The French port of Saint Nazaire, in the Bay of Biscay, was supposed to be among the best-kept secrets of World War I. Why? Because that is where the first 14,000 American infantrymen were to land on June 26, 1917. German submarines had been wreaking havoc in the Atlantic Ocean, and loose lips could turn ships into easy targets.
Someone forgot to tell the French that it was a secret, though. The Americans came ashore, albeit safely, to a loud and appreciative crowd of French citizens; and that became the United States’ entry into the Great War.
The inexperienced Doughboys weren’t ready for prime time, though, and spent several months training in France under General John J. Pershing. They didn’t see combat until October 21, 1917, when they went to the trenches near Nancy, France, and didn’t fire their first shot until October 23.
No matter. The Americans’ entry into the war became the turning point in a war that began in 1914. More than two million American soldiers joined the fighting by the time the armistice ended the war on November 11, 1918. More than 50,000 Americans died in the so-called “War to End All Wars.”