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Corporal Clement Grobbel: Co. 'I', 339th Infantry

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

(Cpl. Clement Grobbel, Courtesy of Mike Grobbel)

Clement Grobbel was born November 2, 1895 to Anthony and Mary (Minick) Grobbel.

Clement’s father operated a saloon and pool hall in the village of Warren, MI, while Clement and his siblings received their primary education in a nearby one-room schoolhouse. Clement relished being outdoors, and was prone to an occasional bit of mischief. In 1903, at age eight, he probably was the culprit in a fire that burned a neighbor’s barn and icehouse. Of course, he claimed complete innocence. The local newspaper reported, “Those buildings were a total loss and the rest of the village was saved from the spreading fire only because the wind shifted direction.” The news report, “attributed the cause of the fire to little boys making and smoking cornstalk cigarettes.” Grobbel family history blamed Eddie, one of Clement’s younger brothers for starting the fire, but the facts do not add up to support this belief. Eddie Grobbel was three years old at the time. Clement’s grandson, Mike Grobbel believes, “Clem may have been the instigator and fled the scene when the fire got out of control, leaving the two younger ones behind to take the blame!” [1]

Two years later, in 1905, Clement’s father turned from saloon keeper to farmer. Clement toiled on his father’s farm, though in his free time he roamed Michigan’s woods, armed with a small caliber hunting rifle, looking for game. The young man finished through eighth grade, then stopped going to school, as he helped his father on the farm, and developed an interest in all things mechanical. Later, while in Russia he would write his family, “It is so long since I tinker(ed) around a auto or gas engine that I almost forgot how they work.” Clement’s farming days ended on May 26, 1918, when he was drafted and found himself headed to Camp Custer. Grobbel was assigned to Company ‘I’, and within a few months, like every other soldier in the 339th Infantry, found himself in Northern Russia.

The following excerpt is from the article, "Outnumbered on the Vologda Railroad Front - The Bolshevik Attack of November 4, 1918," written by Mike Grobbel:

"Monday, November 4th began much as the day before had ended. All was quiet at the forward outposts that were located between Verst 444 and 443 ½. Lt. Gordon Reese had taken a platoon of men from Company I to work on the blockhouse near Verst 446 and another platoon was stationed back at Verst 448. Around 1:30 PM, the men in the forward outposts heard loud talking coming from the forest. Ten minutes later, they spotted an enemy patrol and opened fire on them. This was shortly followed by a barrage of Bolshevik artillery which landed near the blockhouse at Verst 446 and caused Lt. Reese and his men to be called up to the forward positions at 445. The Allied artillery responded with fire from their 18 pounder and 155 cc. guns that were mounted on an armored train located back at Verst 447.

When the Allied troops at their forward positions spotted large numbers of Bolshevik soldiers going around their left flank at 2:15 PM, they realized that this was going to be more serious than the usual sparring that had been taking place between the two sides. Lt. Dwight Fistler’s 2nd Platoon of Company I was manning the left forward outposts and they were immediately ordered to withdraw about 300 yards to a wooden railroad bridge near Verst 444, where they were posted to defend it from attack on either side. Lt. Reese was ordered to take two squads of his men and reinforce the left flank in the vicinity of the clearing at Verst 445 in preparation against an imminent attack, while the artillery duel continued at a furious pace.

The enemy shelling of Verst 445 finally stopped at 3 o’clock and their guns were re-aimed to continue the bombardment at Verst 448, a signal that the Bolshevik infantry would soon launch their attack. The enemy, later estimated to have totaled between 800 and 1,000 men, finally launched their heavy attack 15 minutes later, initially on the forward left positions and left flank of the Allied troops, followed by a lighter attack on their right flank.

The 140 American and French forward troops responded with fire from their Lewis machine guns, their Mosin-Nagant rifles and their supply of French V.B. rifle grenades. They were initially supported by their own artillery, which placed shells into the enemy infantry attacking on their left and right flanks. However, the 18 pounder had to be taken out of action less than 10 minutes after the attack began and it was sent back to Verst 455, leaving only the 155 cc. gun to support the Allied infantrymen. At about that same time, two of Captain Boyet’s platoons left 455 and were sent up to Verst 448.

