Yountville). Pictured is Holderman's residence at the Soldier's Home, where he lived with his family until his death in 1953.

Stanley Cundiff, of the 322nd Field Signal Battalion (1918) by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

A Californian Goes to War

Another one of the young men who joined the war effort under the 1917 Selective Service Act was a Californian named Stanley M. Cundiff. During his two years of active service in the 322nd Field Signal Battalion of the U.S. First and Third Armies, Cundiff apparently became his unit's defacto historian, gathering hundreds of photographs, letters, postcards, maps, and other ephemera documenting the 322nd's time in war-torn France and, subsequently, occupied Germany.  After being released back to civilian life in 1919, Cundiff and his first wife Opal compiled these records into a series of photograph albums and scrapbooks.  The following five sections of this exhibit rely almost exclusively on these albums to give the viewer a sense of what one Californian's military service entailed, one hundred years ago.

Enlistment Record of Sergeant Stanley Cundiff (1919-09-12) by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

Born on November 19, 1894, Stanley Cundiff spent most of his life in southern California. His father, Robert P. Cundiff, arrived in the Golden State in 1874, eventually settling in Riverside with his wife Henrietta. The couple had five children, of which Stanley was the youngest.

Stanley registered under the Selective Service Act on June 5, 1917. At that time, the twenty-one-year-old unmarried Cundiff was living in Riverside and working for the Southern California Fertilizer Company as a salesman. A month later, he joined the 25th Telegraph Battalion of Enlisted Signal Reserves in Los Angeles. Stanley Cundiff was heading off to war.

Stanley Cundiff, of the 322nd Field Signal Battalion, while in Coblenz, Germany. (1918/1919) by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

Soon after Stanley Cundiff enlisted, the U.S. War Department combined the 25th Telegraph Battalion with San Francisco's 26th Telegraph Battalion, forming the 322nd Field Signal Battalion of the First Army Corps. Most of the men in the 322nd hailed from California or other areas of the West Coast, resulting in a tightly knit group. Cundiff remained part of this battalion for the entirety of his military service.

In November 1917, Cundiff and other members of the 322nd headed to the Army's newest training facility at Camp Lewis, Washington. There, they met their first commanding officer, Major Frank Sullivan (who had been instrumental in the creation of the 322nd), and began training for active war service. The battalion, including Cundiff, subsequently embarked to France on the U.S.S. Wilhemina on May 9, 1918.

The photographs shown here all date from the post-war period when Stanley was stationed in Coblenz, Germany, as part of the American Army of Occupation, in 1918-1919. In this image and in the following sections, the original captions from the photograph albums and scrapbooks compiled by the Cundiffs have been retained wherever possible.

322nd Field Signal Battalion at work in France (1918) by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

The 322nd 

Cundiff and the rest of the men in the 322nd Field Signal Battalion arrived in France on May 24, 1918, part of a large influx of over a million U.S. troops (called "Doughboys" in the vernacular of the day) to the war-torn country.  The battalion spent much of the next few weeks in further training and re-equipping, as most of the original equipment sent with them on the Wilhemina had been redistributed upon arrival on the French coast.  By June 25th, the battalion had taken station at Rou de Vrou, France, near the First Army Corps headquarters.  At this time, the "Three-Tooty-Tooters", as the battalion dubbed themselves, began in earnest the work for which they had trained -- establishing and maintaining communication lines between Army headquarters and various units on the front lines.

322nd Field Signal Battalion in France (1918) by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

The United States Army Signal Corps originated in 1860, when the Army adopted a flag- or (at night) torch-based long-distance communication system developed by Albert James Myer. The symbol of the Signal Corps, shown on the patch at lower right, pays homage to this history by incorporating two signal flags crossed beneath a burning torch.

The Signal Corps has played a crucial role in all U.S. conflicts since the Civil War era, up to and including modern-day operations. The Army relies upon the Corps to develop, maintain, and manage the lines of communication between the men in the field and commanders behind the front lines. In the words of Lieutenant J.E. Perry, of the 322nd, "Communications are as essential [to an army] as food. An army without staunch lines of communication would be like a blind man wandering around in a circle while enemies surround him."

