Friday, February 19, 2010

             The Rainbow (U.S. 42nd Division) got hit with a gas attack shortly after they moved in and a man who was there remembered later a doctor tearing off his mask to operate on a casualty, and later "…men were going blind one after another and being ordered to the hospital. Often by the time they got to the ambulance, the man leading was himself blind and both got into the ambulance together….By ten o'clock in the morning fully two thirds of the company had been blinded."            For variety, high explosives could come over instead of gas. A doughboy was in a dugout when a shell "hit very nearly in the center of the roof. Forty feet of earth poured in as if from a tunnel. The men in the center of the room were covered by it almost immediately. After the first roar of falling timber and earth subsided, I heard someone ask Norman how he was. Norman answered, "I have a plank through my stomach'….he did not die immediately, I could hear him in a constantly weaker voice giving comfort to those who were dying near and with him."            The narrator himself was buried in dirt up to his chin with more filtering down all the time. "I was terribly frightened. I prayed. I prayed for my father and mother individually and collectively. I prayed for all I knew. I recited the Lord's Prayer. I made my peace with God and was unafraid….It was only by shoving…earth over my left shoulder…that I kept from being completely buried."            He was trapped twelve hours before two buddies found him and scooped him out with their helmets.            The ultimate in Germanic attentions was a raid. First came a bombardment. "Suddenly, with the instantaneity of a lightning flash, the whole north seemed to rise up in flames and hurl itself forward…there is no need to waken anyone; air and earth tremble with the concussion of bursting shells…terrified bodies come rushing, flipping, stumbling, splashing to the dugouts, dodging bits of flying debris, ducking showers of dirt, their faces lighted by flashing explosions."            When the barrage lifts, the men are ordered back up into the trenches to face the Germans following close behind their shelling and firing as they come. "Six of them reached our dugout just as its four occupants had started up the steps. Without the slightest warning, a grenade burst in the midst of the Iowans and hurled them all to the bottom. Private Byron Van Raden fell dead…[the rest]…were badly wounded."            Less seriously, it fell to two of the Yankee Division to by convoying a large can of doughnuts to the forward positions one night when they were set upon by seven German raiders. The Yankees returned the fire, killed one doughnut snatcher, and arrived in the line with the report, "Never lost a doughnut."    

