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The Pugilist from Sumneytown
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2018-11-08

Sunday marks the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day.  Today we know it as Veteran's Day, a special time to remember and honor those who served and those who serve.  In honor of all veterans, we offer a story of an area resident; the first from the Upper Perkiomen Valley to die in wat was called the "war to end all wars" - World War I."

 

            About 75 miles northeast of Paris France is a triangle shaped area bounded by the towns of Chateau-Thierry, Soisons and Reims.  It was here in the summer of 1918 that the dougboys of the American Expeditionary Foreces (AEF) would

Alexendar Meyers

taste their first major victory of World War I.  A victory that most claimed to be the turning point of the war to end all wars.  The performance of the United States troops in that battle put to rest the fears of our French and British allies as to whether the American GIs could be fearless fighters.  That lesson and the sweet taste of victory that came with it had a bitter price tag.  Over 30,000 allied troops were killed or wounded in this second battle of the Marne River.

            One of the heralded units in that battle was the 28th Division, made up of volunteers from the Pennsylvania National Guard.  Among the guardsmen was Alexander Meyers from Marlborough Township.  Alex was born in Russia and came to this country with his family around 1908.  His parents and his eight siblings settled in a small house on a 27-acre farm near the Unami Creek. 

            They were proud people of little means.  A reporter who visited them wrote about their home; "although crude in handicraft, everything is spic and span.  What little furniture there is in the home shows the signs of careful use.  The kitchen is neatly kept, well screened and sanitary beyond reproach.  The pride in the living room is quite as pronounced." 

            The 5'-5" Meyers was somewhat small for his love of and activity in the sport of pugilism.  But, reports from the time say that he was an accomplished amateur fighter with a minor reputation.

            Alex was indeed proud of his adopted country and when he was of age, wasted no time in enlisting in the 7th Division of the Pa. National Guard.  His first taste of military service came in 1916 when Mexico was in the throes of revolution.  Alex and the rest of the Pa. National Guard division served for a time along the border between Mexico and the United States. 

            On July 18th, 1917, the unit was called into federal service and re-designated as the 28th division.  The entire unit was sent to Camp Hancock in Augusta Ga. for training. 

            By June of 1918 they were in France as part of the first wave of the AEF.  Within 30 days, they would come face to face with the enemy.

            In July, it became clear that the Germans were getting ready to renew their assault on the towns near the Marne River.  The allies decided to hold their positions then launch a counter offensive.  The Germans executed a series of vicious attacks and were repelled again and again by a determined allied force.  Then the allies went on the attack. 

            With the German planes commanding the air, the allies were met with fanatical resistance.  Between August 4th and 22nd, a tenacious battle was fought at the Vesle River.  The Germans defended the towns of Fismes and Fismette vigorously, but with a fierce and determined effort, the allied counterattack prevailed. 

            It was during this phase of the battle that the hard fighting soldiers of the 28th were dubbed the 'Iron Division' by the commander of the AEF, General John Persing.  It was also during this battle that the tough, young Russian immigrant became missing in action.  Just two months later, newspaper headlines proclaimed "Germany Signs Armistice."

            A year went by and most of the soldiers returned home – but not Meyers.

            In July of 1919, a grand welcome was held for the local boys who were back from the trenches of France and the horrors of that First World War.  The event was staged on the grounds and in the auditorium of the Perkiomen School.  It was at this event that the fate of Alexander Meyers was presented to the public. 

            Patriotic speaker Fletcher Stites of Narberth spoke about the "men of iron" of the 28th Division and the boy who was the first Upper Perkiomen Valley resident reported on the casualty list.  In his oration he stated that during the memorable drive across the Vesle River, a party of American soldiers went out over the field to bury the dead.

            There, they found the body of Alexander Meyers with his fingers tightly clutching his bayonet. 

            Immediately surrounding him were the bodies of seven dead enemy soldiers who had fallen before the hands of one American, the Russian immigrant from the Upper Perkiomen Valley.

            To all the veterans who served and are serving – Thank You.


 

 

 

 

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