Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Cooty Bill--continued

     "Well we got up on the hill and then after they told us all about what they wanted us to do they desided they would get 2 or 3 tanks to go with us so they sent somebody to parley with the tank commander but after he was gone about haff an hour he come back and says the tank man told him it would be imposible to get up over the hill at that place and that they would have to go a kilo or 2 out of the way and couldnt be with us for 3 or 4 hours. Well then the officers went off to parley with somebody else or somethin and before long they come back and says that it had been desided not to send out any advanse party but that a general attack had been ordered so we went back to our companys and was pritty glad to get back to you can take it from me and then before long the hole outfit got orders to advanse.
     We all went out over the hill in battel formashun and for a long ways ahead of us there wasn't nothin but a plane with no hills and no trees. We got lined out in 2 waves and squad columns and pritty soon we started. There wasnt no oppisishun at all for a while and at 1st they didnt even shell us and we begin thinkin again they had all run away when all of a sudden a shell come singin along and exploded out ahead of us and nocked a part of a squad to peices like they was so much paper and then we knowed hell was on oncet more. We kept on walkin ahead like there wasnt no shells or nothin and they kept comein faster and faster and all the time we was waitin and expecktin 1 to hit our squad and we wondered where our own artillery was and then orders come to retreat back to the shelter of the hill. We started back and then they said that them orders was wrong and so we had to line up and start forward again and after we had got on out there in the fields and some more fellos got bumped off orders came to take cover in the shell holes which we done toot sweet. The corporal which was in charge of my squad had got mislaid in the shuffel goin back to the hill and so I was put in charge of the squad.
     Well I don't know why we ever done it but we layed out there in them shell holes all that day lettin the botches pour down shells into us and all that time we didnt have no artillery that I could hear but 1 batery of 75s or 3 in. guns which come up late in the afternoon and begin firein. From what I could find out the advanse was held up on the flanks and along in the afternoon 2 platons from my company was sent over to attack with some machine gun outfit which was bein held up and we didnt never get back with them durin the fight untill the last day. I suppose they was expecktin to go any minit and so didnt want to expose us to any more fire goin back to the shelter under the hill.
     The worst part about a battel is waitin for orders to do somethin espeshaly if your waitin at the same time for a shell to come along and bump you off any minit. I never learned nothin so quick in my life as I did about where a shells goin to light from the noise it makes. There aint no way of describin what kind of a sound it is bekause you wouldnt know if I told you but if I would live to be 100 years old and all of a suddin somebody would let out a whine or a skream or whatever you would call it a shell I bet I would jump 20 ft. and light a runnin and make 100 yards in a littel less than nothin flat. The worst skare we had that day all most was in that shell hole. We was layin there when all of a sudden we heard a shell comein right for us zz-e-e-e-o-o and while we was all tryin to push the bottom out of the earth Blooey! she lit only about 50 ft. from us and hurt a coupel of fellos in another shell hole and then when we was just raisein up again and our hearts was gettin down to where they belonged z-z-z-o-o-e-e-e-o-ou and another 1 that didnt hesitate a minit come right strait for us and we shut our eyes and waited for St. Peter and the angels with the littel harps to apear on the seen until they had ought to of had plenty of time to welcome us in and then we opened our eyes again and there only about 3 ft. outside our hole was a coupel of in. of a dud stickin up out of the ground where it had buryed itself. Well dad Ill bet a gost would have had a fine compexxshun compared to us there for a few minutes and for quite a while after that.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