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Doughboy in Battle



             "The advent of the new Major was unannounced and by no means welcome. His predecessor was a known factor and a man well liked whereas it appeared at once that there were possibilities of surprise in this new arrival. A tall, spare, and businesslike figure, he wore laced thick-soled boots that evidently had seen service somewhere. Bedford cord breeches that really fitted, and a British enlisted man's coat like the ones many of us were using then for wear in the field. He had a short-clipped moustache, a clipped accent, and a voice that could purr and shout in the same breath. We knew he was there as soon as he appeared among us.             It was one of those French wintry days so often unhappily chosen for division field exercises. Frozen shoes cut your flesh in the morning and the midday thaw drenched your feet with icy water. The troops moved along mechanically or stood idly, enduring dumbly and obediently, but supremely uninterested in anything except getting it over.            The new Major spoke aloud, unconscious that he did so. "They're not learning anything," he said; "they're suffering!" But then he shouted "Keep the formation there! Go through that wood with a fine tooth comb! There's bound to be Boches in a place like that!"            As wood gave away to plain and plain to wood, a whole series of orders and explanations from him followed. We were at once astonished, galvanized into action, but made a little resentful. But in any event we began to warm up with interest and exercise, and to our own surprise found ourselves in the end hunting imaginary enemies all over the whole terrain. The whole afternoon passed quickly.            "You've done this kind of fighting in earnest, Major?" we asked diffidently as recall was blowing.            "Two years up with the Canadians," he briefly replied. "And now, gentlemen," he added, "before we start the march home issue a rum ration and give the men hot tea—scalding hot!"            We compromised on slum and coffee, both very hot. And with this touch of humor from the new Major at the end of a long day we marched cheerfully the six miles home to our billet wondering what would be happening next.            Actually a remarkable thing was about to happen—our own transformation from a miserable, dispirited outfit into a confident, united family—a battalion in reality as well as in name.            We were a little apprehensive, but nothing happened for several days except the Major ceaselessly observed, inspected—and kept his comment to himself. And then he summoned all of his officers to a conference, after which action followed action so fast it took our breaths.            "Our object," said the Major, "is to develop a first-rate fighting battalion. We've got all  the elements, but we haven't got the battalion."            "True," he went on, "there are serious shortages of things we need badly. There are many difficulties to overcome. Things aren't cushy. But we can do a lot if we make the most out of what we have." And now was the time to do it, for once we got in the line it might be too late, and failure now meant failure then.            "The first thing to do is to make the men comfortable and happy." We had good officers, he said, good men, good basic discipline. With spirit of the kind that was in us we could get things done. But we couldn't depend on anyone else. We had to do it ourselves.            Now, what to do?            Stoves? Make the best use of what we have. Give up those small rooms where a new NCO's and lucky soldiers toasted themselves while the rest of the troops got chilblains, and put more stoves in the larger places.            Repairs? We can use the old lumber laid away in the village. It will do in a pinch. Shore up the roofs where they need it, patch the leaks, calk the cracks. Put a few expert men on the job to go over all the billets, make them ship-shape, and see that the stoves draw properly. He'd knocked around in many a place—Mexico during the revolution for one, and he'd seen what handy men could do for comfort with little enough for materials.            Firewood? No use sending whole companies of green men to the woods to pile up green wood and make the French holler about damage to their forests. A few good men could do the job right. There must be some woodsmen in the battalion.            Every man must know exactly what his authority is, and for the higher command to hold him responsible only to the extent of that authority.             The system begins with the squad. It has a commander, but it also has a collective responsibility. Every man in the squad should be rated second, third, fourth-in-command, and so on down to the last man. Then the squad will always have a leader. Moreover, when an offense against good order occurs the offender must automatically be disrated to the bottom of the list. And then every other man in the squad becomes his commander and responsible for guiding his steps back into the straight and narrow way. And since the whole squad is involved whenever a man goes wrong, the way of the transgressor is hard. So, few men go wrong and few troubles ever occur that cannot be settled privately—some of them very privately—within the squad.            Suppose—the Major kept on—that a man falls in unshaved in the morning, or is late or absent. Next day the whole squad sees to it that he is up and dressed a half hour early, with plenty of time to do what he needs to do. The section leader also gets up to check him. And if both his sections are involved, the platoon leader also arises early to supervise. After a little, the supervising system can be reduced; only one sergeant per company and one officer per battalion need then rise to attend defaulters' formation. A little while more and there will rarely be such a formation for anyone to attend.            A battalion built up in close-knit units formed on this model is a tough-fighting outfit. "It can stand fifty percent casualties or more," said the Major. "It can come out, fill up, and go in again in a hurry. It takes that kind of battalion to do the work in a war like this. The secret of it is that the men quickly form new squads, sections, and platoons even in action, and new men who come into such units catch the spirit and settle into harness faster than you would think possible."            If something goes wrong in a company the battalion commander doesn't merely say to the captain, "You're guilty!" That's easy enough, but it doesn't work.  And it makes bad feeling, leaves a sense of rankling injustice. The thing to do instead is to trace the fault down to see who was actually responsible because of something he did or neglected to do. With good officers, like ours, you could usually trace the fault to the inner workings of some section or squad. And when you have placed the responsibility where it belongs, the rest of the men soon let the guilty ones know what they think of them, for a platoon is small enough to make its public opinion felt. And when it has "platoon spirit" it makes its opinions effective.            Every commander down to the squad, continued the Major, would be given definite authority to deal with certain offenses, and no such dereliction was to be referred up for action unless the circumstances were exceptional.            No one would expect any of his commanders to do things that were obviously impossible. Expectations must be based on what is reasonable, considering all the conditions.             And about the overcoats. They must be cut off at once. No nonsense about so many inches below the knee. Cut them off well up above the mud, but at the place best suited to the size and shape of the man. Any woman would know. So the captains should engage a seamstress to alter the coats at the rate of one franc per garment. Just say to your seamstress, "Madame, make my soldiers look their best!" It would be surprising if the results were not good. (They were excellent).            As to money, he put this up to the company commanders. He would himself contribute 1000 francs if it were needed. Unless he was much mistaken, the captains could handle this or any other matter that he had to refer to them.            Company and platoon barber shops would be set up at once; price of a haircut, one franc. But barbers were forbidden to shave the men; that was an individual matter. Cut the hair short. No prison haircuts, but those pompadours had to go. "Lice love long hair."            Washing. He had purchased boilers and other containers. Pay when you could. A hot bath for every man at least once a week. Company mechanics would make wash-boards, and clothes washing would be a platoon formation.            Every working day, after work was over, each platoon would form under its commander to wash feet and change socks. This custom would prevail wherever we might be at the time, for nearly everywhere could be found a canal, a stream, a pond, or some kind of water. If any man's feet were in bad shape this would thus be found out so special treatment could be given.            A shave in the morning, a foot-wash at night—every day.            Public drunkenness had to stop. The wobbly soldier intent on quietly getting home would be assisted; but noisy drunks would be tied up in rear of quarters and "soused" till they became unsoused. (This also became routine and even pools of rain water were used for the purpose.) Closing cafes ought to be unnecessary. (It soon was unnecessary).             There had been some fights over women. This was absurd. In war women might be expendable, but good soldiers are not. He supposed that no one but a fool would attempt to dictate personal taste in such matters, and for his part he didn't care an emphasized damn what any man did with his spare time as long as he wasn't a filthy beast. But with a war on the battalion had to come first. And in war nothing else mattered so much as the comradeship of fighting men. The men would learn to value each other far above any minor affairs of the heart.            There was a leave system, too, for use along this line. Well, use it right, he urged, for men who really need it. No damned silly routine following of a roster. Some of our men, unless his eyes were failing him, wouldn't want to leave our own town even to go on leave. Others were in a different situation. "You must be able to talk to your men heart to heart. Make proper use of that sort of thing."            The next few days would be spent in cleaning up. Inspect. Repair. Scrub. Think up improvements. The adjutant would issue detailed orders. If the battalion supply officer couldn't supply what was needed, improvise. If that wouldn't work, come to see the battalion commander. And present the platoons for his inspection as soon as they were ready. If they didn't come hunting him in two days he would come hunting them.            It would be pleasant to say that the results of this directive were immediate. But it is not enough to simply desire high standards; you have to know how to go about attaining them. Our battalion had to learn that the new regime ordered nothing that was impractible, but expected the enforcement of every order that was issued. Many men lost their early-morning sleep until they learned that to shave every morning meant just that. A few "lice-farmers" actually wept when sent back to be shorn of their fancy locks. It was some time before clothing presented the appearance desired. But a twelve-mile march by nigh for every man who appeared at a certain inspection with his spare shoes carrying old mud under fresh dubbin left no man unconvinced that halfway compliance would not be enough—the more so since every corporal, sergeant, and lieutenant who contributed a man to the march accompanied the column.             But standards rose visibly, and courts-martial cases declined in numbers. The Major had some novel and even startling ideas as to substitute measures to take the place of trials and the public opinion of the battalion supported him fully.            Reveille soon went back to six o'clock; but even after it did there were only a few defaulters who ever had to attend that assembly.            Serenity replaced fuss and flurry.            The supply situation was still bad, and the Major exerted himself to the limit to get what was needed. He had some personal collisions with supply functionaries who attempted to wave him away, deceived by the USR on his collar. He had to tell one or two plainly that they could talk to him about military procedure once they had done some real soldiering. He inspired interest in himself, and not a little respect, but all supplies we needed were simply not forthcoming.             The Major knew that in battle the slightly wounded would far outnumber other casualties—which we know now is true enough. "A nice cushy wound is a free ticket to the hospital." (A certain brightening of the eye and moistening of the lips on the part of the troops). "But a good man comes back as soon as he can to help out in the line." No one worth his salt wants someone else to do his fighting for him."            Then the welfare policy. "You gentlemen let me know if the men seem to want sports or theatricals. I rather think they get all the exercise they need, and they're keyed up to get ready to fight. As to recreation, they seem to find their own among the population." From which it is to be inferred that if there had been much free time, or if the incentive to get ready to fight had not been enough, or if the population were not to be fraternized with—all of which was true later on in Germany—the Major would have gone in strongly for a battalion recreation program. You can see that he fitted his method to conditions.            "This competition idea needs watching. It can lead to bad feeling, it can damage esprit de corps instead of helping it." So he pitted his men against obstacles to progress, but not directly against each other.            Then finally came the confidence born of unity—the sense of being one no matter what betide.            "Captain," from Private Jones (or whoever it was), "I heard this man here talking furrin blah-blah to another fellow." The Major said, "No more of that! They're to talk United States or keep their lips buttoned up."            "Sir," this confidentially from Private Angelini when Private Jones, his stand approved, had gone out. "I was talking to Private Muscatti, my cousin, from my own home town—in New Jersey. We forgot about speaking English. It was wrong. We won't do it again."            Then the appearance of the "platoon spirit," so strong that it needed counterpoise: You'd make so-and-so company runner. He'd say, "I like the platoon, sir." "You'll come to company headquarters. That's a real platoon, too!"             "Sir, I'll report out to the Corporal, the Sergeant, and the Lieutenant" (they even did this when wounded in battle) "and move my stuff in at once."            As time went on we began to work out an adaptation of our old tactics to 1918 conditions. Unfortunately, our pre-war musketry and combat practice systems were of recent growth and both the British and ourselves had allowed this training to lapse. The British were reviving it now but our Major had never encountered it, and the spring fighting came on before we had really solved this problem. For that matter, our GHQ did not get around to securing effective training in this—the culminating stage of infantry training—until the war was over. So our whole army—not we alone—paid the price because we did not really know how to combine our fire and our movement. The Major, gleaning his ideas from us—ideas based on our scanty pre-war training—was about to solve this problem of problems for us when we lost him. But he had been a fighting soldier during all his service, and he had never had time during his campaigns to do the thing that the professional soldier is expected to do during peace—to project his philosophy ahead of actual events, and to solve new problems before they occur. Had the Major been spared to us, his practical experience of war as it then was found in western Europe, and his readiness to absorb ideas and apply them would have spared us many trials.             When the battalion entered the line that spring, its calm efficiency dealt with raid and bombardment as if it had known them aforetime. And it spent its spare hours, even in the trenches, keeping up its standard of routine performance, even polishing up the rusty old grenades and other articles of trench-stores. "When they're awake, keep them busy. When we're busy, we don't worry."

