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AN ACCOUNT OF THE EXPERIENCES OF INFANTRYMEN WHO FOUGHT WITH THE LORRAINE CROSS DIVISION IN FRANCE DURING THE WORLD WAR
BY ARTHUR H. JOEL EAST LANSING, MICH. FORMERLY COMMANDING CO. "F." 314TH INF. U. S.A.
Copyright, 1921 By Arthur H. Joel
NEAR THE END OF THE DOUGHBOY TRAIL
Behind lay the American cantonment, the Atlantic, the swamps of Brest and the peasant villages. Ahead were mystery chance and uncanny experiences in an inferno of pyrotechnics and death.
When an ex-doughboy talks with an over-sea buddy, or dreamily gazes into the smoke and flame of a fireplace, how easily he can recall the stirring incidents of the months or years spent in the land of duck-boards and fireworks. The pretty mademoiselles, glittering jewelry displays and beautiful fashions seen on the Paris boulevards; the weird night spent on Dead Man's Hill, when the shrieking shells of a thousand belching cannon streamed overhead onto Montfaucon; the storming of hills near Damvilliers the evening before the armistice; and the odd incidents of life in the quaint peasant villages.these are but a few of the things that soldiers of the Lorraine Cross can easily recall and many times re-live before joining the buddies "gone west" in France.
In the story which follows it is the desire and intention of the author to furnish his brothers-in-arms with a brief account of the most eventful period in the majority of their lives; and to give to any others who may be interested, as clear an idea as possible of just what their friends or loved ones experienced, thought and felt while taking an active part in the big European shoot-up. The diary, orders, maps and other souvenirs in the writer's possession will form the basis of the account. If the pals and buddies of the old outfit approve of the work the author will feel well repaid for his efforts.
I - A Secret Departure On An Unknown Voyage ............. 7 II - Giovanni, Stanislas and Tim ......................... 8 III - The Ghost of the Vaterland .......................... 10 IV - Sidestepping the U-Boats ............................ 14 V - Brest and the Second Retreat from Moscow............. 16 VI - Steers and Pack Horses VII.Back a Century ........... 18 VII - Back a Century .................................... 22 VIII - "Butt Swing l Strike ~ Cut" ....................... 23 IX - The Weird Trip with the Yellow Men ................ 28 X - Bombs, Jackasses and a Gas Attack ................. 30 XI - The Eve of the Argonne Drive ...................... 32 XII - Zero Hour on Dead Man's Hill ...................... 34 XIII - Modern Battle ..................................... 38 XIV - The Glitter of Paris .............................. 43 XV - "Chuck" and a Bunk. "Tout Va Bien" ................ 48 XVI - Death Valley XVII.A Party at OKAY ................ 51 XVII - A Party at OK-12 .................................. 56 XVIII - An Eleventh-Hour Armistice ........................ 60 XIX - Doughboys in their Native Haunts................... 64 XX - "Bonne Chance 1" .................................. 67
UNDER THE LORRAINE CROSS
A Secret Departure on an Unknown Voyage
Our story of the big adventure of the ^3 T^4th Infantry and the other Lorraine Cross crusaders begins with the fall of evening shadows over New York harbor, July 8, I918. The retiring sun, pronouncing the close of day, left a message to the observant that the next meeting would be on the high seas of the Atlantic.
At last, then, the long-dreamed-of event was really happening! The Leviathan, giant ship of all the seas, with about thirteen thousand soldiers aboard, was quietly slipping anchor from its Hoboken pier.
Powerful little tugs soon played a winning game of tug-of-war with the monstrous hulk, and shortly the ungraceful boat, under the power of its own throbbing engines, was drifting down East River, through the haze of fog and Manhattan smoke, toward the open ocean.
Here were secrecy, mystery, and a real net of chance! Closed port holes, dimmed lights, little information as to near-future events and the probability that plenty of Hun sea serpents were awaiting this, their greatest prize.such a situation was at least promising to the khaki-clad American youths on their way to the land of dug-outs, duck boards and barbed wire.
