Sharpshooters and Snipers in WWI: The Story of a US Marine


The nature of the prolonged war that was WWI and the stalemate and boredom of life in the trenches left a lot of soldiers with time on their hands. Additionally, some soldiers were raised hunting deer, boar and other game in the forests of Europe and North America in the early 1900s. A rifle in the hands of these men could become a weapon that could do immense damage from one concealed trench to another. Today’s post will highlight a United States Marine who was shot through both eyes by a German sniper in October of 1918. But first, please check out this video on snipers during WWI by The Great War, a youtube channel with daily videos about events during WWI.

 

PFC. Andrew H. Knebel, 18th Company/5th Marine Regiment

PFC Andrew H. Knebel, 18th Co./5th Marines – Lost both eyes during WWI

The story behind the above photograph of PFC Andrew H. Knebel of the United States Marine Corps is one that pulls at the heartstrings of the American populace during the war. I was lucky enough to acquire the photo from a fellow collector/friend of mine who I had helped aid in the identification several years previous. A faintly scribbled name on the reverse of the image took several weeks to properly identify, but we were eventually able to track down the story of the blinded Marine in the photo. Taken in a Paris studio in 1918, PFC Knebel is posed with a French nurse who has taken the time to wheel him (note the wet wheelchair marks) into the studio from a nearby hospital.

Details of Knebel’s wartime epic were tracked down in a Detroit Free Press article from 1919:

ANDREW KNEBEL (1897-1968), of the United States Marine Corps, had been fighting the Germans for ten months before a sniper’s bullet, on October 4, 1918, entered bis left eye, passed through the right. The last, thing he saw on earth was light. The last sight he saw on earth was a clump of wet trees glistening in the morning sunshine in the Champagne sector. But it took a better marksman than the German sniper in one or those trees to pond a shaft through Andrew’s heart. Dan Cupid did that job, which has counteracted the calamity to such an extent that the twenty-two-year-old marine is ready to tell anyone that the law of compensation Is the surest thing in the world. Andrew Knebel, on July 11, married bis nurse. Miss Anna D. Kelley who took care of him at the Baltimore Institute for the Blind. “If I hadn’t been blinded I wouldn’t have met Anna” he philosophized. “And I wouldn’t give her up for the sight, of my eyes not on your life. She’s the dearest, gentlest girl in the world. I guess one reason why I always liked her was because the treated me as if I wasn’t blind at all. She never pitied me. She’s a wonderful gal.

“Are you there, mother, old dear?”

He called, peering with empty eye sockets towards the kitchen, from which came a delectable aroma of baking apple pie. “May I have a light, mother?” “Destiny is a funny old bird,” the bride remarked, while Andrew’s rosy-cheeked mother was lighting his cigarette. “I didn’t want to go to the Baltimore institute to nurse blind boys. I did everything I could to avoid going. I was nursing at the Army Hospital at Camp Wadsworth when the chief superintendent asked for volunteers to go to Baltimore. I shied away from that chief superintendent for a week. But it was no use. She sent four or us.

knebel

“The Institute for the Blind at Baltimore is a beautiful place on a 100-acre estate which was. loaned to the government by Mrs. T. Harrison Garrett. When I’d see those boys feeling their way along the paths in that wonderful Elizabethan garden it took all the grit I had to keep from crying all the time and me an army nurse! Everything there is so beautiful that it hurt me to think they couldn’t see their own place.”

Institute for the Blind in Baltimore

“Then I got acquainted with Andy. I had often heard him singing, but hadn’t paid much attention to him. We nurses were pretty busy and we hadn’t much time for anything but work. He has a splendid voice sang second tenor with the battalion quartet, and he just couldn’t quit singing. They call him ‘the songbird of the Marines.”

“We were supposed to be cheerful to the patients, but Andy turned the tables and jollied the nurses. I’m afraid he jollied me a good deal. I got into tho habit of forgetting his handicap. Somehow I never can think of him as being blind. He finds his own collar buttons and adjusts his own neckties, and it’s almost uncanny the way he knows whether his clothes are pressed and bis shoes shiny. When he puts on his dark glasses and goes walking with me I don’t think a stranger would know he is blind. And you just ought to see him dance!”

“I’m being introduced to all sorts of new interests. For example, I never used to read the sporting page In the newspaper. Now, of course, it’s the first page I open, because Andrew is always in a hurry to learn the baseball and boxing news. I’m getting to be quite a fan myself.”

We were sitting in the dining room of the Knebel homestead at Irvington, N. J., where the young couple spent their honeymoon with tho bridegroom’s parents. Whatever life has in store for this youth who lost his eyes in the country’s service, anyone could see that there was a good deal of compensation in his convalescence, while two were engaged in a sympathetic rivalry which could do the most for him.