            No firing off of rockets and Very lights except in emergency. Keep the front dark and get used to doing your work that way. A dark front makes the enemy worry."

Friday, October 30, 2009



            "A little while back, three or four years, a conflagration had broken loose in the midst of men—a war such as past history had never known. People by the millions had forsaken all else for the sword. The battlefield was brooding all over the world. Not the battlefield of storybooks, not the battlefield of pomp and glamour. This was the battlefield of stenches, of caked blood, of dirty bandages, lice, rats, eternal mud, and the smell of rotting corpses.

            Groups of men in trenches, thin lines of men on the firing steps. Cold, rain, fog, darkness. A shot, somewhere near, grey phantoms leaping out of nowhere into the trenches. A pandemonium of rifles, pistols, hand grenades, the sound of a bayonet driven home to the hilt, swift grappling with the raiders—the trench knife at play—a paroxysm of fury, the –silence—stifled groan—a gasp—hurried checking up for casualties—daylignt, and the sensing of a charge. A charge to kill, destroy the figures you knew lurked in the trenched across the field. No individual hate—no personal grudge. We were a pack of wolves—a million years back—and the pack in the other trenches wanted our blood. We were going to get theirs.

            It was not the language they mouthed, not the rags they wore, not the land they came from. We cared not at all for that. They were a pack of wolves and we were a better pack, we were going to blow them to hell—and we were going to survive. Days, months of it—endless vistas of muddy grim lines of men. ----

            Civilization--?—eigh! That's only pap for the demagogues and the politicians. The shrill of a whistle, a platoon of olive-drab figures leaping to action—a rushing headlong charge—deployed for action—a rushing headlong charge—deployed for action, action to win. Each man has to keep his place in the formation, to fire at a vital part of a fighting, advancing enemy. To fire with a steady, deliberate aim. A man is leading you. A man who gave all his life to learn how to lead you—and you naturally follow that man into the jaws of hell, and if he falls, you carry on; his leadership still lives after he is killed. That's what made him a leader. He made you self reliant; he made you a better rifleman than your antagonist; your bayonet is as familiar to you as your right hand; you KNOW you can knock the hell out of anybody who wears a uniform different from yours.



         "Before going further it is well to say a word in regard to runners. Runners are as vital today as they were in the days of Julius Caesar, for under heavy shell fire field telephones and buzzers go out at once, leaving runners the only dependable form of communication. The runners in sinister Belleau Wood, rendered splendid service of the most hazardous nature. The battalion commander passed one of them during the big attack lying with his leg badly mangled. He never whimpered, but only said, "Major, I can't run any more."

There were at regimental headquarters some 22 runners, men who carried messages to and from the lines, and with all the other means of communication gone, it was necessary to call on these chaps. One after another was sent forward  by Colonel Foote with messages and none returned. Eighteen men had gone, and of those eighteen, officers at regimental knew enough to realize that failure to return was due to one thing only.  Death or severe wounds were all that could keep the members of that faithful group from doing their duty.

