Reviewed by Retired Col. Michael D. Doubler
for NATIONAL GUARD MAGAZINE
"I am writing in the field with guns blazing all around me. We are about to take part in the biggest thing of the war ... The all American cry is: `Over the top!' ... We are going in to sacrifice it all if necessary."
So wrote Lt. Kenneth Gow of the New York National Guard's 107th Infantry on the eve of one of the most grueling American assaults in World War I. Gow's letter is just one of many accounts from a remarkable new book about National Guardsmen in battle.
Duty, Honor, Privilege follows the 107th Infantry throughout World War I. (Before the war, the 107th existed as the renowned Seventh New York Regiment.) In the months following America's entry into the war, the 107th conducted post-mobilization training. Its first tactical assignment was to protect water reservoirs in upstate New York from sabotage-a stark reminder that the Guard has always participated in homeland security.
The regiment then deployed to the 27th Division's training camp in South Carolina. In May 1918, it sailed to Europe, was assigned to the British sector north of Paris, and continued to train in the methods of trench warfare. In September 1918, the 107th Infantry was in the vanguard of a major offensive to pierce the Hindenburg Line, a vaunted enemy defensive position. The 107th achieved its objectives, but suffered ghastly losses. In just under 60 days of combat, nearly one-quarter of the outfit perished.
Stephen L. Harris has done an outstanding job of weaving together the story of the 107th Infantry from the individual soldier's perspective. The book relies almost exclusively on letters, diaries and personal accounts to paint a vivid picture of the dedication and sacrifice of Guardsmen soldiers at war. This excellent book should remind all of us that the Guard is an integral part of America's first line of defense and that properly trained Guardsmen can be formidable in battle.