What a variety of experiences and adventures awaited the eager, young huskies, the majority of whom were of that age which is well blessed with health, hope and confidence! Many individuals of the brown human background, massed between smoke stacks, lifeboats and cannon, still sleep beneath French soil; many are broken in health and spirits; and all have been changed quite radically in some way by the events in which destiny had decreed that they take part. But step by step let us trace their story of thrills, joys, disasters and uncanny experiences. Then we may realize that reality can easily be stranger than imaginative make-believe.
Giovanni, Stanislas and Tim
Our army as a whole was made up of all sorts of nationalities and American types; but probably no greater variety of individuals could be found than in the ranks of Colonel Oury's regiment.
A few trips through a "chow line," a couple of evenings spent in one of the barracks or a day at the rifle range would easily impress one with this fact.
Giovanni Lucien had kept a little fruit stand in New York City; Stanislas Rydziewiecz was a coal miner from Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania; and Tim had sold ties, ribbons and handkerchiefs at Wanamaker's for at least a decade. An examination of the many series of cards and papers which made chronic cranks and dyspeptics of company clerks, would quickly convince one that most any sort of character could be found in the regiment.
In civilian life many of these men had but little in common and class distinction kept them apart. But in the ranks of an army, where the rule is a dollar a day, plus khaki and doughnuts, with half pay reserved for insurance and allotments, such distinction soon disappeared. So in the 3^I^4th we find Giovanni and Tim sleeping side by side in peasant barns, crowding in the same long "chow line" three times a day, and enduring the same hardships and chancing the same dangers of battle. It was no uncommon sight, just before "taps" warned all good doughboys to go to their bunks, to see Stanislas, Tim and Giovanni even playing a neighborly game of darktown golf, threatening or pleading with the spotted ivories to not make too big a draw on last month's pay, just received.
An infantry company could boast of most any sort of character. One outfit alone included in its roster a murderer, several moonshiners and boot-leggers, a newspaper reporter, a professional baseball player, several lumber-jacks, a couple of "ham" actors, a couple of high school professors and at least one lunatic. The story of these men, if properly told, should be more humanly interesting than the average good work of fiction.
Colonel Oury, the big, silver-haired regimental commander, led and directed this body of men from the time they left Camp Meade, Md., until the veterans of the Argonne wished each other luck at Camp Dix and parted for the awaiting home-town
brass band. He was strict, but kindhearted and conscientious, belonging to that class of men which bear the same relation to mankind that the oaks do to the family of trees. The colonel's bywords were "efficiency" and "go instruct your men"; and although his enthusiastic pressing of his desires along this line caused many a weary soldier to utter words not found in a dictionary, the colonel can feel assured that he at least can claim the esteem and good will of his old command. There are others who held positions of responsibility and authority in the regiment who would hardly find a friendly veteran hand to shake.
For reasons which will become evident as our tale proceeds, an acquaintance should here be made with another individual. To the men of his command this officer was "Pop" and military chief at the same time. Few in the regiment would fail to recognize the man. His character presents a most interesting study.
The captain was about forty-eight years of age, of short and stocky build. Although German was predominant in his nationality, I doubt whether the officer himself was certain of his ancestry. Uneducated except in army affairs, he spoke rather brokenly, with the grammatical mistakes of a child. His appearance was such that on first contact one would naturally class him as a "tough old bird" or a "hard one," and such did strangers almost invariably consider him.
"Youse mutts.Do sumtin' anyway,.Ruslin' ain't stealin,' lootenant. I want you to learn that now. In the army it's what you get away wid, not what you do." It is no difficult matter to recall the incidents which occasioned the use of these expressions and other similar ones.
"Annudder guy went an' hung himself," was his common remark at hearing of one of his men or officers getting married.
Having served in Cuba, Mexico, the Philippines and Panama, most of the time as a first sergeant or "top-kicker," he was the regimental authority for old army tricks, army lore and "hard" army sense. He was strict, and he would likely never be requested to serve as a model for a bust or portrait. Yet I will wager that there was not a more popular captain in the regiment. And why not? What mattered a gruff voice and a rough appearance when a man had a big heart, a great fund of common sense, and an unlimited supply of army knowledge, and was loyal to his men and officers? He could command the loyalty of men as could few others in the division.