            At last, Colonel Foote wrote out a message for the front once again and this time called for a dispatch rider. There were at regimental headquarters two such men, one belonging to the regiment and another loaned from divisional headquarters to replace one of the 104th regulars who was in a hospital. These dispatch riders had motorcycles and were used mostly in work between regimental and brigade or division. The one remaining 104th rider had been going most of the night and was lying on the floor behind the group of officers in an attempt to get a little rest—the other was on duty when the colonel called for a rider and responded.

            Then occurred one of those intensely dramatic incidents. The Colonel held out the dispatch and said quietly: "Take that message into Belleau to Major Lewis and bring me back his answer."

            The color died out of the rider's face. Looking at the commander he said: "Colonel, that means death."

            The onlookers sat spellbound. The Colonel's face never changed and without even raising his voice, he said calmly: "In the army when you get an order you do not question, you obey it."

            The frightened rider stood riveted to the spot for a second, and in that interval the regular driver, Pvt. Ray Therrien of Holyoke jumped to his feet, and ducking under the other's arm, saluted and said: "Colonel, I'll take that message in."

            The words were hardly said before one of the regular runners, one of the four who were left, stood at his side and said, "Make the message in duplicate, Sir, and I'll go with him."


             "It was evident that the first aid station was too far to the rear, but it could not well be moved up and still be accessible to the ambulances. However, when an additional surgeon was assigned to the battalion because of the heavy increase in casualties, it was decided to establish an advanced first aid station at battalion headquarters.            The new surgeon by the way, was an unfortunate victim of unpreparedness. He weighed over 200 pounds. He had been a doctor in a small town before the war and probably had never seen an army uniform. He had left the States exactly two weeks before the day he reported for duty in Belleau Wood, which at that time, was the hottest place on the western front, or any other front.             There was one thing that would indicate that he had something in him. Whenever a wounded man was brought in, no matter how ghastly and mutilated a sight he might present, the doctor promptly forgot his own troubles and became the cool, efficient surgeon. It is impossible to describe his attempts to put on his gas mask when the klaxon, for the first time, sounded the gas alarm. 

            I saw him toward the end of the war, during the Argonne, still serving with the same battalion. He weighed a little over 150 pounds. He had a clear eye, healthy color, alert manner, and the cool air of a veteran. And every officer and man in that battalion swore by that doctor. He had made good."

THE ATTACK             Then he had his mess kit out. With its cover, he carved away at the cheesy earth. Clumsily he stabbed earth loose with the handle. In the end he was underground, half buried alive in the shaking earth. There was nothing to do but stay there while it shook to pieces. Inside that hole he cowered, no better than the meanest grub or worm, no more heroic, no less ignorant of what was going on in the world above. He'd heard tales of how immaculate British officers walked about under fire encouraging their men. It must have been some other war.            Like a gigantic team and wagon the shaking rolled away. He crawled out blinking and stood up. There was a moment of vast calm, of deep relief. He started a long, slow breath, which instantly was cut in two. It was incredible, those two slow, solid blocks of Germans running clumsily, opening their mouths. They were coming up at him. Two solid blocks of Germans running clumsily. They were coming, nothing was stopping them. Fixed in a cold trance, he pulled out his automatic. Where were  his men? All gone? No, there ahead were two. They rose up from the ruined earth without their rifles and passed below him, running with fixed grins. Another came by, his mouth stretched open. "Halt!" he shouted and jumped out of the hole. He struck at him with the butt of his automatic; the blow glanced off the shoulder. The man dodged over the crest. He shot a cartridge into the chamber. He'd rather get the next man that ran back than all the Germans in the world.            And all the time the two small blocks of running men were coming up the slope. He stood alone in a bare, ruined world without fear, without hope, a dead man, cold and rigid, in the shroud of fate.            Then in the squares of Germans some running men went tumbling as sparse rifles cracked along the line; and then—a sound of joy and wonder—he heard slow tapping up the hill. Beneath his eye, the nearest square broke into fragments, stopped and streamed back down the slope. Now the crackling ran along the line and other crackling lines came up behind him and dinned about his ears, and a loud voice, "Jesus Christ, Lieutenant, get away from there! Beneath this crackling, the other square had melted and was drifting down the fierce stream of their fire.

            Emptying his automatic as he ran, he got among the fox holes of his men. There were fragments, and there were shrunken bodies half buried, face down, on the ground; but here and there, under the tin hats, close to the churned earth, eyes rolled up at him. He ran among them, his dry mouth open wide. "Come on, you buggers, come on! Are you going to let the second wave go through you?"


             As soon as the new Major arrived we moved into the neighboring town of Celeste, where an infantry headquarters was then established. For our own headquarters we took over a fine house, furnishings almost intact, including dishes and drinking goblets, a kitchen range, a pool table upstairs, and a wine cellar. With the Major came our first field duty Y.M.C.A. man who looked the part of a penny changing five and ten clerk. He professed great interest in the men, as a politician loves his voters, showed an exaggerated sympathy for them and displayed a profound respect for the Major.            A German sausage balloon idly poised a few kilometers across country interested us for two days. On the third day she ceased to be a curiosity. The Major and his aides were eating a hearty meal in fine style in the well equipped dining room. A half dozen of us were loafing in the kitchen with the cook when a shell swished into the cobbled courtyard and splattered against the building. The nose of the shell bounced through the doorway, struck the chimney and fell with a crash on the stove. The cook, a minute before a white man, gleamed thru the dust and smoke, frying pan in hand, as would the puzzled end man of an old time minstrel thinking out the answer to a poser.

            Before the ringing was out of our ears, the Major and his dinner guests had tumbled out of a back window and dropped behind the house. Three or four of us dived out on top of them. The cook and the others raced across the courtyard and plunged into the wine cellar, the last chap coming in thru the chute to land heavily on the floor. We lay in the pile of disturbed soldiers, huddled behind the flat, regardless of rank and dinner. Enlisted men counted off the shots as per the muffled commands issuing from the bottom of the heap. Gas was the signal given by our gentry, so we whiffed gingerly when the less savage shells burst or landed in softer spots. The shelling, never above the strength of a battery, lasted perhaps an hour. No casualties resulted here if we except the damage done to the Y.M.C.A. man's nose in the scramble thru the window. Some skin was rudely removed by an elbow of piece of glass, but hardly enough to warrant the duly-requested wound chevron."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Doughboy Diaries



            In the book Ranging in France with Flash and Sound we read:

            Nearly every organization has its "fat man." In our section it was Private Flora, of Harrisburg,Pa. Flora served as photographer at central. The dark room had to be enlarged when he went on the job. Flora was gaining weight day by day, and needed exercise badly. His opportunity came when Corporal Thompson formed a survey party to run a check of the microphone positions.