AEF Doughboy in Combat

Upon his return to America, Daniel E. Morgan, author of the book When the World Went Mad, wrote an intense letter to the United States Veterans Bureau:
"United States Veterans Bureau,
Washington, D. C.
     Soon after the European war startet, I, Daniel E. Morgan, enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. By the time this country declared war I was a well-trained soldier. Being prepared, of course I was among the first to go over.
     During the thirteen months that I stayed on foreign soil, it was my lot to engage in five pitched battles, on five different fronts, as a Sergeant of machine guns in the very midst of the hardest fighting. Records show that these men remained in the front lines longer, and suffered more casualties, than did any other machine gun battalion in the American Expeditionary Forces. In most battles we had to stay in the lines twenty-four hours after our supports were withdrawn, being supports to the troops new in warfare.
     At the offset of a battle the sick and wounded are evacuated, and at once begin to regain their lost strength and vitality. No so with those that must remain to see the thing through. Theirs is a never-ending grinding out of their existence in obedience to the command, "Hold at all costs," the agonies, hardships and horrors of which the half has never been told. I lived three days in an abandoned toilet in the muck and filth, in order to keep alive my half-wrecked body, digging down the dirt from the sides to cover up the dung.
     In my haste to get down below the surface of the earth I dug through the body of a dead man that had been buried, and lived in that hole with the decayed and rotten feet of the dead sticking out. Like a rat on a garbage dump, I crawled from one dead body to another, seeking a crust of bread or a slab of bacon, and when any food was found one could hardly stuff it down for it smelled like decomposed or rotten human flesh. Dead men cannot win a war. Myself and others ate this filthy food. The very atmosphere in those hot July days smelled like an abandoned butcher shop. It was the most horrible kind of sickening, nauseating smell.
     With a bursting headache, eyes sunken in, twitching and jerking nerves, with every fibre of my body strained trying to hang on to life, I lived in this battle along about 27 days without as much as washing my hands or face. In addition to robbing the dead to keep alive, there was the never-ending fear of being blown to pieces. Thousands of big and little shells were tearing their way through the woods. God only knows how we stood it.
     The casualty list  for this battle, Chateau-Thierry, were over 9,000, as the record states. This was the end for them. For me it was only the beginning, one of five battles.
     At another front I lived in the slime and mud of the trenches more than a week without any shoes. I sat at the trigger of a machine gun with my feet wrapped in old bags, in an abandoned patch of barbed wiree, in no man's land. When I took my report to headquarters I borrowed the shoes of one of my boys. In the day time we hid in an old dugout that was half filled with water, shooting the rats and watching them fall into the sump.
     The summer days were passing, and the cold Winter days were rapidly approaching, with additional hardships that must be met by strained and exhausted bodies. Hundreds of boys fell exhausted in the grind. As a Sergeant in charge of four machine guns and crews, I had to keep going. Others could drop out, but not I. I had to keep going, even unto the end. Shall thqt be charged up to me now? I had no thought of compensation or reward.
     Long weary days of forced marches, untold hardships and suffering I manned my guns. Had I evacuated there would have been one less in the struggle. My training as a Marine forbid the slacking of the hand as long as there was a spark of life in the body. The official records bear out this fact.
     Did we not push into the terrible slaughter to the extent of 24,432 casualties? In the one division, namely the Second. Those who evacuated wounded, sick and exhausted, have a clinching argument for compensation. Half dead, it was always my lot to be in the very thickest of the battle, not only dragging along my own wrecked body, but to at all times be on hand to instruct and advise the recruits, of which our division used up 35,343 as replacements who know nothing about the art of war. Shall this be charged against me now?
     November the first saw me still in the lines, fighting fighting for my flag and for my country, a war to stop all wars, so we were told. The bursting, shrieking shells, tearing through the bodies of those alive put the poor devils out of their misery. But by the grace of God I lived through it, drinking the water from the shell holes, crawling among the German dead, drinking the stale beer from their canteens.
     November the tenth, or in the early morning hours of the eleventh, I laid between the ties of a railroad track all in. I could go no further. My limbs were numb and I laid there pounding my legs to keep them from freezing while the newer and fresher men forced their way across the Meuse River."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

AEF Doughboy in Battle

                                                                   Somewhere in France
                                                                      October 6, 1918
Dear Dad:
        Well dad were still here in the same place so I will write you another letter today and tell you about the 2nd day of the drive. I have been on the sick book every day for almost a week and have been marked quarters which is pritty lucky for me as usually you have got to have a leg gone or combinashun rumatism and saintvitusdance as Bud says in order to get out of drill by bein sick but sense I aint doin nothin else I might as well tell you about our fight.
       Well the 2nd morning we got woke up about haff past 5 or sooner and say mabe it wasnt a sensashun to open your eyes and find yourself on a hill and wonder where you was and then sudinly realize that you was in a battel and remember what you seen yesterday and what might hapen to you today. 1st we eat a little bully beef and hardtack and then they called the companys together which it was near imposibel to get together bekause of the slippery mud all over the hill and then they says "Boys theres a lot of machine gun posishuns over the hill right ahead of us and we have desided that the best way to clean em out is to send out a detale of men to flank em and take em and we want volunteers to go on this misshun." Well that was some proposhun right early in the morning that way before you hardly got your eyes open but after a littel bit they got the number of men they wanted and I found out I had volunteered to go to though you mustnt think it was bekause I wanted to be a hero bekause by that time I had lost all my ambishuns to be a hero and everything like that and simply went bekause I seen it was my duty and nothin more. As we climed that hill and lined up  to go ahead and get them nests my old heart began tryin to clime out again and I'' bet if I lived to be 100 years old and went to battel every morning my heart wouldnt of learned to act no better on the last mornin than on the 1st bekause theres 1 thing you wouldnt never get ust to or would learn to like and thats havin peopel shoot at you with a rifel and blow you to peices with shells and pour lead into you with a machine gun like a garden hose. If anybody ever says they wasnt skared up in a drive you will know that there ether liars or aint never been there 1 or the other bekause there aint nobody that can wach a man get bumped off without feelin pritty sure that the next shell has got his name wrote all over it and when he hears it comein and aint skared why my names Bill Kaiser thats all and hes just a plane liar if he tells you he wasnt. It aint the man that aint skared thats the brave man its the man thats so skared he cant hardly breathe bekause his heart is where his lungs should ought to be but still goes on anyway and fights till its all over or hes nocked off and theres only 1 way to keep from bein so bad skared and that is to keep goin just as much as you can bekause the more ackshun you get into the less time your goin to have bein afrayed somebodys goin to get you. If you give yourself time to get skared the chanses is that you will do a good job doin it.
                    Excerpted from Cooty Bill by Kirke Mecham, 1919. To be continued