Keen and sagacious as only an old army man can be, it was difficult to "put one over" on the captain, and very few officers would dare to do some of the things which he did.
Once when ordered by the colonel to guard the scattered lum
her at the new Camp Meade theatre he instructed the sergeant in charge to have one squad guard it at the point where passersby could see the pile, and to have the other squad "rustle" the choice planks. So while the sentinels under one corporal kept the men of other companies at a distance, the husky lumberjacks under the other carried away enough lumber to supply the needs of their company indefinitely.
At another time when he discovered that an inspector was examining service records, and that several company commanders had been reprimanded for not having shoe sizes recorded, he immediately called the company clerk and gave him a peremptory order something to this effect:
"Fer God's sake, corporal, get those shoe sizes in quick!"
."Sir, the men are all out to drill now and I can't get them in time," respectfully replied the clerk.
"Slip any sizes in; this bird won't know the difference," came the quick reply.
So each man was credited with a shoe size, big lumber-jack Schaffer being given size five and one-half and little Corporal Vogle size eleven. At random sizes were assigned to each service record and the captain complacently awaited the inspector.
He was happily congratulating himself on the progress of the inspection when the shrewd officer discovered that the ink was hardly dry on the shoe-size entries. But "Pop" was as shrewd as the best of army old-timers, and soon softened the ruffled feelings of the inspector by making good use of the discovery that both had fought in the same regiment in Cuba years before.
A more intimate acquaintance will be made with this character as our tale is told. As the blanket of darkness falls over New York Harbor, let us return to the crowded decks of the Leviathan and note what is happening there.
The Ghost of the Vaterland
"By the deep line. By the deep line." The strong bass voice of the sailor throwing the sounding line repeatedly called through the spray to the window of the wheelman's cabin. Frequently he would add the numbers of fathoms sounded.
From his post well forward on the gun decks, this husky "gob" would swing the heavy weight like a pendulum, and finally,
with his best effort, sling it well forward into the rough sea. Expert manipulation of the rope gave the depth of water and a guide for safety.
Until darkness and distance had obscured the Statue and maze of electric signs, the majority of the brown host held their positions on the open decks, fixing their gazes westward. Very likely they felt emotions similar to those of the crews of Columbus' good ships Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, -four centuries previously. There was no information as to our destination, and the captain of the ship himself was certain of our course only for the time being. A warning or guiding wireless message might change our direction radically at any time. So like the good ship Santa Maria, the Leviathan, Monarch of the Seas, boldly began its lonesome journey across the Atlantic. For protection against submarines it depended almost solely upon secrecy and speed.
What an example of fate's irony! Carrying armed enemies equal in number to a fourth of the population of Lansing, Michigan, this old ocean liner, Vaterland, was now bent on aggression against its former owners. German signs could still be found in the staterooms.
Few people who have never seen an ocean liner have a correct idea of the makeup of such a craft. The Leviathan was almost a thousand feet, or a sixth of a mile long, and a hundred feet wide, and she sank forty-odd feet in the water. Her displacement was sixty-nine thousand tons, and she had forty-six water-tube boilers. Few harbors could dock her, and she could not go under Brooklyn Bridge, or enter the Panama Canal.
Although a "gob".sailor.might be perfectly at home in the floating city, it was not an infrequent occurrence for a "doughboy landlubber" to completely lose himself. Then, to his inquiry as to direction, a friendly sailor might give him the following answer:
"Sure, Jack, I'll tell you. Go up the ladder what's behind the hatch that's two compartments aft. Then go through the galley to F-26. Take the stairway to "F" deck, swing starboard and aft again, and you're there. It's all right, Jack. Glad to help you. No! aft is that way. That's a hatch there! Sure. Don't mention it Jack."
And finally, after several more inquiries and a great deal of wandering, just when he was more puzzled than ever, a friend might point out his bunk section within a few rods of where he stood.