            Private Flora joined the party as a rodman, and he made an excellent target for either a transit or a German machine gun. For this reason he was given the job as rear rodman. This plan worked nicely until the party came to Microphone No. 7, when Flora was told to assume the duties of front rodman. It was with much suspicion the misgiving that Flora made his way out into forbidden territory where he had been directed to hold up his rod on an elevated point in the field.

            Scrambling through the trenches and barbwire entanglements, and over shell holes, he made slow progress. He stumbled and fell; he glanced downward and discovered he had tripped over a dead German. Then he was startled by a shout. Looking around he beheld a negro's head protruding over the edge of the trench. (The sector was held by negro troops of the 92nd Division.)

            "Fo' the land's sake; what yo'all doin' out yondah?" inquired the negro, at the same time looking over the barrel of his machine gun. Flora decided to retreat.

            "Come heah!" yelled the colored doughboy.

            Flora obeyed.

            "What yo' all tryin' to do?" questioned the negro.

            Flora explained.

            "Lawd be praised; I'se glad I don't belong with the engineers," replied the machine gunner, "but first let me shake you' hand good-bye."


            At the command "Halt" two of the enemy jumped into the trench, while three others hurdled it to get in the rear of the Americans. Assisted by others not in the trench, who grenade the post, the two closed in on Dahl and Whalen. But our boys held their ground, and as the first German approached, Dahl made a lunge at him with his bayonet; but the treacherous mud was his undoing and he slipped and fell on his hands and knees. In a flash the German was on him and laid him flat with a blow on the head from his pistol.

            Another member of the post, Private Roy H, Eaton, who was in the shelter trying to get a little sleep before his turn to go on watch, then rushed out, and seeing the German atop his comrade, grappled with him bare-handed. This time it was the German who was on the bottom, and Dahl remained on his feet. Whalen, in the excitement of the moment, after firing a clip at the Boches on the parapet, caught his rifle in the bank and lost it. Then the pin of the grenade he picked up stuck, so he made a dive for the P.C. just as the "potato masher" exploded and caught Dahl in the back. Even this did not dismay him, and he started after the second Boche. Grenades now seemed to be flying from all directions, and the two had no idea as to how many of the enemy they had to combat. All this was happening in a few seconds, and they had to act by instinct, for there was no time to formulate any plan. Their instinct led them to fight regardless of the odds. In another moment one of the flying grenades hit Eaton full in the body, snuffing out his life as quickly as one extinguishes a candle. At the expense of his own, he had saved Dahl's life.

            Dahl, now alone, picked up an automatic rifle, but as he fell flat to avoid a grenade, his adversary escaped. He then discovered that the previous burst had sprung his weapon, so he threw it aside and rushed after the Germans, grenading them as they retreated.

            Private Frank A. Brandt, on a neighboring post, hearing the fight started toward Post 4 as the Germans fled up the trench. He heard their quickened steps, and crouching behind a corner, lay in wait. His first shot struck the leading German below the lower right rib, whirling him completely around, at the sight of which the others jumped out of their trench and made for their lines. Brandt and Corporal Norman K. Bruner, who had come on the scene, jumped on the wounded Boche, but Brandt was forced to loose him with a cry as a grenade fragment tore his hand. The Boche, a giant in size, of powerful build, and apparently of indestructible composition, struggled up with Brandt clinging to him, so the latter was forced to clout him over the head with his rifle butt; but even that did not seem to faze him, so the American finished him off with another shot.

            In the meantime Privates Postel and Payne were firing with auto-rifle and grenades on the Germans scattering out through our wire. Several were seen to fall, but they were picked up and carried back. The entire engagement had lasted three minutes at the most, and was over before the rest of the post knew what was happening. It was evidently the intention of the Germans to swoop down upon an unsuspecting group, overpower them by sheer force of numbers, capture one or two, and then retire immediately. Instead of taking prisoners, they left one in our hands. It was the possibility of such encounters as this, even throughout long intervals of quiet and inactivity, that kept the men on duty in the firing trench constantly keyed up to the high pitch.

            The Germans were obviously piqued at the trend of affairs and resolved to even up matters. About half past eight, as darkness was gathering the sector in its shadow, a party of sixty or seventy Boches was reported approaching one of the outpost positions. Hastily collecting a few reserves, Lieutenant Priddy rushed to the threatened post, and got there just in time, for the enemy patrol was about to march in, attempting to put over the shop-worn ruse—the old, old Kamerad game that had been so overworked that to attempt to repeat it was an insult to the intelligence of any soldier.

            They were bold enough about it. The whole party advanced, hands overhead, calling "Kamerad" as they came. Lieutenant Priddy let them come as far as he thought safe, and then halted them. From their midst emerged a spokesman, who announced in good English that they wished to give themselves up to the Americans. The lieutenant admitted that the idea was a good one, and directed them to enter our lines at a designated spot one at a time.

            That upset their plan entirely. The leaders held a moment's consultation, and then bunching up, some of them still calling "Kamerad", they made ready to rush the line. Priddy hesitated just a second to make sure of their intention, and then gave the order to fire. The blast of rifle, auto-rifle, and grenade fire from the outpost caught the enemy full in the center. A number were seen to fall, and the piteous cries of the wounded indicated that the casualties were heavy. That decided them and the whole crowd broke in confusion and started for their lines, every man for himself, in spite of the attempts of an officer to check them.

