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1st Lt. Gordon B. Reese: Company 'I', 339th Infantry

Updated: Apr 6


(1st Lt. Gordon B. Reese, Courtesy of Michael Belis, findagrave.com)


Gordon B. Reese was born April 14, 1895. His parents, Charles and Angenette Tinkham Reese were renting a home in Minneapolis, MN at the time, as Charles served as a Baptist minister. Gordon’s parents were middle aged when he was born; his father 43 and mother 41; meanwhile Gordon’s two older brothers and two sisters were all much older than he—the eldest brother, Daniel, was 14 years older—thus a Swedish servant did much of Gordon’s early childhood upbringing.

Gordon’s father moved the family to Newton, MA, a town a dozen miles west of Boston, and by 1900 had established himself as a leader of a new Baptist congregation. Gordon began attending elementary classes in Newton, but his schooling was interrupted when his father shifted congregations again, this time to Milford, NH. Here, Gordon finished his schooling, graduating from the town’s Centennial High School in 1914. The young man attended a New Hampshire university, however he did not finish.[1] Instead, in 1917 he took the exam for officer’s training, passed it, and was sent to Fort Sheridan, IL. He earned his lieutenant’s bars and in 1918, when the 339th Infantry was being formed, 2nd Lt. Reese was added to that unit’s rolls. Then, following his promotion to first lieutenant, he was assigned to Company ‘I’ and given command of 2nd Platoon.

Lieutenant Reese’s platoon got their first taste of battle on September 16, 1918, a morning of cold rain and sleet. Not long after noon the Bolshevik artillery fire swept the Yank outposts. Eventually, the barrage ceased and the Bolos advanced. The Reds greatly outnumbered the Americans and as the fight continued it became obvious the Bolshevik battle line extended beyond the Yanks’ left. The attackers soon realized this and rushed more men to crowd past the Americans’ unprotected flank. First Lieutenant Gerald Danley (Co. I), the senior officer on the American line knew his troops needed reinforcements. He sent a messenger to the company HQ, requesting help.

Captain Horatio Winslow sent 1st Lt. Gordon Reese (Co. I) with the company’s remaining two platoons to help. Lieutenant Reese, knowing from the message he had received the Bolsheviks were working around the American left flank, aimed his men toward that perilous location. Reese’s force collided with the Bolos and the two groups of fiercely armed men pummeling each other with rifle fire, with both sides taking casualties. The fighting continued for the next hour. More men fell but neither side gained any ground. But, by this time the Americans had shot up most of their ammunition, and because of their isolated position on the Allied left flank, were out of communication with the main battle line. Lieutenant Reese faced a pivotal moment; his men would soon have no means by which to continue the fight. Reese ordered his men to fix bayonets and charge. This tactic surprised the Bolsheviks, who then broke and ran.

First Lieutenant Gordon Reese’s bayonet charge rolled the stunned Bolos backwards and smashed into their main line’s position. This line also collapsed and the Bolsheviks fled. The Yanks consolidated their position once the fighting ended, having advanced another mile. Second Battalion commander, Maj. Charles Young sent Cpt. Joel Moore and Co. ‘M’ to relieve the “battle veterans” of Co. ‘I’. Lieutenant Reese took his platoon away from the front line, his riflemen men were tired, and “wired’ from their experience. These doughboys were civilian soldiers no more. Their elation though, was tempered when they gazed at the bodies of three Americans. Suddenly, these boys from Michigan and nearby areas realized war’s lethality. Major Charles Young had his adjutant, Lt. Lewis Jahns send a message to Cpt. Winslow; it read; “The Battalion Commander … wishes … to express his high appreciation of the gallant work done by … Lieut. Gordon B. Reese, Sgt. Carl W. Venable, Co. L, and Pvt. Edward Kurklewicz, Co. I … [as] conspicuously gallant and worthy of special mention.”[2]

Lieutenant Reese would continue leading his platoon as the Americans pushed the Bolsheviks southward along the Archangel-Vologda RR. On November 4, 1918, the Bolsheviks counterattacked at verst 445 and in that fight, Lt. Reese received a flesh wound. He survived, and by the time the 339th left Russia, Reese had been award both the British Military Cross and the Russian St. Stanislaus Cross for bravery.

Gordon Reese received his discharge from the Army in 1919 and quickly found himself a job in Chicago as an 'Efficiency Man' at the North Oak Park Boarding House. This work served to tide him over for a couple years, but then he moved to Milwaukee, WI and secured a postion as an interior decorator for the Niedecken-Wolbridge Company. [3] There, he met Elizabeth Auer and they married in 1923. Gordon continued working at Niedecken-Wolbridge until 1937, when he became ill. He passed away December 30, 1937. Elizabeth had Gordon's body returned to Providence, R.I., where his family's cemetery plots were.

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[1] Milford, MA City Directory, 1917.

[2] Jahns, Lewis E., “Field Order No. 1,” 18 Sep 1918.

[3] Milwaukee, WI City Directory, 1926.

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