On Active Service
Oregon's missing in action
Delbert Reeves of Silverton enlisted in the Oregon National Guard
just days before war was declared. He soon served in the Army. (OSA) View his
enlistment record. (6 page PDF)
In the chaos and destruction of combat, many Oregonians
simply were never seen again. The following is a story of one Oregon
soldier missing in action (MIA).
An Oregon Guardsman
Silverton's Delbert Reeves never graduated from high school.
He finished the eighth grade and went to work, which was not uncommon
in the years before World War I. His job at a local sawmill certainly
didn't require a high school diploma. But Reeves looked beyond his sawmill
job and decided to enlist in the Oregon National Guard. On March 29,
1917, just days before America declared war, he went to nearby Woodburn
and signed up for the infantry. Reeves would be a foot soldier. He signed
his name under the terms of his enlistment:
He would be
obligated to three years of service and three years in the reserve.
He was of legal
age and able-bodied.
He was "of good
habits and character in all respects."
He was a U.S.
citizen of the state of Oregon or had declared his intention to be
He was not married
and had no dependents to support in case he were "called or drafted
into the service of the United States."
Called to war
The U.S. Army called up much of the National Guard in the months
after the declaration of war. In fact, Reeves was mustered into federal
service two days before on April 4 and soon found himself in General
Pershing's American Expeditionary Force. In July 1917, before he left
for France, he married Inez Williams in Grants Pass. In the following
months, he worked hard and was promoted to corporal in November.
By the next summer, Reeves was seeing plenty of action at the front
"somewhere in France." Apparently, he had wanted a change from his
previous assignment behind the front lines: "I got tired of the old
bunch and drilling, so [I] asked to go to the front...." For six weeks
his superiors refused to let Reeves go until, finally, one officer
interceded on his
"...then old Capt. Todd told us if we wanted to go very bad he would
turn us loose, so four of us left. The old man couldn't hold in when
we left. A better man never lived than him. He sure was a dad to us
A German soldier lies dead in a devastated landscape in
the aftermath of a battle near Verdun. Image colorized. (OSA, Oregon
Defense Council Records, Photos, Box 2) View war
In the thick of it
Once he made his way to the front,
Reeves lost no time in getting into the thick of the battle. At one
separated from his
"bunch after we had gone over the top." He came upon twelve Germans
and took them all prisoner, while later recalling "I sure had a devil
of a time with them as they were scared to death and run around like
a bunch of sheep."
Reeves also killed the enemy in his action at the front. In a letter
displayed his battlefield bravado about killing the enemy: "Will you
tell Dad Reeves and Dad Williams [father-in-law] that I got us a Dutchman
But along with the brave words, Reeves revealed the fear that
many men felt in his situation: "The battle field is sure some
the first time he goes over the top. It didn't scare me after I got
the signal to go over, but was kind of nervous the few minutes we were
waiting before we got the signal to go. When a person gets the word
to go over all the nervousness seems to leave and you want to get there
so you can tie into a Dutchman." He also held a common loyalty
that was forged in battle: "Our officers are all old timers at
it and the boys
would go 'til h--l froze over
and then thirty minutes on the ice with them." Reeves gave his
family further observations in a July 1918 letter:
Will drop you a few lines tonight. I am back
in a rest camp. Just got back from the front lines. Had some
time up there. I never got touched. Don't hardly think they
have my name on any of those German shells.
...I don't think the war will last the winter
through as it looks to me like the morale of the Germans is
all shot to pieces. They sure fear the Americans like they
do the Devil. I don't mind shooting a Prussian soldier, but
some way I can't shoot some of the Germans. One came up to
me with his hands up and crying and says in English: "Please
don't kill me," But the sons-of-a-guns, they will shoot
until you get on top of them, then they throw up their hands
and holler "Kamerad." That makes the boys pretty
sore. Some times it works and some times it don't.
Soon after writing the letter, Reeves was back at the front where
he once again was separated from his squad in battle. This
time he would not return. The Army officially listed him as missing
in action and eventually he was presumed dead. However, he was later determined to be killed in action and was buried in Plot B, Row 20, Grave 5 in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery at Fere-en-Tardenois, France.
In November 1918 Reeves was honored with
the French Croix de Guerre with silver star. The General Headquarters
the East issued the following citation:
"He kept his squad well in hand, captured
12 prisoners and consolidated his positions under machine-gun
fire. Thanks to his boldness and courage he was a great help
to his platoon commander during the entire attack."
According to one estimate, over 14,000 Americans were listed as missing
in action. While high, the figure pales in comparison with the nearly
two million considered missing for the war as a whole. Statistics show
that Austria-Hungary alone tallied over 850,000 missing during World
(Oregon State Defense Council Records, Personal
Military Service Records, World War I, Reeves: Box 4, Marion
County, School District No. 4; Oregon Military Department Records,
Enlistment and Service Records; Statistics: firstworldwar.com)