When William Brown met his future father-in-law, Emil F. Rezek, in 1959 he was questioned about many things for after all he was quite serious about his lovely daughter Mary Ann. After a few weeks they got to know each other and since Bill was currently an officer in the Air Force and stationed at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Emil shared with Bill his unusual World War I Experience.
On April 7, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany and entered a war that had been ongoing since 1914. The Allied forces had by this time been at war for four years and the French Army was at the point of collapsing against the German Kaiser. The United States under President Woodrow Wilson was very reluctant to enter the war and was slow in mounting up a sufficient fighting force. At this time Emil F. Rezek had just turned 18 and with patriotic enthusiasm he joined the Navy to see the world. However after a few months stationed in the Navy near Philadelphia, he became very bored and wanted to get out. Of course he knew the Navy had no intention of letting a new recruit out so he became very frustrated.
One day while in Baltimore, he passed the Army Recruiting Office and since the draft had not yet been implemented, they were desperate for volunteers. So Emil put on civilian clothes and walked into the Army Recruiting Office and joined up, of course without telling the Navy. In August 1917 he sailed on the HS Saxonia on a perilous voyage to St. Nazaire, France, as part of the Army 19th Engineers. They were the initial American Expeditionary Force to arrive in Europe. He was put to work immediately to construct barracks for the thousands of doughboys that would arrive over the next several months. Emil was soon trained as a fireman on the Army Baldwin steam locomotive to move vital supplies and munitions to the front lines.
However fate would soon catch up with him as Navy personnel started to arrive in spring 1918. This was a special contingent of the Navy to counter the large caliber long-range gun threat posed by the German Army. The Germans had started to shell Paris with long range guns that could reach up to 81 miles, however with very poor accuracy. However even with poor accuracy, if the Germans were to succeed in shelling ports in France and Belgium they would have a dramatic effect on the delivery of Allied troops and supplies. To counter this threat, the Navy was authorized by Congress to produce five large railroad guns capable of reaching targets up to 28 miles with good accuracy. The crash program started in November 1917 produced five battleship type railroad mounted guns each with a 14-car train. The guns and train cars started to arrive at St. Nazaire, France in spring 1918 along with supporting Navy personnel.
Since Emil left the Navy in early 1917, the Navy MPs had been looking for him since he was listed as Absent Without Leave and if he were to be apprehended he could face a prison term. The MPs somehow found him in St. Nazaire and he was about to be charged when his Army commanding officer spoke up for him that he was serving the Army as a model soldier and was very dedicated and proficient as a fireman on the Baldwin locomotive. Since the Navy needed experienced steam engine firemen to transport the railroad guns to the front lines, they took Emil who was indeed serving the Navy as well, and assigned him to one of the five trains. Emil was to spend the next two months near the front lines under fire from German artillery and aircraft bombing.
The five 14-inch railroad guns became very effective in interrupting German troop concentrations, supply warehousing and railroad yards to the point within two months of deployment, the war came to an end with the armistice signed on Nov. 11, 1918. Emil’s gun fired the last round at 10:59 a.m. Nov. 11, just one minute to the 11 a.m. armistice. The Navy returned Emil to the Army and he returned to the USA in late spring 1919. Since Emil had been trained as a fireman on a Baldwin steam locomotive and now had two years of experience, he applied for a job with the Baltimore and Ohio railroad. He was hired on July 7, 1919, and assigned to the Toledo Division with his station in Lima. He lived as a boarder at the Lawrence Flick house at 210 W. Wayne St., Lima, for $27 per month. In October 1930 he married Irene Bergman in St. Marys and resided there the rest of his live while working as a fireman and engineer for the B&O out of the Lima station. He had a son Robert and daughter Mary Ann who incidentally both delivered papers in St. Marys for The Lima News.
Emil’s story is told by his son-in-law, William J. Brown of Huron, in a book he authored in June 2017 titled, “A World War I Soldier And His Camera.” The book not only contains Emil’s story but also many pictures that Emil took with his Kodak Vest Pocket camera showing the life of a private in the Army during World War I. Brown has also authored a second book on military life in World War II titled, “My Son, My Son, Where Are You?” and a third book this year titled, “The Atom Plane And The Young Lieutenant.” Brown is a graduate of the University of Buffalo, School of Engineering and served in the USAF for five years at Wright Air Research & Development Command followed by 33 years at the NASA Glenn (Lewis) Research Center. He now resides with his wife Mary Ann of 59 years in Huron. He has four sons, 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.