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Major General James G. Harbord
Blooming Grove Township
McLean County, Illinois
[McLean County, Illinois, in the World War, 1917-1918; by Edward E. Pierson & Jacob Louis Hasbrouck c 1921]
(Transcribed by: Teri Moncelle Colglazier)
It was an honor to McLean County in connection with the world war that one of the men highest in the councils of the military expedition in Europe was a man who had his birth and youth in this county, and who retained his friendship and acquaintances here, returning for a visit in person after he returned victorious from the world struggle.
He was Gen. James G. Harbord, who went to Europe in 1917 as chief of staff to Gen. John J. Pershing, the commander in chief of the A. E. F. and who later became the chief of the American Service of Supply, which kept the lines of fighting men fed with munitions and rations in the great campaigns which they carried on in the summer and fall of 1918.
Gen. Harbord was born in Blooming Grove township in 1866. His parents were Mr. and Mrs. George Harbord, well known McLean County residents a half century ago. The family later moved to Saybrook, thence to Missouri and then to Kansas, where Gen. Harbord graduated from the Kansas State Agricultural college in 1886.
During his life in McLean County, Gen. Harbord attended the Irving school in Bloomington. The largest star in the Irving school service flag during the war stood for Gen. Harbord.
Shortly after his graduation in Kansas young Harbord tried for a West Point appointment, but was beaten in the competitive examinations by Claude B. Sweezey, later a lieutenant colonel in the U. S. army.
Following his failure to secure the West Point appointment, young Harbord showed the kind of stuff generals are made of. He enlisted as a private in the Fourth Infantry in 1889 and in a few months passed through the non-commissioned ranks.
In 1891 he appeared before an army board for examination for a commission and went through with flyingcolors, receiving a commission as second lieutenant. When young Sweezey, who won the West Point appointment, was graduated from the military school Harbord had been a commissioned officer in the army for over a year.
Gen. Harbord has had a wonderful military career and spent many years in the Philippines and Cuba. He was a close friend of Gen. Pershing. On January 21, 1899, Gen. Harbord married Emma Ovenshine, daughter of Brig. Gen. Samuel Ovenshine. Mrs. Harbord during the world war lived in Boston. Gen. Harbord 's mother, Mrs. George Harbord, lived in Manhattan, Kans. An aunt, Mrs. Ira Orendorff, and an uncle, Jacob Gault, live at Heyworth.
Just before the German forces advancing to Paris in the spring of 1918 encountered the American army at the Marne, Gen. Harbord was detached from the staff of Gen. Pershing and placed in command of the brigade of Marines of the First Division who were sent to Chateau Thierry to stop the German drive. All history knows how the Americans stopped the Germans. Of Gen. Harbord at this stage of his career, a writer in a New York paper wrote in June of 1918:
"General Harbord is a typical example of the American self-made soldier. Born in Illinois, he graduated from the Kansas State Agricultural College in 1886 at the age of 20 and enlisted in the army as a private in Company A of the 4th Infantry, Jan. 10, 1889. He soon became corporal, sergeant, and quartermaster sergeant of that company. During the Spanish-American war he was appointed second lieutenant of the 5th Cavalry and later served with the 10th, 11th, and 1st Cavalry regiments. He was a major when the war in Europe began. He was lieutenant colonel when he went to France a year ago as General Pershing 's chief of staff and has seen fine service in Cuba and the Philippines."
Of the general character of the Marine Corps as fighting men, the same writer wrote at the same time:
"Our boys are doing exactly what we knew they would do," said an enthusiastic officer at the New York headquarters yesterday, "and my only fear is that they will get too enthusiastic and run too far forward. That bunch of ours in France is the finest lot of lads that ever crossed the Atlantic. They are, every one of them, of the 'one in seven type;' that is, for every man we accepted we examined seven. We have been getting reports lately from the fellows in the trenches, and we knew that their time to get a whack at the Hun was coming, and we have been awaiting for the news that they were in it for a week or ten days. "
"The German has met and named the fighting American marine. In the past the foe who encountered the prowess of marines received a mingled impression of wild cats and human cyclops and movements as quick as lightning. When Fritz was introduced to him he uttered one gutteral gasp."
"From now on the soldiers of the sea apparently have lost their old-time name of 'lethernecks' and are to be known as 'Devil Dogs' or 'Devil Hounds.' Take your choice."