Thursday, January 24, 2008

AEF Doughboy in Battle

     The first experience of the American soldiers in actual warfare cane in the raids into No Man's Land, between the two lines of battle. To crawl at night up to the listening posts in front of the enemy's position in order to obtain information, to seize the occupants of the post if occasion offered, to meed and kill or capture, or at least to drive off an enemy's scouting party, to cut the enemy's wire entanglements--to do any of these things was to acquire training, to become indifferent to mud and danger, and to learn how to take care of oneself in emergencies. These nightly expeditions brought a large number of soldiers into the experience of this particular kind of warfare, the like of which had never been seen in Europe before this war began.
     As the American soldiers became accustomed to night raiding their raids took on a more serious nature. They were carried out by large numbers of men and resulted frequently  in encounters in which several casualties occurred. March 4 in the Lunéville sector the Germans made a strong attack on the Americans and were driven back after some sharp fighting. Their action prompted their opponents to retaliate on the 10th in three large raids planned for simultaneous delivery against points close together. After a heavy bombardment had leveled the German first line trenches the Americans went forward. They found the first line abandoned and went as far as the second line, 600 yards in the rear, before they were ordered back to their own lines. Some of these trenches, it was reported a few days later, were held permanently, thus making the action at Badonvillliers the first sustained advance of the Americans, although it was not the first fighting that may be called a battle.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Doughboy in Battle

     What they observed on the battlefield troubled many of  these men, particularly those new to battle. They fought on a gloomy landscape with shattered stumps of trees and ruined buildings and ground so torn up that they could hardly associate it with the earth they had known. Everywhere they saw bodies of men and animals, blackened, maggot-covered objects. The sights made Corporal Vaughn E. Timmins vomit. Wilder C. Hopkins, a teenaged private, responded in a clinical way, taking careful note of the shapes and position of the dead: "In one place a man's head was lying with none of the body anywhere in sight. Another part...with all of the facial features remaining but the center of and back of the head completely gone as was the body." After a platoon in Corporal Ralph T. Moan's company attacked some Germans with machine guns and grenades, Moan noted in his diary that one of the Germans had his head blown off. "It made a ghastly sight, suspended in the barbed wire. " A shell landed not far from Lieutenant Lawrence, who had to walk carefully to avoid stepping into "a bloody mess of flesh and scraps of an American uniform."
     At Château-Thierry, German gunners made several direct hits on a trench near Hervey Allen. The next day, Lieutenant Allen and another officer took a detail to the trench and, using blankets and shelter halves, picked up hands, arms, and other parts and buried them. The explosions had smothered some of the occupants and shredded their bodies, which fell apart as Allen's men pulled them out of the dirt. Later, Allen came upon the wreck of a downed airplane. The aviator, whose buttons identified him as an American, was still sitting in his seat. He had been burned to death and there was nothing left of him but a "blackened, egg-shaped mass."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