The men near Verst 444 soon found themselves being attacked from both flanks. When the enemy began their attack on the right flank, Corporal Theodore H. Sieloff moved his machine gun to an exposed position so he could deliver more effective fire on the enemy attackers. Although now faced with enemy fire coming from two directions, he and his crew were able to hold the enemy in check until his gun had become disabled. He quickly dismantled it and replaced the broken parts and they were able to resume firing without getting overrun, eventually suppressing the enemy attack.

The situation faced by the men farther back at Verst 445 was a little different. Faced with the heavy attack on their left flank, the Allied troops fell back from their positions in the clearing on that side for the protection offered by the trench on the other side of the railroad embankment. As the Bolshevik infantrymen crossed the clearing, Corporal Clement A. Grobbel voluntarily left the trench and took up a position on top of the railroad bank. Although exposed to heavy enemy fire, he and his crew held their position and continued to fire their Lewis gun at the approaching Bolsheviks. Other Allied troops made effective use of the V.B. rifle grenades, launching them into the clearing at the charging enemy with deadly results.

By 3:55 p.m., the Bolshevik troops had ended their assault and by 4:30 p.m., the artillery pieces on both sides of the front had fallen silent and the ambulance and ammunition supply crews had moved to the forward positions to do their tasks. The enemy casualties were reported to be “heavy”. Two wounded Bolsheviks were brought in for treatment and three prisoners were captured. The Allied troops suffered casualties as well. Private Leo R. Ellis was killed in action and Private Martin J. Zawacki was severely wounded. Lt. Reese was slightly wounded during the attack, as was also a British Artillery Corporal.

In recognition of their brave actions during the attack of November 4th, British Major General William Edmund Ironside, on behalf of the French government, awarded the French Croix de Guerre to Lt. Dwight Fistler, Cpl. John C. Smolinski, Cpl. Theodore H. Sieloff, Cpl. Clement Grobbel, Pvt. Frank Rank, Pvt. Oscar Lighter, Pvt. Hermann Sodor and Pvt. John Kukoris. Pvt. Leo R. Ellis was posthumously awarded the French Croix de Guerre at the same ceremony, which was held at Verst 455 on 17 Feb. 1919. Corporals Sieloff and Grobbel were later also awarded the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross for their actions the day that they found themselves under attack and greatly outnumbered by their Bolshevik foes."

Corporal Grobbel and his comrades survived his time in Russia, and in July 1919 returned to the U.S., where, following a massive parade in Detroit, Cpl. Grobbel was discharged, to return to his parents’ farm in Warren Township. Clement said, simply, “Well, we did our share, I think.”[2]

Clement married Marcella Peters; he told his kids years later, “She was my first and only girlfriend.”[3] He and Marcella lived not far from where he grew up, and they raised seven children. Clement, who liked to work with his hands, established a cement block company. Grobbel, in addition to making cement blocks, dug basements, built basement walls with his blocks, and also poured cement floors and sidewalks. Unfortunately, his business collapsed during the Depression. He then became the town’s policeman, and eventually its police chief. Clement followed this with the responsibilities as the local county water board supervisor.

Sadly, Marcella died in 1937, leaving Clement with several young children. He married again, to Roxanna Kennedy, and the two finished raising the Grobbel kids. Clement worked for his church as a sexton and janitor at its parish parochial school. This job also included the task of ringing the church’s steeple bell three times each day. Finally though, in 1974, the World War I veteran retired. Clement A. Grobbel passed away three years later, at the age of 81. His last words to his children summed up his life; “Take a lot of pictures of your children and love them.”[4]

------------------------ [1] Grobbel, Mike, Personal communication, 2021. [2] Grobbel, Mike, Personal communication, 2021. [3] Grobbel, Mike, Personal communication, 2021.

[4] Grobbel, Mike, Personal communication, 2021.

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