Due to a shortage of steel during the war, the United States Shipping Board (USSB) contracted for about 700 steam-powered cargo ships to have hulls made from wood. Shipyards on the Sabine River in Texas took on some of these contracts. So the big news in Orange, Texas in May, 1918 was the launching of the City of Bonham, which was the first of 12 very large wooden cargo ships ordered by the USSB. The Bonham was built according to A.M. Daughtery’s plans and was exactly like his ships War Marvel and War Mystery, both of which had been built in Orange for the British Cunard Line. With a displacement of 4,700 tons, they were the largest wooden cargo ships that would ever be built, although by war’s end wooden ships as big as 7,300 tons had been ordered.
Although the Secretary of War had pledged to bring all of the dead home back in 1917, in 1919 all space on ships was needed to bring the living home. A rousing disagreement then started up over what to do. Many felt that the dead should be buried in beautiful cemeteries in Europe, figuratively resting amongst their comrades. Congressional debate went back and forth with the final result being a Solomonic policy: the next of kin could choose whether to have their fallen buried in one of the new cemeteries in Europe, or they could have the remains returned to the U.S. and buried at the government’s expense. The result was that 30,922 were buried in the cemeteries and about 44,000 remains were repatriated.
Although the 369th Regiment Armory still stands at 142d St. and Fifth Ave. in New York, the regiment itself was disbanded in 1946 and its heritage passed to other units, now the 369th Sustainment Brigade, NY National Guard. The original 369th Infantry, widely known as “The Harlem Hell Fighters”, served with the French in WW1, and has been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal (CGM).