The men of the 322nd worked night and day to establish telephone and telegraph lines as well as radio signal stations connecting the front line trenches with Army headquarters, enabling the rapid communications so essential to sound tactical and strategic decisions. The 322nd thus paralleled, and often worked in advance of, the U.S. Army as it moved through France. The men worked constantly under fire, laying new lines and surveying and repairing those already existing. The two photographs here depict some of that work.

Three Commanders of the 322nd Field Signal Battalion during their World War I Service by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

Six different commanders led the 322nd through its time in Europe, three of which are shown here (from left to right): Major Frank Sullivan, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Kelly, and Major Charles Sass. Under their leadership, the 322nd supported Army operations in several major engagements in France during the final five months of the war, including the Champagne-Marne Defensive (July 15-18, 1918), the Aisne-Marne Offensive (July 18-August 6, 1918), the St. Mihiel Offensive (September 12-16, 1918), and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (September 26-November 11, 1918).

The 322nd's History and Roster provides an apt description of the conditions under which the battalion's men often worked:

Throughout the whole period that the battalion operated in the Argonne region [September 26-November 11, 1918] the men worked under fire night and day, slept in the mud, went without baths or change of clothing and frequently without sleep, were never relieved by fresh troops, yet never was there at any time an indication of a weakening of morale or a disposition to avoid a danger or to shirk an unpleasant duty. Nor was there at any time a period when the required lines of communication were not in operation...

Four Soldiers at the Second Battle of the Marne by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

The War to End All Wars

By the time Stanley Cundiff and the 322nd Field Signal Battalion entered France in May 1918, Europe had endured almost four years of debilitating warfare featuring new and terrible technologies such as gas bombs and combat airplanes. The Allied nations had settled into an effective stalemate with German forces along the front lines in France, with little progress made by either side. After Russia and Germany signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918, however, thereby eliminating the Eastern Front of the war, Germany was free to turn its full attention to the Western Front in France.  German forces subsequently embarked on a series of offenses against the Allied nations. The last of these, the Second Battle of the Marne, came in July 1918.  At that time, French forces bolstered with fresh American troops such as the ones shown in this photograph halted and then reversed the German advance.  This Allied victory marked a turning point in the war.  The Allied armies began a series of advances that eventually forced Germany to agree to the Armistice of November 11, 1918, thereby ending the greatest conflict the world had yet seen. The following photographs depict just a few aspects of the "War to End All Wars" that soldiers like Stanley Cundiff and the 322nd encountered while on active duty near the front lines.      

A Soldier's Life (1918) by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

The life of a soldier includes many things, but chow time and mail time take on special significance for any soldier in the field. In the top photograph, the 322nd receives its first mail after arriving at the front lines to support the Army's 2nd Division. The men took every opportunity to both read and write letters home, in order to sustain their morale and remind themselves of life beyond the horror of the front lines. In the photograph at the far right, one of the Three-Tooty-Tooters, Tom Phipps of "A" Company, snatches a few moments among telephone and telegraph wires to write home.

The photograph at the bottom shows one of the many field kitchens used by the 322nd during its time in France, as well as the owner of the kitchen, a Frenchman named Emiel (with the smoking pipe). Units set up field kitchens wherever possible, often re-purposing existing buildings for mess halls but also using tents and wood planks when other options were not available.

Soldiers on the move are required to carry a significant amount of equipment. The regulation pack for a World War I American soldier, demonstrated in the photograph at the far left, weighed forty-seven pounds. The pack included such items as clothing, food, canvas and poles for shelter, ammunition, tools such as a spade and wire cutters, a gas mask, and personal effects including a shaving kit, sewing kit, and mess kit.

