Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A Golden Cross to Bear: A Story of the 33rd Division in World War 1

By Kane Farabaugh & Jon Kassell
Kanestar Productions, 2018
Michael Hanlon, Reviewer

For those of you–like me–who felt shortchanged on the military part of America's experience in the First World War after watching last year's PBS Great War extravaganza, a team based in the Chicago area has produced a nearly perfect curative. A Golden Cross to Bear: A Story of the 33rd Division in World War I is not only endorsed by the National Centennial Commission and California's Centennial Committee but also won several awards including a TV Emmy after its showing on WTVP-TV, the PBS station serving Central Illinois.

Roger Amm Begins Learning About the 33rd Division and the AEF

The five-part documentary's driving narrative is the effort by local man named Roger Amm to uncover the story of how his grandfather Gustave managed to get himself gassed during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Gustave was a replacement rifleman in the 131st Infantry of the 33rd Division of the AEF, which was mostly composed of National Guardsmen from Illinois. He missed the division's earlier service with the British in the Somme sector but arrived just in time to participate in, arguably, the largest and costliest battle America ever fought. And he turned out to be part of that cost.

In the opening sequences, we meet grandson Roger, who needs to tap into our community of World War I researchers, historians, genealogists, and collectors, to gain knowledge about the experiences of individual Doughboys, like his grandfather, their units, and how the great battle was fought. I particularly enjoyed a lighthearted sequence in which a collector of WWI vehicles lets Roger drive some of them around his farm. Also, since Gustave was gassed, there is a strong focus on gas warfare. The 33rd Division, because of its vulnerability fighting uphill on the Meuse Heights in the last stages of its fighting, was one of the most gassed formations of the AEF.

Roger at Butte de Vauquois

A Golden Cross to Bear really takes off when Roger moves to France to walk in the steps of Gustave. Battlefield guides first take him to some of the best-preserved trenches and mining sites so he can get the feel of the front. Next, the superintendent of the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery briefs him on the battle and shows him where many of the men of the 131st Infantry are buried and how they are still honored and cared for. In the next episode, as happened with the division 100 years earlier, everyone crosses over to the east side of the Meuse River, where the 33rd Division fought its final action in October 1918. There on the heights overlooking the river, guide Randy Gaulke, current president of the World War One Historical Association, does a wonderful job of bringing Roger to the site where Gustave was wounded. To commemorate the visit, there's a ceremonial planting of red poppy seeds that wraps up Roger's quest perfectly.

Just a few more things to mention. The whole series is beautifully photographed. As a stand-in for everyone who had a relative who served in the war and wants to learn about and honor their service, Roger Amm is a perfect representative—curious, respectful, and very well spoken.

How To Order
The Complete Set of DVDs Including Extra Features
Can Be Ordered HERE for $20.00

A Special Thanks to Courtland Jindra of the California Centennial Committee for championing A Golden Cross to Bear.


  1. I also enjoyed the episode where he visited Germany. Great series.

  2. If there is a link to order, I missed it.

  3. "HERE" on the very bottom line is a link to the ordering site.