The U.S. Army soldiers who fought in WWI were part of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), which consisted of all of the United States Armed Forces. World War I marked the first time the U.S. had fought against and alongside the world’s best armies, on their home soil and proved that it was just as good as anyone.
Under the command of General John J. Pershing, U.S. troops were sent to Europe in 1917 to help the French, British, and Italians fight the Germans and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By June 1917 only 14,000 U.S. soldiers had arrived in France, but by May 1918 over one million U.S. troops were in France, ready to fight on the Western Front. By June 1918 American troops were arriving in Europe at a rate of 10,000 per day.
The first offensive battle and victory for the American troops was on 29 May 1918 at the Battle of Cantigny by the U.S. 1st Division and the French. After similar action by the 2nd Division at Belleau Woods in June 1918, Pershing worked to deploy U.S. Army troops independently of European troops.
The U.S. Army and Marines played a crucial role in stopping the German drive toward Paris during the Second Battle of the Marne in June 1918. General Pershing lead the U.S. First Army during the Battle of Saint-Mihiel in September 1918. The U.S. First Army consisted of seven divisions and more than 500,000 men and the Battle of Saint-Mihiel was the largest offensive battle ever fought by the United States. During the Meuse-Argonne offensive, Pershing lead more than one million American and French soldiers.
African American men were drafted into service during WWI on the same basis as white males. They made up 13% of those drafted into service. Over 350,000 African-Americans served in the AEF by the end of the war, although they served in segregated units which were commanded by white officers.
The AEF suffered approximately 320,000 casualties; just over 53,000 deaths from battles, 63,000 deaths from non-combat related incidents and over 200,000 wounded. One of the largest hurdles the men of WWI had to overcome was the influenza pandemic. During the fall of 1918, about 385,000 soldiers fell ill, and almost 25,000 of them died.
Although the United States’ involvement in World War I was relatively brief, the success of the American Expeditionary Force helped to define the U.S. as a military force and marked the gradual rise of the United States as a superpower.