Halyburton and Grimsley - Story of U.S.'s first POWs in WWI
On the night of November 2, 1917, Company F of the 16th Infantry Regiment, First Infantry Division, held off a night raid from German forces at Bathlémont, France, and sustained the first of many combat casualties of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I (1917-1918). Among these casualties were Sergeant Edgar M. Halyburton and Private Clyde Grimsley, who were captured by the Germans and became some of the first American prisoners of the war (POW) in the conflict.
Edgar M. Halyburton, photographed in 1919, after the war. Image courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration.
Sgt. Halyburton of Stoney Point, NC, enlisted in the U.S Army in 1909 and served in Mexico during the Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa (1916-1917). He was deployed to France shortly after the United States entered into the war. When captured on the night of November 2, Halyburton and other captured Americans were eventually taken to Tuchel Prison Camp in West Prussia where they encountered harrowing conditions. Faced with lack of food and clothing, they were forced into heavy labor; tasked with harvesting lumber and carting wood miles to camp through the winter. Halyburton quickly sought to improve camp conditions for himself and fellow prisoners. He began sending postcards to the Red Cross asking for parcels (which included food) to be sent to the camp so that those imprisoned could be sustained throughout the winter. Four months later, Red Cross parcels were finally received.
After seven months, Halyburton was transferred from Tuchel to Rastatt Prison Camp (Baden, Germany) where he remained until the armistice. At Rastatt, he made it his mission to establish a sense of order in the camp and eliminate German propaganda from influencing the morale and loyalty of American prisoners. His 500 fellow American prisoners elected him as their camp commander to attain this mission. Halyburton established a firm camp structure that assured each man a job and handpicked an intelligence staff to monitor the effectiveness of German propaganda on POWs. Recognized as head of American prisoners by the Germans running the camp, Halyburton was officially recognized as the leader of all present and incoming Americans in the camp. For his leadership during while imprisoned, Halyburton was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal – one of the first enlisted men to receive the honor.
Pvt. Clyde Irving Grimsley, an accomplished cornetist, enlisted in 1917 as a commissioned band leader. Eager to fight, he requested a transfer to the infantry with the hopes of joining the action in France. Originally from Stockton, KS, Grimsley was captured with Halyburton and was taken to Tuchel Prison Camp after spending 30 days confined at Metz (in German occupied France). After being at Tuchel for three months, Grimsley contracted tonsilitis and bronchitis and was admitted to the camp hospital. After a five week recovery he took on the role of orderly, assisting two American doctors in the camp.
Grimsley also utilized his musical talents during captivity. He played concerts in the camps and provided music at the funeral of an American prisoner. Grimsley was transferred among various prison camps until he was freed in December, 1918 and returned home three months later on February 19, 1919.
Following the war, Pvt. Clyde Irving Grimsley returned and married his fiancée, Mary Crandall. Grimsley died in 1967 and is interred in Fort Logan National Cemetery (Section P, Site 1389).
Following a distinguished Army career, Sgt. Edgar M. Halyburton went on to write about his experiences as a prisoner of war in the 1932 book, Shoot and be Dammed. Halyburton died in 1945 and is interred in Los Angeles National Cemetery (Section 190, Row C, Site 15).
By Nalia Warmack, National Cemetery Administration history intern
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