The Meuse-Argonne Offensive, sometimes called the Battle of the Argonne Forest, was a major part of the Allies’ final assault at the end of World War I. Stretching across the Western Front, it was the largest offensive in United States military history, as well as one of the bloodiest, with more than 26,000 American troops killed and 95,000 wounded.
In the midst of this operation, Lieutenant Warren E. Diefendorf, a member of the 77th “Statue of Liberty” Division, paid a visit to his commanding officer.
“Listen, people are dying and the morale is terrible,” he said. “Let me put on a show to try and boost morale.”
With little to lose, Warren’s superior officers agreed to his idea, so he gathered a group of musically-inclined soldiers to create a theatrical presentation for the discouraged troops. Al Dubin, who later became a professional songwriter, helped Warren with the lyrics, Fred Rath composed the music, and Howard Greer designed the costumes and scenery.
Soon, they had a complete show entitled “The Amex Revue of 1918.” Only one thing was missing—they needed a piano. Warren and his comrades commandeered a piano from French novelist Alexandre Dumas’ Chateau de Monte-Cristo just outside of Paris, France. Today, the piano sits in the living room of Warren E. Diefendorf’s grandson, Roey Diefendorf.
“The story is that the night of the worst battle, they’re performing on the front lines,” Roey remembered. “As they’re performing, these bombs are coming in and exploding, but the show goes on. Here they are, with no weapons except for this piano, and somebody’s banging it out and the guys are singing and dancing and trying to keep the troops’ [spirits] up. And the story goes that . . . the ones who had weapons were all killed in the battle, but the Players survived.”
The Argonne Players, as the group came to be known, presented their show abroad more than 260 times, according to “77th Gives Bright Show” by The New York Times. When the Armistice of 11 November 1918 occurred, they were asked to perform at the peace signing before the Allied and German leaders. Next, they took the show to Broadway, performing before well-known individuals such as General John Pershing, President Woodrow Wilson, soon-to-be President Calvin Coolidge, and more. According to their Broadway playbill, while overseas, the Players performed “under every conceivable condition—in ‘ruined cathedrals, German theatres, tents, underground theatres, chateaux, and open platforms.’”
A Legacy of Creativity
When Roey was younger, he remembers being somewhat intimidated by the creativity of his male ancestors. His great-grandfather—Warren E.’s father—Warren T. Diefendorf, was an innovative entrepreneur and salesman for a perfume he named for his family. Advertisements for his business listed his address as Brooklyn, America. There was no need for any further description because everyone knew who he was.
Warren E. Diefendorf created the Argonne Players, and Roey remembers his father, Monroe Diefendorf, Sr., as a very creative man as well.
“So they’re always innovative, always creative, and I always thought to myself, ‘I don’t know how I can ever be that creative,’” Roey said. “But I’d watch and think, ‘What can I do to follow in their footsteps and be out in front of the pack?’”
In 2009, Roey began to develop an idea for a unique wealth management trust company. More than managing financial wealth, Roey wanted to help his clients learn how to develop and protect their values as well. He chose South Dakota as a location for his new company because of the state jurisdiction’s unique provisions including perpetual trusts, excellent asset protection from creditors, and no taxation (on ordinary income, capital gains, gifts, or estates). More importantly, South Dakota allowed for purposeful trusts, which opened the door for Roey to provide his clients with values-based planning. In March 2012, Roey received the bank charter for the Argonne Trust Company.
“Very similar to my grandfather who went out to fight the war with no weapons, only a piano, I said, ‘I’m going out to fight for preservation, but not for the reason of money but for the reason of values.’ So I said, ‘Well, I’m going to name the company after the Argonne Players.’ Now they survived—the jury’s still out on whether we’ll survive,” Roey noted with a laugh. “But hopefully we will.”
This is the legacy of the Argonne Players, Roey believes—the ability to look at a difficult situation from a new perspective in order to come up with a nontraditional solution.
“It was the willingness to do something so far out of the box,” he explained. “You’d say, ‘Hey, we’re fighting a war—let’s get as many weapons as [possible] and that’s how we’re going to win this thing.’ [My grandfather] looked at the situation and said, ‘It’s not the enemy that’s taking us down—it’s our own morale. We’ve got to change our morale to sustain ourselves.’”
“For all of my years in wealth management, it was always about how to help people create and save and build more money. Now, it’s, ‘What do we do to help families become strengthened?’ And, ‘Is there a different way we can attack the problem?’ [If my grandfather was] changing the morale of the soldiers in order to win, we’re changing the thinking of clients to say, ‘This is more than money.’ For me, the legacy was a different way of looking at a bad pattern to come up with a new solution.”