Saturday, September 26, 2009




        "There was comedy along with tragedy. General Dickman, who commanded the Third American Army, tells about a British Chief of Staff who very politely send a basket of highly trained carrier pigeons to the staff of a newly landed American division, only to be rewarded a few days later with a courteous note saying they enjoyed the pigeons very much! No doubt they had an excellent cook. "


            "The first battalion had a pig. When the battalion was in reserve at Aulnois, we put our pig in a blue barracks bag and carried him in a supply wagon. When the wagon arrived, we could hear the pig squeal, but all that we could see was its little snout pushing against the cloth. When we let him out, one of the boys painted "102d Infantry" on him, and the last we saw of him he was painted green all over. The boys tormented that poor pig to death, poking it in the ribs to hear it grunt and squeal. I suppose that eventually the poor pig was converted into pork."


            One of our runners had a most trying experience in the Toul sector. He was returning from the first line, tired, hot and exhausted. So he stopped the colonel's car.

"Don't you know better than to stop an officer's car?" the colonel demanded.

"Yes, sir."

"Well, why did you do it then?"

"I didn't notice that there was an officer in it, sir."

You should have noticed."

"Yes, sir."

"Well, get in," the colonel said.

The runner was so absorbed in the conversation he forgot that he held a lighted cigar, the first that he had smoked in weeks and it sold for ten cents at the "Y".

"Who gave you permission to smoke in this car?" the colonel demanded.

The runner immediately threw the awful cigar away without making any comments. The colonel's driver sat as stiff and upright as a Broadway coachman, and the runner was so nervous and uncomfortable that he squirmed considerably and was ordered to "straighten up."

"Got any more cigars on your person?" asked the colonel.

"No, sir, for if I had I would have offered you one, Colonel."

            The runner was let off at Beaumont. He stood at attention, saluted and said, "Sir, I thank you for the ride, and apologize for the mistake, and assure you that it will not re-occur."

The Colonel smiled, as much as to say, "I guess that guy has learned his lesson." Said Colonel was not Colonel Parker, for John Henry Parker would have offered the runner a cigar."


"It was the great crusade. It is not my purpose to glorify war. It is simply my purpose to glorify the sacrifices and achievements of my comrades, and the eternal cause for which they worked and fought so hard. It was vainly feared that the war would brutalize our boys. Since they were fighting the most brutal foe in the annals of history, they did not simply hate brutality—they despised it.

Their feeling against brutality was only as great as their mercy and compassion for the women and the little children that had endured insufferable and unprovoked wrong. Here again I have access to indisputable facts that prove my statement absolutely. From September 27th to November 29th, members of our Expeditionary Force adopted 1,156 war-stricken youngsters. They adopted 294 war orphans in one week. This campaign to support the war waifs was started during the summer of 1918 and 1,670 were taken by the last of November. Hundreds of others were adopted by the 16th of December. A full account of what the overseas men, through "The Stars and Stripes," accomplished, may be obtained by anyone who cares to look up the back numbers of this excellent publication.

A finer, cleaner, braver, more generous and patriotic and religious body of men than my comrades, history will never know. They would share with one another their smokes, hard tack, bully beef and the contents of their packages from home with a liberality that was simply grand. They would die for one another."


          In the memoir of Pvt. Malcolm D. Aitken, USMC we read:

            "It was on one of those hikes into the front lines of the Soissons Sector. It was pitch dark, lines of men and all kinds of equipment filling the road to capacity. You couldn't see your nose, is the way I described it.

            We had halted for one of those short rests and were sort of lying down using our packs for support; splendid when you could get them adjusted; and were trying for a wink of sleep. I suddenly came to and realized that the man next to me on the right was not there. I was third from the head of the company column and was used to being left by the man ahead; he had done the same stunt several times, accidently of course; so I elbowed the man next to me and said, "Get Goin". He didn't move. I repeated the affair twice more and when no response was forthcoming, I investigated aided by a match, and I had been elbowing the rump of a perfectly dead mule. I then noted that no other men were around me. I glanced at my watch and saw that an hour had passed since the rest was called. Believe me I hurried as fast as possible and caught the outfit about 100 yards ahead. The traffic block cleared as I resumed my spot in the ranks. Ralph, the fellow on my right, wanted to know if I had seen Paris and I told him I had been in the burial grounds but was retuning to see the rest."


