Monday, July 28, 2014

Over There

Trying to reconstruct the World War I tour of duty of Denver resident Harry Sullivan has not been an easy task. For one thing, there was no draft registration card—Harry, apparently, did not wait to be told to get involved; he volunteered. In fact, he did so before the United States was even officially embroiled in the European conflict. Mention of his “vacation in the mountains” pinpointed June 26, 1916, as the date Harry left Denver to report to the Golden rifle range, a facility operated by the Colorado National Guard—nearly ten months before the U.S. declaration of war in April, 1917.

While the Denver papers mentioned Harry’s ties to the “157th Division”—or the “157th Infantry,” as it was called in other newspaper reports—just as we encountered in researching Harry’s own name, it seems there were doubles, even, for the name of Harry’s military unit. Trying to trace the lines—yes, that was even called “lineage” in one instance—of Harry’s division felt remotely like trying to follow the lines of track entering a Chicago rail yard.

To get an idea of what, exactly, the 157th Division constituted, I traced the line through several Wikipedia articles. It appears one must take care in sorting out which 157th is being referred to. The “157th Field Artillery Regiment” seems to be the unit that included our Kelly family descendant, Harry. It was both an infantry and a field artillery regiment of the Army National Guard. It served as part of the 40th Infantry Division during World War I.

Reading that the 40th Infantry Division was organized at Camp Kearny was an encouraging sign to someone like me, unaccustomed to how the military seems to appreciate mash-ups of what seemed to be specifically numbered units. I recalled the newspaper article noting that Harry had been at Camp Kearny.

It was helpful, also, to read the “lineage” of this specific unit. With a history starting in 1879 with designation as the 1st Infantry Battalion of the Colorado National Guard, once war was imminent in 1917, the entire regiment was drafted into Federal service, then re-designated as the 157th Infantry, part of the 40th Division.

Somehow, between Camp Kearny and wherever in France the 157th was sent, they became part of the National Army, a blend of the regular United States Army, the various units comprising the United States National Guard, and those assigned to duty from the eventual draft.

According to one narrative, the 157th Infantry arrived in France in August, 1918, as part of the 40th Division. However, the division as a whole did not serve together, but troops from the 40th were assigned out to other, more experienced combat divisions as needed. Thus, Harry could have served anywhere the 40th supplied replacement soldiers.

Though the armistice went into effect on November 11, 1918, the 157th Division did not return stateside until the following spring. A number of different dates are offered in various online sites—certainly not providing clarity to our questions of where and when, exactly, our Harry Sullivan served. However, with the Denver Post article pinpointing Harry’s arrival home as April 26, 1919, it certainly provided a window on at least this one soldier’s timeline.

A photograph in a wonderful collection at the Denver Public Library provides corroboration for that date. Showing a parade of the returning “157th Regiment” marching in formation down Sixteenth Street in downtown Denver, the photograph is dated that very same day, April 26, 1919. (While I’m unable, at this point, to obtain permission to share this photo, you may view it by clicking here to be redirected to the source.)

While Harry’s arrival home must have been a relief to his mother and siblings, Harry apparently intended to heed the words he remembered General Pershing say in his address to the troops still in France:
Now you are going home and your services as soldiers will soon cease, but you will still be in the service of our country, for you will take up the fight of good citizens, and I know you will not fail.

Within days, he was off to his next project. Though the war was over, Harry’s own personal battle to overcome difficulties on behalf of many others was about to begin.

Above: Cover to the sheet music for the 1917 George M. Cohan war song, "Over There." Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.  


  1. I find figuring out a soldier's record to be the most difficult of all genealogical tasks, regardless of when or where they served.

    1. Oh, thanks for mentioning that, Wendy. Then it's not just me :)

  2. I am with Wendy. You may remember my Great-uncle Marshall's sailor cap and the ensuing mystery. I've had equal frustration with all the other of my great uncles that served. The military unit numbering system is nearly useless....

    1. I remember that story about your great-uncle's cap well, Iggy!

      I think it is more helpful to go into the search, already armed with our own information--such as when I researched Frank's service in the Navy in WWII, already knowing exactly where he served, thanks to his letters home. In Harry's case, I have no clues other than what I've found in the newspapers.

      And here I thought it was all just owing to my own ignorance of all things military...

  3. Now that is a great old photo in the streets of Denver:)

    1. Yes, isn't it?! I just love finding these treasures in archives! What I loved about this one was that you can zoom in on the photo and bring out more of the detail of the men in formation and the crowds lining the street.


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