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The American Field Service
EQUIPMENT WAS HARD TO COME BY, RED TAPE WAS RAMPANT. BUT AMERICAN VOLUNTEERS IN FRANCE BUILT AN AMBULANCE CORPS THAT PERFORMED BRILLIANTLY IN THE EARLY YEARS OF WORLD WAR I
December 1974 | Volume 26, Issue 1
But what was to become of the American Field Service when the American Expeditionary Force reached French shores? Could it plausibly continue as an independent organization? Andrew at once played for the highest stakes, proposing to use the field service as one of the foundation stones of the AEF and thereafter to maintain it as a separate unit in the United States Army’s table of organization. Had Charles Evans Hughes been elected President in 1916 and General Leonard Wood been returned to his position as army chief of staff, Andrew’s bid might well have succeeded, for the French authorities made no secret of their preference for immediate reinforcement of the organization already in the field. Indeed, when Marshal Joffre visited America with the French War Commission early in May, he paid a startling tribute to such a small group of volunteer drivers by requesting that the United States undertake the transportation of all their wounded. But like Leonard Wood, whose close relationship with Theodore Roosevelt made him persona non grata with President Wilson, Andrew was out of the command sweepstakes from the beginning. Neither General Pershing nor Surgeon General Gorgas was interested in the American Field Service. Command positions in the AEF , they insisted, would be given solely to professional soldiers and not to outsiders like Andrew. And so the United States Army established an ambulance organization of its own as part of its medical service. It was patterned on the field service but ten times larger in men and resources. The only concession to the existing organization was exemption of its volunteers from selective service. There was no commensurate position in the army table of organization for its inspector general. Andrew was offered the rank of major, Galatti a captaincy. The two men were then subordinated to a mixed bag of colonels appointed by the Surgeon General’s office, none of whom had any practical experience with ambulance work or familiarity with conditions in France. Meanwhile a huge encampment was established at Allentown, Pennsylvania, for the United States Army Ambulance Corps, and during the next two years no fewer than twenty thousand men were trained there and sent to serve with the French and Italian armies. The American Field Service was formally merged with this organization in September, 1917. After the war the USAAC was summarily abolished.
Andrew took it all philosophically. “Life is all ups and downs,” he wrote Henry Sleeper shortly after the merger. We have had our big days and are now in the midst of many disappointments, but we have been doing everything possible to facilitate the militarization of … the Field Service. I finally found a very fine American officer in the Quartermaster’s Department, a Colonel Pope, who entered into the spirit of the plan with enthusiasm, agreed to enlist as many men as wanted to enlist, to give commissions to the men whom I recommended, and furthermore to bring over from America something like a thousand drivers during the month of October, to pass them through the Automobile Service in the French Army for training, and then eventually to withdraw certain sections from the French Automobile Service as they were needed by the American Army. Unfortunately, Pope had few efficient officers at his disposal to handle the details of this affair. The first man he sent, a Colonel, was a blustering egotistical braggart who had no authority but pretended to be the man behind the throne whose every word General Pershing was eagerly awaiting to hear. He visited the service, talked to the men, inflated his chest before the French officers, and was a fortnight later sent back to America. Then a Captain was sent up to Soissons and Jouaignes to enlist our men, but on the day of his arrival he displayed another American proclivity and became dead drunk. The French officers had to put him to bed, and except for intervals when he went back to Paris to get more liquor, he was drunk continually for nearly a week.… Finally, he died of “heart failure,” and according to the papers, being the first American officer to die in service in France, the French Army authorities rendered special military honors in connection with his obsequies.
Andrew and Galatti served their new masters loyally and uncomplainingly for the rest of the war. To serve France was compensation enough. But the American Field Service had temporarily ceased to exist. After the armistice Andrew stayed in Paris long enough to attend the founding convention of the American Legion at the Cirque d’Hiver in March, 1919, and to ponder how his service could be revivified. For it was inconceivable to him that such fierce dedication to the French cause— Tous and tout pour la France had been the motto he had given the service—would not find embodiment in a lasting institution. At length he hit upon the idea of transforming the American Field Service into a program of fellowships for American students at French universities. This idea was well received, and with more than three hundred thousand dollars still in the till from unexpended donations the program could be put into effect immediately. Its finest moment came in 1922, when Georges Clemenceau, to the dismay of rival organizations, donated the proceeds of his sole United States lecture tour to help fund these scholarships. But despite this triumph the program suffered both from a lack of qualified applicants and a paucity of suitable vacancies. Moreover, the Depression years inevitably saw donations dwindle to a trickle, and between the wars a total of only a hundred and sixty-five such fellowships could be funded and awarded.