IN?MEMORY … Remembering area war veterans
Clifford C. Schell was born at home in Ripley on Feb. 21, 1897. He was the son of Charles Schell, by trade a bricklayer, who had a hand in building Westfield’s and Ripley’s train stations. Other major buildings in those towns, including schools, libraries, and town businesses, also had courses of bricks that were laid by Schell’s father. Schell’s mother, Emma, worked full-time in Ripley school’s cafeteria in addition to being a homemaker and raising Schell and his siblings, Willart (Bill), Emmit, Harry (Hap), Gus, and Alfreda (called Fritz).
World War I broke out in the summer of 1914, and Schell wanted to do his part. He joined the Marines, and headed by train to Parris Island in South Carolina.
There he went through 13 weeks of extensive Marine Corps boot camp training, after which he headed north to the Marine Corps’ infantry training school at Camp Lejeune. Schell trained in all Marine Corps small weapons, including the M-1 rifle, the .45 cal. pistol, the M-60 and M-50 machine guns, and was even exposed to gas to test his combat skills in case he found himself under enemy attack with gas.
Schell entered the service at a time of transition for the United States military. In this era, the U.S. was busy changing over its Army from a cavalry of men on foot and horseback to mobile tanks and combat airplanes. World War I saw a new type of fighting; soldiers no longer faced each other on open fields, but fought from trenches.
This new combat meant digging miles of trenches, sometimes only advancing feet per months, and suffering long days and nights there with fellow soldiers, or in quickly dug “fox holes,” listening to the battles rage overhead.
Combat styles weren’t the only things changing across World War I’s landscape. Technological advances on both sides meant deadly battles, involving not only the gas attacks that Schell trained for, but rapid-fire machine guns, larger artillery, and barbed wire. Farmers-turned-soldiers, some who had never been more than five miles from their rural homes, stood on the battlefields of Europe and witnessed twin-winged Army fighters and the Germans’ war blimps flying overhead.
This was the world that Schell entered when, after a short leave sent him back home, he received orders to travel to New York City via train to catch a military transport to Europe. He met up with other “doughboy” to go “over there,” as they put it; and he wouldn’t come back “until it was over, over there!”
“Doughboy” was the nickname of American soldiers in World War I, and the term dates back to the Mexican-American War, when returning infantrymen were covered in the chalky dust from marching through the dry, arid terrain of northern Mexico. The term stuck until World War II, when it was replaced by “G.I,” for “Government Issue” (later “General Infantry” but originally “Galvanized Iron,” named for the supplies and inventory records of the U.S. Army).
Arriving to his unit of the Marines 6th Regiment, Schell and his fellow Marines saw combat daily. Firefight was always expected. Schell’s luck held out longer than most, as he had the job of machine gunner.
In this position, Schell was part of a three-man team assigned to a 50-caliber machine gun. The first man fired the weapon, the second was responsible for loading the rounds securely in the weapon, and the third was responsible for having the ammunition ready. These men also carried the machine gun and its rounds while on patrols or operations. A fourth Marine would be selected to carry additional barrels when, if in heavy combat, the initial barrels were damaged by excessive heat.
In combat, there are certain jobs that earn those who hold them targets on their backs. Those are the men the enemy wants to take out, including forward observers, radiomen, snipers, officers, and machine gunners. A dead forward observer means the enemy won’t have to deal with hundreds of rounds of artillery coming at them. A dead radioman cuts off all communication. A dead machine gunner will silence the deadly bullets peppering the enemy ranks. Schell knew that, as the machine gunner, the enemy rounds coming their way would mostly be aimed at him.
In the Battle of Belleau Wood, one round did find its way to Schell. It took him out of action, and after extensive care in a hospital, he was sent back from France on Sept. 17, 1919. For his service, Schell was awarded the Purple Heart, the World WarI Machine Gun Oiler, the World War I Victory Medal with a France bar, a Combat Action Medal, and a Good Conduct Medal.
Schell returned a local hero. He went back to school in Jamestown at the Niagara Hudson School, and later landed a job with the Niagara Hudson Power Co. Eventually, he transferred to the Fredonia Niagara Mohawk power plant. He later married Verda Boyle from Jamestown, and the couple had a daughter, Patricia.
Schell died at work on Nov. 24, 1949, at 52 years old. He was and is remembered as a hero of The Great War, “The Big One,” World War I, having participated in some of the most fierce battles fought by the United States Marine Corps, including the Battle of Belleau Wood, the Battle of Chateau-Thierry, the Battle of Meuse-Argonne, the Battle of Aisne and the Battle of St. Mihiel.
There are several things people may not know about the war that affected so many aspects of Schell’s life. In 1918, the Allied and Central powers were in negotiation for peace. They realized that neither side seemed to be the clear winner, or clear loser. In November of that year, both sides faced the grim prospect of another long winter of trench warfare. They decided that maybe an armistice should be called.
This was not a “surrender” by either side; it just meant that both sides would agree to stop fighting.
On the morning of Nov. 18, 1919, at exactly 0600 hours military time, the armistice would be announced. At 0601 hours, the announcement had been made over the Paris radio. At 1100 hours, the guns would all stop and the war would be over. The hours from 0600 to 1100 were allotted so that troops everywhere could get word of the agreement.
This may sound simple – that at 6 a.m., an announcement is made to cease fire at 11 a.m. It seems easy, like relief would spread through the European countryside like so much cleansing water, like the war-weary soldiers would drop their guns like burning pokers and think again of the future.
For some it was not so.
Between 6 and 11 a.m. on that day, 2,768 total soldiers, counting men from both sides, were killed. U.S. Army Gen. William Wright of the Army’s 89th Division leveled a town; later reports said he did this so that his men could take baths and showers. Many units under Gen. John J. Pershing still fought until the last minute, losing over 200 Americans in that time. Pershing kept his men fighting until 10:59, knowing that the end would come at 11:00. When he was later asked why he did this, why he led over 200 Americans to their deaths when they could have just waited for the cease-fire, he answered that they came to Europe to fight, and needed to do as much harm as possible to Germany, for some day they would come to fight us again. Who knows whether anyone believed him at that time.
Some troops fought on, knowing that the armistice would come at 1100 hours, but fearing that it would not work. If they laid down their weapons, and the enemy did not, where did that leave them?
Sgt. Henry Gunther was listed as killed in action on Nov. 18 at 1059 hours, in the final minute of World War I. In the last 30 minutes of the war, a total of 128 men were killed.
Anyone who killed on Nov. 18, 1918 had their death certificates and tombstones dated one day back to Nov. 17, 1918. The reason for this was because when it came to the burial benefits and monetary death payments for these troops’ families, all could be lost if it was found that a veteran was killed after 1100 hours of the 18, when the war was officially over.
With the grave markers and paperwork listed as date of deaths being Nov. 17, no gray areas were left for argument and red tape.
This week, we remember Sgt. Clifford Schell of the United States Marine Corps, World War I veteran. He is our hero of the week.