“Anna understands him so much better than I do,” his mother admitted. “I am so glad to have my boy back that to be doing things for him all the time. I keep reminding him that he’s blind, but his wife seems never to think of that. It’s wonderful to think that she’s going to care for him his whole life.”

Post-Identification

After identifying the photo and posting it to PortraitsofWar, I decided to do a little more digging and was eventually able to link up, via eMail, a few of the family members. I offered the photo to them, but apparently they had an exact copy (in much better condition). Out of gratitude, they sent me a few scans of other photos of Andrew as well as some honey from the apiary at the Monticello!

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Andrew Knebel in the 1930s

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Andrew in the 1950s enjoying a cigarette

 

 

 

Vermont WWI Veteran Post: Rutland County Veterans Return Home – Rare 1919 Celebration Footage


After years of stagnated war, Vermonters were ready to celebrate the return of Rutland County’s men and women in uniform. The Vermont State Fair has been held in the same location every September/October since 1846; nearly 73 years before the film was shot, and exactly 171 years before the date of this blog post.

I purchased this original reel of 1919 footage on the internet from a local Vermont dealer.  The footage was saved midcentury by a famous film preservation specialist, film historian and local Northeast historian named Karl Malkames, who apparently found the footage in disrepair and did his best to conserve the remaining material.

Although the footage was expensive, I was able to find a company to digitize the fragile footage and provide digital files of the film.  The content is spectacular, and MAY represent the first confirmed footage of a plane flying in Vermont………..

The men and women in the film can be clearly seen wearing the WWI Rutland County Service Medal; a commonly sold item on the internet, it’s uncertain how the actual medal was distributed following the war.

WWI medal for wartime service from Rutland County, Vermont

WWI medal for wartime service from Rutland County, Vermont

WWI medal for wartime service from Rutland County, Vermont

WWI medal for wartime service from Rutland County, Vermont

And for those of you who don’t know Rutland…. here’s an aerial view of the Agricultural Fairgrounds where this footage was taken in October of 1919.

Rutland County Fairgrounds

WWI 2nd Army Engineer – Immaculate Portrait Photo


2nd Army Engineer

The crisp details of this photo make it the best 2nd Army portrait in my collection.  Although we can’t know which Engineering unit he served with (there were many in the 2nd Army), we can deduce a few things from the elements present in the photo.  The crisp focus on his collar discs allow us to see that he was in Company E of an engineering unit of the 2nd Army.  Note that the disc on his cap lacks the E designation.  His 2nd Army SSI patch is well stitched and placed perfectly below the shoulder line.  His WWI victory ribbon has one campaign star.  A super example of a 2nd Army photo!

2nd Army Patch

WWI 107th Infantry Regiment, 27th Division NY KIA Portrait Photo – Harold E. Manners – Meuse-Argonne Offensive


I picked up this little gem in a Palmer Massachusetts antique store a few months back and never took the time to look at the photo closely until this past week.  The frame was intricately created; something not often seen in run of the mill WWI photos.  The gold stars on the corners and bottom of the image should have been a dead giveaway.  Once I  decided to look at the photo a little closer, I took the frame apart from the back and began to uncover the identity of the soldier depicted in the image.  I knew he was a member of the 7th Infantry Regiment; this was evidenced in the collar disc.  The 7th New York eventually became the 107th Infantry Regiment of the 27th Division.  Harold was in Company H.

The reverse of the photo was beautifully inscribed with everything I needed to know to track this fellow down.

Harold Edward Manners

Killed in France in the

Great War, Sept. 29th 1918

aged 23 years

After extensive research I’ve learned that Harold was killed during the operations before the Hindeburg Line east of Ronssoy, September 29th, 2918.  His citation for the day reads:

“This soldier, with great gallantry and determination, advanced against unusually difficult enemy positions composed of strongly fortified machine gun nests until killed.”

I found an auction result online that showed his medals which were sold in 2008 at an auction in NY. A beautifully inscribed NY veterans medal for a KIA was included.  I wish I had that grouping!

Harold E. Manners – KIA Meuse-Argonne 1918

WWI 79th Division Veteran w/ Purple Heart and Uniform in the 1940s


A wonderful set of negatives from a family in Pennsylvania shows the lighthearted side of aging WWI veterans.  An elderly member of the 316th Infantry Regiment of the 79th Division pals around with friends and family while showing off his war medals.  A Purple Heart medal was awarded to our subject for wounds received in battle, and was likely delivered to him in the early 1930s when the current medal was officially created.  Enjoy the images!

Legs Wraps and All!

WWI Doughboy Medics Pose in France w/ Mascot Terrier


One of my favorite WWI photo tropes is the mascot dog pose.  This photo caught my eye due to the presence of the medics with visible red cross armbands but was further enhanced by a little Jack Russell Terrier mascot.  Taken in France in early 1918, this image is a wonderful representation of the lighthearted antics that kept front line medics sane during the horrors of WWI trench warfare.