Private Eugene Chester Chmielewski was a native of Providence, Rhode Island. He was born on 21 January 1895, the middle child of three children of John and Alexander Chmielewski. Eugene’s parents married in 1890 and emigrated from Russia in 1893. Eugene graduated from the Ecclesiastical Seminary of SS. Cyril and Methodius, Orchard Lake, Michigan where he was an above average student and entered Rhode Island State College (RISC) in September 1915 with the class of 1919. Eugene participated in the Army ROTC Program while a student at RISC.
When the United States entered World War I, there were 562 male students enrolled at Rhode Island State College; 334 left to serve in support of the war effort. Eugene, like so many of his classmates, left college before he graduated and enlisted in the Rhode Island Army National Guard, Medical Department, 1st Rhode Island Ambulance Company on 2 April 1917.
Private Chmielewski deployed to France with the 26th Infantry Division. The 26th Infantry Division was activated 22 August 1917 at Camp Edwards, Massachusetts and consisted of National Guard units from all six New England states. The 26th Division was nicknamed the “Yankee Division” which highlighted the division’s geographical makeup. The Yankee Division arrived at St. Nazaire, France on 21 September 1917. It was the second division-size unit of the American Expeditionary Force to arrive into the theater of operations.
The 26th Infantry Division remained in a relatively quiet region of the lines along the Chemin des Dames for several months before it relieved the 1st Infantry Division near the town of Saint-Mihiel on 2 April 1918. On 20 April 1918, the 26th Infantry Division was attacked by 3,200 German “Storm troopers” during the Battle of Seicheprey. As the German infantry advanced, the Americans fell back, taking heavy casualties. The fighting became progressively fierce and culminated in desperate hand-to-hand combat. Every soldier was involved in the fighting to include drivers, cooks and soldiers of the marching band. One of the cooks killed two German soldiers with his meat cleaver.
The 26th Infantry Division counter-attacked and were able to regain Seicheprey by late afternoon. The Germans suffered heavy causalities in this battle, estimated at 1,200 dead or wounded. The American losses numbered 81 dead, 402 wounded or disabled by poison gas, and 197 soldiers missing in action or taken prisoner. Private Eugene C. Chmielewski was taken prisoner during this battle, and he and all POWs were released at the time of the Armistice in November 1918.
Private Chmielewski returned home and settled in St. Clair, Michigan, where he was employed by the United States Immigration Service. Eugene and his wife Kathryn had three daughters. Eugene C. Chmielewski died in 1966 at the age of 69. He was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, Port Huron, Michigan with full military honors. Private Eugene Chester Chmielewski is a University of Rhode Island and American Hero who gave his life in the cause of freedom during the “Great War.”