            "After the Armistice the lessening of military chores also meant more time for the pranks and shenanigans in which soldiers excel. Perhaps the best known incident of mischief-making during the occupation of Germany, as far as the 42nd Division was concerned, was the so-called "egg affair." Eggs were a rare treat for the troops on duty in the Rhineland, and when an entire carload of eggs arrived at the rail station in Sinzig, intended for distribution to all units of the Rainbow Division, the Alabamians of the 167th Infantry, declared Reilly, "took immediate possession of the whole carload and lived happily on eggs for some time thereafter."  Colonel Screws, the regiment's commander, explained that his men seized the eggs because another regiment had earlier stolen a carload of tobacco which the citizens of Alabama had sent for the 167th. "Of course, we Alabamians being the 'he-men' we are," Screws remarked, "we would sooner 'chaw' on tobacco than eggs, but we had the eggs and we didn't have the tobacco." MacArthur chose to ignore the incident, possibly for the reason Screws offered: "I sent a few around to the other Colonels and Generals to keep them from starting something."


            In the book Ranging in France with Flash and Sound we read:

            " It was while at the Norroy base that the irresistible Kennedy was working on the communications lines one afternoon when his ever-watchful eye caught sight of some splendid blackberries. After filling his steel helmet, he picked a few more and sat down to eat them. Soon her heard footsteps, and a shadow from some hovering object fell across the path by which he was sitting. Glancing up Kennedy was surprised to see a brigadier-general confronting him.

            As the general waited for Kennedy to spring to attention his face was drawn into a frown.

            "Well, don't you know a general when you see one," he growled.

            "Yes, sir; but I never expected to see one up here, sir."

            The general hesitated. The frown on his face was changing into a grin.

            "Where is your post?" asked the offiver.

            "I haven't any, sir."

            "To what organization do you belong?"

            "Twenty-ninth Engineers, Sir."

            "What kind of work do you do?"

            "I can't tell you, sir."

            The general was baffled. His eyes roamed about while his mind groped for something effective. He spied the berries.

            "What are you going to do with those?" he asked.

            "Take them home to the cook to make a pie, sir."

            Well; be careful not to eat too much of that pie, or you may make yourself sick.

            "Yes,  sir."

            Kennedy salutes. The general returned the salute and walked on."

David Homsher
American Battlefields of World War I: Chateau-Thierry--Then and Now
ISBN: 97809702444307 $19.95.
Winner of three National Book Awards. Available at bookstores everywhere.
and on website:
WWI blog sites: AND

Sunday, September 13, 2009


        In the book World War I in Retrospect  we read:            "But all in all I was certainly less miserable there at Brest prior to embarkation than my comrades, for while the company was off unloading lumber in the rain and cold I sat in our sheet-iron billet by the camp stove and, pad on knee, devoted myself to the work of chronicler.            Even without the bargain I had made with the captain I would have been unavailable for heavy work because of an amusing, although extremely painful, episode. One cold and rainy morning in January the company was marched off to the delousing plant, where men and clothes were to receive the kerosene treatment. As right guide of the company, I was first to enjoy the delectable shower, after which, while waiting for my clothes, I stood naked with my back to the red-hot barracks stove. Others soon appeared and there was the usual banter and chatter. Presently one of the men asked me for a light for his cigarette. In the process of obliging I leaned forward just far enough to touch my rear on the stove. To this very day I remember the sticking sensation and my mad leap to safety. Next morning, when I reported for sick call, the doctor exclaimed: "Why, Sarge, you have a burn as large as a pie plate." For a time I was quite immobilized, never stirring from my pillow, but spiritually free and deeper than ever immersed in my narrative. Only one mistake I made in this connection. I wrote my mother that I had had a rather painful mishap and should probably not have been surprised when, on my return home, she greeted me with the question: "Now where were you wounded." "Wounded? Me? Nowhere." Well, you certainly wrote me of a mishap and of course I knew what you meant." Demonstration was hardly feasible, so I had to rely on argument to put her mind at rest.

            Life underground is the order of things within the scope of the enemy's guns. By the light of candles and lamps, soldiers live down here and eat and sleep. And yet men laugh and joke over the most serious things. A new habit of mind seems to have been created so suit this new outlook, one in which the exposure and danger and shell fire and the blood of comrades are usual factors, instead of the strange and shocking horrors they would be in normal life conditions."



