The 109th was formed from the 1st Penn. Infantry and the 13th Penn. Infantry. Co. M was commanded by Capt. George Wagner. The Regiment left NYC on May 2nd for England. At the battle of Marne Co's M and L were left holding the center of the line after French Troops retired in panic. After heavy fighting only 150 officers and men remained out of 500.
Among the 17 National Guard divisions assigned to the American Expeditionary Force during World War I was the 28th Division, Pennsylvania National Guard. The 28th received its baptism of fire on July 15, 1918, during the German Army's Champagne-Marne Offensive. Four companies from the 28th were attached to a French division on the front line, while the rest of the division took up second-line defense positions. Two of the companies, L and M, were from the 109th Infantry Regiment made of the old 1st and 13th Pennsylvania Regiments. In the early hours of July 15, the German 36th Division crossed the Marne River and attacked the Allied front. When the adjacent French units fell back, L and M Companies were surrounded. Wave after wave of Germans attacked the Pennsylvanians. Despite the overwhelming odds, the two companies stubbornly held their position and inflicted heavy casualties.
At 0800 the remnants of L and M Companies withdrew and fought their way back to the front line of the 109th, five kilometers away. Of the 500 assigned officers and men only 150 remained. The brunt of the German offensive now fell on the 109 Infantry and the other units of the 28th Division. For three days, the 109th held its positions while under heavy attack. Fighting in ravines, woods and trenches, the doughboys fought like veterans. A German after-action report described the battle as "the most severe defeat of the war." For its staunch defense the 109th was nicknamed "Men of Iron" and the 28th was later dubbed the "Iron Division." Today's 103d Engineer Battalion (The Dandy First) and the 109 Infantry (Thirteenth Pennsylvania) continue the proud heritage of the "Men of Iron."
The division moved to Camp Hancock, Ga., in April 1917, and was there when the entire division was federalized on 5 August 1917. From May to 11 October 1917, the division was reorganized into the two-brigade, four regiment scheme, and thus became the 28th Division. It thus comprised the 55th Infantry Brigade (109th and 110th Infantry Regiments) and the 56th Infantry Brigade (111th and 112th Infantry Regiments). Other units included the 107th, 108th, 109th and 229th Field Artillery Battalions and the 103rd Engineer Combat Battalion.
The situation for the division at Camp Hancock was dismal. The men arrived there in summer uniforms, which were not replaced by winter ones until the winter was well along. Adequate blankets were not available until January. Training equipment was woeful. There was but one bayonet for each three men; machine guns made of wood; and there was but one 37-mm gun for the whole division.
On April 20, 1918 the 28th Division broke camp at Camp Hancock, Georgia and prepared to move to Camp Upton, On Long Island, New York, the first leg of the journey that ended with the division entering combat in France. 28th Division Troops had begun arriving at Camp Hancock to begin training in the summer of 1917, and were federalized in August.
Their training complete, by the end of April, 1918 the Division was concentrated at Camp Upton awaiting transport to France.
By May 1918 the division had arrived in Europe, and began training with the British. On 14 July, ahead of an expected German offensive, the division was moving forward, with most of it committed to the second line of defence south of the Marne River and east of Chateau-Thierry. As the division took up defensive positions, the Germans commenced their attack, which became the Battle of Chateau-Thierry, with a fierce artillery bombardment. When the German assault collided with the main force of the 28th, the fighting became bitter hand-to-hand combat. The 28th repelled the German forces and decisively defeated their enemy. However, four isolated companies of the 109th and 110th Infantry stationed on the first defensive line suffered heavy losses. After the battle, General John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, visited the battlefield and declared that the 28th soldiers were "Men of Iron" and named the 28th ID as his "Iron Division." The 28th developed a red keystone-shaped shoulder patch, officially adopted on 27 October 1918.
During World War I it was involved in the Meuse-Argonne, Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, Oise-Aisne, and Ypres-Lys (FA) operations. During the war it took a total of 14,139 casualties (2,165 killed and 11,974 wounded).
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