Book Review: America's "Foreign Legion": Immigrant Soldiers in the Great War


by Dennis A. Connole

Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2018. Pp. xii, 240. Illus., maps, maps, notes., biblio., index. $39.95 paper. ISBN: 1476675430

The Immigrant Doughboys

Setting out to find some information about Italian immigrant Matthew Guerra, his great uncle, who died of wounds in 1918, Connole, author of several works on the Great War and New England, ended by producing this interesting and highly informative book. In it, he not only tells the story of his kinsman, but more importantly that of Uncle Sam’s many other immigrant soldiers, who comprised nearly fifth of the Doughboys, many of whom had hardly settled in their new country when they were called to the colors.

Connole demonstrates that the large number of foreign born men in the draft pool and then in the ranks, many of whom could barely speak English, put the Army to a severe test. The Army did attempt to make adjustments, but was only partially successful in resolving problems the presence of these men created.

While immigrants were often denigrated and mistreated by bigoted “Old Stock” officers, more thoughtful military leaders – some themselves offspring of immigrants – helped the Army develop programs to teach foreign born recruits English while also getting them ready for combat. Connole gives us a look at some of the interesting techniques developed, such as linguistically “segregated” regiments in some training camps, which made it easier to train and educate the recruits. Under fire, the immigrant troops, who comprised substantial proportions of several divisions, such as the Germans of the 32nd Division or the polyglot 77th Division, composed of draftees from New York City, did as well in combat as “Old Stock” Americans.

America’s “Foreign Legion” is a valuable read for anyone interested in the AEF, the process of raising army, and the immigrant experience.


Note: America’s “Foreign Legion” is also available in several e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are shared with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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