Desire Matherne in World War I

 

 

After America entered World War I in 1917, Desire Matherne enlisted in the United States Army and became an infantry doughboy.  He and Zella Hutchinson were not yet married, but they would marry IF Desire returned from the fighting in France.  Before reaching France, Desire would need to go through Hoboken, New Jersey.  Hoboken was a major port of embarkation for soldiers being sent overseas during World War I, and it was one of the most distant places in America that Desire had ever been.  Hoboken must have seemed like the farthest edge of the world to him as his ship steamed out into the vast Atlantic.  The thought of Hoboken being so far from home left a lasting impression on Desire.  Over 60 years later and back in Louisiana, the memory resonated with him because he would frequently end arguments by saying that he was going to leave for Hoboken. 

 

Desire was 23 years old when he arrived in France and was sent to the trenches along the Western Front.  Desire faced a formidable foe across no-man’s-land.  The German soldiers of Kaiser Wilhelm’s army were already experienced veterans of three years of trench warfare when the Americans arrived.  However, Desire and his fellow soldiers were well trained and equipped, and they would do their duty.  They were not impressed with the idea of German superiority.  They called the German leader Kaiser Bill as a way of showing disrespect for the German monarch and his army.  Even decades later, long after Germany was defeated and the Kaiser was deposed, Desire would speak of World War I as the war he fought against Kaiser Bill. 

 

The massive clash of armies along the Western Front resulted in tremendous loss of life, and many thousands of American doughboys were among the fallen.  Artillery bombardments caused most of the casualties.  On a hot summer day in 1917 or 1918, Desire had his brush with German artillery.  He and some of his buddies were in their trench and feeling uncomfortable in the heat.  They had some sacks available in the trench, so they decided to take them to a stream behind their line where they could dip the sack cloth in water and wear the wet cloth around their necks to cool off.  When they returned to their trench, Desire and his buddies saw that an artillery bombardment had destroyed their position.  If they had not left the trench to seek relief from the heat, none of them would have survived the bombardment.  An entire branch of the Matherne family would not exist because Desire and Zella would not have married and would have no children.  Fortunately, Desire eventually escaped the meat grinder at the front when he was transferred to serve with military police.  His ability to speak fluent French qualified him for police duty behind the lines, and it may have preserved his life and the future lives of his many descendents.