            About a hundred and fifty yards away, the officer managed to halt the retreating mob. Berating them in no uncertain terms, he lined his men up again in squad formation, and could be heard counting in German, "Ein, Zwei, Drei, Vier", in preparation for a second attempt.

            Meanwhile, Lieutenant Priddy had strengthened his line and had secured a machine gun from the garrison of the 151st Machine Gun Battalion. The gunner found a good position atop one of the dugouts, and when the Germans again came within range they met with a reception even warmer than the first. The fight lasted for nearly a half hour, and it had got quite dark before the Germans finally gave up the attempt to break through. Aided by the thickening dusk, a few daring Boches got close enough to hurl grenades into our trench. With deliberate coolness, combined with quickness of wit, Corporal Vester A. Benson saved several of his men by kicking a sizzling grenade around the corner of the traverse, and in so doing was himself wounded in the leg and foot. One group of the enemy tried to flank the post from the left, but were discovered in time and driven off after one of their number was sacrificed to the marksmanship of Private Silas M. Teig. It was then that they admitted to themselves the futility of further efforts to get in by withdrawing for good, taking with them their dead and wounded, but leaving most of their weapons behind. The men had been kept on edge practically all day; but there was no relaxing yet, for the warning had gone out that another attack by the enemy could be expected before daybreak.


            Often the cooks were hidden in the deep, dark holes, the only things in sight being the smoking soup guns.

            Just previous to the coming of Captain Hardwick and the inspector, the farm had been subjected to a long and particularly heavy bombardment. Cooks and kitchen police had taken refuge in the dugouts. The inspector arrived at Kitchen No. 1 and much to his disgust the steaming soup gun had no attendants.

            Knowing the difficulties that often beset this culinary department, Captain Hardwick pounded on the sheet iron piece that served to protect workers from weather and possible flying shell splinters. Shortly afterward they emerged from a nearby hole, crawling from the darkness of the deep shelter and blinking blindly until they grew accustomed to the light. The inspector saw them make their exit from the hole. Glancing around he inquired for the cook. The good natured heater of army canned goods stepped forward and saluted.

            "You're not the cook?" the visitor inquired.

            "I am, sir," the cook replied.

            "Let me see your hands," he of the yellow gloves requested. From their hiding place behind his back the cook produced a dirty pair.

            "Are those your hands?" asked the owner of the cane.

            "They are, Sir," said the soup dispenser and promptly slid them out of sight behind his back.

            "Let me see your nails," demanded the inspector, and once again the bashful hands came into view.

            "How often do you shave?" asked Shiny Shoes.

            "Every day, Sir," came the ready answer.

            "Your beard grows very fast," the inspector remarked and turned to have a look at the kitchen.

            Pots and pans were laid out, and after these the utensils used about the kitchen. When they had all been exposed to view, he of the spotless clothes delivered the following oration:

            "My good man, I understand the difficulties of your position perfectly, but think you show a lack of interest in your surrounding. I suggest that you obtain at once a pail of whitewash and brighten up your kitchen, that your garbage pit be placed at quite some distance from its present location and that you employ your kitchen force to clear away the rubbish about you."

            Just then overhead came the Wheeeeeeeee of Fritz's iron rations and the inspection came to a sudden close. The immaculate gentleman began a hurried leave and, as he turned, the cook and the kitchen help dove headlong into the dugout. As the inspector and Captain Hardwick reached the top of the next hill and looked back, smoke of bursting bombs and dust of falling walls showed the farm was getting the full force of the activity.

            The following day as Captain Hardwick passed Antioche Farm on his daily rounds he stopped. The kitchen the inspector had requested whitewashed had disappeared. In its place only some giant shell holes remained. A much battered soup gun stood behind a bit of broken wall, but a grinning cook greeted an equally grinning medical officer by rubbing a well scrubbed hand across a hairless chin to show that he had carried out instructions, the scene being done in pantomime without the interchange of a word.

            The men who cooked the food and their helpers who carried it to the fighting line stood the shell fire with the rest. They toted endless marmite cans of steaming food to hungry men day after day, lived in filth and mud and ooze and served their companies without complaint. Yes, when it came time for glory, few remembered the cooks.

David Homsher
American Battlefields of World War I: Chateau-Thierry--Then and Now
ISBN: 97809702444307 $19.95.
Winner of three National Book Awards. Available at bookstores everywhere.
and on website:
WWI blog sites: AND

Saturday, September 26, 2009




        "There was comedy along with tragedy. General Dickman, who commanded the Third American Army, tells about a British Chief of Staff who very politely send a basket of highly trained carrier pigeons to the staff of a newly landed American division, only to be rewarded a few days later with a courteous note saying they enjoyed the pigeons very much! No doubt they had an excellent cook. "


            "The first battalion had a pig. When the battalion was in reserve at Aulnois, we put our pig in a blue barracks bag and carried him in a supply wagon. When the wagon arrived, we could hear the pig squeal, but all that we could see was its little snout pushing against the cloth. When we let him out, one of the boys painted "102d Infantry" on him, and the last we saw of him he was painted green all over. The boys tormented that poor pig to death, poking it in the ribs to hear it grunt and squeal. I suppose that eventually the poor pig was converted into pork."


            One of our runners had a most trying experience in the Toul sector. He was returning from the first line, tired, hot and exhausted. So he stopped the colonel's car.

"Don't you know better than to stop an officer's car?" the colonel demanded.

"Yes, sir."

"Well, why did you do it then?"

"I didn't notice that there was an officer in it, sir."

You should have noticed."

"Yes, sir."

"Well, get in," the colonel said.

The runner was so absorbed in the conversation he forgot that he held a lighted cigar, the first that he had smoked in weeks and it sold for ten cents at the "Y".

"Who gave you permission to smoke in this car?" the colonel demanded.

The runner immediately threw the awful cigar away without making any comments. The colonel's driver sat as stiff and upright as a Broadway coachman, and the runner was so nervous and uncomfortable that he squirmed considerably and was ordered to "straighten up."

"Got any more cigars on your person?" asked the colonel.