AEF Doughboy in Battle

    "I have finally seen what I came over for, and a lot more besides--war, real war, stripped of glory. For what chance has a man against a shell? And how does the awful suffering of trench life compare to the thrilling battles of the Revolution? I don't mean that it doesn't take ten times the nerve and the endurance, but there's the rub, for we have become machines, not men. I know that God will protect us over here, but you realize how absurdly weak and helpless you are when a load of dead are brought in, some with arms and legs gone, others with heads and trunks mixed together; and quite often you learn there wasn't anything left to bring."                                   ---Julian H. Bryan, from Ambulance 464, World War I
     "You who have never seen the horrors of war, who have never seen a man disappear, literally blown to atoms, on being struck by a shell; who have never heard the shrieks of  wounded human beings, who have never heard the hysterical laughter of a man as he gazes at the stump where his hand was a moment ago, who have never heard the cries, the groans, the swearing, the praying of men with festering wounds, lying in the first aid station, waiting too long and in vain for ambulances; who have never witnessed the terror of those men when the aid station is gassed and there are no gas masks, who have never seen convalescents, totally blind and with both hands amputated above the wrist--can you say that we should stop at anything in order to prevent this frightfulness, this savagery, this horror from occurring again?"
   ---Letter dated March 18, 1919 from Wyman Richardson, a wounded soldier, to the editor of the New York Times.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Doughboy in Battle

     The student of tactics soon realized the difference between fighting a battle in imagination and in reality. Imagination cannot bring home to any human brain the extent to which the chess-board dispositions of modern strategy are tempered by the actualities of modern fighting--in other words, by the strain upon the human machine. All the five senses are affected--hearing, by the appalling din; seeing by the spectacle of a whole group of human beings being blown to shreds; smelling, by the reek of gas and explosives; touching by the feel of dead men's faces everywhere under your hand in the darkness; and tasting, by the unforgettable flavor or meat in the mouth after forty-eight hours continuos fighting in an atmosphere of human blood. The War is going to be won, not by the strategist, but by the man who can endure these things most steadfastly.
     We now regard ourselves, justifiably, as initiated. We have been bombarded fairly regularly. We do not like it but we can stand it, which is all that matters--as eels probably remark while being skinned. We are getting used, also, to the sight of sudden death and human blood. These things affect us less than we expected. It is all a matter of environment. If you were to see a man caught and cut in two between a street-car and a taxi-cab in your own home town, the spectacle would make you physically sick and might haunt you for weeks, because such incidents are not part of the recognized routine of home town life. But here, they are part of the day's work: we are prepared for them: they are what we are in the War for. And, curiously and providentially, it seldom occurs to any of us to suspect that it may be his turn next. Thus all-wise Naturee maintains our balance for us.
    We have made another interesting discovery about Nature, and that is that habit can be stronger than instinct, and pride than either. The first law of Nature is said to be the instinct of self-preservation. Yet, the average soldier, even in the inferno of modern warfare, gives less trouble to his leaders when under shell-fire than when his dinner does not come up to the usual standard, or he has run out of cigarettes.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


     Rats as big as half-grown opossums fell through the tar paper in the ceiling of his dugout, landing on soldiers, and then running like frightened rabbits. It was hard for him to keep them from getting under his blanket. Sergeant Mosher told his mother he had gotten used to rats dropping on his blankets and playing around his feet. But when he woke up suddenly and found himself knocking one off his neck, it was "something else." Sergeant J. Walter Strauss, asleep in a pup tent on an old battlefield in Belgium, woke with a start. A rat was chewing on his hair. "It was tough sleeping after that," Strauss said, "and I became exhausted because of lack of sleep."
     Sleepleshess, days and nights at a time, was the lot of front-line troops. those who got used to cooties and omnipresent rats and could sleep jammed next to one another in dugouts and foxholes or doze off near-frozen in soaking uniforms were weakened by gas alarms, some of them for real gas attacks. In Sergeant Charles R. Blatt's unit, about a dozen gas alarms sounded between sunset and daybreak, forcing everyone to put on their uncomfortable masks. Repeating nightmares, in which he felt unable to move, terrified Corporal Pierce and made him afraid to doze off. Men saw the horrors of the battlefield reenact themselves in silent dreams. Even a trip to recuperate behind the lines did not guarantee rest. When the Twenty-ninth Division was taken out of action for a time, 2nd Lieutenant Joseph D. Lawrence was assigned to a bed with another officer, but each man smelled so badly that they both found it hard to fall asleep.
     Going without sleep, marching long distances with a heavy pack over roads that sometimes turned to liquid mud, and the exertion of battle wore troops out physically and mentally. According to George C. Marshall, a colonel on the AEF staff, during the last offensive of the war many American soldiers died of exhaustion.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Doughboy Attacks