Of his position and work following the close of the war, a correspondent writing from Tours, France, in January, 1919, said:
"The great man of Tours today is Maj. Gen. Harbord, the American. He is kindly, paternal and powerful for good. He represents to these poor folks the healing might of the United States today, just as he represented our offensive force when he commanded first the marine brigades and then the entire heroic Second Division at Bouresches, Belleau Wood and Vaux. "
"Originally he was Gen. Pershing's chief of staff. Then he went into the thick of fighting the defense of Paris. Now Gen. Harbord commands the S. O. S., vast area of France where the "American victory was manufactured, where we have flung railroads and telephone-telegraph lines, built veritable cities of warehouses and factories. It includes the ports. Tours has been its capital the United States war department in France. "
"It is a great, rich service of supplies, which means coal, flour, cars and locomotives, American railroad operators helping out French roads, wages for poor refugees, trade profits of a hundred towns, the enrichment of ports, the hope of reconstruction, the improvement of municipal works and necessary scattering of varied benefits. It is here, solid the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. Gen. Harbord is a great man. "
"He lives in a chateau across the Loire. Other generals live with him; others, yet, come visiting. The chateau is on a height, with glorious river view. When Tours natives pass it of a Sunday, going to the country, they say, 'There's where Harbord lives! ' as speaking of a shepherd of the people."
During all his strenuous labors with the army in France, Gen. Harbord never forgot the people of his old home town, and especially those of his old school, the Irving. Several times during the busiest periods of the war, Gen. Harbord wrote letters to Bloomington friends, and Mrs. Emma Bryant, representing the Parent-Teachers' Association of the Irving school, at one time received a handsome picture of him which was later framed and hung in the assembly room at the school.
The Irving school was also the receipient of ivy and poppy seeds from the historic fields of Europe from Gen. Harbord, who wrote the following letter to Mrs. Bryant at the time he sent them:
Paris, Oct. 31, 1919.
I am enclosing you herewith some poppy seed which should produce the scarlet poppy which blooms on the former battlefields of France. I am leaving for America tomorrow and am bringing with me a box of ivy roots from Chateau Thierry, packed in moss, which I shall send to you by express on arrival in New York. These are for the Irving school, with my best wishes. Arriving as they do at a bad time of year, I presume it will be necessary to have them cared for until spring by a florist and have them replanted when the warm weather comes.
Yours sincerely, J. G. HAEBOED.
Some months after the actual close of the war, and while the peace commission was sitting in Paris, Gen. Harbord was sent with other American officers on a mission to the countries of Central Europe to investigate conditions there. His report on his findings was made to the government at Washington on his return to this country, in the late fall of 1919.
A memorable event in the history of Bloomington was the visit of Gen. Harbord to this city on his return to this country in the winter of 1919-20. He was in Chicago just before Christmas, and ran down to Bloomington for a day, accompanied by his friend Gen. Dawes and several other Chicago friends. Bloomington planned a great reception for him. He was first taken to the Irving school, where a reception and dinner luncheon was given under charge of the Parent-Teachers' Association. Then in charge of a reception committee, Gen. Harbord was taken to the court house and the general public greeted him. In the evening there was a public meeting at the high school with speeches by Gen. Harbord, Gen. Dawes and others. Mayor Jones presided and Gov. Fifer introduced the speakers and guests. The reception was in charge of committees from the city council, the Association of Commerce and the Parent-Teachers' of Irving school.
That Gen. Harbord was pleased was shown by a letter received from him after his return to Chicago. He wrote to Mayor Jones, to Mrs. Bryant of Irving school, and President E. M. Evans, president of the Association of Commerce. In the last named letter, to Mr. Evans, the general wrote:
"I feel that I am very much indebted to you for your invitation, as well as to all of the Bloomington people by whose fine hospitality we were entertained. The date will always mark an epoch for me, and I feel that I am now fully re-established as a Bloomingtonian."
In his letter to the school, he said:
"I can not undertake to say to you how much I appreciated the hospitality shown me in my native city. I felt that it was a particularly graceful thing for your committee to plan to take our party first of all to Irving school. It gave me the greatest pleasure to meet old friends on that spot which to me is more nearly a shrine than any other portion of my native city."
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