WWI History with Duke Doering

Posted by Heather Benson on

You may listen to this conversation in its entirety here.

Lori Walsh:

Welcome back to In the Moment. I'm Lori Walsh. It was the war to end all wars, and the National Guard was deployed to assist the Allies in Europe. South Dakota Public Broadcasting brings you a new Images of the Past documentary, From the Great Plains to the Great War. Today, we welcome Duke Doering to In the Moment. He's a retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 from the South Dakota National Guard, and he's also the Guard's official historian. He joins us on the phone from Rapid City. Duke Doering, welcome to In the Moment. Thanks for being here.

Duke Doering:

Thank you, a nice summer solstice.

Lori Walsh:

Yes. Happy Summer Solstice. Tell me a little bit about how ... I want to hear about the Guard's history of course, but I'm also curious about your history and when you became involved with the National Guard. When did you join?

Duke Doering:

Well, I was a high school junior when the high school principal was our company commander of that local Guard unit. And he had called me into his office. They didn't have counselors as such back then, and he called me into his office and he said he wanted to talk to me about my grades. And he said, "You have an A in English literature and a B plus in typing and a C in wood shop." And he said, "Why would you have the wood shop being a C? And I started to answer him and he said, "Have you ever thought about joining the National Guard?" And from there I went as a high school senior year into the Guard, and that was back in 1955.

And I think I stayed in for 40 some years, and I retired in '99.

Lori Walsh:

Wow. So you're sort of a living history of the Guard as well as the official historian. You saw many changes.

Duke Doering:

Well, they teased me a little bit about my age of course. And they say when I joined the Guards, there was only two commands, mount and dismount.

Lori Walsh:

Well, let's go back a little bit further to the history of the guard itself. How far back does the National Guard go?

Duke Doering:

Well, it was 1862 when it first ... The governor then was Governor Jayne, and the Civil War had started, you see, and all the troops from Fort Randall and that were in South Dakota were called to the Civil War. So there was really no defense here. So that's how the South Dakota Guard started, Governor Jayne wanted a couple military units here, and that's when the start began.

Lori Walsh:

So as everyone else was at the Civil War, the Guard was here to take care of the state itself.

Duke Doering:

Absolutely. And that went on until the Civil War was over, and then the regular troops came back. But the Guard remained in kind of a limited form up until the Spanish-American War when it got really involved, and the entire state got called up for that, too. And we had a lot of casualties in the Spanish-American War.

Lori Walsh:

Let's talk a little bit about World War One as we preview this documentary that SDPB TV is bringing to viewers on Monday, June 25th. The National Guard is involved in World War One in more than staying home and protecting the state. How come they end up in Europe?

Duke Doering:

Well, that was really ... When the National Defense Act of 1916 came about, when the feds started budgeting for the National Guard and paying the bills, then the National Guard's primary job was for federal activation. And when they weren't federally activated, they were under the control of the governor. But the federal always, since that day, has the priority. In peace time the governor gets the guard, but in war time the federal government gets them.

Lori Walsh:

And so who was governor at that time, is this Governor Jensen?

Duke Doering:

No, no, Jensen wasn't until 1937. In 1916, it was Peter Norbeck.

Yeah. In World War One, the entire South Dakota National Guard was activated, just like they were 20 years before for the Spanish-American War, and just like they would be 20 years later for World War Two.

Lori Walsh:

Do they all go together? Tell me about how ... Are there parades sending them off at this point? Do they all go somewhere together? What happens to them?

Duke Doering:

Well, here's how this came about in World War One. Part of the South Dakota Guard was activated prior to the declaration of war. And on March 25th, 1917, four units of the South Dakota Infantry were called to active duty. This was two weeks before President Wilson declared war. That was on April 6th. And the title of the call up of those four units was called Precautionary Measure Service. And what that meant, this was put into effect as a result of what happened in Canada when they went to join the Allies in World War One a couple years prior.

The German sympathizers in Canada, whom there were many, and there were many in the Dakotas, the German sympathizers in Canada had sabotaged bridges, railroads, and waterways and other targets. And the United States was clearly remembering of that, and that's why they activated these four units in South Dakota. Company I out of Rapid City of the 4th Infantry was sent to Pierre to guard the railroad bridge there. Company K out of Lemmon and Company L out of Aberdeen were sent to Mobridge to guard the railroad bridge at that location. And Company A at Yankton was established at camp just east of Yankton to guard the railroad bridge crossing the James River. And a detachment was sent to Chamberlain to guard the railroad bridge there.