   A few minutes were spent in clearing up some minor points and then each of us went to his particular work. How many of that group of fine young men, as they stood there wishing each other "the best of luck," ever thought that within a short time many of them would be dead or badly wounded. It is a good thing that we cannot see into the future. If we could have seen what was to happen within the next twelve hours, how would we have felt?
    At 6:45 the First Sergeant reported that the company was ready. Giving the company a brief outline of our plan of attack, cautioning against wasting ammunition, I directed them to push the attack and to get at the enemy with the bayonet. Then I allowed the men the few remaining minutes before zero hour to themselves.
    Of those who have waited in position for the signal to attack, who can explain the feelings or thoughts of a soldier during the last few minutes before a battle? He fixes his bayonet, sees that his rifle is working properly, loads it, turns the safety lock, doing a dozen things, automatically from force of training. Just a faint trace of nervousness. Still there is a great deal of 'kidding' among the men. One young soldier drew the edge of his bayonet back and forth across the sole of his shoe just as a man would strop a razor. His 'Buddy' asked, "What are you going to do, shave the Kaiser?" The reply was, "Just preparing for a painless operation on my friend 'Fritz'." Another pair of habitual gamblers were trying to make bets on each other as to who would get wounded first. Never a thought of themselves, or of what might be their individual fate; no patriotic 'ballyhoo' as to why they were in France or the enemy in front of them. A few of us were thinging of a wife and children, hoping if it was our turn to 'GO WEST,' that the folks back home would not feel too badly.
During the short interval the hands of my watch moved to 6.50 to 6.55, then to 6.56. When the smoke bombs fell on the enemy line at 6.59 the platoon commanders were signalled to get ready. Watching the second-hand make the last trip around, as the minute-hand reached the hour I gave the signal to attack. Company B 'Goes over the top.' We are in it at last and hell breaks loose. Since that day as a commander of other companies, battalions and various units never have I seen a finer body of men. They went at the task as calmly, and under perfect control, as if they had been on a drill field.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Doughboy in Combat

America's participation in World War I, though short, was a ghastly and harrowing experience for the men who reached the front line trenches. There death was so omipresent that it was in sight and in the air. Many doughboys lived through such days and nights they would never forget. A young lieutenant, after the battle of St. Mihiel, told his parents that of all the horrors of war--the overwhelming smell of death, and life in the trenches--the one sight he could hardly bear was of "brave fellows lying to blacken in the sun and rot where they fell." Yet, he concluded, the "Hun, man for man is no match for the American."

Everywhere along the borders of "no man's land," men "slept with nerves taut with anticipation and in the consciousness of a nightmare." Some tried to evade the sounds of war by sleeping in deep dugouts; others, oppressed with a consciousness of space, slept in the open. Everywhere, and always, there was shock.

A young Marine wrote his mother that the fighting in Belleau Wood was so horrible that it was sheer luck, and not prayer or supplication, which allowed for survival. A young officer described death as a horrible sight, "tho one becomes more or less accustomed to seeing the dead."

In the Argonne, the fighting resembled all of the horrors of past Wildernesses and of future Ardennes. As one First Division soldier put it: "I have lost all track of time and hardly know when one day ends and another begins--and, as for the days of the week, I haven't known that for weeks."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What was it like to live as a Doughboy?

When they reached their destination, the Americans encountered hardships that few had endured until that time. At the front, their basic needs went unsatisfied or were appeased just enough to keep them fighting. They sheltered themselves in water-soaked foxholes and cold muddy trenches, covering their bodies with filthy, tattered clothes and mud-caked blankets. For days at a time they lived without enough to eat.

"To be in the front line of the American army at that time was to go hungry," wrote Lieutenant Hervey Allen.

Letters and diaries of other men record how they craved food all of the time and how monotonous their rations were. Troops in combat suffered from an almost unslakable "battle thirst."

Private William A. Francis of the Fifth Marine Regiment told how at the battle of Belleau Wood, after a water detail failed to appear, "we felt as though we would go mad for want of a drink. I started digging as fast as I could and came to some wet clay. I put this to my tongue. It helped a little as it was very cool."

There was plenty of water in ditches and shell holes--along with poison gas, decaying bodies and body parts, blood, and human and animal waste. Nevertheless, soldiers drank it and suffered the consequences, including dysentery, or blinded themselves by rubbing mustard gas--tainted water into their eyes. The army had taught them how to dig slit trenches and build latrines and had given them equipment to purify drinking water, but some men either could not or would not follow correct procedures. Private Wilder Hopkins of the Thirty-second Division wrote that, "at the battlefront there was no such thing as sanitation."

Some men relieved themselves whereever they happened to be. Soldiers lived in filth continuously, sometimes going for months without taking off their breeches.