Montana Historical Society

Big Sky ~ Big History

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Emil Christiansen

Emil Christiansen was born and raised in Germany, but moved to Bozeman in the years before World War I. He worked in a local hospital and joined the Montana National Guard’s 2nd Infantry in 1914. In 1916, Christiansen went to Arizona with Montana’s 2nd Infantry to protect the Mexican-American border from Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa’s raiding parties. Shortly after the 2nd Montana Infantry (since renamed the 163rd Infantry Regiment, 41st Division) returned home, the United States entered World War I, and the unit was sent overseas. In France, Christiansen served as a medic in a field hospital. His officers also utilized his German-speaking skills, by having him guard German POWs. After the war, Christiansen returned home to his wife, Edith, and remained active in the Montana National Guard. Listen below to hear Christiansen discuss his wartime memories, including:

  • His explanation about why—as a German born—he fought for the United States, and against Germany (America Is My Home)
  • German POWs’ perceptions of their treatment by the American and French soldiers (Thank God You Were Taken Prisoner By the Americans)
  • Working in a field hospital in the Argonne when the armistice was signed (I Only Wish My Leg Was Alright)
  • A German POW offering to smuggle a letter to Christiansen’s father (If You Give Me Your Father’s Name and Address)
  • Treating soldiers who had been gassed (Whoever Invented Mustard Gas, I Hope You Burn in Hell)

Click here for transcripts of the clips below.

Emil Christiansen, Interview by Phil Curry, December 12, 1987, Fort Harrison, MT, for the 20th Century Montana Military Veteran’s Oral History Project, OH 1200, Montana Historical Society Archives. 1 audio tape (40 minutes) and summary.