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.

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