Soldiers' Stories

Jim Malone: An Immortal Yankee 

 

James Miles “Jim” Malone was born on May 15, 1899 in New Haven, Connecticut.  On February 19, 1917, at the age of seventeen, he enlisted in the US Army.  At the time, he was a clerk at Winchester Rifle Works.  As an infantryman, Jim Malone served in “The Immortal Yankee Division 26th” of the US Army in France during 1917 and 1918.  Jim’s younger brother also joined the cause, enlisting in the US Navy, using Jim’s identification since he was only fourteen years old and too young to serve legally. 

 

After mustering out of the US Army, Jim Malone returned to New Haven, carrying with him his soldier’s helmet, backpack, and gas mask.  He joined the New Haven Fire Department in 1919 as a hoseman.  Jim retired in 1942 and died at the Newington Veterans Hospital on August 30, 1949.  Jim Malone was only fifty years old at the time of his death. He may have suffered and died from long-term effects of gas poisoning from his World War I service. 

Jim's nephew, Bill Broker resides in Savannah and shared Jim's story with the Municipal Archives. 

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Images Courtesy of Bill Broker. 

Surprise! A Soldier Returns Home 

Edward Forrest Girvin was born in Kentucky in 1898. During World War I, he served first as an infantryman, and then volunteered to join 1st Tank Brigade, 326th Tank Battalion once he arrived overseas. In the fall of 1918, his family was informed that he was killed in action at the battle of Argonne Forest in St. Mihiel, France. They received official notification from the government, and his name was included in his first unit's Soldier's Memorial Honor Roll,  Imagine everyone's surprise when he arrived back home alive and in one piece almost a year later in 1919. Luckily for his loved ones, he did not pay the ultimate sacrifice for his service, but he was awarded a Purple Heart for injuries sustained at St. Mihiel. 

After the war, he received an engineering degree, and worked as an electrical engineer for General Electric in Indiana. He died (for real this time) in 1969 and is buried in the Star of Hope Cemetery in Huntington, Indiana.

 

His nephew, Gary Girvin, now resides in Savannah and shared Forrest's story with the Municipal Archives. 

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Images Courtesy of Gary Girvin

The 326th Tank Battalion, of which Girvin was a member, was organized in France in 1917 and made up entirely of volunteers from other branches. Early in 1918, the men began training on French-made Renault tanks when future General, then Lt. Col., George Patton took command of the 1st Tank Brigade. The men quickly began preparing for the first independent American offensive operation of the war at St. Mihiel. On the day of the battle, due to strong German resistance, the Tank Corps entered the fight early and thus were the first American forces to attack the Germans directly. Ultimately the American Expeditionary Forces were victorious in the battle thanks in no small part to the bold actions of the Tank Corps. 

Image Courtesy of Gary Girvin

The Otranto Claims a Local Soldier

On October 6, 1918, a war-time tragedy occurred that disproportionately affected Georgia communities, and Savannah in particular, when the H.M.S. Otranto sank on its way to Europe. One of the casualties of this tragedy was Joseph H. Oppenheim. Oppenheim was born in Savannah around 1893 and worked as a Clerk at Epstein's Store until he enlisted in the National Guard in May 1917. He was assigned to 2nd Company, Coastal Artillery Corps out of Fort Screven, a unit made up largely of Georgians, as part of the Automatic Replacement Draft. His unit was one of those on board the Otranto when it sank. Oppenheim died that day and was later interred in Laurel Grove North Cemetery in 1920. 

The night that the Otranto sank was a stormy one but the convoy it belonged to attempted to navigate the channel between the Irish and Scottish coasts anyway. The storm was so strong that it propelled the H.M.S. Kashmir into the side of the H.M.S Otranto. The ship was going down fast, but a desperate rescue attempt from a British destroyer, the H.M.S. Mounsey, saved over 500 lives. Only 17 American men swam to safety on nearby Islay Island. The men who perished aboard the Otranto were buried on Islay Island. After the war, many of the bodies were reinterred at Brockwood American Cemetery and Memorial in Surrey, England, or repatriated to the United States.

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Images Courtesy of the Oppenheim Family

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Image Courtesy of the Oppenheim Family

Of the 470 men who died in the tragic accident, more than 130 were from Georgia, making it one of the worst tragedies for the state during the war. The soldiers who perished on board the ship were members of the 54th Automatic Replacement Draft, Coastal Artillery Corps out of Fort Screven on Tybee Island. Many of these men were members of the Savannah Volunteer Guards who regularly trained at the Dummy Forts in Forsyth Park. Today, a historical marker stands in Screven, Georgia, where more than 40 of those who perished on the Otranto were born and raised.

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