The floating mass of wood and steel which made up the troop ship Leviathan was a complicated structure, to say the least. Horizontally, the ship was divided into floors or decks, designated by the letters from "A" to "H." Beginning with the topmost deck, which contained the lobby and officers' dining room,
this series ended with the lowest troop quarters below the water line. Still below this deck, however, were the coal bunkers, and the engine and stoker rooms. The troop decks were divided into numerous compartments, or rooms, separated by water-tight doors. Located at various places among this maze of "decks," compartments and lobbies were "galleys," or kitchens, shower baths, latrines, hospital rooms, baggage rooms and sailors' quarters, the whole connected by ladders, passageways and stairways.
The troops were quartered in the "deck compartments." Each soldier was entitled to the privacy of a luxuriant bed made by stretching heavy mesh wire across a six-by-two frame of iron pipe. Economy of space seemed to be the prime consideration, and consequently "bunks" were arranged four deep and two wide, with just enough aisle space to allow two slim doughboys to pass each other.
Life on board a troop transport was in sharp contrast to life on a peace-time passenger boat. With the lives of over thirteen thousand men to consider, and a most dangerous course to pursue, it was necessary to take special precautions other than the ordinary rules of an ocean voyage.
Whistling was not permitted, singing after dark was forbidden, and a general order demanded absolute silence after "taps," or bed time.
As naval men claim that it is easy to track a ship which leaves a trail of articles on the water, it was especially ordered that nothing whatsoever be thrown overboard. This offense was about as serious to a naval man as the smoking of a cigarette or lighting a match would be to a doughboy under an enemy bombing plane at the front on a dark night.
At sunset the entire ship was darkened except in certain spaces well below decks. A special blue light circuit was then used for any necessary traffic or movement.
The men were forbidden to show a light or to reflect one upon a polished surface, to use flashlights or matches on decks, or to smoke in the open night, as any of these acts might endanger not only their lives but those of their fellow passengers, by attracting an awaiting submarine.
Ship information gave the following notice: "Sea-sick cans are supplied and should be used for that purpose only. Men vomiting on deck should be made to clean it up. Men should realize that it is no disgrace to be sea-sick and that anyone can feel it coming. It is a mean trick to vomit in the home of others who are all around. Use the sea-sick cans and keep the deck clean."
It was a court-martial offense to carry ammunition, to open port-holes or water-tight doors, to smoke in quarters, to be caught away from your bunk without a life preserver, or to fail to report
at your designated post when the bugler sounded the signal to abandon ship.
For the soldier, the feeding or messing system was a simple matter. He merely took his designated place in a certain line of men, and followed the snake parade until he had eaten and returned to his bunk.
But to feed these thousands of men twice a day was no simple matter. The system surely was almost an ideal of efficiency, for in the one troop mess hall on "If" deck, forward of the galley, this host of men were fed in about an hour and a half, dishes washed, finger bowls and napkins collected, and all meal tickets properly punched.
The cafeteria system was used. The troops, equipped with mess outfits, marched by outlined routes to food-serving stations, where the prunes, beans and chili sauce, canned "Bill", and "Java" were properly mixed in mess kits as the men passed by. No seats were provided. Garbage was dumped in cans near the exit, and mess gear washed in dish-washing cans at the washing stations. There were naturally complaints about the "chow," for a soldier can, and usually does, at every opportunity, exercise his privilege of complaining about his meals.
For several days, while the vessel was passing through the hot gulf stream, the lower decks were most uncomfortably hot, stuffy, and ill-smelling. Imagine if you can, the combination of closed compartments and port holes, mid-July heat, intensified by the warm ocean current, a soldier to about six square feet of floor space, and the majority more or less sea-sick. It was a three-day Turkish bath, so hot that men who lay almost naked in their bunks perspired freely. Many a doughboy lost his beans and macaroni, and took C. C. pills to help him recover his bearings.
C. C.'s were the "pill roller's" or ''medic's'' universal offering to the suffering soldier for sore throat, sore feet, earache, falling hair, trench feet, ~r^lal-de--mer, and flu. Some say that C. C.'s won the war, but the M. P.'s and Y. M. C. A. dispute the claim.
The simple routine of treatment for an ailment was as follows:
"Well, Corporal, what's the trouble?" the "medic" would ask at sick call.
"Sir, I gotta pain in my stummick and two blisters on me foot what I hain't cured yet," might be his reply.
