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Shawnee County Casualties in WWI
Stories of Valor and Tragedy on the Battlefield

Pvt. John Oscar AKERSTROM, H Co., 356th Infantry Regiment, 89th Division
John Akerstrom headstone
John Akerstrom

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Died on November 22nd, 1918 from wounds sustained on the night of November 10th between 8:30 pm and midnight The injuries, machine gun shots in his legs were sustained in the area of the confluence of the Meuse and Wame Rau rivers near Pouilly-sur-Meuse in the final battle of the Argonne Offensive, just 13 - 15 hours before the Armistice, marking the end of hostilities, was signed at 11 am on November 11th.

The following is from newspaper reports at the time his death was announced:

"The young man was taken, soon after he fell, to a field hospital, where he was kept for some time waiting to gain strength enough to be moved to a base hospital. He had wounds in his hand and the lower leg, the latter proving so severe that the leg had to be amputated just below the knee. He was too weak from loss of blood to survive the operation.

A few days before his death the young man wrote to his mother (in Topeka ed.) telling her that he was recovering from his injuries, and that she had no cause to worry. A few hours after receipt of that message, a wire came from Washington, announcing the death of the young soldier. Letters from the Red Cross were later received, confirming the news, and telling of the closing hours of the young man's life, when his last words had been of his mother. His death came, the letter said, as the bugle was sounding taps.

His grave is in a cemetery on a hill overlooking Paris (Suresnes Military Cemetery ed.) a place reserved for the American soldiers. [Originally buried in French soil at the ABMC Suresnes Cemetery, John Akerstrom's remains were returned to the US and re-interred in the Topeka Cemetery, Section 82, Lot 86, Interment #16532 on 14 Sept 1921.]

The young man was brought up in Topeka, and a star was placed for him on the service flag at Lowman Hill School, where he was a student through the grades." (Topeka Daily State Journal January 11, 1919).

Western Union Telegram

The following account of the crossings is taken directly from the "History off the 89th Division" (see #9 Bibliography References):

"The next morning, November l0th, the CO Company "C", 314th Engineers, was informed that the crossing of troops across the MEUSE would take place that night. The entire Company left TAILLY for FORET de JAULNAY at 12 hours, November 10" 1918, and arrived at saw mill in FORET de JAULNAY about 16:30 hours. Before leaving TAILLY, arrangements were made to have enough mules and horses sent out to haul the pontoon equipage to river. Upon arrival at FORET de JAULNAY word was immediately sent to have teams hitched up early to pull out. Lieu. Shifrin received word from Major Rader, C. O. 1st Battalion, 314th Engineers, that the "H.' hour was 18 hours, and that it would be necessary to cross the river as soon thereafter as possible.

"C" in charge remained on the north side to pull the raft across.

Infantry commenced coming at 20:30 hours (8:30 pm ed.), and the crossing continued until about 22 hours (10:00 pm ed.). Twenty five men were placed in each boat, making seventy-five in all for a raft load. During the first hour and a half the entire 1st Battalion and a small part of the 3rd Battalion of the 356th Infantry were taken across without a mishap. A lull occurred at this time, due to the remaining part of the 3rd Battalion of the 356th Infantry being lost.

While the first raft was operating, a second raft was being built under the supervision of Captain Dennie and Lieu. Pike. This raft launched a little upstream from first raft near footbridge across creek and was ready to haul infantry across at about 21 hours (9:00 pm ed.). Lieu. Welles of Company "C" was in charge of engineer detail on north side of river at this raft.

During the lull, while waiting for troops to arrive, several trips were made with the first raft hauling wounded men back. At about 23 hours (11:00 pm ed.) troops commenced arriving again and both rafts were working, taking troops of both the 356th and 355th Infantry across. Movement continued steadily until about 2 hours, November 11, 1918, after which time traffic became very light. The men stayed out all night operating the rafts whenever it was necessary."

Pouilly-sur-Meuse crossing Nov10/11, 1918
Point of creek of Wame Rau and Meuse Rivers
Crossing at the Wame Rau creek/Meuse River November 1918
As photographed in 2010 - the creek of the Wame Rau where it joins the Meuse; site of Akerstrom's fatal injury

Another account of the night action was found in a November 27, 1918 letter from the front:

"My dear family,
..... My but it was-- terrific! Mud knee deep on the roads. Influenza sending our fittest back but we kept going and kept Heinie running until he at last bucked on the Meuse and blew up all the bridges so we had to wait a couple of days till our engineers could construct raft bridges and then we crept down to the river in the darkness, the engineers swam the frozen water fastening the flimsy bridge to the other bank. Then Fritz's outposts worked their telephones and the waiting enemy machine gunners and artillery through in a hail of steel and lead such as I have never seen in my experience before, but we got over or
some of us did."

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