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."

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