God Bless Our Home by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

The 322nd moved to Montreuil in late July 1918, in response to a German advance that pushed the front lines deeper into France. At this point, Stanley Cundiff reported that the Three-Tooty-Tooters were "getting into the Big Fight in earnest now." Most of the 322nd were then supporting combat units engaged in a counter-offensive, known as the Aisne-Marne Offensive, which lasted until August 6, 1918.

General John J. Pershing led the American Expeditionary Forces in France. Pershing insisted that American combat units operate directly under his command, rather than being incorporated into British and French units, as those countries requested. In August 1918, Pershing and the other Allied commanders began the Hundred Days Offensive, which ultimately pushed the Germans out of France and forced them to sign the Armistice in November.

The 322nd supported operations in several of the major battles of the Hundred Days Offensive, including the Battle of Saint-Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the final phase of the Hundred Days. In this poignant photograph, a member of the 322nd, Al Prince, tries to warm himself at a ruined hearth with two members of the 42nd Army Division near Varennes, France, likely during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

Prisoners of War by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

Many of the photographs found in Stanley Cundiff's albums originated with the German forces. After the Armistice was signed, the 322nd was chosen to set up communication lines in advance of the Army of Occupation on its move into Germany. For that reason, the 322nd often came across caches of supplies and equipment abandoned by the German army during its retreat. These caches sometimes included photographs and photograph plates taken by German soldiers during the course of the war. The photographs shown here were likely obtained in such a manner.

These photographs show some of the approximately 2,400 Americans captured as German prisoners of war, or POWs. World War I saw a shift in the treatment of prisoners of war, reflecting in turn a shift towards modernized warfare in general. Instead of a haphazard collection of independently-run camps, as was often the case prior to World War I, countries on both sides of the conflict developed a standardized system of state-run POW camps. In addition, countries began putting POWs to work as forced laborers both on and behind the front lines, doing heavy manual labor such as transporting artillery shells, building roads, quarrying stone, and other such tasks. Soon after World War I came to an end, the International Committee of the Red Cross began to advocate new international laws for the treatment of prisoners. This ultimately lead to the 1929 Geneva Convention, which formed the basis for treatment of POWs today.

Trench Warfare by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

Trench warfare rapidly became one of the defining characteristics of World War I. After British and French armies fought invading German forces to a standstill in the summer of 1914, both sides began construction of a system of trenches that ultimately stretched across Belgium and France to the Swiss Alps. As the war progressed, these trenches became more elaborate, incorporating dugout bomb shelters and communication trenches as well as auxiliary trench lines used for troop movements, surprise attacks, and listening posts.

These trenches were typically ten to twelve feet deep, running in a zig-zag pattern that prevented bomb blasts from traveling very far within the earth walls. Most soldiers only spent one to two weeks at a time in the front line trenches, rotating with fresh troops, but living conditions made those weeks seem like years. The trenches often flooded in inclement weather, while pests such as rats and lice abounded, making life miserable for the soldiers. Unsanitary conditions meant that even a small scratch could rapidly become an infected and potentially fatal wound. Dysentery, cholera, and typhus also took a toll, while poor hygiene resulted in conditions such as "trench foot", a fungal infection often necessitating amputation.

Lethal Gas and Front Line Trenches by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

The devastated area between the Allied and German trenches was known as No Man's Land. This strip of land, a portion of which is seen in the bottom photograph, was generally between 100 and 750 feet wide. Its scarred and pitted surface reflected intense artillery and shell bombing, and was often riddled with barbed wire and land mines.

Soldiers both in and out of the trenches dreaded chemical bomb attacks like the one shown in the upper photograph. World War I saw the first large-scale use of chemical weapons, in the form of disabling substances such as tear gas as well as potentially lethal compounds like chlorine, mustard gas, and phosgene. Both sides of the conflict rapidly adopted countermeasures such as gas masks to combat the impact of the gas attacks, but by the end of the war approximately 1.3 million casualties had fallen to the deadly, debilitating clouds.

