“We have a view of the German trenches,” wrote Otto Utzinger, a doctor from Astoria, in his diary Sept. 9, 1918, two weeks after arriving on the front lines of World War I in France.
“Enormous shell holes where the Boche (Germans) dropped bombs yesterday. A Boche shot down and dropped two of our balloons.”
Utzinger, a graduate of Astoria High School trained at Stanford University and Johns Hopkins Medical School, was a brain surgeon in mobile hospitals along some of the active parts of the Western Front near Verdun, France.
He was one of an estimated 300-plus soldiers Clatsop County sent to serve in the Great War. The county lost at least 34 killed in the conflict, which ended 100 years ago Sunday — the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.
Locals filled a wide variety of roles, from doctors and farmers to pilots and doughboys in the trenches.
Utzinger was a lieutenant colonel in the Army Medical Corps from 1918 to 1920 and was awarded the Victory Medal with four battle clasps.
James Goodwin was an able seaman trained at Clatsop Station near Astoria. He served aboard the SS Mongolia when it was the first American vessel to test a German blockade around the United Kingdom in April 1917.
The Mongolia used one of its 6-inch deck guns to drive off and possibly sink a German U-boat in the English Channel.
“This was the first American shot fired on the high seas after the declaration of war,” read a historical article held by Clatsop Post 12 American Legion in Astoria. “Able Seaman Goodwin and gun crew did this with one shot.”
Stergios Emanuel Phillipakis, a former co-owner of the Andrew & Steve’s Cafe in Astoria, was born on the Greek island of Crete and immigrated to New York City in 1912. By the end of 1913 he had moved to Astoria, where he worked at the Clatsop Mill and in local restaurants.
Phillipakis enlisted in the 9th Company of the Oregon National Guard, and a few months after the U.S. entered World War I was transferred into the Army’s 65th Coast Artillery Corps at Fort Stevens and later Camp Dix in New Jersey before leaving on the British steamer Mauretania for Liverpool, England.
Within three weeks, he left for France to join the 92nd Division in the Lorraine Sector.
“On the morning of Nov. 11, 1918, we were about 8 miles from Metz,” France, he wrote. “We were shelling that city when we received orders to stop — that the Armistice had come and the war was over.”
Ardi Chapman was in her basement about three years ago when she came across a box of memorabilia from her father, William Carl Urell, a corporal in the Army’s 157th Aero Squadron repairing airplanes.
“Hurrah!! Hurrah!!,” his diary from Nov. 11, 1918, reads. “The war is over at last. Hurrah!!!!! (Hostilities) ceased at 11 a.m. and we all quit work and went to town. The French people went crazy with joy. Anti-aircraft guns popping. A big time in Chatillon (France) for everybody. Hurrah!!!!!!”
Chapman has been organizing her dad’s materials to add to the American Legion’s collection and for the National Archives and Records Administration.
“I just want him to be known for doing so much for our country, and for me, because I miss him every day,” she said.
Aside from people, Clatsop County provided spruce trees to build airplanes for the Allies.
In 1917, there was a general strike among the Industrial Workers of the World for better working conditions, creating work stoppages that slowed the flow of timber out of the Pacific Northwest just as the U.S. was entering the war. In response, the Army created the Spruce Production Division, based in Portland.
“Thousands of soldiers were sent into the woods to build mostly temporary logging railroads and plank roads, operate the latest in trucks and other vehicles,” wrote David Lindstrom, a member of the Friends of Old Fort Stevens, in the group’s most recent summer newsletter. “They innovated the fastest way to cut logs, then loaded them on railroad cars for daily shipment to the Army depot at Vancouver, Washington, for final milling. Then the lumber was shipped to airplane factories at home and abroad.”
The division grew to 30,000 members laboring in more than 200 camps along the Oregon and Washington state coasts, including about 750 troops locally. They worked alongside civilians, producing an estimated 23 million board feet of spruce a month for the war effort.
“The whole enterprise lasted 15 months,” Lindstrom wrote. “Once the armistice ending the Great War was signed on Nov. 11, 1918 production abruptly stopped. The camps were taken down, railroads were dismantled, equipment including locomotives, rail cars, rails, railroad ties, donkey engines, vehicles, rigging, cables, etc. were taken to the Vancouver, Washington, Army depot and sold off as surplus.”