The Great War: Ralph John of McIntosh, SD

Last Updated by Heather Benson on

In conjunction with the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I on April 6, 1917, The Great War, a six-hour documentary presented over three nights, explores how World War I changed America and the world.

Featured in this documentary is Private Ralph John of McIntosh, South Dakota.

Ralph Edmund John was born 19 Jan 1890 at Hiawatha, Brown County, Kansas, USA.

He was inducted at McIntosh, South Dakota, on May 24, 1918 and sent to Camp Lewis, Washington for training, serving in the 41st Company, 11th Battalion, 166th Depot Brigade. The role of the Depot Brigades was to receive and organize recruits, provide them with uniforms, equipment and initial military training, and then send them to France to fight on the front lines.

Ralph John Draft Card.jpegRalph John's WW1 Draft Card

On July 10, 1918, Pvt. John was transferred to Company G, 158th Infantry and arrived in France Aug. 9, 1918. On Sept. 20, 1918 Pvt. Ralph John was transferred to Company A, 308th Infantry. During his service with this unit he became part of what became known as the “Lost Battalion.” In an offensive led by Major Charles White Whittlesey, six companies of the 308th Infantry Regiment, and units from the 307th Infantry Regiment, and the 306th Machine gun Battalion – about 550 men in all – were cut off and surrounded by Germans in the Argonne Forest with little food or water, limited ammunition and no reinforcements. They were under frequent artillery bombardment, including “friendly fire” from American artillery units. The only communication with the outside came through the use of carrier pigeons. By the time they were rescued about 200 were killed in action and another 150 were missing in action. 194 walked out physically unscathed on Oct. 8, 1918.

Ralph John WWI.jpegPrivate Ralph John

Pvt. John’s action had not ended – on Oct. 15, 1918 he was victim of a gas attack and wounded in action and was a casualty in the hospital. He was shipped back to the U.S., arriving Dec. 30, 1918 and discharged from Company D, Convalescent Detachment, Camp Dodge, Iowa, Jan. 23, 1919.

Engagements: Offensive: Meuse-Argonne. Defensive Sector: Foret-d'Argonne (Lorraine). Discharged at Camp Dodge, Iowa, on Jan. 23, 1919, as a Private.

Ralph John returned to South Dakota and September 7, 1919 he married Bessie Armstrong at Glencross, Dewey County, South Dakota. Ralph and Bessie had seven children. He died March 30, 1974 in Salem, Oregon.

The Great War premieres Monday, April 10 at 8pm/7MT on SDPB and will continue in 3 parts through Wednesday, April 12.

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