Terrible Technology by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

World War I saw the adaption of new, deadly technologies beyond that of the gas bomb, including the introduction of airplanes, and the creation of enormous long guns capable of mass destruction.

At first, aircraft, including dirigibles such as the Zepplin in the upper-most photograph, were used primarily for reconnaissance purposes and directing fire from artillery embankments. As the war progressed, specialized aircraft appeared, designed for transport of troops and supplies, bombing raids, surveillance, or for fighting enemy aircraft.

Biplanes with wooden frames and canvas skins appeared in increasing numbers over the war-torn fields of Europe. The Sopwith "Camel," seen in the bottom photograph, is very typical of these planes. The Camel, a British-made single-seat fighter aircraft, entered service in 1917. Camel pilots are credited with bringing down almost 1,300 enemy aircraft, more than any other type of fighting plane during the war. The Camel gained additional notoriety later in the twentieth century as the imaginary plane flown by the beloved Peanuts character Snoopy against the Red Baron.

Massive artillery weapons like the French Canon de 155mm Grande Puissance Filloux shown in the center photograph also made their entrance on the fields of World War I. Trench warfare necessitated the development of heavier artillery weapons capable of sustaining bombardments over periods of days or even weeks.

Caterpillar Tanks (1910/1919) by Stanley Cundiff Collection; Office of the California Secretary of State RecordsCalifornia State Archives

Trench warfare also sparked the development of what is now an iconic symbol of war: the tank.

Britain first explored the idea of an armored vehicle designed to protect its occupants from machine gun fire while navigating the fractured terrain of No Man's Land. However, wheeled vehicles could not adequately cope with the thick mud, deep craters, and barbed wire encountered at the front lines.

In 1907, Benjamin Holt of the Holt Manufacturing Company in Stockton, California, patented a design that changed the face of modern warfare: the continuous tread tractor. The soft earth of the Golden State's Central Valley and Sacramento River Delta farms posed a challenge to wheeled vehicles, which continuously bogged down in the fields. Holt replaced the wheels on a tractor with a set of wooden slates fastened together with chains on a continuous track. One observer noted that Holt's tractor crawled over all types of terrain like a caterpillar, thus providing a name for the new vehicles: caterpillar tractors.

The continuous-tread design proved invaluable for heavy vehicles on the battlefields of World War I. By 1916, well before American entry into the war, over a thousand Holt tractors were in use by the British military. By the end of the war, over ten thousand Holt vehicles had been used by the Allied countries.

Devastation by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

As Stanley Cundiff, the 322nd, and other soldiers traveled through France and Belgium, they were witness to levels of destruction never before seen. The massive modern weaponry used during the fighting shattered not only soldiers and trench lines, but also civilians and their lives, roads, stores, bridges, and houses. Entire towns were often leveled by artillery and shell fire. The photographs here show only a small fraction of the devastation of the war.

Several members of the 322nd commented on the destruction. Just after the Armistice was signed, Cundiff himself wrote

The place I am located in at present was once a beautiful place, from all appearances, but is now just a jumble of ruins. There isn't a building in the town with more than two walls standing. Everywhere is ruin.

Leland Martin, another 322nd member writing after war's end, put a philosophical spin on his observations, remarking:

The days of danger, nights of waking are past. We can look back on our hardships, the mud of France, the destruction, the flies and dead things at Chateau Thierry as only parts of our great experiences.

Commendation Letter to the Men of the 322nd Field Battalion and 406th Telegraph Battalion, Signal Corps, 1st Army Corps (1918-11-10/1918-11-11) by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

The series of Allied attacks during the Hundred Days Offensive from August to November 1918 forced Germany to retreat and, ultimately, to surrender. Fighting continued right up to the last few minutes before the signing of the Armistice at 11:00 am on November 11, 1918. Although the Armistice halted the fighting, it took another six months to negotiate the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended World War I.