Officer to Sergeant, "Give him some C. C.'s. Mark him duty and have him report next sick call."
The next man might complain of toothache and another of a bad cold, but each in turn received several of the little white pellets,
Sidestepping the U-Boats
During the four-hour watches among the bunks and sweating troops, one could easily see that the stuffy conditions were playing on the tempers of the men. Epithets of all sorts, with Italian, Austrian, and mountaineer accents, as well as in good English, were evidence of the men's feelings. And the scores of questions asked about our location on the Atlantic, our probable destination, and about dangerous submarine zones were proof enough of their thoughts.
"Submarine! Sub! See 'er over there," called an excited doughboy one afternoon.
Anxious eyes and eyes glinting with the light of excitement searched the calm blue stretch of mid-ocean. Pulses quickened with the re-appearance of the distant, white flash in the water, and those well forward watched the training of the big guns, and waited for the first shot to rock the boat.
There followed a few moments of anxious suspense.
"Oh! h.1, it's a whale spout," came the voice of a rather disappointed native of the moonshine section of West Virginia.
This, to our knowledge, was as close as we came to open dispute with submarines. However, on its previous voyage, the Leviathan had a close call just outside of Brest, when three U-boats suddenly appeared between the big transport and its protecting destroyers. A quick fusilade of gun fire and the dropping of depth bombs ended what was for the moment a very dangerous situation. The gun crews claim that at least one of the "sousmarins" never rose again.
"A sub! See the periscope over there," suddenly called a doughboy who had been feeding the fishes from the rail of a small English "tub."
"A dollar she hits," came a wager from a well-known crap shooter.
"Two bits she don't," called another.
The "two-bit" bet won, but only by a narrow margin.
Such was the happening on a 28th Division boat on which a friend of mine made his trip.
Until within two days of Brest harbor the Leviathan was more lonesome than Columbus' Santa Maria, which had the company of the Nina and Pinta. Secrecy, speed and expert gunners were our protection against subs.
One morning we awoke to ~41 five camouflaged destroyers.
long, narrow, super-speedy boats, painted with varicolored diagonal streaks, and as graceful as canoes. From our own monster boat we viewed these daring craft with admiration and with about the same warm feeling that one has upon meeting a friend in a wilderness or in a strange city.
How quickly and confidently the destroyers were on the trail with depth bombs ready and guns trained, whenever a w hale spout, grocery box, empty boat or other suspicious thing loomed within telescopic view! We had good reason to be proud of our own gunners, who were the best in the Navy, but in its maneuvering, our big transport was clumsy compared to our speedy protectors. A cast iron stomach and spike-eating ability must surely have been required of a man enlisting for a job on one of these supercanoes, especially in stormy weather.
An open boat on the high seas usually means disaster. On the final lap of the journey a small life boat was passed, and later a boat load of naval officers was picked up.circumstantial evidence of the fortunes and misfortunes of a torpedoed crew. Finally, on July I5, the Leviathan completed the final and most dangerous lap of the journey.through the submarine-infested area along the rocky coast of Brittany, near Brest. Land was first seen in the early morning, when a rocky island was indistinctly outlined in the dense fog. The destroyers accompanied the Leviathan into the long, narrow channel which led to the spacious harbor of Brest, and soon the monster ship was anchored in the quiet waters of the big Brittany port.
A blue-uniformed, dapper, little port officer speeded out in his motor boat, and the lines of vision of thousands of searching eyes shifted and intersected as the soldiers intently gazed toward the foreign land where fate would decide and work out their various fortunes and destinies during coming months of the big adventure.
So far, fine! We had escaped the U-boats and the "chow" hadn't been bad. What was ahead mattered little. Brest from a distance didn't look half bad, so worries were packed in the ould 'kit bag. Future troubles didn't bother a soldier. We might have crossed in an English "tub," with tea and bully beef for "chow," and it might have taken two weeks instead of seven days. The worst was yet to come; so why remember sea-sickness, ill-smelling, hot quarters, salt-water baths, and res^erictions of all sorts? The soldier is quick to adopt Mary Pickford's Pollyanna attitude when conditions are right, and just as ready to use Monsieur Grump's personality when things are a little wrong.
