Donald Kyler: Over the Top

Photograph taken during a pause in the parade in Paris on July 4th, 1917 by elements of the 16th Infantry. Donald Kyler is the individual underneath the X. Photo courtesy of the USAHEC.

Donald Kyler was sixteen years old when he enlisted in the Army in April of 1917.  A native of Whitley County, Indiana, he grew up on a farm in the small town of Collamer.  With his parent’s permission, he enlisted at Fort Wayne, Indiana.  He wrote of that experience:

“In April our country declared war on Germany.  Soon after that I inquired about the requirements for enlisting in the army.  The requirements were that one had to be at least sixteen years old, and with the consent of a parent or guardian one could enlist in the Regular Army.  I obtained consent and soon I and several other boys from South Whitley went to Fort Wayne and requested enlistment at the recruiting office there.  We were given meal tickets, which were good at a local restaurant and sent to a hotel.  The next day we were put aboard a special railroad car, together with a lot of other young men from the region.  As the car was about to be coupled to a passenger train, the recruiting sergeant came through the car and said that he was taking contributions for beer for the trip.  Almost everyone gave something.  That was the last we ever saw of the sergeant – and we got no beer.  That was an introduction to the dishonest and crooked practices by some elements of the army that I later grew to hate.  The car proceeded to Fort Thomas, Kentucky, and arrived there the next day.  We were lined up, the roll was called, and we were given a meal in one of the barracks.  Next, in another building, we were ordered to take all of our clothes off, and were given a hasty physical examination.  All passed the test because the army wanted men.  Then in still another building, we were briefed on military laws, and told the seriousness of the commitment that we were about to take.  We were warned that if we had any doubt or inclination to withdraw- to do so then; because after being sworn in it would be too late, and to do so then would be desertion: a serious crime in military law.  None withdrew that I was aware of.  We raised our right hands and repeated the oath as prompted by an officer.  I do not remember the exact words of the oath, but I do remember the meaning of it in full measure.”


“To bear true allegiance to the United States of America and to faithfully serve against all its enemies whomsoever.  To obey all orders of the President of the United States and all officers and noncommissioned officers duly appointed over me, and to serve for such pay and emoluments as shall from time to time be prescribed until death, or until given a discharge as prescribed by law.”


Upon completion of the oath the officer declared us soldiers in the Regular Army of the United States.”

Assigned to Company G, 16th Infantry Regiment, First Infantry Division, Kyler was among the first Soldiers deployed to France.  He took part in seven major campaigns, including the defense of the Aisne-Marne Sector, the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne Offensives.

Image illustrating a flattened landscape with rubble caused by long offensives. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Kyler’s combat experiences included fighting in the front line trenches and serving as a message runner for his combat commander.  Runners had to be fleet of foot as they often had to cross through hostile territory to deliver their messages.  On one occasion, Kyler knocked out a machine guns nest using grenades and rifle fire.  Kyler was promoted to company mechanic, repairing arms and directing carrying parties delivering food and supplies to the front.

During the war, Kyler kept notes on his experiences.  He was seventeen-and-a-half when the war ended, a hardened, professional Soldier.  Of the 250 Soldiers initially assigned to Company G, he was one of only ten who returned to the U.S. with the Regiment in 1919, the rest having been wounded or killed.


Primary Sources

The followling excerpts are from the type-written memoir of Sergeant Donald Kyler, included with his other papers in the World War I Veteran’s survey collection at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Kyler on the food party

Kyler on the combat train

Kyler on enlisting and transport to France

Kyler on his first night and first patrol

Kyler on gas warfare

Kyler on life in the trenches

Kyler on the Meuse-Argonne

Kyler on shell frags

Kyler on the Chauchat light machine gun

Read More

World War I Rations

Meuse-Argonne Offensive

Leavenworth Paper #10, by Major Charles E. Heller
U.S. Army Command and General Staff College
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

Research Interns

Shane Reed

Tim Lehotsky


Donald Kyler. Memoir.  “The Thoughts and Memories of a Common Soldier.” World War I Veterans Survey. USAMHI.

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