"No, sir, for if I had I would have offered you one, Colonel."

            The runner was let off at Beaumont. He stood at attention, saluted and said, "Sir, I thank you for the ride, and apologize for the mistake, and assure you that it will not re-occur."

The Colonel smiled, as much as to say, "I guess that guy has learned his lesson." Said Colonel was not Colonel Parker, for John Henry Parker would have offered the runner a cigar."


"It was the great crusade. It is not my purpose to glorify war. It is simply my purpose to glorify the sacrifices and achievements of my comrades, and the eternal cause for which they worked and fought so hard. It was vainly feared that the war would brutalize our boys. Since they were fighting the most brutal foe in the annals of history, they did not simply hate brutality—they despised it.

Their feeling against brutality was only as great as their mercy and compassion for the women and the little children that had endured insufferable and unprovoked wrong. Here again I have access to indisputable facts that prove my statement absolutely. From September 27th to November 29th, members of our Expeditionary Force adopted 1,156 war-stricken youngsters. They adopted 294 war orphans in one week. This campaign to support the war waifs was started during the summer of 1918 and 1,670 were taken by the last of November. Hundreds of others were adopted by the 16th of December. A full account of what the overseas men, through "The Stars and Stripes," accomplished, may be obtained by anyone who cares to look up the back numbers of this excellent publication.

A finer, cleaner, braver, more generous and patriotic and religious body of men than my comrades, history will never know. They would share with one another their smokes, hard tack, bully beef and the contents of their packages from home with a liberality that was simply grand. They would die for one another."


          In the memoir of Pvt. Malcolm D. Aitken, USMC we read:

            "It was on one of those hikes into the front lines of the Soissons Sector. It was pitch dark, lines of men and all kinds of equipment filling the road to capacity. You couldn't see your nose, is the way I described it.

            We had halted for one of those short rests and were sort of lying down using our packs for support; splendid when you could get them adjusted; and were trying for a wink of sleep. I suddenly came to and realized that the man next to me on the right was not there. I was third from the head of the company column and was used to being left by the man ahead; he had done the same stunt several times, accidently of course; so I elbowed the man next to me and said, "Get Goin". He didn't move. I repeated the affair twice more and when no response was forthcoming, I investigated aided by a match, and I had been elbowing the rump of a perfectly dead mule. I then noted that no other men were around me. I glanced at my watch and saw that an hour had passed since the rest was called. Believe me I hurried as fast as possible and caught the outfit about 100 yards ahead. The traffic block cleared as I resumed my spot in the ranks. Ralph, the fellow on my right, wanted to know if I had seen Paris and I told him I had been in the burial grounds but was retuning to see the rest."


            "After the Armistice the lessening of military chores also meant more time for the pranks and shenanigans in which soldiers excel. Perhaps the best known incident of mischief-making during the occupation of Germany, as far as the 42nd Division was concerned, was the so-called "egg affair." Eggs were a rare treat for the troops on duty in the Rhineland, and when an entire carload of eggs arrived at the rail station in Sinzig, intended for distribution to all units of the Rainbow Division, the Alabamians of the 167th Infantry, declared Reilly, "took immediate possession of the whole carload and lived happily on eggs for some time thereafter."  Colonel Screws, the regiment's commander, explained that his men seized the eggs because another regiment had earlier stolen a carload of tobacco which the citizens of Alabama had sent for the 167th. "Of course, we Alabamians being the 'he-men' we are," Screws remarked, "we would sooner 'chaw' on tobacco than eggs, but we had the eggs and we didn't have the tobacco." MacArthur chose to ignore the incident, possibly for the reason Screws offered: "I sent a few around to the other Colonels and Generals to keep them from starting something."


            In the book Ranging in France with Flash and Sound we read:

            " It was while at the Norroy base that the irresistible Kennedy was working on the communications lines one afternoon when his ever-watchful eye caught sight of some splendid blackberries. After filling his steel helmet, he picked a few more and sat down to eat them. Soon her heard footsteps, and a shadow from some hovering object fell across the path by which he was sitting. Glancing up Kennedy was surprised to see a brigadier-general confronting him.

            As the general waited for Kennedy to spring to attention his face was drawn into a frown.

            "Well, don't you know a general when you see one," he growled.

            "Yes, sir; but I never expected to see one up here, sir."

            The general hesitated. The frown on his face was changing into a grin.

            "Where is your post?" asked the offiver.

            "I haven't any, sir."

            "To what organization do you belong?"

            "Twenty-ninth Engineers, Sir."

            "What kind of work do you do?"

            "I can't tell you, sir."

            The general was baffled. His eyes roamed about while his mind groped for something effective. He spied the berries.

            "What are you going to do with those?" he asked.

            "Take them home to the cook to make a pie, sir."

            Well; be careful not to eat too much of that pie, or you may make yourself sick.

            "Yes,  sir."

            Kennedy salutes. The general returned the salute and walked on."

David Homsher
American Battlefields of World War I: Chateau-Thierry--Then and Now
ISBN: 97809702444307 $19.95.
Winner of three National Book Awards. Available at bookstores everywhere.
and on website:
WWI blog sites: AND

Sunday, September 13, 2009


        In the book World War I in Retrospect  we read:            "But all in all I was certainly less miserable there at Brest prior to embarkation than my comrades, for while the company was off unloading lumber in the rain and cold I sat in our sheet-iron billet by the camp stove and, pad on knee, devoted myself to the work of chronicler.            Even without the bargain I had made with the captain I would have been unavailable for heavy work because of an amusing, although extremely painful, episode. One cold and rainy morning in January the company was marched off to the delousing plant, where men and clothes were to receive the kerosene treatment. As right guide of the company, I was first to enjoy the delectable shower, after which, while waiting for my clothes, I stood naked with my back to the red-hot barracks stove. Others soon appeared and there was the usual banter and chatter. Presently one of the men asked me for a light for his cigarette. In the process of obliging I leaned forward just far enough to touch my rear on the stove. To this very day I remember the sticking sensation and my mad leap to safety. Next morning, when I reported for sick call, the doctor exclaimed: "Why, Sarge, you have a burn as large as a pie plate." For a time I was quite immobilized, never stirring from my pillow, but spiritually free and deeper than ever immersed in my narrative. Only one mistake I made in this connection. I wrote my mother that I had had a rather painful mishap and should probably not have been surprised when, on my return home, she greeted me with the question: "Now where were you wounded." "Wounded? Me? Nowhere." Well, you certainly wrote me of a mishap and of course I knew what you meant." Demonstration was hardly feasible, so I had to rely on argument to put her mind at rest.

