A Tribute to Arthur F. Brandt: Family members of the World War I hero from Allamakee County honor him at his final resting place in France

Honoring their great-uncle ... Several great-nephews and great-nieces of Postville native and World War I hero Arthur Brandt made the trip in late June of this year to his final resting place in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial near Verdun, France. Pictured above, left to right, are Mark Brandt of Minneapolis, MN, Mary Kay and Matthew Brandt of Cedar Rapids and their daughter, Rachel Brandt, of New York, NY, and Julie Brandt of Cary, NC. All are members of the Betty and Kenneth “Cod” Brandt family of Waukon. Submitted photo.

Submitted photo.

Courage in many aspects ... In addition to his bravery that led him to heroic measures during World War I, Postville native Arthur Brandt’s courage also led him to other adventures during his young life. He is pictured at right sporting a racing jersey for Excelsior Autocycle, racing motorbikes in a sport called Board Track Racing that was popular in the early 1900s. Submitted photo.

This article is submitted by Matthew Brandt with assistance from Mark Brandt, Rachel Brandt, and Dana Wind Lorelle (daughter of Julie Brandt)

I grew up knowing that my Great Uncle Arthur F. Brandt of Postville served in the Army in World War I. I grew up knowing he died a hero, having guided his company back to safety while enduring mortal wounds. I grew up knowing he was buried in France along with other soldiers who never made it home.

As an adult, having been reared on this legend, I entertained vague notions of someday visiting his grave and paying my respects. But it wasn’t until my own cancer diagnosis, when my wife inquired, “Not to be morbid, but do you have any items on your bucket list?” that I realized the time to visit Uncle Arthur’s grave was upon me.

Coordinating the schedules of five family members in four states proved difficult, but June 30, we all ended up in the same place:  The Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial near Verdun, France.  Meuse-Argonne is the largest American military cemetery in Europe, where 14,246 soldiers lay in eternal rest.

Our first stop was the visitor center, and there we met our interpretive guide, Aurélie. She was given the responsibility of making sure we had everything we needed. The cemetery is very picturesque, with graves being situated within neatly manicured rows of linden trees. When we admired the organization of the grounds, Aurélie responded, “Yes, it’s very American.”

The cemetery has two main buildings. One is the visitor’s center which houses artifacts and explanations of World War I, emphasizing the participation of the Americans. The other building is the memorial, housing a chapel dedicated to the countries who participated in the Allied Powers. On each side of the memorial building, there is a tall flagpole which flies the American flag.

As part of the preparation work, Aurélie had highlighted the etchings in Art’s grave marker with sand from Normandy. This highlighting made the letters easier to read and added the connection to the hallowed beaches of Normandy. She also put both American and French flags immediately near the headstone. The experience of standing near Arthur’s grave marker, and atop his remains, was especially moving. It brought us into close contact with a great-uncle we never had a chance to know, and with a hero we shall never forget.

Near the day’s end, we gathered at one flagpole.  Just as in a military burial service, three volleys of shots were heard. Following these volleys, Taps was played. At the end of that tribute, the staff assisted me in lowering the flag through the rain. Then, I was allowed to help fold the flag and present it to the staff for use the next morning. It was a very high honor for me.

We then said our goodbyes, emphasizing the grateful feelings that we had toward the cemetery staff for taking care of not only Art but of all the fallen soldiers. They stated that it was their honor and they were proud to do it.

As an end to the day, we returned to Verdun for dinner. There, we offered a toast to Uncle Art, his brothers, Mel and Pat, who also served, and all the members of the infantry known appropriately and respectfully as “doughboys”.

In reflecting on Arthur’s sacrifice and legacy, the details about his life prior to his military service are sparse. He was a carpenter, and sometimes a farmhand. He had a friend named Louise who would later send him a box of candy while he was in France. And based on a photo passed down through generations, he was apparently willing to risk his neck by racing fast motorcycles in a sport called Board Track Racing. In one of the photos accompanying this article, Arthur stands tall, sporting his “Excelsior Autocycle” jersey.

As the American involvement in WWI became imminent, Arthur decided to enlist in the military. At 24 years old, he enlisted ten days before the formal declaration of war, and soon became a member of the 42nd Infantry Division. The 42nd - also known as the “Rainbow Division” - gained respect from friend and foe alike for its fighting spirit. And Arthur himself acquired a reputation for taking on risky assignments - including his last one.

Rain was falling the night of October 17, 1918. Arthur’s outfit - Company E - had been under heavy fire for three days, and was being relieved by Company I. A few members of Company E were at a distant outpost in the woods, and Arthur volunteered to lead a relieving party there. It was during this movement that a shell exploded. It took a few minutes for his comrades to find Arthur, and when they did, they saw that his body was peppered with shrapnel, one hip was severely injured, and part of his face had been blown off.

But remarkably, he was conscious, and aware that he alone knew the route to the outpost. Lying on a stretcher, in undoubtedly searing pain and unable to speak, Arthur gestured to indicate that he wanted to be placed at the head of the party. From there, he led his mates to the outpost and back. After that, he led a party of injured soldiers to the nearest dressing station, being once again the only person who knew the route. With his work now finished, Arthur collapsed, and died the next day at a nearby field hospital.

It wasn’t until late November - well after celebrating the Armistice - that the town of Postville learned that one of its sons had died.

In the Great War there were about 650,000 Americans who fought in the infantry. From that number, the American Commanding General John J. Pershing chose his list of One Hundred Heroes - cited for extraordinary valor in battle. That short list included Arthur F. Brandt.

Of the 14,246 soldiers who rest in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, 266 of them were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Uncle Arthur was one of them. This award was given posthumously by President Woodrow Wilson, citing the extraordinary heroism involved in the circumstances of his death.

A century later, Arthur would be one of the local veterans immortalized on the Allamakee County Freedom Rock in the Waukon City Park. The Distinguished Service Cross award is shown immediately adjacent to his image on the honoring rock.

In reflecting on this trip and upon the associated legacy of Arthur F. Brandt, the most elegant eulogy I can give is that he died so his fellow soldiers might live. Actions such as this are summed up in the following words of General John J. Pershing: “Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.”