Kelly Pilgrimage
  Visiting Leo's Grave   


August 4th, 5th and 6th, 1930 daily trips were made from Verdun to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, a distance of approximately 27 miles.  These daily trips were  made by bus, and allowed all the Gold Star Mothers to visit their son's graves.


The cemetery is located just outside the little village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon which was very badly damaged during the fighting when Leo was killed not far from here.

Courtesy of the National Archives


After we arrived at the cemetery and rested a short while, I was provided with a beautiful wreath of flowers made with roses, carnations, daisies and fern to place on our Leo’s final resting place.  It was so consoling to know our government provided this for us.  As I was being escorted to Leo’s grave I could not help but notice the serenity and beauty all about me. It is so quiet, all you can hear are the birds singing. The flower beds are in bloom, the shrubbery is neatly trimmed, the ground is perfectly level, and the grass is like a well kept lawn, soft and green.  The young trees will someday grace this sacred ground with their shade and beauty.  The crosses are larger than I expected, and are made of a pure white marble that feels smooth to the touch. In every direction you turn and look, they are in perfect rows, and there are so many of them. From any place you stand in the cemetery, you can see our beautiful flag billowing in the breeze at the top of the hill.  As I sit beside Leo’s grave, I think of the time he left us nearly twelve years ago, though I grieve, I am so proud of our brave boy.  I will sadly leave here, but with thankfulness in my heart, knowing our Leo rests in such a beautiful place.         


One of the ladies on the pilgrimage was Mrs. Sylvia Thomas who was living in Houston. I met her in Houston and we traveled  together on the entire trip until we returned to the United States. When we visited the graves of our sons at  the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery, she placed a wreath at the grave of her son, PFC Roy Claud Thomas, as I did on Leo's grave.*

Development of the Cemetery
1919 - 1936


Early development of the cemetery during the period between 1919 and 1925, when the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps Graves Registration personnel were retrieving remains from the Meuse-Argonne Campaign area.

The well developed cemetery in these early years of development contained as many as 25,000 interments in its 130.5 acres of land.  The buildings on the hillside to the east may be part of the village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon.


Landscaping of the grounds continues in this picture. All of the crosses and Stars of David are made of wood and painted white. They give the name, rank, unit, date of death and grave number.


The cemetery nears completion.  The
    flag pole has been centered at the top of the hill where the future chapel building will be built.


The large star ground feature made of shrubbery and flowers has been removed and replaced by a reflecting pool. The name Argonne Cemetery, made up of hedges has also been removed.


The white Carrara Italian marble crosses and Stars of David have been installed, c. 1928-1929, replacing the original wooden ones.  The monuments stand four feet above the ground and the cost of each was $14.50.
 This is most probably how the cemetery looked upon Mrs. Kelly's arrival.


  At the other end of the cemetery, at the top of the hill, are the care takers' houses and in the middle is the reception/guest house.

Close-up picture of the care takers homes and the reception/guest house.

By 1936 the beautiful new chapel, and the Walls of the Missing were finished and dedicated.  After the repatriation of remains to the United States process had been completed there remained just over 14,000 interments in the cemetery, making it one of the largest American cemeteries in Europe.

Apremont, France

The Death of Private First Class

Leo Francis Kelly

United States Army


Private First Class Leo Francis Kelly, United States Army died on September 29, 1918 near the village of Apremont, France as a result of combat related injuries resulting from a high explosive artillery shell.


The Meuse Argonne battle for the 35th Division commenced on the morning of the 26th of September just South of Verennes, France and struggled in a Northerly direction toward Exermont.  On the morning of the 29th the division was near a small woods called Montrebeau Woods, approximately half way between Baulny and Exermont.  It was cold, with a fine rain in the air – at 6:30AM the Germans counterattacked.  It is surmised PFC Kelly was killed in action at this time.


At the time of his death the Kansas and Missouri National Guardsmen of the 35th Division were suffering severe internal command problems.  On the eve of battle, General Pershing had relieved the two brigade commanders, the chief of staff and three of the four regimental commanders, replacing them with regular Army personnel.  They barely had time to introduce themselves before they started fighting the elite Prussian Guards Division.


On September 27 and 28, the 35th Division literally fell apart.  The two brigades became chaotically entangled; communications between front and rear virtually ceased.  The 35th’s commander, Major General Peter Traub, roved the battlefield in a sleepless daze, out of touch with his own headquarters.  At one point he was almost captured by the Germans.


On the 29th, the Prussian Guards launched a counterattack that caused a near rout.  The diary of the German Third Army reported “concentrated artillery fire struck enemy masses streaming to the rear with annihilating effect.”  The oncoming German infantry were stopped by counter fire from the 35th’s field artillery, among which Battery D of the 129th Regiment, headed by Captain Harry S Truman, performed with distinction.  But on the following day, the shattered division was withdrawn and replaced by the 1st and 32nd Divisions. When the Division returned home it had sustained 7,913 casualties during the time it had been in France, with the majority occurring during the Meuse-Argonne Campaign.  There were 1,530 deaths, 6,216 wounded and 167 captured as prisoners of war.

By the afternoon of the 29th, gloom and confusion had spread across the entire American battle line.  West of the Argonne Forest, the French Fourth Army had barely gained a foot, a mistake making life even more difficult for the Americans in the woods. 


PFC Kelly’s remains were recovered and were buried on October 6, 1918 in a combat cemetery on Chaudron Farm, located approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) East of Apremont and not too distant from where he was killed.


