Wednesday, February 13, 2008

AEF Doughboy in Battle

     Every soldier at the moment of going into battle, trembles, is afraid, wishes he could escape from it. The noise is dreadful; the men rush forward, never walk; each one is watchful lest a companion may read fear in his face; no one cries out lest he be shot down; thus a whole regiment goes into battle, playing the part of bravery, yet sick of the whole business.
     Under bombing and artillery attack, troops felt utterly helpless, incapable of responding to what was being done to them, uncertain, paralyzed, afraid to perform basic physical functions. Ralph Seifert, a sergeant with the 103rd Sanitary Train, had gone behind a stone wall to relieve himself when he heard a shrieking sound directly overhead, and almost in the same instant, a bang. "I knew it was a shell"; he wrote his father. "It scared mee, so I used all my paper in one wipe and grabbed a handful from a pile that was along side of me, used it and pulling my britches up, made for a dugout.
     An emotion that battle commonly evoked in these men, even in the brave, the stoical, and those eager to fight, was fear, which took many forms. Before their first battle, new men not only worried about combat itself but were afraid they would succumb to fright. Veterans feared crippling and disfigurement. Lieutenant Allen remembered how he heard someone playing a sentimental song as he was getting ready to go into battle and how the music aroused in him fear and nostalgia at the same time, an acute longing for his loved ones, despair and anxiety about the next day's "indignities," together with a sense that the war would last forever. He called all this the "Just-Before-the-Battle-Mother" feeling and noticed that others felt it too. It paralyzed him mentally and physically until "the great machine of the army" laid its "iron touch" on his mind and body and enabled him to go on. Before his first battle, Corporal Pierce heard a band in a nearby valley playing taps for the dead of its regiment. The music left him with a "helpless, hopeless," frightened feeling.

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