So these four units of the South Dakota Guard were already on federal active duty when the war was declared on April 6th.

Lori Walsh:

Were there any attacks then, or did they not have to deal with that, it was more preemptive?

Duke Doering:

It was preemptive.

There was never an incident that they know of. Anyway, then those four units were already on. And then on the 15th of July of 1917, the remainder of the 4th South Dakota Infantry, with it's 1,576 soldiers, was officially called to federal service. Two months later, the unit was sent to Camp Greene, North Carolina, and they arrived at Camp Greene on October 3rd, 1917. Now, here is what happened. Much to their dismay, they found out when they got to Camp Greene that they had been reorganized, the new unit called 147th Field Artillery. And they were no longer the 4th South Dakota Infantry, and they were disappointed at first. But in the long run, it turned out to be much in their favor because it was far better to be an artillery man in that war that it was an infantry man.

Lori Walsh:

Right. The advances were ... Did they have artillery? Were they prepared for that from an equipment standpoint?

Duke Doering:

They weren't.

No guns when they were sent overseas. And the war had changed so much from anything that they had trained for because of innovations. The American tactics have always been a mobile warfare, always advancing. It was an advancing army, always from the Revolutionary War. But because of innovations like the machine gun with the combination of the barbed wire, that stopped that. The machine guns practically put the calvary out of business. You just couldn't advance anymore in this war. Also, there had came tanks that we had never had to deal with before. In 1916, the tanks entered the war, and then of all things gas warfare, which was the most dangerous thing for our soldiers.

That was there, and of all things, airplanes started taking place in the war. At first, they were used for reconnaissance and taking photos and stuff. But before that war was over, they were having air-to-air battles. You know, the Red Baron and that?

And we actually lost one soldier in the 147th from an airplane shooting him down on the ground. And then the flamethrower was invented then. So it wasn't a very effective weapon but it was sure a terrifying thing if you look what they did  with that. And the last thing that had changed was the U-boats. And the U-boats are the German submarines, and that's what really broke the back and put a peace-loving America into World War One.

Lori Walsh:

How heavy were the casualties then from the South Dakota National Guard during this time?

Duke Doering:

Well, here is what we had. We lost 25 soldiers in the war. Twenty-one of them were killed in action. Four of them were missing in action and never found, so that gives you 25. We had 114 wounded, and we had 70 gassed. And so we had casualties of over 200 with 25 deaths.

Lori Walsh:

So, Duke, when the National Guard members come back, this is the time where there's a sort of a re-envisioning of the social contract about what it means to be a veteran, and how the country will take care of you in the future. Are there changes in how National Guard guardsmen are treated at that point as far as benefits?

Duke Doering:

No, no, they were getting ... When they went on active duty, they were given the same benefits as the regular Army was at that time as veterans.

Lori Walsh:

I want to jump ahead just a little bit because I hate to ... We have to let you go here in just a minute, but I hate leave you without a little bit of perspective on your career with the National Guard. Give me one of the big changes that you saw throughout history. Was it during the Gulf War? As far as what the National Guard was doing and how they were doing it, does anything jump to your mind in your personal career?

Duke Doering:

In 1973, when Melvin Laird was the Secretary of Defense, they instituted the Total Force Program. And then when the military decided they could not go to war without the Guard, and so they made the Army a little smaller and the Guard a little bigger. And anytime that the United States was gonna go to war, the Guard was gonna go right in with them because they've already had the place ... The artillery units and the engineer units, most of them are in the Guard. So when you go to war, you know that the Guard's going, at least in those two areas for sure.

The transportation units in South Dakota are wonderful. They're a huge asset to the regular Army, and so when we went to Iraq in 2003 and Afghanistan, those transportation units were a Godsend for the United States Army, the ones over in your part of the state, the 1742nd and the 740th and 727th over in Eastern South Dakota. That was the difference, I think, is when the Total Force Policy came in effect in '73.

Lori Walsh:

Duke Doering, thank you so much for being here with us today. It's been quite an education.

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