The Great War, as it came to be called, took a heavy toll on the world. It resulted in over 38 million military and civilian dead and wounded across the globe, stemming from both the fighting and related causes such as malnutrition, disease, and accidents. Of the more than four million Americans mobilized for the war, over 116,000 lost their lives, while another 200,000 were wounded. More than 750,000 British soldiers died; France lost more than 1.3 million soldiers; and more than 1.7 million Russian soldiers met their deaths in the war. On the Central Powers side of the conflict, German military deaths topped two million, while Austria-Hungary endured the loss of over 1.2 million soldiers and the Ottoman Empire lost more than 300,000 military personnel.

The letter shown here commends the members of the 322nd Field Signal Battalion on their service during the conflict, but cautions them that their "worst service" was still before them: Stanley Cundiff and the 322nd became part of the American Army of Occupation.

U.S. Army of Occupation Patch (1918) by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

Army of Occupation 

The terms of the November 11, 1918 Armistice required Germany to immediately evacuate those portions of Belgium, France, and Luxembourg that it had occupied during the war.  In addition, the Armistice stipulated that Allied forces would occupy the western portion of the Rhineland, the region between the left bank of the Rhine River in Germany on the east, and the French, Belgium, and Luxembourg borders on the west.  By this time, more than ten thousand fresh American troops were arriving in France daily. This influx caused General Pershing (commander of the American forces) to form a Third Army, commanded by Major General Joseph T. Dickman.  The Third Army was chosen to remain behind as the Army of Occupation.  Its symbol of an "A" inside an "O," as depicted on this shoulder patch, remains the Third Army's insignia today.  Pershing also transferred several divisions of the First Army to the Third Army's forces, including the 322nd Field Signal Battalion.  Stanley Cundiff's military service was not finished yet.  

Repairing a Telephone Junction (1918-11-19) by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

The American Third Army was assigned to use Coblenz, Germany (also spelled Koblenz) as their base of operations during the occupation. General Pershing ultimately sent over 250,000 troops to occupy Germany, with an additional 50,000 sent to Luxembourg to provide support.

The day after the Armistice was signed, those American forces assigned to the occupation began moving from France toward the German border. The 322nd Field Signal Battalion moved in advance of the infantry on this "march to the Rhine," establishing, repairing, and maintaining advance communication lines. The photograph here shows members of the 322nd repairing a junction of the telephone system installed by Germany while occupying the French town of Longuyon. The 322nd were the first Americans to enter Longuyon since the town fell to German forces early in the war. Stanley Cundiff described the reception of the American forces by the Longuyon citizenry as "Some sight!" with flying flags and a band playing to enliven the event.

German Retreat (1918) by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

German retreat from all previously occupied regions in Belgium, France, and Luxembourg often barely preceded the advance of Allied occupation troops. Three-Tooty-Tooter Leland Martin later wrote: "We came with the very first troops into Germany. Often the Signal corps trucks were the first into the advanced towns. They pulled in as the German troops pulled out."

For instance, when the 322nd reached Longuyon on November 16, 1918, the Germans were still in possession of the town. However, that same day, the German commander turned both the town and what Stanley Cundiff called "war booty" over to the 322nd commander. The German troops withdrew from Longuyon later that day.

Article 4 of the Armistice required that Germany surrender, "in good condition", "war material" such as guns, ammunition, cannons, mortars, and fighter planes. The bottom photograph shows a stack of such surrendered weapons at Longuyon.

Working at the Tower Station in Coblenz, Germany (1918) by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

From Longuyon, the 322nd moved into the City of Luxembourg, which Stanley Cundiff called "the nicest city" with the "prettiest girls in Europe." The battalion left Luxembourg on December 3, 1918, entering Germany at 7:30 p.m. that evening. By December 13th, the battalion reached Coblenz, their home for the next seven months.

