Ray Baer in World War I


Photo ca. 1914 (abt. 19 yrs. old)

Sgt. Raymond W. Baer

U.S. Infantry (National) Army 1917-1919

331st Machine Gun Battalion, 86th Infantry "Black Hawk" Division, Camp Grant, Illinois

144th Machine Gun Battalion, 79th Infantry Brigade, 40th Infantry "Sunshine" Division



Sketch of Raymond Baer’s experiences, his infantry unit with the American Expeditionary Forces in the U.S. Army during World War I

A journey that took him to a National Army infantry training camp at Rockford, Illinois and overseas to France, and back home again.

By Stacy Scharch



Raymond Before The War

Raymond W. Baer, son of Catherine (Loehrer) and Charles E. H. Baer, was born in Madison, Wisconsin in September 1895.  The family lived in downtown Madison on an isthmus just two blocks west of the Wisconsin State Capitol building.  Ray had one younger sister Lillian G. (King) and an older brother Joseph J. Baer. Their Victorian era home was on the back side of a block along State Street at 115 West Johnson Street, living just two doors down from the Orpheum Theater's stage door. The old home with fine interior hardwood was torn down in the 1970s along with several others, a parking ramp now bordering W. Johnson, N. Carroll, and W. Dayton Streets was built. 

His father "Charley" was a successful traveling salesman for the Gould, Wells & Blackburn Co., wholesale grocers at 634 West Main Street, from 1898 to around 1915.  The business became Universal Grocery Co. then later Kroger Grocery and Baking Co. around 1930.  The extant four-story building is located 3 blocks over and 6 blocks down from the old Baer house.  Life for the Baer’s must have been convenient, living and working in such close proximity, in the heart of downtown.  Within a few years Charles was named Secretary of the Globe Baking Company corporation.  A slightly smaller operation, it was located at 219-23 East Main Street on the east side of the Capitol Square, a little closer to home.  Two Madison city directories list Charles as employed by both companies around 1917.  The old Globe building sat on the southwest corner of E. Main and S. Butler Streets and was torn down around 1971-72 for the current multi-story G.E.F. II state office building. 

The First World War, 1914-1918

When a Serbian nationalist assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand (heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne) in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, it set off a gigantic explosion we now know as World War I.  There were many other volatile elements combined which lay blame to the cause of the Great War.  Scholars say it was a desire for greater empire, wealth and territory. A massive arms race. The series of treaties which ensured that once one power went to war, all of Europe would quickly follow. Social turmoil and changing artistic sensibilities brought about by the Industrial Revolution is another debated cause. It was also considered a miscalculation by rulers and generals in power.

True to the military alliances, Europe's powers quickly drew up sides after the assassination. The allies -- chiefly Russia, France and Britain -- were pitted against the Central Powers -- primarily Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey. Eventually, the War spread beyond Europe as the warring continent turned to its colonies and friends for help. This included the United States, which joined the War in 1917 when President Woodrow Wilson called on Americans to "make the world safe for democracy."

Most of the leaders in 1914 had no real idea of the war machine they were putting into motion. Many believed the War would be over by Christmas 1914. But by the end of the first year, a new kind of war emerged on the battlefield that had never been seen before -- or repeated since: total war-producing stalemate, the result of a war that went on for 1,500 days. Before the official Armistice was declared on November 11, 1918, nine million people had died on the battlefield and the world was forever changed.

The Great War Prologue by PBS

The Draft

Congress passed the Selective Service Act in May 1917, requiring all men of draft age to register.  The first names were drawn on July 20, 1917.  Shortly after, notices to appear for draft board examinations were sent out.  Inductees would not have to report to their particular camps until September 5, 1917.

On September 18, 1917,  Raymond was inducted at Madison, Wisconsin just four days before his 22nd birthday.  His service and bonus card indicate brown hair, fair complexion, 5’-10” of height, and his occupation as “laborer”.  In the Madison City Directory for 1917 Raymond's occupation is listed as a "foreman" for the 'Wisconsin Telephone Company' and was living at home with his parents on 115 West Johnson Street.