            Life underground is the order of things within the scope of the enemy's guns. By the light of candles and lamps, soldiers live down here and eat and sleep. And yet men laugh and joke over the most serious things. A new habit of mind seems to have been created so suit this new outlook, one in which the exposure and danger and shell fire and the blood of comrades are usual factors, instead of the strange and shocking horrors they would be in normal life conditions."



            "In many ways, the French civilian customs provided entertainment for the American soldiers of 1918. The Headquarters Company at Moyemont were daily aroused by the shrill blasts of the community stock-herder's trumpet. At the first peep of dawn, when all the good doughboys were pounding the blanket hard, he would sound off, shambling down the village street in motley garb—perhaps the regalia of his high office—dragging his wooden shoes with difficulty over the cobblestones. The first blast of his tin horn usually produced the desired result. Out of barns and yards tumbles sundry sheep, goats, cows and pigs to fall in behind him. Returning from the fields at dusk, the animals would instinctively fall out and retire to their respective habitations. Two members of the Regimental Band yearned for trouble. The machinations of their fertile brains sent the loudest and strongest First Cornet down the street one morning long before Reveille, blowing the Call to Arms. The Pied Piper of Hamlin boasted no such array. With stately tread, he conducted his unique platoon of animals around the town. Wither he went they dutifully followed. He stopped playing, but they still hung on. The joke was revealing complications. Showing signs of deep concern, the cornetist attempted the soothing strains of "Go to Sleep, My Baby," without result. Far be it for such loyal adherents to desert their leader in the midst of drill. But hark! What is that old familiar sound? The shrill call of the herder's old horn resounding through the village! With tails erect, or flying, or kinked or not showing at all, as the case may be, the animals dashed off in all directions. Pandemonium reigned, during which time the First Cornet made good his escape."


            They maintained the brutal march until human endurance could no longer maintain them, then they fell by the wayside, sick, exhausted and oftentimes unconscious. 'Long about midday, General Wittenmeyer came upon a pathetic figure by the roadside, propped against his pack which he hadn't the energy to take off. "Dogs," he soliloquized, gazing ruefully at his feet, "you've gone back on me. For many a year you've been my main support and you've done your duty noble. I've been careful of you right along; but I guess I was too easy with you. And now, because you've had to take some hard knocks, you're laying down on me, ain't you? But I guess you done the best you could an' I can't blame you for putting me out of the running.

            Any feeble attempt at mirth and hilarity had long since failed. Conversation was at a standstill, but what the boys thought about the army at that time was unfit for publication. Yet the hike was productive of many surprises, among them General Wittemeyer's decision, after hearing the doughboy's lament, to order a lengthy rest at noon and—Sidney Wennick's quality of endurance.

            Sid had been cooking for the Signal Platoon all the time we were out with the British climbing the hills of Northern France. We had carried the pack a bit, nearly every day in the week. Sid hadn't. So, when we started on this jaunt the hardened veterans thought that Sid would be one of the first to drop out. Along about the fifth hour of marching, when fully ready to call it quits there was Sid Wennick marching blithely along, seemingly with no cares or worries. He was in at the finish, and probably the freshest man of the lot. That night, his Bunkie happened to be looking when Sid unrolled his pack. It comprised one blanket and a lot of straw; all the rest of his equipment was on the ration cart." 


            A British general, in whose area and under whose jurisdiction we happened to be training, said to the American officer who accompanied him on tour of inspection one morning: "And are your men well trained in the matter of gas-defense?"

            "Oh yes indeed, "replied General Johnson.

            "Gas!" screamed the general at a passing American doughboy, for the purpose of making a practical test. Nothing but blank amazement masked the Latin-American countenance on the roadside.

            "Gas!" howled the general, thinking that the boy hadn't heard him. No response; not a quiver of intelligence.

            "Don't you know enough to put on your mask when you hear that warning?" cried the excited general.

            "Me no speak-a-da Eenglis," answered the American."



            "Five chickens have disappeared from a shed near your Signal Platoon," the captain said. "This is nothing less than plain stealing and cannot be glossed over. Investigate."

            The captain goes over to one of the French neighbors and says in fluent French, "Avvy voo lost cinq chickens? The neighbor says "No." The captain reports the findings to the Town Commandant, who 'lows as how that ain't the right neighbor and proceeds to investigate, for himself. Here is the shed; foot-prints, gore, feathers. Unmistakable signs of a terrible carnage. Five hens are still cowering, wild-eyed in a corner, suffering from nervous prostration. If Monsieur Legrand formerly had ten and a rooster it is certain that the others must be A.W.O.L. Oh, no! He couldn't have sold them.

            The Supply Company advertises a big chicken dinner for the coming Sunday; but such evidence is purely circumstantial. H Company is billeted in the next street over; looks bad for H. E Company had a couple of recalcitrant's picked up in the street that fatal night; but that is nothing out of the way. The finger of suspicion undoubtedly points to Headquarters Company, though the First Sergeant swears the blood on the Orderly Room door-sill resulted from the company mechanic having cut a finger. Therefore, all four companies are finally ordered to chip in, purchasing out of their company funds an ephemeral portion of vanished chicken for every man in town."

David Homsher
American Battlefields of World War I: Chateau-Thierry--Then and Now
ISBN: 97809702444307 $19.95.
Winner of three National Book Awards. Available at bookstores everywhere.
and on website:
WWI blog sites: AND