In Coblenz, the 322nd was housed in the Telegraph Caserne, or Telegraph Barracks, near the center of the town. The building is shown in the largest of these photographs. Stanley Cundiff called the facilities "nice barracks...about fifteen minutes walk from town in barracks which were used as a telegraph school during the war." The battalion established the communication lines necessary to the Third Army's mission of occupation, maintaining and operating the Coblenz telephone exchange, the town's telegraph office, and all radio stations of the Third Army. They engaged in this work until the battalion was sent home, in July 1919.

A Standard for the 322nd (1918) by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

After establishing headquarters in Coblenz, much of the work of the Three-Tooty-Tooters became fairly routine. In fact, Stanley Cundiff wrote "Have the finest shop and signal room but not much to do!"

One of the highlights of the occupation for the 322nd came when one of the battalion's former commanders, Major Sosthenes Behn (shown in the left-hand photograph receiving a Distinguished Service Medal in Washington D.C.) presented the Three-Tooty-Tooters with a standard.

The standard, equivalent to a regimental flag or battle flag, featured the Great Seal of the United States above the Field Signal Corps' symbol and the battalion's designation. Cundiff wrote that then-Major Behn presented the hand-made standard to the 322nd on January 11, 1919, in appreciation for the work they had done under his command, and "because of the regard he had for all of us as individuals." When the battalion returned to the U.S., the standard was hung in the State Capitol Building's rotunda in Sacramento, in celebration of the accomplishments of the 322nd, which was primarily composed of Californians.

An Unwelcome Visit from the Spanish Lady (1918) by Stanley Cundiff Collection; and California Department of EducationCalifornia State Archives

Near the end of the war and well into the months of Germany's occupation, both sides of the conflict faced a devastating yet invisible enemy: the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919. Known as the "Spanish Lady" (because neutral Spain was one of the only nations to accurately and openly report the seriousness of the pandemic), this virulent form of influenza killed more than twenty-two million people around the globe.

Unlike other flus, which typically target the elderly and very young, this flu attacked young people in the prime of life, between the ages of 20 and 40. More than 25,000 men of the American armed forces in Europe died of the flu, or complications arising from it, such as pneumonia. The 322nd was not left unscathed. Jack Biller, of the battalion's "B" Company (shown in right-hand photograph), had to spend time in a French convalescent camp after contracting the virus.

Back in the U.S., communities like California's capitol city of Sacramento took drastic steps to try to halt the epidemic. The left-hand picture shows a war emergency class set up by California's Department of Education to educate people in the operation and repair of tractors. As required by a Sacramento ordinance, all of the attendees are wearing face masks.

All Work and No Play Makes a Doughboy a Dull Boy (1918/1919) by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

This set of photographs shows some of the recreational opportunities that sprung up to accommodate the soldiers of the Third Army during the occupation. Hagenbeck's Circus paid the Third Army a call in February 1919. The following month, the 322nd partnered with the 417th Field Signal Battalion to throw a dance, inviting local nurses and "Y" girls (likely referring to the Young Men's Christian Association, or YMCA, volunteers who operated "R&R" facilities in support of American soldiers in France and occupied Germany). Some of the Army's divisions formed baseball teams, like the one shown in the upper right-hand photograph. The Third Army threw a carnival in Coblenz in late April of 1919, featuring truck and tractor contests, foot and horse races, and other activities.

Leave passes were of course extremely popular, resulting in packed boats to various destinations, such as the one pictured in the photograph at the bottom left (filled with "Tommies", slang for British soldiers). Stanley Cundiff received a three-day pass to visit Paris in May 1919. Cundiff wrote:

Paris is the most wonderful city in the world...and Black Jack [referring to General Pershing] was right when he said that a man had missed the greatest sight in Europe if he went home without seeing Paris.

"We Want to Go Home," Lyrics by Stanley Cundiff (1918-12-25) by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

Neither work nor diversions such as carnivals and "Y" girls could distract the soldiers of the Third Army entirely. Their fondest wish was to go home, to leave Europe, go back to the United States, and return to their civilian lives. Stanley Cundiff wrote this song celebrating that wish on Christmas Day, 1918. Its gentle humor does little to disguise the homesick longing beneath the words.

