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Private Floyd Sickles: Co. 'M', 339th Infantry

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

(Pvt. Floyd A. Sickles, Courtesy of Terry (Haupt) Huizenger,

Floyd A. Sickles, born March 12, 1890, was from Deckersville, a small village of about 600 people, located in the thumb-portion of Michigan. His father, George, a Canadian immigrant, and mother, Betsy rented a house in that little settlement. George was the town’s barber, and his small shop was the central place for gossip. Floyd, along with his nine brothers and sisters, attended the community’s elementary school, but he did not continue on to high school. Floyd worked in his father’s barbershop, starting at first just sweeping up hair, while gradually learning the profession. He became an able barber, and father and son together, tended to the community’s hair cutting needs. However, when Floyd reached seventeen, he turned his back on his father’s profession and lured by the promise of good money, moved to Flint, MI. There, he got work as a laborer at an auto factory. The young man discovered being an insignificant cog in a giant auto factory was not worth the extra cash he earned. He also learned how much more expensive it was to live in one of Detroit’s suburbs, so he moved back home and went to work for his father. Floyd, along with a younger brother, Victor, changed the barbershop’s sign from ‘George Sickles and Son’ to ‘George Sickles and Sons’. Thus, by early 1917, the two sons did most of the barbering while George spent a majority of his time talking with old friends around the shop’s potbellied stove, and yes, he did occasionally cut someone’s hair. However, America’s entry into the Great War meant both Floyd and Victor had to register for the draft. Floyd’s military registration identified him as a barber, standing tall (around 6 feet), with brown hair and brown eyes. Victor though, did not get orders to report for military service, said good-bye to his father and his barbershop, and moved to Detroit, where he got a job in an auto factory. Floyd was sent to Camp Custer and assigned to Company ‘M’, 339th Infantry. Private Sickles trained alongside the rest of the new recruits in Cpt. Joel Moore’s company, and though he was always a rifleman, soon acquired a reputation as the unit’s barber. The 339th shipped out to England, and from there, to Russia. On December 6, 1918, Pvt. Sickles’ Company ‘M’, which had been on the front lines for some time, received word they would be relieved. The men prepared to leave their blockhouse duties, happy to return to the warm security of their boxcars. Sadly, this did not happen. When Cpt. Horatio Winslow’s Company ‘I’ men filed into their positions, Company ‘M’ made ready to move out. But unfortunately, at that moment an airplane buzzed their positions, strafed the Americans standing out in the open with machine gun fire, and dropped two 112-pound bombs. One bomb detonated not far from a bridge the Yanks guarded, while the other destroyed the corner of a building sheltering First Platoon’s headquarters. Two American soldiers were wounded and one was killed. Regrettably, Pvt. Floyd Sickles was killed instantaneously.

Captain Joel Moore (Co. M), in a letter to Floyd Sickles’ parents, wrote, “This is the saddest letter which I have had to write … Your son, Floyd A. Sickles was instantly killed … by the explosion of a 112-lb bomb … We buried him in the shell crater made by the bomb, and when the frozen clods of earth were laid tenderly over his remains there was not an officer or man in the company who did not feel that he was putting a good and true brave friend into his final resting place.” Moore continued, “You will receive through the proper military channels, notice of his death, and also the personal property which I collected. I am sorry that I could not find it all. The explosion totally destroyed his pack and haversack. His razor was in several pieces. His comb is gone. The stone which I am returning to you I am told he prized very highly because his father had given it to him. I thought also that you would like his shaving brush and mug.”[1]

Sickles’ comrades were furious. The airplane, a Sopwith Camel, its wings displaying distinctive red-white-blue roundels, identified it as belonging to the British Royal Air Force, its airfield just outside Obozerskaya. Again, American blood had been shed because of British sloppiness. The Americans began making threats against their British overlords; they were going to make the British pay for Floyd Sickles’ death. Captain Moore, though angry himself, knew he must prevent his men from confronting the airmen, as their mood was that of a lynch mob. He found a way to delay the train’s departure, forcing his infuriated men to stew in their motionless train cars. Their anger abated, so that by the time the train headed north for Obozerskaya they had calmed down, and with that, the nervous Royal Air Force had no occasion to use its rifles in self defense.

A board of inquiry met on December 9, 1918, in Obozerskaya to investigate the bombing incident; they found the pilots not to be at fault. Joel Moore wrote in disgust, “A board of officers whitewashed the Canadian flyers … and the incident was closed.”[2]

------------------------------------ [1] Moore, Joel, “Letter,” in ‘M’ Company, 11 Dec 1918. [2] Moore, Joel, Et al., The History of the American Expedition, 1920.

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