After his parents declined to have his remains repatriated to the United States, he was disinterred from Chaudron Farm on February 14, 1922 and transferred to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery near Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France.  He was buried in Section 20, Plot 3, Grave # 136.  Today his location is given as Plot B, Row 22, Grave # 15.

Leo was attached to the 69th Infantry Brigade, 129th Machine Gun Battalion, 35th Division which participated in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign with the 314th Infantry Regiment, 79th Division, and other units.
He was not in any way associated with the 314th.  This link is provided as it gives an excellent representation of the Meuse-Argonne Campaign.

The Village of Apremont
Chaudron Farm is located approximately 1.2 miles due East of Apremont.  See map below.

Meuse-Argonne 1st, 91st (181st Brigade) and 42nd Divisions 2nd Phase

Chaudron Farm and Montrebeau Woods

From Vauquois Hill to Exermont: A History of the 35th Division by Clair Kenamore

Meuse-Argonne Campaign

September 26 - November 11, 1918


At the end of August 1918 Marshall Foch had submitted plans to the national commanders for a final offensive along the entire Western Front, with the objective of driving the enemy out of France before winter and ending the war in the spring of 1919.  The basis for his optimism was the success of Allied attacks all along the front in August.  Furthermore, he pointed out, the Allies already had active operations in progress between the Moselle and Meuse, the Oise and Aisne, and on the Somme and Lys Rivers.  Foch acknowledged that the Germans could stave off immediate defeat by an orderly evacuation combined with destruction of material and communications.  Therefore the overall aim of the fall offensive would be to prevent a step-by-step enemy retirement.  As Foch anticipated, the Germans eventually contributed to the success of his strategy.  Their High Command could not bring itself to sacrifice the huge stores collected behind front lines, and so delayed the withdrawal of its armies.


Foch’s great offensive, planned to begin in the last week of September, called for a gigantic pincers movement with the objective of capturing Aulnoye and Mezieres, the two key junctions in the lateral rail system behind the German front.  Lose of either of these junctions would seriously hamper the German withdrawal.  Despite grumbling from the English that they lacked the necessary manpower, a chiefly British army was assigned the task of driving toward Aulnoye.  The A.E.F. was designated for the southern arm of the pincers, the thrust on Mezieres.  Simultaneously the Belgian-French-British army group in Flanders would drive toward Ghent, and the French armies in the Oise-Aisne region would exert pressure all along their front to lend support to the pincers attack.


General Pershing decided to strike his heaviest blow in a zone about 20 miles wide between the Heights of the Meuse on the east and western edge of the high, rough, and densely wooded Argonne Forest.  This is difficult terrain, broken by a central north-south ridge that dominates the valleys of the Meuse and Aire Rivers.  Three heavily fortified places - Montfaucon, Cunel and Barricourt - as well as numerous strong points barred the way to penetration of the elaborate German defenses in depth that extended behind the entire front.  This fortified system consisted of three main defense lines backed up by a fourth line less well-constructed.  Pershing hoped to launch an attack with enough momentum to drive through these lines into the open area beyond, where his troops could then strike at the exposed German flanks and, in a coordinated drive with the French Fourth Army coming up on the left, could cut the Sedan-Mezieres railroad.

The task of assembling troops in the concentration area between the Verdun and the Argonne was complicated by the fact that many American units were currently engaged in the St. Mihiel battle.  Some 600,000 Americans had to be moved into the Argonne sector while 220,000French moved out.  Responsibility for solving this tricky logistical problem fell to Col. George C. Marshall, Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3 (Operations), First Army.  In the ten day period after St. Mihiel the necessary troop movements were accomplished, but many untried divisions had to be placed in the vanguard of the attacking forces.


On the 20 mile Meuse-Argonne front where the main American attack was to be made, Pershing disposed three corps side by side, each with three divisions in line and one in Corps reserve.  In the center was the V Corps (from right to left the 79th, 37th, and 91st Divisions with the 32nd in reserve), which would strike the decisive blow.  On the right was the III Corps (from right to left the 33rd, 80th and 4th Divisions with the 3rd in reserve), which would move up the west side of the Meuse.  On the left was I Corps (from right to left the 35th, 28th and 77th Divisions with the 92nd in reserve), which would advance parallel to the French Fourth Army on its left.  Eastward across the Meuse the American front extended in direct line some 60 miles; this sector was held by two French Corps (IV and II Colonial) and the American IV Corps in the St. Mihiel sector.  Pershing had available to support his offensive nearly 4000 guns, two-thirds manned by American artillerymen; 190 light French tanks, mostly with American personnel; and some 820 aircraft, 600 of them flown by Americans.

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive fell into three phases.  During the initial phase (26 September - 3 October) the First Army advanced through most of the southern Meuse-Argonne region, captured enemy strongpoints, seized the first two German defense lines, and then stalled before the third line.  Failure of tank support, a difficult supply situation, and the inexperience of American troops all contributed to checking its advance.

Named Campaigns - World War I

Exermont, France

The Great American Cemetery in the Argonne

Identify All But 4 Per Cent of Dead: America's Heroes to Rest in Fields of Honor in France

*Photos of PFC Roy Claud Thomas and Sylvia Thomas courtesy of

Continue the Journey


Copyright 2008 - Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
All rights reserved

Dec. 1, 2008
Jan. 9, 2009