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Pvt. Herman Yopp: Co. 'M', 339th Infantry

Updated: Apr 6


(Pvt. Herman Yopp, Library of Congress)


Herman Yopp was born July 2, 1894 in Paducah, KY, the eighth child of Andrew and Agnes Yopp. Herman’s 44-year-old father, the son of a German immigrant, ran a grocery store, assisted by his eldest son, 17-year-old Martin. The Yopp’s lived in town, where Herman and his six sisters attended the local grade school. In 1901, a third son was born, giving Mr. and Mrs. Yopp nine children. Herman, once he finished eighth grade, got a job at a feed store, selling seeds, alongside one of his older brothers. Herman did so well as a seed salesman that when he reached the age of eighteen, he was given the responsibilities as the store’s manager. A few years later, in 1910, he continued to live at home with his widowed father, two brothers, a sister and her husband.

America’s entry into the Great War forced the young feed store manager into the military. His June 1917 Draft Registration card listed him as being tall, with brown eyes, brown hair, and being partially bald.[1] He entered Camp Custer, along with about a hundred other Kentucky draftees in April 1918. Here, he undertook basic training and was eventually assigned to Company ‘L’, 337th Infantry. Private Yopp’s battalion boarded the transport ship, Nevasa, on July 22, 1918, and traveled by convoy to France. He stepped onto French soil two weeks later. Private Yopp’s 337th Regiment was transported to Nievre, France in the Loire Valley, but did not move to the Western Front. Instead, the regiment’s men were separated into small groups and dispersed among American units that had suffered enough losses to need replacements. In September 1918, Yopp along with 161 other fellow 337th comrades was designated as replacements for the 339th Infantry. Private Yopp boarded the Caesarea and two weeks later, found himself marching down the ship’s gangplank, heading towards Archangel. He had no clue why he was in Russia, as he had been drafted with the idea that he was going to France, but suddenly wound up in Russia.”

The 339th Infantry during its first month had suffered so many losses due to the Spanish flu, injuries, sickness, and combat casualties that Col. George Stewart was forced to plea for reinforcements. Colonel Stewart, in October 1918, received ten officers and 479 enlisted men to bolster his regiment.[2] Forty-three riflemen, including Pvt. Herman Yopp, ended up being added to Company ‘M’. Herman Yopp recalled, “After a week’s stay in Archangel and eating battalion mess, which consisted of ‘grass stew’ and hardtack three times a day, and tea for breakfast only, I was transferred to ‘M’ Company.” Yopp continued, “[I] will never forget the first meal. A whole mess kit full of oat meal, dried apple sauce, bread and coffee … When we were about half way through eating, Captain Moore made a little speech. He said that if anyone wanted seconds he could have them. I was so full that I hardly had room for all the applesauce.”[3]

By mid-December 1918, Company ‘M’ had been shifted from active duty on the Railroad Front to resting at the Smolny barracks, outside of Archangel. Colonel Stewart, responding to the ever-changing military situation, decided to shift two of Cpt. Moore’s platoons to aid in the defense of Pinega, a city eighty miles east of Archangel. The two platoons pulled out of Archangel in a long convoy of pony-drawn sleighs. The convoy traveled ten to fifteen miles each day, before bedding down in a Russian village, and thus taking refuge from the Russian winter’s brutal temperatures.

December 20, 1918, the third day of the march; the convoy strung itself out into a long line, with the weather cold, but the sun was out. However, in the afternoon a wind-driven snowstorm rolled over the Americans. Unfortunately the snow began to blow across the Yanks’ trail; those at the front of the column were fine—those in the rear no longer could see the pathway to follow. When the majority of the doughboys had settled into their night’s quarters word was passed to Cpt. Moore that a small squad of rear guard men had become lost. A team was sent out to find them but returned empty-handed. Everyone knew; no one could survive in this Arctic cold for long. If they were not able to find cover, they would die from exposure.

The missing Americans; Pvt. Herman Yopp and two others had been at the rear guard’s farthest back point. Herman Yopp recalled, “We were following the rear guard [and] … got into a blizzard ... The bad weather grew stronger with each passing hour, and soon [we] … stopped noticing the trail.” He continued, “Snowfall intensified. After some time [we] … realized that [we] no longer had a road under [our] feet, but a field … [we] were exhausted. [Our] clothing was soaked with sweat and melted snow. It was worth stopping for a breather, [but] the cold instantly made its way under the wet uniform, holding an icy chill. Trying not to think about the closing night, [we] … stubbornly walked, trying to reach the Pinezhskaya road … [but] in vain.”[4]

The three lost Americans stumbled forward in the deep snow; despair clutching at their hearts. But then, just as they were ready to give up, they saw a tiny light in the distance. Herman Yopp remarked, “[It was a] light in the window of a hut on the edge of the forest …forgetting all caution, [we] came to the house [and] knocked. The door was opened by a bearded old man, behind whom stood his spouse. The Russians understood everything at a glance and silently let [us] … into the heat.” He continued, “[We] warmed up, throwing off [our wet] clothes, [and] were seated at the table and [were] fed with simple peasant food; rye bread, boiled potatoes, meat and a samovar of hot tea … [then] were put to sleep on top a hot Russian stove.” Yopp added, “The next morning … when [we] left, the peasants brought [us] to the road and showed [us] the right direction … [We] caught up with the platoon, where [we] were no longer expected, [as we were] considered … dead in the blizzard.”[5]

Pvt. Herman Yopp would survive his time in Russia, return to the United States aboard the transport ship, the U.S.S. Von Steuben, receive his Honorable Discharge and return to Paducah, KY. He went back to work at the feed store, married Ruth E. Alsman, and eventually started his own business—Yopp Seed Company. Herman led his company for the next forty-plus years. Ruth would pass away in 1938, but a year later, Herman married again, to Sarah V. Bean. They lived together for the rest of his life, raising three children. Herman Yopp died in 1971.

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[1] Yopp, Herman, WWI Draft Registration Card, June 1917. [2] Lewis, Charles, “Replacement Troops, 339th Infantry,” 30 Apr 1919. [3] Yopp, Herman, in Moore, Joel, ‘M’ Company, 1924. [4] Sukhanovsky, Alexey, “Rescue Private Yopp,” Homeland Magazine, 1 Oct 2018. [5] Sukhanovsky, Alexey, “Rescue Private Yopp,” Homeland Magazine, 1 Oct 2018. [6] Dundon, Walter, in Moore, Joel, “M Company,” 1921. [7] Moore, Joel, “M Company,” 1920, 17-8. [8] Dundon, Walter, in Moore, Joel, “M Company,” 1921. [9] Stoner, George, Diary, 21 Dec 1918.

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