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 In most battles we had to stay in the lines twenty-four hours after our supports were withdrawn, being supports to the troops new in warfare.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."