Sunday, June 28, 2009


            In A Corporal Once, by Leonard Nason, we read:            The afternoon wore on, the shadows began to lengthen, then, as the column slowly dragged its weary length up a long slope, the setting sun gleamed redly at them through the ghost of a long dead wood, set on fire by shells and burned weeks ago, and that now leered at them like a skeleton. They halted here again in the ditch. There were no ambulances now, and no talking. The men sat silently in the gathering darkness, some leaning back against their packs, trying to sleep, others peering about them anxiously, trying to see what lay ahead, or to gather some idea from the black woods before them as to what was going on. From time to time one could hear the soft thud of a pack being punched into more comfortable shape, the clink of a stopper striking against a canteen as some thirsty soldier drank, the crash of a rifle falling against the hard stones of the road.             For all there was a battle raging, the road was very still, save once in a great while, when the wind blew from the north, there would be a faint rattling, like a distant trolley car crossing a switch. What were they waiting for? No one knew. But down the road a few yards was the place where the drive had started that morning. The unburied dead lay thick in that road and on the fields, and the place was strewn with abandoned rifles and equipment. There is nothing so shattering to the morale of green troops as the sight of dead, so this column was being held until darkness before being taken through the zone where the troops had jumped off that morning.             "Godamighty!" exclaimed someone. "Lookit the Huns!"

            Exclamations ran along the column, a mutter of excitement. Coming up the road, escorted by a mounted M. P. was a long grey, column, prisoners. They marched calmly along, four abreast, looking neither to the right nor left, stolid and taciturn. The leader of the column was an officer, evidently of high rank, judging by his glittering boots and gleam of gold on his high collar and wide shoulder straps. He had a monocle screwed into his eye, at which the doughboys jeered derisively, and were promptly taken to task by their officers. Wasp-waisted, erect, his grey uniform fitting him like a glove, the officer stalked on, more as if he were leading a Potsdam review than a march to the prison pens. After him came several ranks of non-commissioned officers, distinguished by their superior bearing and the white facing on their collars. Then the rank and file, the cannon food, dirty, bearded, stinking with a small that is beyond belief, shambling, scuffling by, some wearing their coal-scuttle helmets, others the round cap, many bareheaded. They were of all ages, from smooth-faced boys to gray-bearded men. The uniforms were ill fitting and worn. Some of them plodded along stolidly, as though one place was as good as another, which it probably was, as far as they were concerned. The younger ones grinned bashfully at the Yanks. One or two of the older ones let the hate that was in them show in their eyes, and when one crossed looks with an infantryman, the Yank felt his spine creep."

            In God Have Mercy on Us!, by William Scanlon, we read: "The Attack:            "Tanks now came up from the rear and pass through us. The German artillery swings into action with a vengeance. Most of the fire is directed at the tanks, but as usual they shoot high and the shells burst among us. We curse the tanks.            We move forward…The tanks are about three hundred yards ahead…The German artillery and machine guns are working fast…And there is no sound in back of us of our own artillery answering…The wheat through which we are moving is full grown…We advance continuously, at a walk, without getting down…Our bayonets are held down, so they will not flash in the sun. They get tangled up in the long wheat and we have to tug to get them loose, pulling up the wheat…            The machine gun fire encountered before the town of Bouresches was bad but the fire now is a thousand times worse….It is like a hailstorm…My body is bent forward as though forcing myself through a heavy rain…My free hand clutches my blouse, pulling it tighter about my body…There are little crooked paths through the wheat…At the end of each little path lies a dead soldier…They would be hit, then stagger and drop…The bullets mow down the wheat…            Sergeant McFadden has the group next to me, on the left…He is leading…All of a sudden he swerves around, facing our group…He has a terrified, surprised look of agony on his face…His hand clutch at the air one moment, then they wrap themselves about his stomach…His teeth gnash…Biting the air, he staggers back and falls, close to my group…            Young runs over to help him, but McFadden is dead.            We approach a road lined with trees. Someone in my group cries, 'Look!' I turn. He is pointing up at a tree in the road. The figure of a man shows through the leaves. The men drop to their knees and fire. A German machine-gunner and his gun crash to the ground. No orders to fire had been given.             Across the road a tank stood motionless. The front of it had been damaged. Through an opening in the side we could see the charred remains of the operator. The whole inner portion of the tank had been lined with shells. A direct hit had penetrated the tank and caused all these shells to explode. It was a fiery oven with no chance to escape. It was still smoking as we passed by.            Three of our officers were down on the right behind some tanks when several shells crashed in the midst of them and messed them up pretty badly.            Word came from the right to swing back in the original direction. This meant we had to cross back over the road with the trees again and out into the open stubble-field. I was on the left flank now. This meant I had to go far enough out in the field to permit the other groups to get in.            I started across on a run, but as soon as I figured there was enough room for all, I faced to the east. The men crowded up, and first it was, 'Give way on the left,' then, 'Close over on the right.'             The machine guns were soon trained on us again and the men dropped fast. Two hundred yards ahead was an embankment that meant certain protection.

            Spud Murphy was over on my right, about ten men between us. I saw Spud stop, turn, and crumple down. He had been ripped open with machine-gun bullets. He died instantly."

            In the book Fix Bayonets! by John W. Thomason, Jr., we read:"Battle Sight...There was always good feeling between the Marines of the 2d Division and the Regular Army units that formed it, but the Marines and the 2d Engineers—"Say, if I ever got a drink, a 2d Engineer can have half of it! – Boy, they dig trenches and mend roads all night, and they fight all day! An' when us guys gets all killed off, they just come up an' take over the war! They's no better folks anywhere than the Engineers…"The Boche wanted Hill 142; he came, and the rifles broke him, and he came again. All his batteries were in action, and always his machine-guns scourged the place, but he could not make head against the rifles. Guns he could understand; he knew all about bombs and auto-rifles and machine-guns and trench mortars, but aimed, sustained rifle-fire, that comes from nowhere in particular and picks off men—it brought the war home to the individual and demoralized him.

And trained Americans fight best with rifles. Men get tired of carrying grenades and chaut-chaut clips; the guns cannot, even under the most favorable conditions, keep pace with the advancing infantry. Machine-gun crews have a way of getting killed at the start; trench-mortars and one-pounders are not always possible. But the rifle and bayonet goes anywhere a man can go, and the rifle and the bayonet win battles. Toward midday, this 6th of June 1918, the condition around Hill 142 stabilized. A small action, fought by battalions over a limited area of no special importance, it gave the Boche something new to think about, and it may be that people who write histories will date an era from it."

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