SISSONNE, France – Soldiers from the Oklahoma Army National Guard participated in a WWI Centennial Commemoration in Northern France from July 24-29. The tour of the Marne region consisted of multiple commemoration sites where Soldiers assigned to the 42nd Infantry Division served during the Great War.
Sgt. John Eccles, Jr., administrative noncommissioned officer in charge for Bravo Company, 834th Aviation Support Company, 90th Troop Command, was one of eight Soldiers from the Oklahoma Army National Guard, selected to participate in the commemoration. Eccles said he was elated when he found out he would be going to France.
“I was so excited that I kind of thought one of my friends was staging an elaborate prank,” Eccles said. “I was thrilled to be invited because I love history, and in particular, military history.”
Eccles, the 2018 NCO of the year for Oklahoma, said it was important to see these historic sites first hand and to tell others about the Oklahoma National Guard’s participation in WWI because there are no living veterans from WWI to tell their story.
“We were at the American Cemetery at Belleau Wood when it dawned on me how fortunate we are as a nation,” Eccles said. “For me, standing among so many headstones of so many brave young men made me profoundly happy to contribute my service. We have travelled to France to see the places and learn the stories of those who have fought before us.”
During their visit to France, Oklahoma Guardsmen toured battlefield sites from the Aisne-Marne and Meuse-Argonne Offensives, Oise-Aisne and Belleau Wood American Cemeteries, and participated in a 10 Kilometer Croix Rouge Farm historical march.
Col. Christopher Chomosh, commander of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, said he felt a deep sense of honor to be selected as one of the Soldiers to represent the Oklahoma Army National Guard. The self-proclaimed military history buff said seeing the beautiful rural French countryside and meeting the friendly French people helped confirm to him that everybody everywhere is wanting a better life for themselves and for their families.
“France is our nation's oldest ally,” Chomosh said. “The French people and government have a deep love and respect for America coming to their aid in WWI and WWII. When you have the opportunity to get out and explore other countries, you find out that some stereotypes are bogus.”
Through the use of translation software, Eccles said he was able to communicate with French Soldiers he met in the town of Sissonne while on the trip. Although the technology is more advanced, Eccles said the conversations were probably very similar.
“I imagine that our interactions were not much different from those of Oklahoma Soldiers and French Soldiers 100 years ago,” Eccles said. “We talked about uniform likes and dislikes. We talked about food and drinks from our home towns, international politics and the different places that our service has taken us. It was really humbling when a French Soldier told us that, ‘Soldiers all over the world want to be American Soldiers.’ That really resonated with me throughout the trip.”
Oklahoma become the 46th state to enter the union in 1907. Ten years later, its citizens were called upon to fight a battle outside the State’s borders. From April 1917 to November 1918, approximately 84,246 Oklahomans served in the Armed Forces, of which 1,345 died while fighting in campaigns in France. Although the majority of Oklahoma Army National Guard units, along with the Texas National Guard, comprised the 36th Infantry Division, the 167th Ambulance Company was the only Oklahoma unit assigned to serve with the 42nd Infantry Division.