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

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Never Forgotten: PFC Joseph Lorenz, 150th Machine Gun Battalion, Rainbow Division

PFC Joseph Lorenz (1895–1918)

Joseph Lorenz joined the Wisconsin National Guard in 1916, and was one of the troops sent south for  Mexican Border Service  following the raid by Pancho Villa. In 1917, the Wisconsin Guard was called to Federal Service and his unit was folded into the 42nd Rainbow Division.  At some point these men were classified as machine gunners and were assigned to the  division's 150th Machine Gun Battalion. The full division was shipped to France in October 1917. It was one of the earliest American divisions to deploy to the Western Front and would eventually see heavy fighting in all of the AEF's major battles.

Great-Niece Kathy Compagno at the
Croix Rouge Farm Rainbow Division Memorial

During the Second Battle of the Marne, when the men of the 42nd Rainbow Division crossed the Ourcq River at the end of July 1918,  they found them looking up at an impressive and well-defended hillside. Hill 184—just east of the town of Fere-en-Tardenois—would be a tough fight for the Doughboys, but within two days they would not only knock the Germans off the hill, they would force them into a major retreat to the north.

Hill 184 Shown on the Right

The price was dear, however, for the capture of the position. That's why nearby the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery (near Meurcy Farm on the map) is the final resting place for over 6,000 of our countrymen. One of the boys that fell in the fighting, Private First Class Joseph Lorenz, was wounded during a gas attack on 1 or 2 August. He was evacuated to a base hospital and endured an amputation but died on 21 November 1918. His family later decided that he should be buried in France alongside his fellow soldiers, and he now rests in Plot A, Row 13, Grave 8 at Suresnes American Cemetery, just outside Paris.

Joseph's Mother Rosa Heidler Lorenz at Her Son's Grave

His family and his nation have never forgotten Joseph. The America of General Pershing's era and the American Battle Monuments Commission provided him with a beautiful burial site In the 1930s, his mother was allowed to visit his grave and battlefields through the Gold Star Mothers' Program. In our century, his family—especially my friend, his great-niece Kathy Compagno—has continued visiting France to honor him. Her grandfather, Lt. William A Bertsch of the 3rd Division, was also wounded during the Second Battle of the Marne.

Click on Image to Enlarge

Certificate Signed by General Pershing

In 2015, Kathy contacted me with her interest in visiting Joseph and William's battlefields.  She had visited Suresnes and some other battlefields previously, but had not made it to where her two relatives had been wounded. I told her that I could modify the  itinerary for my upcoming Western Front tour to include extended visits to both sites. It turned out to be a very moving experience for all of us, as Kathy shared details about the lives of Joseph and her grandfather. Some of the tour members in their post-travel critiques mentioned  these stops were highlights of the tour. 

Kathy on the Hill 184 Battlefield

And most recently, Kathy and her family arranged with the Doughboy Foundation to have Joseph honored when "Taps" was played on 18 November 2023 at the National World War One Memorial in Washington, DC. Below is a video of that day's remembrance.

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