The Yankee Division in WWI

To honor the upcoming 100th anniversary of the United States entry into World War I, the Wilton Library and American Legion Post 86 are presenting a two-part program called The Early Years of World War I.

The first part of the program, led by French-born Wilton resident Jean-Pierre Lavielle on Thursday, Nov. 3, will focus on the European perspective of World War I.

During the second installment, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 45-year Wilton resident Michael Shay will discuss the American perspective, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Shay’s talk will focus on the formation of the 26th “Yankee” Division in 1917, its controversial commanding general, Clarence Ransom Edwards, and the experiences of the men who served with it in France during World War I.

“It was a National Guard division made up initially with enlistees from all over New England, hence the nickname ‘Yankee,’” said Shay.

The Yankee Division was the first fully formed division in France and fought in all the major battles, said Shay, but it did not get all the credit it deserved until recently, for two reasons.

“In part because of a bias against National Guardsmen by senior regular Army officers, particularly Gen. Pershing,” he said, “and in part because Gen. Pershing maintained a long-standing animosity toward Gen. Edwards.”

Shay said he got into World War I history while trying to find out more about what his paternal grandfather did during the war.

“He served as a medic in a field hospital in the Yankee Division in France,” he said.

“I found out that several other relatives served in that war — some in the Yankee Division.”

That, he said, led to the publication of his first book, A Grateful Heart: The History of a World War I Field Hospital, which he spoke about at Wilton Library in 2001.

“That, in turn, led to three other books, including a history of the Yankee Division in World War I, followed by a biography of Maj. Gen. Clarence Edwards, and finally a book about the three dozen chaplains that served the division,” he said.

Through his talk, Shay said, he hopes to “generate some interest” in American involvement in World War I.

“Relatively speaking, there has not been a lot written recently about the American participation in World War I as compared to that of the British,” he said.

“Perhaps, like me, someone would like to find out more about a relative that fought during the war.”

Shay worked as a private practice attorney in Wilton from 1971 to 2000, then as a senior judge for the Stamford/Norwalk District Superior Court until February of this year. He now serves as a judge trial referee.

Shay also served on Wilton Library’s board of trustees more than 20 years ago — three of those years as president.

“The Wilton Library continues to play an important role in the life of this community,” he said, “and I regard my association with it to have been a distinct privilege and a pleasure.”

There is no fee for Shay’s talk, but registration is recommended.

Information:, 203-762-6334.