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Tower City Marines

On April 26, 1917, only twenty days after the United States declared war on Germany, the newspaper headlines in the Tower City Topics, a Cass County newspaper, boasted, “Tower City Gives Ten Youths for Nation’s Defense.”  Thirteen young men from Tower City traveled to Fargo and enlisted in the Marines, but only ten were accepted.  They included Harold and Albert Beltman, Roy Black, John and Rudolph Boehm, Charles Carmichael, George Kelley, Leslie Sansburn, George Stine, and Ray Wells.  All but one of the members of the Tower City State Champion Basketball team of 1917 enlisted, however, it was a far different game they were playing now.  Following basic training at Mare Island near San Francisco, they were sent for addition training at Quantico, Virginia.  By January of 1918 they were in France with the 78th Company of the 6th Marines. 

With the Tower City Marines were other North Dakota boys, including those from Buchanan, Mayville, Hatton, and Devils Lake – all who had joined the Marines at the first “Call to the Colors.”  Accounts of their early battles appeared in articles written by E. H. Tostiven, a reporter traveling with the soldiers. Leslie Sansburn of Tower City, wounded in both legs on June 14th, told of the action during the advance on the Belleau Woods. “When the command came,” he stated, “we went over the top… dashing into what seemed a veritable hail of steel and lead.  Our casualties were heavy at first.  It seemed certain death to advance. We had no adequate artillery support,” he continued, “and we were forced to advance across an open wheat field. The Germans were firmly entrenched and had plenty of artillery support, while their machine gunners raked the open field.”

Although they took the position, the carnage was terrible.   Sansburn said “There were 265 men in our company. Over 200 were either killed or badly wounded.”

Corporal Ernest Robertson of Buchanan was killed with the same shell that injured Sansburn.  The 78th Company of Marines was virtually eliminated.

Of the ten young men from Tower City, who had enlisted together the year before, only one, Corporal Roy Black, had not been seriously wounded or gassed by the end of June of 1918.  George Stine and Harold Beltman had made the supreme sacrifice.  For Tower City, the news was devastating.  The hearts of the community were bound closer together as two blue stars on its service flag were turned to gold.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis

Sources:

Bismarck Tribune, August 26, 1918

Jamestown Weekly Alert, December 5, 1918

Tower City Topics, July 11, 1918

Ibid, July 18, 1918

Ibid, July 25, 1918

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