Captain Jacobs of "H" company, with a Napoleonic pose greeted Brest as he did all new places
"Ah bad be this is Russia!
Brest and the Second Retreat from Moscow
Brest is a strong, French, military port on the rocky Brittany coast. The citadels and fortresses along the water's edge are characteristically European. These, together with the aeroplanes, sausage or captive balloons, and war craft of all descriptions, aroused the feeling that one was really beginning to see something of the big conflict. The spacious, well-protected harbor was an excellent haven in which to escape storms and enemy submarines.
Just before the regiment left the ship several hundred French sailors came aboard. They were going to America to bring back a boat.
"Je ne eomprends pas, Monsieu^Y! Oui, oui, oui! I no understand which you have say! In zis book him is^.eomYne ea. Oui, oui, oui," excitedly harrangued one of the tam-o'-shantered blueuniformed Frenchies.
He was trying his level best with eyes, arms, head and voice to make his American brother-in-arms understand.
The American doughboy was having as difficult a time to talk to Frenchie.
"Not tees! Teeth! No, not tees, Jack! Wee, wee! Look at this dictionary. See regarded! Wee, wee, regarded! Yes! Wee! No!" His intentions were excellent and the book had the information, but his poor tongue couldn't work fast enough to say what he wished.
For those who know little of the langue franeaise it might be well to explain that "wee" or oui means "yes." The French habitually enunciate three or four of them in a breath, and the American says it to keep up appearances when he can talk but little of the language.
The battalions disembarked by ferry.July I6 to With the human cargo as efficiently packed as a shipment of boxes or barrels.
Fall In!" came the first command of the captains given on French soil, as the companies stood among the piles of boxes on the French docks.
"Forward, March! Route Step! Ho-o-o!"
The long columns, with easy gaits, passed through the dirty streets and alleys near the docks, and along the winding, hilly road to the right of the main street of Brest.
Marching for the first time through a foreign city was an odd experience. Many children, wearing black cloaks, in search of
~~ew~gurn" and "chocola," greeted the troops at the docks and trailed along with the column.
"Hail, hail ze gang all heeare, What ze ail do we ceeare."
Following their little song, which tickled the troops and incited hearty laughter, the kiddies asked for their reward, mixing broken English with French patois.
"Fleece for me you haf ze game, meestare?" called one voice.
"Amayrican, gib for me one stick of chocola," begged another.
Then in good French would generally follow the polite thanks. "Merci beoucoup, monsieur."
They generally received a generous gift of these American tid-bits at Brest, for chocolate and chewing gum were not rare luxuries to newly arrived soldiers.
Opinions were freely expressed as to the meaning of the signs on various mercantile shops. Boulangerie, the sign of the baker, Aubergist, that of the inn-keeper, Cafe or Vins, that of the wine seller and Chapeaux et Vete~nents, that of the clothing man. these names soon became familiar to most of the soldiers. especially those of cafes and wine shops.
At the order "Fall out to the right of the road!" women vendors of fruits and nuts peddled their wares among the resting soldiers. Not a few of them slyly uncovered bottles of vin rouge, vin blanc and cognac, at the same time carefully watching the movements of the officers. Here were seen the first indications of war-time immorality, when girls and women came among the troops selling detestable post-card views.
The rest camp of Brest was a grim joke.as the men soon found out to their great discomfort. On the muddy fields four miles back of the city, dog tents, the soldiers' portable homes, were quickly pitched. This was the rest camp that we had heard of.
Seven days in stuffy ship quarters weaken the body eonsiderably, and the men were in bad shape. But there was to be no rest. The troops must needs hike back to Brest with light packs and parade for Admiral de So-and-Such of the French Navy.
Finally, in the late evening, like real doughboys, the men "hit" the mud for a night's rest, little dreaming how miserable would be the next few moves. About midnight the colonel issued orders to break camp immediately and prepare to march to Brest to embark by train to the interior of France. After the usual exchange of "Yes, sir", "No, sir", "I will, sir", and "See to it i^lnmediately, sir", majors passed word to captains, they to their "loots", "loots" to the "shavetails", and the second "loots" by sergeants and corporals to the "bucks" or private soldiers.
