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Whitewater and World War I

Company “C”

The Whitewater unit of the Wisconsin State Militia or National Guard was founded in the 1870s. The unit, known as the “Custer Rifles,” was called up for the Spanish American War (but never got to Cuba). In 1916, the unit, now known as “Company C” of the 128th Infantry of the US Army, was called up because of tensions on the U.S.-Mexico Border. When the US entered World War I in the Spring of 1917, all National Guard troops were called up and placed in regular army divisions. Guard troops from Michigan and Wisconsin were placed in the 32nd Division.

Whitewater’s Company C was mobilized at Camp Douglas in west central Wisconsin in July of 1917, then went for training at Camp MacArthur in Waco, Texas in November of 1917. In Waco, Company C was re-named Company K and it left for France in February of 1918, along with all of the units of the 32nd Division.

After seeing some minor action in the Alsace region of France, the 32nd Division entered its first major offensive of the war, part of the 2nd battle of the Marne near Chateau-Thierry, France. In this action, Company K of Whitewater was a part of an offensive to push back German troops who had pushed farther into France in the spring of 1918. Company K and the 32nd Division fought primarily from July to November, 1918, pushing back the German’s spring offensives and moving the Germans back from the front. The summer and fall offensives by the Americans with the French helped destroy the German Army and led to the end of the war.

Between July 23 and August 5, 1918, the 32nd Division participated in action between Roncheres and Fismes, France. In this action, one Whitewater man was killed and one was seriously wounded. The man killed was part of Company K of Whitewater.

William Graham’s World War I Story

William “Billy” Graham had turned 28 in France on May 31st, 1918. He had been a member of Whitewater’s National Guard unit, Company C, for six years and had taken part in the deployment to the US-Mexico Border in 1916. While he was in the guard, he attended both the Normal School in Whitewater (UWW) and spent a year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was employed for a time at Gisholt Manufacturing Company in Madison.

On August 2, 1918, about half way to the goal of capturing Fismes, France from the Germans, Graham was killed in action. When the American Legion veterans’ group was formed in Whitewater after World War I, it was named for William Graham.

Chester “Ted” Lawton’s World War I Story

Chester “Ted” Lawton was a longtime resident of nearby LaGrange and Whitewater, but happened to be working in central Wisconsin in 1917. He joined a National Guard unit in Neillsville. Like other Wisconsin Guard units, Lawton’s group became part of the 32nd Division of the 128th Infantry of the US Army. Although in a different Company, Lawton would have

been close to the other men from Whitewater in the Division.

Lawton’s unit fought along with Whitewater’s Company C in the Second Battle of the Marne offensive. On August 2nd, William Graham was killed and by August 3rd the 32nd Division had reached a little over a mile from Fismes, but met with significant German resistance. Some time on August 4th, Ted Lawton was wounded.

But the news did not reach Whitewater until the end of August. “Word ha[s] been received by friends of Chester Lawton that he had been wounded on August 4 and was in a hospital with a wound in his back caused by a piece of shrapnel.” Whitewater Gazette, August 29, 1918.

The offensive that both Graham and Lawton fought in along the Marne River was a decisive victory for the Allies and was the beginning of the end of the war.

Ted Lawton won the purple heart and came back to Whitewater in 1919. He was very active in the Whitewater Historical Society. He was a talented folk art wood carver and several of his works are at the museum. Among many things he donated to the museum are his purple heart, his field glasses, and his discharge papers.

The importance of the 32nd Division to winning the Battle of the Second Marne and driving the Germans back toward the border was recognized by the French military. During the early days of the battle, one French general observed the fierceness of the 32nd Division troops and declared:

“Oui, Oui, Les soldats terrible, tres bien, tres bien”

Or Yes, Yes, the fierce soldiers, very good, very good.”

The name “Les Terribles” or “The Terrible” stuck, as did another name for the 32nd Division in World War I—the Red Arrow Division, the red arrow in honor of the way the division troops pierced through enemy lines during battle.

In early September, the 32nd Division along with the Whitewater troops, were transferred from the area to fight as back-up units in the front lines of the Meuse-Argonne campaign, the action that caused the Gemans to give up the fight in World War I.

The main battle of the Meuse-Argonne campaign started on September 26, 1918 and soon the 32nd Division was relieving other American units on the front lines. Then, the Army’s 3rd Division joined the 32nd Division in battle and that is where Whitewater and Milton residents Arthur Ardelt and Ernest Magoon’s stories begin.