            "In many ways, the French civilian customs provided entertainment for the American soldiers of 1918. The Headquarters Company at Moyemont were daily aroused by the shrill blasts of the community stock-herder's trumpet. At the first peep of dawn, when all the good doughboys were pounding the blanket hard, he would sound off, shambling down the village street in motley garb—perhaps the regalia of his high office—dragging his wooden shoes with difficulty over the cobblestones. The first blast of his tin horn usually produced the desired result. Out of barns and yards tumbles sundry sheep, goats, cows and pigs to fall in behind him. Returning from the fields at dusk, the animals would instinctively fall out and retire to their respective habitations. Two members of the Regimental Band yearned for trouble. The machinations of their fertile brains sent the loudest and strongest First Cornet down the street one morning long before Reveille, blowing the Call to Arms. The Pied Piper of Hamlin boasted no such array. With stately tread, he conducted his unique platoon of animals around the town. Wither he went they dutifully followed. He stopped playing, but they still hung on. The joke was revealing complications. Showing signs of deep concern, the cornetist attempted the soothing strains of "Go to Sleep, My Baby," without result. Far be it for such loyal adherents to desert their leader in the midst of drill. But hark! What is that old familiar sound? The shrill call of the herder's old horn resounding through the village! With tails erect, or flying, or kinked or not showing at all, as the case may be, the animals dashed off in all directions. Pandemonium reigned, during which time the First Cornet made good his escape."


            They maintained the brutal march until human endurance could no longer maintain them, then they fell by the wayside, sick, exhausted and oftentimes unconscious. 'Long about midday, General Wittenmeyer came upon a pathetic figure by the roadside, propped against his pack which he hadn't the energy to take off. "Dogs," he soliloquized, gazing ruefully at his feet, "you've gone back on me. For many a year you've been my main support and you've done your duty noble. I've been careful of you right along; but I guess I was too easy with you. And now, because you've had to take some hard knocks, you're laying down on me, ain't you? But I guess you done the best you could an' I can't blame you for putting me out of the running.

            Any feeble attempt at mirth and hilarity had long since failed. Conversation was at a standstill, but what the boys thought about the army at that time was unfit for publication. Yet the hike was productive of many surprises, among them General Wittemeyer's decision, after hearing the doughboy's lament, to order a lengthy rest at noon and—Sidney Wennick's quality of endurance.

            Sid had been cooking for the Signal Platoon all the time we were out with the British climbing the hills of Northern France. We had carried the pack a bit, nearly every day in the week. Sid hadn't. So, when we started on this jaunt the hardened veterans thought that Sid would be one of the first to drop out. Along about the fifth hour of marching, when fully ready to call it quits there was Sid Wennick marching blithely along, seemingly with no cares or worries. He was in at the finish, and probably the freshest man of the lot. That night, his Bunkie happened to be looking when Sid unrolled his pack. It comprised one blanket and a lot of straw; all the rest of his equipment was on the ration cart." 


            A British general, in whose area and under whose jurisdiction we happened to be training, said to the American officer who accompanied him on tour of inspection one morning: "And are your men well trained in the matter of gas-defense?"

            "Oh yes indeed, "replied General Johnson.

            "Gas!" screamed the general at a passing American doughboy, for the purpose of making a practical test. Nothing but blank amazement masked the Latin-American countenance on the roadside.

            "Gas!" howled the general, thinking that the boy hadn't heard him. No response; not a quiver of intelligence.

            "Don't you know enough to put on your mask when you hear that warning?" cried the excited general.

            "Me no speak-a-da Eenglis," answered the American."



            "Five chickens have disappeared from a shed near your Signal Platoon," the captain said. "This is nothing less than plain stealing and cannot be glossed over. Investigate."

            The captain goes over to one of the French neighbors and says in fluent French, "Avvy voo lost cinq chickens? The neighbor says "No." The captain reports the findings to the Town Commandant, who 'lows as how that ain't the right neighbor and proceeds to investigate, for himself. Here is the shed; foot-prints, gore, feathers. Unmistakable signs of a terrible carnage. Five hens are still cowering, wild-eyed in a corner, suffering from nervous prostration. If Monsieur Legrand formerly had ten and a rooster it is certain that the others must be A.W.O.L. Oh, no! He couldn't have sold them.

            The Supply Company advertises a big chicken dinner for the coming Sunday; but such evidence is purely circumstantial. H Company is billeted in the next street over; looks bad for H. E Company had a couple of recalcitrant's picked up in the street that fatal night; but that is nothing out of the way. The finger of suspicion undoubtedly points to Headquarters Company, though the First Sergeant swears the blood on the Orderly Room door-sill resulted from the company mechanic having cut a finger. Therefore, all four companies are finally ordered to chip in, purchasing out of their company funds an ephemeral portion of vanished chicken for every man in town."

David Homsher
American Battlefields of World War I: Chateau-Thierry--Then and Now
ISBN: 97809702444307 $19.95.
Winner of three National Book Awards. Available at bookstores everywhere.
and on website:
WWI blog sites: AND