The time before his departure must have been surreal as he said goodbye to family and friends.  He was embarking on a journey to new places and experiences.  Leaving Madison with no more than one suitcase, Raymond was off to the new National Army (cantonment still under construction) outside of Rockford, Illinois - Camp Grant.  During the dawn of the automobile era there were few paved highways connecting cities and reliable cars - Ray probably traveled the 75 miles to Rockford by railroad.

Ray's brother Joseph "Cody" Baer entered the infantry 7 months later on April 26, 1918 and also trained at Camp Grant.  Cody, 24 years old, trained and was with Company 5 of the 161st Depot Brigade to May 31, 1918, then went onto the “School for Bakers and Cooks ”.  See his service cards.   He was promoted to Sergeant First Class on September 17, 1918 and remained at Camp Grant, Illinois through the war's end and up to his discharge on February 9, 1919.

Stationed at Camp Grant at the same time for 5 months, both brothers may have seen each other, in a chow line or off duty.  The phrase “Doughboy” must have had some personal meaning, considering the family was in the baking business.

After the war their father Charles, as president of the Globe Baking Company, brought his two sons on board as officers of the corporation.  Raymond became "secretary-manager" and his brother Joe was "vice-president".  The Globe Baking Company became defunct corporation around 1928 for unknown reasons.  Charley was 64 years old and may have sold the business to retire. 

Raymond is mentioned in the March 1929, Wisconsin Alumni Magazine as a U.W. graduate in 1918.  The paragraph cites, " Ray Baer is part owner of The Southern Wisconsin Insurance Agency, Madison."  The agency started in 1928 and evolved into Ray W. Baer and Sons Insurance.  No longer a family owned business it is called Baer Insurance Services.


Trainloads of inductees from all over Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota were mobilized pouring into Camp Grant, which was a wheat field only a few months previously. They arrived at a new railroad depot station inside the camp.  Some of the inductees arrived in the city of Rockford and were transported on buses and trucks in through the camp's main gate.

Camp Grant was the largest training facility in the Midwest and named after Ulysses S. Grant 18th president of the United States. Construction of the National Army cantonment started in June 1917. The 86th Infantry Division was activated there on August 3, 1917 under the command of Major General Thomas H. Barry. The first draftees arrived just a few months later in September the same year. Their primary focus was on infantry-related field skills and would train over 56,000 troops during WWI, with an estimated one million people passing through in some capacity.

Today the property currently occupied by the Rockford airport and the Rockford Park District's Atwood Park, was once a bustling and active 5,460-acre site. In fact, the camp's original stone pillered entrance remains visible today at the intersection of Kishwaukee Street and Airport Drive.

Ray was first assigned to Company A, of the 331st Machine Gun Battalion as "Divisional" Troops for the 86th “Black Hawk” Infantry Division. One month after induction at Camp Grant, he was given the rank (or grade) of sergeant on October 20, 1917.

In one of Camp Grant's first waves of troops to ship out, Raymond left Illinois heading east and arrived at Camp Mills, NY a troop staging cantonment on Long Island. Officially, he departed the U.S. on September 9, 1918 from the Port of Embarkation at Hoboken, NJ aboard the troop ship "Empress of Asia".

The  Eighty-Sixth Infantry Division Of The National Army

On September 8, 1918, the division, under the command of Major General Charles H. Martin, left for Liverpool, England. After a brief stop in England, the Blackhawks sailed to the French ports of LeHavre and Cherbourg. 

Shortly after arriving in France, the 86th was once again given the mission of providing replacements for the divisions which were already on line. By the middle of October it had become completely skeletonized. Although plans were made to bring the 86th up to strength for later use, the Germans surrendered on  November 11, 1918. The division was then reduced to a cadre. General Martin was sent to take command of  the 92nd Infantry Division.

The 86th Infantry Division cadre, composed of only 17 Officers and 124 enlisted men, arrived back in the United States in January, 1919. The division was deactivated soon thereafter, at the place of activation - Camp Grant, Illinois.

