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November 11, 2012

Of bravery and tragedy: WWI soldier's diary offers vivid details from front lines

WWI soldier's diary offers vivid details from front lines

ROWLEY — There are thousands of fading photos of World War I veterans, but it’s rare to find the personal story that tells the struggle, camaraderie and suffering that individual soldier faced.

But Frank Todd has done just that. A friend presented him with a remarkable collection of photos, clips and a detailed diary of the short life of Eastman M. Sanborn, a local man who was a humble but heroic veteran of the Great War.

Todd, whose family owns Rowley’s well-known Todd Farm Antiques Shops and Flea Market, was stunned by what he found in the files.

He shared it with The Daily News of Newburyport, sister paper to the Gloucester Daily Times, feeling that the story would resonate strongly over Veterans Day.

Sanborn, a Rockport native, was the sixth generation of his family to serve in the U.S. military. The accomplished young soldier was a first lieutenant, commanding about 150 men of Company A, in the 316th Regiment. He shipped off to France in 1918, and after a few months of training in the French countryside far from the front, he found himself in the trenches preparing for one of the most enormous battles Americans have ever fought.

The battle of the Meuse-Argonne, which raged from Sept. 26, 1918 to Nov. 11, 1918, is a little-known event in American history. Yet in terms of sheer statistics, it is the bloodiest and perhaps one of the most decisive. The casualties suffered were the largest ever inflicted on American forces — some 117,000 men. It surpasses more famous battles such as World War II’s Battle of the Bulge (90,000) and the Civil War’s Gettysburg (51,000, reflecting both Union and Confederate losses). The battle was a keystone in the Allied offensive strategy that broke the German defenses and led directly to the German surrender on Nov. 11, 1918.

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