In the process of securing French hillside 128, over 500 American soldiers lost their lives. George Loukides was 18 years old and one of the few men to walk away unscathed from the carnage that bloodied that French hillside during the St. Mihiel Offensive. 

Most were not as lucky as Loukides. Two local Keene residents lost their lives that same day — Philip B. Reid and Merritt E. Partridge.  Today, the deep red poppies planted at the base of that same hill stand among the unending rows of crosses for every American who fought and lost their life that day on the frontlines.

Contributed Photo / Samuel Douglass

Contributed Photo / Samuel Douglass

For George Loukides, that French hill led him to Plainfield, New Jersey, where he ran a penny-candy store for decades until he wended his way to Keene during his retirement years to visit regularly  with his daughter, Mary Michaelides. In this year of the WWI centennial, she keeps her father’s memory alive with an assortment of war memorabilia and a diary he kept during his war years.

The diary, which was found days after Loukides’ death, offers insight into Loukides’ war experience. Although Loukides never spoke of the war after returning, Michaelides, who now resides in Keene, remembers vividly how her father had a strong dedication to his duty as a soldier. “Even though he was dying he felt it was his duty as a soldier to attend the parade through the cold rainy day.” Michaelides said about the 1980 Veterans Day parade. This undying sense of duty carried Loukides throughout the French country in numerous battles.

One hundred and eighty miles east of Paris there is a rolling green hill in northern France bordered by the flowing LaMeuse River. At the base of this hillside, soldiers from the American Expeditionary Force fought and lost their lives nearly a century ago at the battle of St. Mihiel. Today at the base of that same hill stands St. Mihiel American Cemetery. A circular chapel stands in the center of the 4,000 white crosses that row the expansive cemetery grounds. Inside the circular chapel stands a tall American eagle, enveloped within a garden of blood-red poppies. At the base of the eagle reads a promise from General John J. Pershing  carved into the granite:  “Time will not dim the glory of their deeds,” American Battle Monuments Commission stated. Pershing, the General of all American armies, commanded 550,000 men on the front lines of France. Months before the great battle of St. Mihiel, Pershing  was responsible for the deployment of the 82nd Division onto the western front, according to American Battle Monuments Commission official history. Among the young men within the 82nd was a young 18-year-old Greek man by the name of George Loukides. The diary of George Loukides provides an enduring look at the glory and evils of the forgotten Great War.

George Loukides left his home village Mytilene, on the Lesvos Island in Greece to satisfy his desire to see the world, Michaelides stated. After paying steerage on a ship to Canada, Loukides was not satisfied with his newfound job working in a mill. Loukides seized the opportunity to become an American citizen by enlisting in the army in exchange for citizenship. Shortly after enlisting, Loukides found himself in the American Expeditionary Force, assigned to the 326th Infantry Battalion of the 82nd Division.

The treasured diary, originally translated from Greek, holds numerous entries during George Loukides’ time on the front lines. On Aug. 3, 1918, he found himself for the first time on the frontline. After two months of training and traveling between French villages, Loukides faced real danger as a soldier. “The enemy discovers our location and trains strong artillery fire on us for one hour I am wounded slightly by shell fragments.” Not thinking much of the injury, Loukides decided to remain with his division as he started the march towards the village of Maineville on Aug. 6. The French army had been trying to dislodge the Germans from Saint Mihiel since early 1914. According to American Battle Monuments’ archives, although surrounded on three sides by Allied troops, the Germans held the high ground and the bridges over the LaMeuse and Moselle  River. The French relied on the American Divisions to turn the tide on the Mihiel Offensive to regain control of the key Verdun-Toul railroad. St. Mihiel marked the first United States solo offensive a, true proving ground for the United States military.

Awakened around five in the morning, the 82nd division was called to the front-line offensive of St. Mihiel. It was the 12th of September and it had not stopped raining for the past five days. Loukides, with the rest of his comrades, marched from the safety of Marbache into one of the greatest battles of World War I.

Loukides wrote, “We all wanted to destroy the enemy. We had grown tired of the wretched life that we had spent for five months in the trenches and had lost our comrades to the shells and airplanes of the enemy. Finally the hour came. It was five in the morning — the signal for the attack was given. All of us surged forward. The German machine guns mow down our ranks but are not able to stop are assault.” All day on Sept. 14, Loukides and his comrades trekked forward through knee-high mud as machine gun fire cut down many of his friends. Throughout the day, the 82nd was bombarded by heavy explosive rounds and mustard gas canisters. All day through to Sept. 15, the division pushed forward, suffering drastically high casualties. The time had come to cross the knee-high water of the La Meuse River to secure the German machine gun fortifications. As Loukides described it, “. . . but what happened fording the river is indescribable. The enemy fired at us from all directions with machine guns and artillery. Shrapnel was whistling over us like rain and bullets were mowing us down. The river was dyed with the blood of my company.”

Loukides lost both his lieutenant and three commanding officers while trying to cross the La Meuse river that day. A short time after the attack began, the troops were ordered to retreat to defensive positions held on the southern banks of the La Meuse river. A friendly artillery barrage commenced dislodging German soldiers from their defensive positions. “The artillery ceases firing and we rush forward with fixed bayonets — a shell exploded with asphyxiating gases in front of me. From then I don’t remember where I was transported because I was almost dead.” Loukides awoke in a hospital bed two days later in the 27th military hospital in the city of Angers. He immediately found comfort in the French nurses who tended to him. “While I slept in my dream I often saw the wretchedness of the trenches . . . I awake in a fine clinic bed. Here life is beautiful because you see the beautiful young ladies of the hospital taking care of you with a sweet smile on their beautiful little lips.”

A week later Loukides was able to start the march back to his division.  The 82nd‘s push ended with the securing of hill 128, defending the hill for several days, according to the division’s history. By this time, Loukides had returned to the division to discover that only 100 out of his 250 comrades remained. “Most of them however remained forever in that godforsaken river.” The 82nd division was relieved from the front lines the following week due to the severe casualties obtained during the offensive, according to the Official History of 82nd Division American Expeditionary Forces.

For Loukides though, war in France proved not all about carnage, but also about amor. The 82nd division reached the City of Cadillac by the first of March. Loukides found for the first time that not all of France was as unpleasant as the wretchedness of the trenches.

Here in Cadillac, Loukides worked as a cook for the officers in his company. One of the French households allowed the army to use their kitchen, where Loukides first laid eyes on Mademoiselle Eugenia Baraud, a young blond woman whose house Loukides prepared the officers’ meals in. For two months, Loukides and Eugenia were inseparable. “Here life was beautiful we had dances every day . . . She was so beautiful that I fell deeply in love with her and she told me with words and actions had fallen in love with me.”

The final diary entry came with Loukides’ departure from Cadillac. “At last the day of separation arrived. One morning my captain told me to get ready for departure. Eugenia was there at that moment. When my captain left, both of us wept because fate was to separate us very soon. I comforted her, saying that I would return after I was discharged. The hour of our separation arrived. The miserable Eugenia adorned me with flowers that we picked together in the garden, made me drunk with her kisses and drenched me with her tears. But the voice of my captain forced us to part forever. ‘Attention,’ shouts the captain and we begin our march. I kissed her for the last time and left. I never saw her again.” but I will never forget her, the beautiful French woman.”

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