(History of the 86th Infantry Division: www.86blackhawkdiv.org)

Raymond In Europe

In France, Raymond's unit the 86th "Black Hawk" Division did not see combat during the war.  Like so many other divisions the 86th was "skeletonized" upon arrival.  Consequently, his comrades were immediately split up and used as replacements to fill the dwindling ranks in other combat units on Germany's western front.  He remained with the 86th Infantry Division, which became a small cadre of officers and enlisted men who were assigned to train and process soldiers. 

The following Stars and Stripes article "THE DEPOTS" describes, with some frustration, how these men trained as combat units then suddenly denied there chance to fight, reorganized and used instead to train more raw recruits for the front.  Receiving raw replacement troops from the U.S. and allied forces they had to billet, feed, instruct, discipline, and father them all within 10-14 days before sending them to other units in the trenches on the front line. 

Exactly what tasks Ray Baer performed is unknown.  He probably worked many long hours day and night for several months as a machine gun intructor and helped process troops back and forth to the front.  Bill Morrissey, his sister in-law's son recalls, "He was gassed.", during the war.  A nearby gas attack may have been very likely, since training cadres were often located near the front.  But officially, he never saw combat while in France; the war came to a close 63 days after his arrival. 

On January 4, 1919, he was transfered to an entirely different unit, the 40th Infantry "Sunshine" Division from California's National Guard.  Once again he was separated, permanently, from the Illinois cadre his pals of the 86th Infantry Division.  The majority of the division was sent home in January and demobilized at Camp Grant, IL while he remained in France.

Ray Baer was assigned to Company A, 144th Machine Gun Battalion, 79th Infantry Brigade of the 40th Infantry "Sunshine" Division at Castres (Grionde) France.  The 40th Division was also skeletonized when it arrived in France and fell under the control of the 6th Depot Division.  Members of the unit were sent as indiviudals to other units.  Those units who remained with the 40th Division (and it seems like this would include Ray Baer) set up camps to process soldiers. The 144th MG Bn was in charge of a classification camp at Revingy.

On February 9, 1919 he was transferred again to another company within the same unit, Company D, 144th M.G. Bn., 79th Inf. Brig., 40th Inf. Div. where he served until his discharge.

He departed from France and arrived in the U.S. on April 17, 1919.  While his military service ended with the men of California's 40th Infantry Division, his point of was discharge was at Camp Grant, Illinois on April 29, 1919.


Attitudes were different in the early 1900s.  In 1918, it is hard to imagine how much these "doughboys" wanted the opportunity to prove themselves in a war.  According to accounts, 'They went willingly to the front in truckloads proudly singing loud enough for the enemy to hear their songs of victory.'  During the Battle of the Marne, over one-million died in less than a week.  When the U.S. finally arrived in Europe, it was the overwhelming numbers of allies that brought the war to a close. 

The armistice was signed at 5 a.m. on the morning of 11 November 1918, and came into effect six hours later at 11 a.m. (hence the oft-quoted 'eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month').




National Army

86th Infantry Division

"Black Hawk"

(Shoulder Patch)





United States National Army

Enlisted Men's Collar Insignia

(Army devise worn on right collar)

American Expeditionary Forces WWI



Ray W. Baer's Unit Assignements


Inducted:  Madison, Wis. 18 Sep 1917
Grades:  Sgt 20 Oct 1917
Co. A, 331st MG Bn, 86th Inf. Div. to 4 Jan 1919
Co. A, 144th MG Bn, 79th Inf. Brig., 40th Inf. Div. to 9 Feb 1919
Co. D, 144th MG Bn, 79th Inf. Brig., 40th Inf. Div. to discharge
Honorably discharged:  Camp Grant, Ill. 29 Apr 1919
*Served overseas:  9 Sept 1918 to 17 Apr 1919 (220 days total)

*Dates of departure from and arrival in the United States



U.S. Infantry

40th Infantry Division


(Shoulder Patch)





"Machine Gun" Battalion

Machine Gun Battalion

Enlisted Men's Collar Insignia

(Corps devise worn on left collar)




Timeline of Events


 6 Apr 1917

The United States declared war on Germany.  (War in Europe ongoing since 1914.)

