A soldier’s memories from the battlefield during World War I
Howard N. Weis used candlelight to see his diary as the sound of shells were heard all around him in the trenches in the fields of France.
In a 1959 interview with The Grit, Weis, who was 73 at the time and living on Grier Street, spoke of the entries he jotted down in the dugouts of France.
Weis’s initial entry tells of his having to wear corduroy pants from home because the Army didn’t have suitable trousers to fit his frame.
As a member of Co. C 304th Engineers, 79th Division, Weis was among the soldiers building roads and bridges.
He once escaped a German airplane that dived down to strafe the field he stood in with machine gun.
Weis wrote of German gunners finding the range of a camp, hitting it with shrapnel that killed five and wounded 15 from Co. B and killed three in a cook tent from Co. A.
Once the United States entered the war in 1917, brave young men such as Weis boarded trains to be sent off to war in Europe. For those locally, their last sight of home was to be the cheering wives, mothers, children and relatives at the station on Market Street.
In all, more than 3,100 men from Lycoming County served in World War I, with 131 lives lost, according to military records preserved at the Thomas T. Taber Museum of the Lycoming County Historical Society.
The war began in 1914 in the Balkan region of Europe with the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire by a Serbian.
The two countries declared war and a web of alliances formed, with Great Britain, France and Russia joining the conflict on the side of Serbia, and Germany and the Ottoman Empire joining with Austria-Hungary.
The fight was on land, at sea and in the air. The United States entered the war after repeated attacks on merchant ships by German submarines.
A formal declaration of war with the Imperial German Government was made by President Woodrow Wilson on April 6, 1917, as the president signed a resolution that had been adopted by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
In his statement, Wilson warned “aliens that acts of violence or intrique would be met with drastic action,” according to a copy at the museum.
The first act was the seizure of German ships at American ports.
The Senate had appropriated a $100 million emergency war fund. In November of that year, the local newspapers told readers that 113 men had left Williamsport bound for Camp Meade in Maryland and then France.
Weis was among those who served from Dec. 27, 1917, until his discharge June 5, 1919, as a sergeant.
After the armistice, or truce, on Nov. 11, 1918, that ended what then was called The Great War or The War to End All Wars, Weis remained in service for the reconstruction of France, building roads and bridges.
He returned to work for a few years on the railroad and then as a mail carrier, retiring in 1948.