One hundred years ago, in June 1919, Greater Pittston men and women couldn’t wait for Johnny to come marching home from World War 1 victorious.
The transport ship Edward Luckenback was two days late bringing the local boys of the 311th Field Artillery home, so several hundred local folks went to New York City, charted a boat to take them down the bay to meet the Luckenback so they could wave and yell to the Pittston boys on the transport.
The reception for the 311th soldiers was just beginning. From New York they were taken to Fort Dix in New Jersey for formal discharge. Though they were free to go their own ways, most of the 311th boys agreed to stay together so the folks back home could give them a rousing reception.
They took a train to Philadelphia, where the Lehigh Valley Railroad, at the request of the Pittston reception committee, provided a special car on the Black Diamond Express. The Black Diamond left Philadelphia at 9 a.m. June 5. The train stopped at Mauch Chunk, where Pittston Mayor James Kennedy and city clerk W. F. McHugh boarded the Pittston car to greet the boys who had been “Over There” for two years.
After the Mauch Chunk Red Cross Canteen fed the boys, the train went to Wilkes-Barre, from where they quickly boarded another special car for the Pittston Junction Station.
Citizens were made aware the boys where home by the blasting of sirens and ringing of church bells.
A parade formed at the Junction Station, led by Pittston Police Chief Newcomb, followed by mounted Pittston and state police. Joseph Roach, who was described in the Pittston Gazette as “a returned soldier in splendid physical condition” led the 311th carrying a large American flag. The Y.M.I. band and the 50 men and women of the reception committee also marched.
The parade route along Main Street to the State Armory (today Sapphire Salon) was lined by thousands of citizens. At the armory, tears flowed as the men were greeted by their friends and families. Wrenched from their reunions, the men were escorted to the basement dining hall for a dinner.
In the following days, the returned soldiers were marched and feted again in their hometowns and wards. The biggest parades and receptions were in the 11th Ward, also known as the Oregon Section of Pittston, and in Exeter Borough, where a parade ended with an open air banquet at Campbell’s Park at Grant Street and Wyoming Avenue.
The reception committee wasn’t done. The committee wanted to arrange a gigantic parade of all the local returned soldiers, most of whom served together in France in the 311th, the 109th and Battery B.
But in negotiations, the soldiers said the had enough parading and marching. They wanted to get back to their lives, but did agree to a party at Riverside Park in August.
Merchants in Pittston saw an opportunity. They held special “Welcome Home Sales,” as announced in this newspaper ad.
There was good and bad news from France. The latest official casualty list did not include any soldiers from Greater Pittston. But on June 17, 1919, Mr. and Mrs. F. Clisham received a message their son, Thomas Clisham, listed as missing for six months, had been killed in the Battle of Argonne in October 1918.
Souce: Digital archives of the Pittston Gazette and Wilkes-Barre Daily.