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.