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Captain Paul Frey, WWI

 November 11 marks the ninety-fourth anniversary of the end of World War I. Commanding Springfield's own company of troops in France was Captain Paul Frey, Company C, 130th machine gun battalion. Known in the Missouri National Guard as Company K, Second Missouri Infantry, they had returned from the Mexican border in January 1917 after pursing the bandit Pancho Villa. The Springfield unit was converted to a machine gun battalion later that year when called up for active duty in World War I.

Although thousands of miles from home, Frey had relatives living in Alsace-Lorraine, a region bitterly contested between France and Germany. France lost the provinces in the 1870s and greatly resented the German occupation. The allied victory in World War I returned the region to France and gave Frey the chance to see his relatives.

Captain Frey was severely wounded during heavy fighting in the Argonne Forrest. Hit in the left temple by a piece of shrapnel, a portion of his skull was removed to repair the damage. Frey was recovering in Paris when the war ended. Frey's letter vividly describes the joy that swept across the French capital when peace came to the war torn country.

Capt. Frey Writes of Argonne Fight
Springfield (Mo.) Republican, January 7, 1919, page 8.

A letter dated December 4, has been received here by Mrs. Paul Frey, wife of Captain Paul Frey of Company C, 130th machine gun battalion, who received a severe wound September 29 in the fighting at Vanquois [sic Vauquois] hill. Captain Frey is still in the hospital, slowly recovering, but hopes 'in time' to get back to his company. Captain Frey's father was born and reared near Mulhausen in Alsace. Portions of the letter follow.

I sailed on the good ship George Washington, an army transport, which by the way, was the vessel on which President Wilson is coming to France. [Illegible.]
Among the officers aboard of the 35th division were a number that were afterward killed or wounded in the battle of Argonne forest. Especially have I in mind because they sat opposite me at the table, Major W.D. Stepp, 139th Infantry and Major Sauerwein of the 138th infantry, former First Missouri infantry. Major Sauerwein I believe has a sister, Mrs. Dwyer, living in Springfield. These men lost their lives on September 26, the first day of the battle of Argonne. Many times we spoke of the good times we would have on our way home after the war was over, but alas, some of those who spoke of the good times coming now lie in graves in the Argonne forest. I have relatives in Mulhausen, where my father was born, but there was a barrier between us. Now that Alsace is once more French territory I should like to visit them. We were in the trenches not far from Mulhausen for forty-six days, but the men of my company did not grumble in the least over their hard luck.

After being relieved we hiked and rode over a considerable part of France, eventually landing at the foot of Vanquois [sic Vauquois] hill, where we went over the top on the morning of September 26, after spending the night under one of the most terrific barrages that was ever put over troops. But it had its effect. The next morning the Boches were going toward Germany, and it kept us busy for a time keeping up with them.

But at the same time their artillery was busy shelling us, and there were machine gun nests by the dozens in every wood we went through.

Since I was wounded I have been here in the hospital with the exception of a few days spent in Paris and Nice. I was in Paris the 11th of November and I shall never forget the sights I saw. Even for two days afterward the people were so excited and overcome with joy that they could not restrain themselves from running up and down the boulevards and throwing their arms around every soldier that came in sight. I escaped being hugged and made for my hotel.

The shops were closed, employees dismissed, and so congested were the streets that traffic was impossible. Tram cars and taxicabs, all vehicles, were compelled to stop. But could you blame the people after four years of the worst war the world has ever seen? To have it end suddenly was too overwhelming.

Frey returned to Springfield after the war. Although he was discharged from the army, he soon joined the reserves. He was ultimately promoted to lieutenant colonel in the 203rd Coastal Artillery. In civilian life, Frey worked for the Springfield Police Department. He became chief of police in 1932, a position he held for eight years. Frey supervised the introduction of police radios and better record keeping during his tenure. He also worked for the Heers department store.

Frey was very active in local veterans' organizations. He was the first president of the John M. Goad Post of the American Legion. Frey was elected chaplain when it merged with the Balligner Post, and he was also a chaplain in the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Paul Frey died in Springfield on January 4, 1967. He is buried in Hazelwood Cemetery.

A good general history of World War I is The First World War by John Keeganor for more about the 89th Division and the Argonne Campaign read Meuse-Argonne diary: a division commander in World War I by William M. Wright.

Hear Local History Associate Michael Price discuss life in Springfield during World War I on Thursday, November 29, 2012, at 7 p.m. in the Library Center's auditorium.

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