By Curt Hendel
Adrian Legion Member
On the 28th of July it will be a century since the first shots were fired that started World War I. This would become the first time that we would send massive numbers of troops and equipment in support of allied nations. Men from across the country would report for military service knowing only that what was happening in the trenches in Europe was a brutal conflict and that they may never again see their homes.
Henry and Joe Berning, sons of Gerhart and Josephine of Lismore were two of those men. The brothers entered military service on July 22nd, 1918. The men travelled to Camp Wadsworth, South Carolina for boot camp and further training. They were assigned to L Company of the 3rd Pioneer Infantry. The 3rd Pioneer Infantry departed for the war in Europe on August 27th, 1918. As soldiers in the Pioneer Infantry, Henry and Joe were not on the front lines. At the time, the Pioneer Infantry units were formed as support units, not direct combat infantry units. Following the models of previous European military forces, the United States used the Pioneer units to perform support tasks such as building bridges and roads and other engineering projects. Henry and Joe ended up as ammunition bearers, hauling ammunition to the front lines in the hours of darkness. At the time, many of the supplies brought to the trenches were carried on horse drawn carts. In the mud of Europe this must have been a daunting task.
During their time serving in the Pioneer Infantry Joe contracted pneumonia and was hospitalized for an extended time. In the years of World War I pneumonia was a serious killer of the combatants. The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 also killed millions in Europe. This was because the silver bullet, penicillin, was yet to be discovered. All too many times pneumonia was a terminal illness.
Henry continued to serve in the Pioneers while Joe was in the hospital. Henry remained hopeful as the days passed that Joe would make it back to the unit. Communications were poor and hospitals were extremely overwhelmed with casualties. Eventually Joe did return to the 3rd Pioneer Infantry, continuing to serve with his brother.
After the Armistice on November 11th, 1918 many of the United States soldiers and Marines did not depart Europe for home. Units stayed to assist in the efforts to put the continent back together after over four years of terrible conflict and tens of millions of total casualties. Henry and Joe were among those who stayed. The brothers travelled back to the United States the following summer and were honorably discharged from the United States Army on July 31st, 1918.
After returning to the Lismore area both became members of the newly formed veteran’s organization, the American Legion, in Lismore, Schaap Galagan Post #636. The American Legion was formed as World War I was ending as a service organization for all veterans. Henry Berning and his wife Louise farmed in the Lismore area all of their lives and raised seven children, Lorraine (Ralph) VanPeursem, George (Doris), Rapheal (Died at age 3), Alvin (Gertie), Edward (Deloris), Marie (Myron) Smeins, and Jim “Hap” (Rita). Louise passed away in 1959 and Henry passed away in October of 1979.
Joe married in 1930, but lost his wife three years later. He worked on the railroad for many years and spent time with nephews and nieces. He passed away in September 1963.
Henry and Joe were part of a great generation of American service members that travelled across the Atlantic to help to free a large part of Western Europe. At a time when trench warfare was ravaging men and machines, our forces that entered the war became a deciding factor in the outcome.