Sunday, January 20, 2008
DOUGHBOY IN BATTLE
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.