Thinking of Home (1919) by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives


In July 1919, Stanley Cundiff and the rest of the 322nd got their wish. That month, the Third Army was disbanded.  Its headquarters and approximately 6,800 personnel were transferred to the new occupation force, called American Forces in Germany (AFG), which remained in Germany for another three years.  The rest of the Third Army prepared to leave Europe.  After transferring their duties to the AFG's First Field Signal Battalion, Cundiff and the rest of the Three-Tooty-Tooters boarded a train in Engers.  They left Germany at 4:30 p.m. on July 12, 1919, sent off to the tunes of a ragtime band.  The 322nd was heading home.

Welcome Home, Soldier! (1919) by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

The 9000-mile journey of the 322nd back to California occurred in three stages. The first stage saw the battalion leave Germany and travel via train to the debarkation camp at Brest on the coast of France. There, the Three-Tooty-Tooters boarded the U.S.S. George Washington, starting the second part of the journey: crossing the Atlantic.

The George Washington put to sea at 5:00 p.m. on July 25th. On August 3rd, Stanley Cundiff reported sighting the Statue of Liberty out a porthole. The ship put in to New York's harbor later that afternoon. The 322nd was back on American soil.

The third and final leg of the journey then commenced: the trip across the U.S. to California. After being temporarily stationed at Camp Merritt, New Jersey, the 322nd boarded a set of transcontinental train cars, and set off across the continent. They proudly displayed their battalion designation and homecoming slogan "From the Rhine to California" on a banner on the side of the trains taking them back to California, as seen in the upper photograph.

The lower photograph shows the battalion's "triumphal procession" down Market Street in San Francisco. The 322nd was subsequently stationed at that city's Presidio for the next month. After undergoing physical examination and debriefing, on the morning of September 13, 1919, Stanley Cundiff was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army. He happily proclaimed "Back to Civilian life and Home!"

The Seasoned Veterans (1919-08-06) by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

This photograph of the 322nd Field Signal Battalion's "A" Company was taken while they were temporarily stationed at Camp Merritt, New Jersey, awaiting the orders that would allow them to head to California. Stanley Cundiff is standing in the second row, fourth from the right.

After the war, Cundiff remained in southern California, working as a truck driver in Fresno before becoming a teacher. By 1930, Cundiff had married his first wife, Opal, and had started teaching at a Los Angeles high school. He continued working in the Los Angeles school system until the early 1940s, when his World War II draft card indicates that he was employed by the Los Angeles Board of Education, at the city's Chamber of Commerce. Opal died in 1961. Stanley remarried in 1963, to Beulah McClanahan. The couple remained together until Stanley's death on April 26, 1976.

Reunion! (1922-07) by Stanley Cundiff CollectionCalifornia State Archives

The bonds formed between the men of the 322nd during the war did not disappear when they returned to civilian life. The Three-Tooty-Tooters held reunions almost every year, up to the early 1970s. Stanley Cundiff's scrapbooks contain records of many such reunions, including the second one shown here, at Manhattan Beach, California. Stanley summed up the war years and the experiences of the 322nd in one of the scrapbooks:

Years have passed by and we have tried to forget the horrors and hardships we went through in our Great Adventure but time will never erase the good times the comradship [sic] and the lifelong friends we made when we did our bit together so once a year a few of us get together over the festive board, meet the old buddies and fight the Battle of Vin Rouge all over again.

The shattering experiences of World War I changed not only the soldiers who served on both sides of the conflict, but had an enormous impact on the lives of people around the globe. New, more destructive methods of warfare, the devastation of civilian lives on a mass scale, the entrance of the United States on the international stage as a major world power capable of influencing matters around the globe...these are just a few of the changes wrought by the War to End All Wars. The impact of these changes on American politics, society, and culture are still being felt today.

Credits: Story

All images from records held by the California State Archives unless otherwise noted.

Digital exhibit and imaging by Lisa Prince and Jessica Herrick (2017)

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