Distinguished Service Cross goes to four Nebraska WW I
Company B, 355th Infantry
By Marianne Beel
"Let us remember the cause for which these Americans fought and the
freedom and peace bought with their life's blood, and let us pass along to a
new generation the awesome accounts of honor and courage."
Those words, honoring all veterans, were spoken by President George Bush
during his 1992 Memorial Day address.
Few World War I veterans survived by the year 2000. But recorded history
preserves their dedication to the cause during the war said to end all wars.
Lest we forget, there were no "smart bombs" that could be fired with
surgical precision during that war. The final Allied offensive that led to
the end of German aggression was carried out by foot soldiers in close
A stone memorial at 4th and Jeffers in North Platte was erected September
14, 1947, to honor those who served with Company B, 355th Infantry with the
89th Division during the St. Mihiel offensive.
A lengthy piece written by Major Joseph Hanson following World War I in
"Common Sense," a monthly magazine published by the House of Gurney,
Yankton, South Dakota, tells the story of bravery during that final thrust
including those of Nebraska's own.
"Early in September 1918, the First American Army assembled by General
John Pershing, extended in a line 40 miles long around the St. Mihiel
salient. The battle which followed upon this tremendous concentration of
manpower (550,000 American and 110,000 French troops) resulted in probably
the most dramatic victory every won by American armies anywhere. When it
began on September 12 it annihilated all opposition with the speed and
relentless power of a tidal wave.
"The 355th Infantry, Nebraska, furnished a quartette of soldiers who,
between daylight and dark on September 12, performed acts of gallantry so
conspicuous that they were adjudged worthy to receive the Distinguished
Service Cross." (Those names and brave action are listed in the official
book listing U.S. Army decorations 1862-1926 published by the War Department
This regiment was charged with the mission of capturing the main German
communication trench and mopping up the western edge of the woodland. The
most serious obstacle being well-protected machine guns that must be taken
by the infantry.
One of the first of these weapons began firing on Company B. Without
waiting for orders Sergeant John Brinda, Valentine, made his way ahead of
his platoon, killed the enemy gunner and captured the remaining four members
of the crew, after which his comrades were able to advance.
Bugler Chauncey Porter, Chambers, armed only with an automatic pistol,
charged alone on another gun, killed one, took another prisoner and drove
the rest away.
In the confused windings of the trench system, Major Thomas Wirth,
Lincoln, commanding the first battalion, saw his entire command held up by
fire along its front. Walking out ahead of the troops, Wirth inspired his
men to a united push that swept over the German emplacements and netted
eight machine guns and 12 prisoners.
Later in the day Sergeant Martin Janssen, Rushville, became separated and
found himself in the rear of another front line battalion, two platoons of
which were being held up by machine gun fire from the front and the flanks.
Without a leader, the troops were confused and disorganized. Exposing
himself to hostile fire, Janssen ran from one end of the line to the other,
urging the men forward until both platoons moved ahead across a small gully
and out of danger. His action prevented interruption of the advance of the
Serving with Brinda in Company B was Charles Perkins, North Platte.
During a May, 2000 interview, his son, Jr. Perkins of rural North Platte,
said his father was shot through both legs during that advance.
"Dad told me that John Brinda stayed to bind his wounds and had the pack
shot from his back while doing so."
Brinda was awarded the Victory medal, the French Croix de Guerre,
"awarded for gallant action," and the Distinguished Service Cross, for
"extraordinary heroism in action," according to the citations.
The veteran was in the first contingent to leave Cherry County, September
4, 1917, 27 years old and with black hair. He was discharged March 14, 1919,
when his wife, Ellenor, said his hair had turned from black to gray. He is
said to be among the highest decorated non-commissioned officers in the
state. His brother, Leo, was killed during the Meuse-Argonne offensive.
Although he declined to talk about the war, Brinda faithfully attended
reunions of Company B, 355th Infantry as health allowed. He retained a close
friendship with others including Perkins, Earl Eshleman, Hershey, and Arv
Peterson, North Platte. Those three attended Brinda's funeral September 17,
The three American Legion Posts in Cherry County were named for those who
made the supreme sacrifice. The Leo Brinda American Legion Post 90 in
Valentine was named to honor the first from Valentine to fall on the
battlefield October 16, 1918. In Wood Lake the Ralph "Toots" Piper American
Legion Post was named for that native son who was killed September 13, 1918.
At Cody the American Legion Post was named for two who gave their lives,
Henry Rieke, October 6, 1918, and Frank Meidl, date unknown.
The American Legion Post 163 in North Platte began a drive in 1929 to
name the airport for a local World War I aviator who was killed seven days
after the war's end. In 1942 the city council moved to name the airport Lee
Memorial Day is much more than a 3-day weekend. To many people on that
day, especially the thousands of combat veterans, which has a history
stretching back to the Civil War, is an important reminder of those who
served and for those who died in the service of this country.
All of our honored dead must be remembered. According to the American War
Library the following war dead include wounded in parenthesis: Civil War,
558,000 (281,881); World War II, 407,316 (671,846); Vietnam, 58,168
(153,303); Korea, 54,246 (103,284); and World War I, 116,708 (204,002) 751
killed from Nebraska alone.
The words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow may say it best:
"Your silent tents of green
we deck with flagrant flowers;
Yours has the suffering been,
the memory shall be ours."
War is an ugly business. Perhaps if we review the actions of many
Nebraska soldiers during World War I, who were awarded the Distinguished
Service Cross, we could be a bit more grateful for the freedom we enjoy.
(SeeDistinguished Service Cross Awards)