Thomas Wictor

The youngest doughboy

The youngest doughboy

Tomorrow is Memorial Day 2014. World War One began on July 28, 1914, nearly a century ago. For this Memorial Day, I want to remember Frank R. Sauliere, the youngest doughboy to fight in the war. Nobody knows where the term “doughboy” comes from. It could refer to the dumplings that soldiers made from flour, water, and bacon fat; or it may describe the “doughy” appearance of their uniform buttons; or it may have arisen from observers seeing dust-covered soldiers and remarking that they looked like they were made of dough.

As a fat child, I was called a doughboy, but that referenced the Pillsbury spokes-thing, not a soldier.

Before discussing Frank R. Sauliere, a word about the type of person I despise, United States Senator George W. Norris. On the twentieth anniversary of the American entry into World War One, Norris said the following.

I hate people who lie about the motivations of those with whom they disagree. The US entered the war because our nation was under a sustained German biological-warfare and sabotage campaign that included an attempted assassination of President Woodrow Wilson, the Germans were arming and training Mexican troops and irregulars who crossed the border and attacked us, the Germans promised Mexico the Southwestern United States in exchange for entering the war on Germany’s side, and the Germans had a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. They sank our ships without warning and without picking up survivors.

Only a liar or mental patient would claim that for the US to declare war on Germany was an “inexcusable crime.” Norris was one of the first moral relativists, saying, “Many instances of cruelty and inhumanity can be found on both sides.”

That wasn’t the point. American national interests were being threatened. And it’s truly imbecilic to say that we go to war so that the arms industry will profit. After about three seconds of thought, a person of normal intelligence will realize that arms manufacturers make money both at war and in peacetime. Armed forces need to train. They fire millions of rifle and pistol rounds, artillery shells, mortar shells, torpedoes, rockets, and missiles. They throw hand grenades and drop bombs. And every single weapon wears out and must be replaced.

George W. Norris said that the US entry into World War One was an “inexcusable crime,” and that Americans were misled by propaganda. Only three months later, he made a 180-degree turn and demanded that the US go to war against Japan. The reason was that he saw a single photo of a terribly wounded baby.

Norris based all his decisions on emotion. He was unfit to hold office.

The youngest doughboy

Frank R. Sauliere was born in San Jose, California. He enlisted in the US Army in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on April 8, 1917, two days after Congress declared war on Germany. Since Sauliere was only sixteen at the time, his parents petitioned President Wilson, who personally approved Frank’s enlistment. Frank’s father was in the French army; he heartily supported his son’s desire to serve.

Frank became a message runner—the most dangerous job on the battlefield—and interpreter for the 18th Engineer Regiment, American Expeditionary Force (AEF). During his twenty-one months in France, he was wounded in action twice.

There was just one slight discrepancy in what the Sauliere parents and Frank told the army and the president: Frank wasn’t sixteen. He was twelve. Here he is at fourteen, right before he was discharged from the army.

That’s what he looked like at fourteen. Imagine what a baby-faced kid he was at twelve. Was it possible that anybody really thought he was sixteen? That photo shows how tiny he was. His proportions are those of a child. And look at his face!

His upper lip is disfigured from being hit with shrapnel.

After the war, Frank attended Harvard Law School. He got a job as a reporter for the Miami Daily News in Florida. On the twentieth anniversary of the American declaration of war on Germany—April 6, 1937—Frank wrote a short opinion piece that was published nationally.

I’d never heard of a Cadmean victory. It’s a victory that causes your own ruin. Nowadays we say “Pyrrhic victory,” meaning it comes at such a cost that it’s no different from a defeat. One note: When he says he can’t see any particular achievement, he’s talking about how he got into the army, not the war itself. This short piece was circulated as an antiwar message, but the context is clear to anybody who can read.

Frank said that he wasn’t sure if he’d be willing to do it again. He got his chance to decide, because he was required to register for the first American peacetime draft. This is Frank receiving his draft card on October 16, 1940.

I bought that wire photo from a newspaper morgue; the black lines show where the image was to be cropped. Here’s what it says on the back.

Most people expected that Frank would not actually be drafted.

When Congress declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Frank Sauliere was ineligible for the draft. He’d said earlier that he didn’t know whether or not he’d fight again if called.

After the US went to war for the second time, Sauliere asked for his second age waiver. This time everyone knew how old he really was: thirty-seven, two years past the draft age. The waiver was granted, and he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.

True to his apparent nature, he downplayed his role in World War One, calling himself a “waterboy,” meaning someone who didn’t do anything important. It’s a sports term; waterboys give the athletes drinks during a game. The Associated Press writer thought it was an actual army position, proving once again that journalists know nothing about military matters. Message runners were not only vital, theirs was a deadly occupation.

As a marine, Frank saw combat in the Pacific and survived his second world war.

In the 1950s he moved back to California and became a reporter for the San Jose Mercury-News. He was also elected a representative of the American Newspaper Guild. At a meeting of AFL-CIO California Labor Federation on December 11, 1958, Frank caused an uproar by simply asking that things be done in an honest, straightforward fashion.

Frank R. Sauliere died on May 17, 1963, at the age of fifty-eight. I can’t find an obituary.

You were an amazing man, Frank. Thank you for your service. I remember you this Memorial Day.

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