18 May 1917

The United States passes the Selective Service Act empowering the Federal Government to draft men for the armed forces.

 5 Jun 1917

All men of draft age were required to register.

19 Jun 1917

The first Wisconsin National Guard units were activated (by State Adjutant General Holway) at their armories.

 9 Jul 1917

Announced that Wisconsin State Guard would be created to take place of the Wisconsin National Guard when it left the State.

15 Jul 1917

Wisconsin National Guard was ordered into Federal Service by President Wilson.

20 Jul 1917

Guardsmen earned the following pay:  Private, $30 per month; first class private, $33 per month; corporal, $36; sergeant, $38; first sergeant, $51; second lieutenant, $150; first lieutenant, $167; captain, $200.  The men are allowed 75 cents a day for subsistence.

20 Jul 1917

The first numbers for the Draft were drawn. The first men drafted would not report to their respective Army camps until about 5 Sept 1917.

31 Jul 1917

The first notices to appear for draft board examinations were sent to men selected on 20 July 1917.

 5 Aug 1917

By proclamation of President Wilson, every soldier in the National Guard, of every state, was essentially discharged and immediately drafted into the U.S. Army, because of a constitutional restraint upon the use of the National Guard beyond the borders of the United States.

22 Aug 1917

It was announced that some of Wisconsin's drafted men would go to the Army camp at Battle Creek, Michigan and the others would go to Camp Grant at Rockford, Illinois.

18 Sep 1917

Raymond:  Inducted (drafted) at Madison, Wisconsin into the “National Army” at age of 21 yrs., 11 mos.old. asn 2055227.  Sent to Camp Grant, (Rockford) Illinois where many other recruits from Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota go.  Trained and assigned to Company A, the 331st Machine Gun Battalion, a component of 86th "Black Hawk" Division.

26 Sep 1917

Camp Grant, IL:  Former President and Colonel, Theodore Roosevelt makes visit addresses entire camp, troops and officers in support of war effort.

20 Oct 1917

Raymond:  Promoted to rank of Sergeant, receives about ten months of ongoing basic and specialized training until early September 1918.



5 Jan 1918 Camp Grant, IL:  General, John J. Pershing visits camp for inspection and readiness of troops.
  Sep 1918 Camp Grant, IL:  Influenza pandemic sweeps through the Rockford area closing all schools and public places, 1,400 soldiers die at Camp Grant.
  Sep 1918 Raymond:  Departs Camp Grant for Camp Mills - Nassau County, Long Island, NY a cantonment, where large numbers of troops were staged while preparing to embark.  (About a 2-4 day stay in a tent city before sailing.)
9 Sep 1918 Raymond:  From Port of Embarkation at Hoboken, NJ, Sgt. Ray Baer boards troop ship "Empress of Asia" and sails to France.



 4 Jan 1919

Raymond:  Transferred to Co. A, 144th Machine Gun Battalion  (Cmpnt. of 79th Inf. Brig. & 40th Division)

 9 Feb 1919

Raymond:  Transferred to Co. D, 144th Machine Gun Battalion.

17 Apr 1919

Raymond:  Returns to United States from overseas duty after spending a total of 220 days in France.

29 Apr 1919

Raymond:  Receives Honorable Discharge at Camp Grant, IL; 0 percent disabled; Grades: Sergeant




Heads of State

Weapons of Mass Desctruction

During WWI (the Great War) aviation was in it's infancy and barely existent.  Armies employed the use of huge guns and mortars for aerial bombarment:





  1. Abigail Miller, Reference Archivist, Wisconsin Veterans Museum Research Center (Madison, WI)

  2. World War One Roster Books, Wisconsin Veterans Museum Research Center (Madison, WI)

  3. Various World War One sources

Copyright © Stacy Scharch 2006 All Rights Reserved.