In a previous post, I wrote about my family members that served in the United States military during World War I. Those were the only three I had known of that had served, but I recently discovered that my Great Granduncle Leo Zillmer also served with American Expeditionary Forces over in Europe. Since then I’ve uncovered some great family history!
Leo was born in Little Falls, Monroe County, Wisconsin in 1896. Like many young men his age, Leo was required to sign up for the draft when America entered the war. I found his draft registration by doing a search on Ancestry.com, and the document indicates that he completed his registration for the draft on June 5, 1917. This was the first registration required for men ages 21 to 31 by the Selective Service Act.
Per his WWI service record that I obtained from the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, Leo was inducted into the military on July 24, 1918. He was assigned to the 161 Depot Brigade (training regiment) and shipped to Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois. Camp Grant was where inductees were received and began their drilling before they were shipped out. After completing his training, Leo was assigned to Company D, 342 Infantry, 86th “Black Hawks” Division that was organized at Camp Grant in 1917.
On September 9, 1918, Leo and his fellow soldiers disembarked from the United States aboard the SS Minnekahda en route to the heart of the fighting in France. The troop ships made a brief stop in England for refueling and supplies before finally landing in France. Upon arrival, the 86th and a few other division were broken apart in early October 1918 to reinforce the fighting forces at the front for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive–what would be the final push to end the war. Leo was transferred to Company F, 56th Infantry, 7th Division.
The 7th Division was stationed near St. Mihiel on the eastern portion of the allied line known at the Puvenelle Sector. This was mainly a defensive sector to hold the ground gained during the St. Mihiel Offensive in September 1918. There were still enemy outposts in the area and some fighting had occurred. Leo was wounded on November 1, 1918, when a piece of shrapnel from German artillery exploded and injured his left leg–just ten days before the armistice. He spent the rest of the war being treated for his wounds and was finally shipped back to the United States in March 1919.
The scene in this film where soldiers are being treated for wounds in the field is of men from the 56th infantry. Who knows, maybe one of the wounded in that clip was my Great Grand Uncle Leo?!
I am very fortunate in that Leo’s son, Spencer Zillmer, is still alive–96-years young! I met him and his wife, Betty, last summer on a trip out to Little Falls, Wisconsin, to see where my Great Grandma Ella (Zillmer) Frederick grew up. I called Spencer the other night to ask what he knew about his father’s service. He did not know much about his dad’s time overseas. He explained that his dad never really talked about it. He did say that Leo got around $25/mo for the rest of his life for his service. I asked about any documents or other information his dad may have passed down from his time spent in the service, but Spencer knew of nothing else.
Leo’s service record shows no indication that he received any special awards or medals for his service. But he was wounded in the line of duty and chances are that he would have at least received the Lady Columbia Wound Certificate. These certificates could be turned in for a Purple Heart when that medal was introduced in the 1930s. From the search I did, Leo must have never turned his in for the Purple Heart. It would be great for someone in the family to have a Posthumous Purple Heart awarded to honor his memory ans service to his country.
Did you have a family member that fought during World War I? What branch of the service was he/she in? Do you have pictures or mementos from their time in the service? Share your family history in the comments below.