Sunday, March 2, 2008

AEF Doughboy in Battle

Hervey Allen gives some vivid descriptions of battle with the AEF in his book, Toward the Flame:
    "A big high explosive shell came over so close to us we felt sure from its sound it was going to burst very near. There is nothing worse than listening to the increasing howl of a shell and realizing that this time it really is going to burst near you. How near? That is the vital question. This particular shell burst several hundred yards away, tearing through the trees and crashing with a red flash that lit up the road and the columns of troops. Then we heard those awful agonized screams and cries fo rhelp that so often followed. It is impossible to make people at home understand what listening to them does to your brain. You can never get rid of them again.
    What had happened was this: the big chap who rode the horses on our company kitchen had been caught in the burst and mortally hurt. Every bit of flesh from his waist down had been blown off his legs and yet he lived for some time. The splendid bit grays were killed.
     An experience of that kind can never be described. Death is very near. There is a constant howling shuddering the air, and shells were dropping everywhere about us.
The roar of the explosions about us was almost continuous. The air was full of peculiar black smoke, dust, debris, and the stifling odor of high explosive, luckily no gas.
     "The dim columns of men coming out of the woods, the lines of carts and kitchens assembling in the early, grey dawn, all without a light, and generally pretty silently, was always impressive.
     We were beginning to be pretty tired by now and even here needed relief. One no longer got up in the morning full of energy. Hunger, dirt, and strain were telling, and we felt more or less "all in" that day in particular. One was consciously weak.
      In a few minutes we were headed back in the direction from which we had come. There was a full moon, or one nearly so, hanging low in the west. As I jolted along, on legs that seemed more like stilts than limbs with knees, the heavy equipment sagged at every step, and seemed to clink one's teeth together weakly. At last the weariness and the jangle took on a fagged rythm that for me fell into the comfort of rhyme.

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