JOHNSTON — Archaeologists hired to dig at World War I training trenches on the Iowa National Guard Base at Camp Dodge have uncovered several artifacts dating to when the United States entered the war: rifle shell casings, a machine gun suppressor from the era and non-exploding grenades.
Excavation began last week in Johnston and continued Wednesday with the team working to learn more about the trench systems, which were used for training U.S. soldiers before they were shipped out to Europe.
Hundreds of thousands of soldiers trained at 16 military bases around the U.S. before being sent to man the trenches of Europe. Some of those bases built extensive trench systems in 1917 so the soldiers could train in a realistic environment.
One of the bases was Camp Dodge, where soldiers assigned to infantry, signal and ordnance units would have prepared for combat, said Mike Vogt, curator of the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum at Camp Dodge.
Widespread use of weapons such as high-explosive ammunition and rapid-fire artillery during the war led to battles in which soldiers hunkered down in complex trench systems along the Western Front, an area that stretched more than 400 miles between Switzerland and the North Sea on the northern coast of France and Belgium.
“When American soldiers became involved in the war 2½ years after the Europeans engaged in combat they realized this was the nature of warfare,” Vogt said.
As a result, the U.S. military trained soldiers to fight in trenches. Historic photos at the camp show soldiers standing in trenches, their heads barely reaching ground level, indicating they were about 6 feet deep. The trenches that remain have over time filled in to a depth of about 3 feet.
Only a few remnants of these training grounds remain on the 4,400-acre Camp Dodge but intense interest has developed as the 100th anniversary of U.S. involvement in the war approaches.