Private Brigner’s Uniform

A very nice spread of a U.S. Infrantryman’s equipment loadout, as it would have been issued.

(from ForgottenWeapons.com)

A lot can be discovered by carefully studying and researching the information found in photographs.

I have three images of my Grandfather in his uniform, each one slightly different than the last.  While I’ve had to speculate somewhat, each photo contains enough information to allow me to discern when and where the images were most likely taken.

This has been very rewarding for me, and has solved one family story that I’ve always wondered about, mainly, that Private Brigner met a cousin while in Germany.  Because the Brigner family roots were not that far removed from the old country, as a kid with perhaps an overactive imagination, I always assumed that the cousin was either a German native, or perhaps even an enemy combatant or POW.  I now know this relative was Adam’s cousin Charles, who was in Company E Engineers of the 2nd Division.

Born March 2, 1894, Charles was only 20 days older, but did not ship overseas until about three months after Adam.  Arriving at the front in time to participate in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, he shipped home and was discharged about two weeks prior to Adam.

Private Adam Otto Brigner, Stateside, mid-1918

Other than the brass collar disks, this uniform is void of any type of insignia.  The crossed rifles of the left collar disk can be discerned, indicating infantry.

Note the canvas leggings, which were standard Depot Brigade issue.  Once overseas, the canvas leggings were replaced with the woolen leg wraps, or “puttees.”  Our Doughboys also traded in the bulky campaign hat for the more compact and foldable “overseas” cap.

Careful comparison of this image to Adam’s marriage photo from 1920 reveals the exact same photographic backdrop, and the same wicker chair, as is seen here.  I therefore strongly believe that not only was this portrait taken stateside before Private Brigner shipped out to Europe in early June, 1918, but that it was taken by the same photographer, probably in Waverly, or Piketon, Ohio.

Perhaps it was taken upon completion of his Camp Sherman basic training, much in the same manner that our newly-minted military personnel have their portraits taken today.

Private Brigner in late 1918, or early 1919

It was from this photograph that the small oval headshot portrait came from, with which I have been familiar all my life.  It wasn’t until much later that I was shown this photograph, and realized there was more to the picture than I had originally known…

There is no question as to where this photograph was taken, as the lower-right corner of this photo was embossed with the photographer’s mark.  F.A. Ritter was a prominent photographer in Andernach, Germany during this period.  It is not too difficult even now to find old photos bearing his mark for sale online, or in archival collections.

In WWI, Service Chevrons were issued for each six month period that a soldier served in a forward area.  They were worn mid-way up the left sleeve of the blouse.  The single chevron on Private Brigner’s sleeve would therefore suggest that this photograph was taken very late in 1918, or early 1919, during the Occupation.

Chevrons were also issued when a soldier was Wounded in Action, and were worn in the same position on the opposite sleeve.  Private Brigner’s chevron, earned for his October 12 mustard gas injury during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive can clearly be seen on his right sleeve.

Nothing on the uniform indicated rank.

Pvts. Adam and Charles Brigner, mid-1919

This photo recently surfaced, which I had never seen until undertaking this project.  It is a wonderful photograph.

Someone had ruined the photograph by circling Adam’s face with a ballpoint pen, and had scrawled “Uncle Adam?” off to one side.  This suggests that the man standing in the picture was known, and perhaps the father of the graffiti artist, and therefore likely Adam’s cousin.  The standing man has to be Adam’s cousin Charles.

So, this was the cousin from the family story that had been told to me by my Aunt Ruth.  Not a German native or an enemy combatant as I had always imagined as a kid, but another Private Brigner from Ohio, serving in the AEF.  The patch of the 2nd Division, in which Charles is known to have served, is clearly visible on his left shoulder.

It took me quite some time to Photoshop out the ballpoint pen, and to bring some contrast and detail to the faded and yellowed picture.  I must say, I am very happy with the results.

For whatever reason, Adam does not appear to be wearing the brass U.S. and 7th Infantry collar disks, here.

Note, though, the service ribbon above both men’s left breast pocket.  At first, the outer white edges of the ribbons led me to believe that they were the black, white, and red German Occupation ribbon.  However, this award was not issued until 1941, ironically just three weeks prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Any service member who performed occupation garrison duty in either Germany or Austria-Hungary was entitled to the Army of the Occupation of Germany medal.

With Adam having been garrisoned in Andernach after the Armistice, and Charles just a stone’s throw up the Rhine in Bendorf, it would seem that both men would have been eligible.  However, veterans were required to apply to the War Department to receive their award.  It is unknown whether Adam or Charles ever applied for or obtained their WWI Occupation ribbon and the medal that accompanied it.

The service ribbon that is still affixed to Adam’s uniform is the same color pattern of the WWI Victory medal.  Although created in 1919, the Victory medal was not distributed until 1921, via the US Mail.  However, I cannot find information on the date of issue of the service ribbon.  Even though the light and dark areas of the ribbons in the photograph do not seem to quite match the color pattern of the Victory ribbon, I have to assume that is what they were wearing.  Another mystery, most likely never to be solved.

At the time this photo was taken, Adam was wearing his second, six-month Service Chevron mid-way up the left sleeve of his blouse, indicating that he had now served a year in a forward area.  Since Charles left for home on August 1, this would therefore place this picture in the June/July, 1919 time frame.

I wonder if they had opportunity to spend much time together?  Certainly enough time to have this photo taken, probably right before they both shipped home.

Charles sailed from Brest, France on August 1, 1919 and was discharged from the Army on August 15, 1919.  Adam shipped out of Brest on August 13, arrived in Brooklyn and the Camp Merritt, New Jersey Disembarkation Camp on the 22nd, and was discharged two weeks later at Camp Sherman, Ohio, on August 27.