Arthur Ardelt and Ernest Magoon’s World War I story

Arthur Ardelt was a young man who worked at J. C. Coxe’s downtown grocery store. In June of 1917, he registered for the WWI draft and was called up in May of 1918. At the same time, a young man who lived on a farm between Whitewater and Milton, Ernest Magoon, was also

called up and the two men entered the army in late May of 1918. They were both assigned to the 38th Infantry but in different companies and went to France in the late summer of 1918.

Fortunately, in France, Arthur and Ernest’s companies were close in proximity and the two men saw each other almost every day before their units were brought into the last major battle of the war, the Meuse-Argonne campaign.

According to published reports, units of the 38th infantry were sent to fight with the 3rd Division, which came to the front lines of the battle around the first week in October. Between October 10 and 11 there was fierce fighting that resulted in the Americans taking a large number of prisoners and achieving a forward line. It is during this time that Ardelt and Magoon were somewhere in the thick of it.

Sometime during this fighting, Ardelt was in the line of machine gun fire and a bullet creased his helmet, saving him from injury or death. After establishing a new front line around October 11, Ardelt and his unit helped dig in to hold the line while shelling from the Germans continued.

Around October 19, they were relieved by other troops.

Action continued until the truce on November 11, 1918, but Ardelt’s unit appears to have not continued to move forward. But, around October 19th, he found out that his friend, Ernest Magoon, was not as lucky as he had been in the fighting. And, while Ardelt found the answer to what happened to Magoon at that time, Magoon’s family did not get confirmation for many

months as poor communications and the large number of casualties caused delays in communicating soldiers’ fates to their families.

In a letter home in February of 1919 and published in the Whitewater Register, after being asked about Magoon, Arthur Ardelt wrote the following:

"You inquired about Ernest Magoon. Ernest wasn't in my company, but in B. company. I saw him most every day and we always talked about home when we met. On our way to the front we always looked each other up at the end of the day's journey. The last time I saw Ernest to talk to him was on the Argonne front the night before we made the attack. He came over where I was and showed me a letter he had just received from home. We talked of home and a few other little things, after which we shook hands and wished each other good luck. About half an hour later we were on our way to the front to make the attack. We marched about three miles that night, and then dug in and slept till eight o'clock the next morning. At ten o'clock we made the attack. The company I am in was on the left and the company Ernest was in was on the right of us. Our attack was successful but our losses were heavy. We reached our objective and established a new front line. We also captured a large number of prisoners. Here we dug our trenches and held the line seven days, and then were relieved by another division.

“On the morning of the seventh day I wasn't feeling very well, so I went to the company commander and asked his permission to go back to the First Aid. He gave me permission and when I returned, the boy who was staying in the same dug-out with me asked me the name of the boy I always used to talk to when we met. I told him Ernest's name and asked why he wanted to know. He then told me that he and some other boys had buried him a few minutes before I returned.

“I asked him If Ernest had any valuables on him. He said he didn't know, but one of the boys took a little Bible out of his pocket. So next day when we went back out of shell fire I looked up the boy who had the Bible and made him give it to me. I now have the little Bible with Ernest's name and address in it. At one time I was going to send it home, and then I thought it would be better to bring it when I come. Last night I went over to B company's orderly room and asked the company clerk if he knew anything about Ernest. He looked it up for me and Ernest was marked missing. They didn't know where he was or what happened to him. I told him what I knew and he said my evidence would not hold good. He said some other man could have carried the Bible. So I think the best thing for his folks to do is write to the War Department about the case.”


Pvt. Arthur Ardelt.

Co. C„ 38th I n t . A. P. O. 740,,

Amer. Ex. Forces, France

It is not known when the Magoon family received an official notification of Ernest Magoon’s death, but by November of 1919, it was reported in the local paper that Magoon was honored at the Normal School (UWW) as among the casualties of the war.

Dr. Howard Miller’s WWI Story

Dr. Howard Miller was one of three generations of Whitewater doctors. He attended the Wisconsin College of Physicians and Surgeons (modern Medical College of Wisconsin) and practiced medicine with his father who had attended the prestigious Rush Medical College in Chicago. Both men were trained as surgeons. At the age of 43, in August, 1917, Howard Miller

was granted a commission to serve in the U.S. Medical Corps and went to Fort Riley, Kansas for training.

WWI physicians were trained to work in groups, an innovation in medical practice that led to the formation of medical clinics and specialty groups in the U.S. after the war. Dr. Miller was assigned to a medical battalion or “sanitary train” that consisted of an ambulance corps, field hospital, and supply unit. He left for France in December of 1917.

Dr. Miller served in the Medical Corps until June of 1919, when he was discharged with the rank of Major and came back to Whitewater. He practiced for many years in the community.

*If using this article, please cite, Carol Lohry Cartwright, “Whitewater and World War I,” 2017, Whitewater Historical Society website, Whitewater, WI.

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