The Milo H. Walz Sr. name is a memory woven into the fabric of communities throughout Mid-Missouri. As a well-known, successful and honest businessman, years before his commercial endeavors and investment of hard work yielded appreciable financial returns, Walz joined thousands of his fellow Missourians and countrymen called to serve overseas in World War I.
Born Jan. 19, 1894, in Jefferson City, Walz's father was "connected with the furniture and undertaking business," James E. Ford wrote in the 1938 book "The History of Jefferson City." Ford also noted when the younger Walz finished school, he "worked in the plant of the Hugh Stephens Printing Company as a bookbinder."
Shortly after the U.S. entered WWI, Walz was required to register for the military draft June 5, 1917. Several months later, the 23-year-old left his job as a bookbinder when his number was selected during a draft lottery, followed by his induction into the U.S. Army on Feb. 26, 1918.
He then traveled by train to Camp Funston, Kansas, to begin his initial military training. During this period, he received assignment to Battery A, 342nd Field Artillery Regiment of the 89th Division. His regiment had been organized at Camp Funston on Sept. 5, 1917, and comprised of young men largely from rural areas of several counties throughout the state.
It was not long after Walz reported to his battery that "training began more intensively when service practice took place on the target range: first with three inch guns and later with 4.7 (inch) Howitzers," Robert Walston Chubb, regimental historian, wrote in his 1921 book "Regimental History, 342nd Field Artillery, 89th Division."
Chubb explained, "When the regiment left Camp Funston on June 3rd, 1918, it was considerably below strength, having contributed an average of 100 men a month to replacement detachments, during the previous five months."
Preparing for their overseas departure while at Camp Mills on Long Island, New York, Walz and the soldiers of the regiment spent the next three weeks receiving equipment and training alongside about 300 new recruits. On June 28, 1918, the regiment departed the East Coast aboard the British transport "Justicia."
Following their arrival in Liverpool, England, on July 10, 1918, the next three days were spent traveling by foot, ship and train to the destination of Le Havre, France. A few days later, the regiment was issued a battery of 1915 model Schneider 155-millimeter Howitzers, training with the weapons for the next several weeks.
Walz received his introduction to the fierce realities of warfare when the regiment began firing artillery in the latter days of September. Although Battery A, to which Walz assigned, survived this period relatively unscathed, four soldiers in Battery D were killed and eight wounded by German artillery on the evening of Sept. 25, 1918.
Despite "frequent short bursts of reprisal fire," Chubb, the regimental historian, affirmed "the first three weeks in October were very quiet."
However, the lull in combat intensity soon evaporated with the arrival of what remains one of the deadliest military campaigns in American history.
"The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the largest operation of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in World War I, with over a million American soldiers participating," notes an article on the website of the National Archives. "It was also the deadliest campaign in American history, resulting in over 26,000 soldiers being killed in action (KIA) and over 120,000 total casualties."
On the evening of Nov. 2, 1918, during the latter days of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Walz helped fire the howitzers that kept enemy soldiers clambering for cover while a raiding party went forward of their lines and captured 42 enemy enlisted soldiers and two officers. According to the regimental history, the 342nd expended an impressive 2,142 artillery rounds during this single raid.
When the war ended Nov. 11, 1918, the regiment joined the rest of the 89th Division in Germany as part of the Army of Occupation. The next several months consisted of activities such as patrols in the German countryside to confiscate firearms, attending various schools and athletic competitions between the troops.
Military records reveal Walz left Europe early aboard the transport ship "Mercy" on Jan. 7, 1919, because of complications related to pneumonia. The vessel was carrying military personnel suffering from various illnesses and diseases, all of whom required medical attention.
Walz recovered and was discharged in April 1919. In the years following his return to Jefferson City, he married the former Esther Beck and the couple became parents of eight children. In 1922, Walz founded his first store and, with the help of family, "built the business into one of the largest, most successful, and most respected in the area," reported the Jefferson City Post-Tribune on July 24, 1976.
The 88-year-old veteran passed away in 1982 and was interred in Riverview Cemetery in Jefferson City; his wife joined him in eternal rest five years later.
With the level of notoriety Walz acquired through his business accomplishments, coupled with a humble personality focused on addressing the needs of his customers, the former soldier went through life as a man with a proud record of military service. However, there are few, with the exception of his fellow WWI veterans, who realized the depth of his experiences.
Fellow Missourian Gen. John J. Pershing boasted of men like Walz in a letter to the soldiers of the 89th Division dated April 27, 1919, explaining they helped contribute to a "splendid record in France." Pershing added, "They will return home safe in the assurance of the admiration and respect of their comrades in the American Expeditionary Force."
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.