What an unholy mixup it was! All were tired, and many were a Fit dizzy from their first acquaintance with French wine. Not a
few had tried some vie blar^tc bought from an ~ubergiste near Pontanazon Barracks, Napoleon's old Brittany headquarters.
The men were so weary they were loath to move at all. Many of them were new recruits who didn't know how to roll a pack properly, even in daylight. The situation was disgusting to begin with, and soon became somewhat pitiful. It was difficult to get the sleepy soldiers to even realize the order, and most discouraging to help them collect their belongings and assemble them for the march. Homes, beds, wardrobes, kitchen accoutrements and household furniture must be collected by each doughboy and rolled in his poncho and shelter-tent half. In the darkness one could hear plenty of oaths and calls for assistance as exasperated individuals tried to roll their belongings into a muddy shelterhalf with only soft mud to kneel in. "Doughboys" and "mudmuckers" were surely appropriate names for this branch of service ~
The regiment left hurriedly, leaving property and stragglers all along the road to Brest. It was no surprise to see soldiers sprawled in gutters or across walls, completely exhausted for a time. I wondered if Napoleon had seen such sights on this same road, and could only label the situation the "Second Retreat from Moscow."
The dawn of July I9 found the regiment at the train in Brest, a hollow-eyed, dirty, low-spirited bunch of men. Hoboes never looked worse. Only once later were they in such shape that a yeggman might easily be ashamed to call them equals. That was after coming out of a five-day drive in the Argonne.
At Brest the outfit had its first introduction to "Huit Cheveaux ou Quara~tte ^H011b^mCS".signs printed on the cars of the :French troop trains. The sign meant that each little toy box car would incite as many brays of insult from eight horses as it would epithets and expressions of disgust from forty men. In other words, each box car would accommodate either eight horses or forty men on the coming three-day live stock shipment to the interior of France.
These little trains reminded one of the miniature toys seen in the store windows about Christmas time. They were truly funny, but the only thing about them that could produce a show of
humor from the sullen soldiers was the peculiar shriek of their whistles. Their weak, tinny sounds reminded one of a merrygo-round siren; and their shrieks never failed to produce at least amused smiles or expressions of superior contempt.
The majority of the men had third-class cars, with rough seats, but they were so crowded that they had to take turns sleeping or lying down. The excursion across France in the toy train was an odd experience to say the least. J judge that the natives were careful to keep well away from the tracks when the train whistle whined its warning of the coming of the Yanks; for there were frequent showers of cans and wine bottles through windows and doors. Corporals shared up the bread, canned goods and beans, and French Croix Rouge.Red Cross.poured chicory coffee at the station stops. As a rule there were as many fights and squabbles over cans of jams as there ordinarily are in a game of craps. Each stop meant an organized attempt to corner some wine, cognac, champagne or other concoction in order to kill the disgust, fatigue and monotony of the trip. The destination, as usual, was unknown.
By referring to a map of France, the route of the "TinWhistle Express" can be traced to the interior of the country. The diary shows the route as follows: Brest, Morlaix, Guincamp, St. Brieuc, Montefort, Rennes, Vitre, Laval, Lemans, Chateaux du Loire, Tours, St. Aignan, Gievres, Bourges, Nevers, Dijon and Laignes.
Even a rough soldier could hardly help but notice the very beautiful scenery in the chateau country along the Loire and in the valleys near Dijon. Ancient castles and chateaux, set on wooded hills bordering beautiful valleys, furnished wonderful sunset views.
The regiment disembarked at Laignes, in the Department of Cote d'Or, before daylight on the morning of July 22. Shortly the long column was swinging along the crooked streets of the village, past the chapel, cemetery, inns and old stone dwellings of the peasants. As usual the destination was unknown. The men were tired and weary as the result of the discomforts and exposure of the ocean voyage, the miserable night at Brest, and the three-day ride in box cars. Few of the doughboys who marched to Puits that day will likely soon forget it.and yet it was but a typical infantry hike.
The troops were under heavy marching order, each "buck" and "non-com" laden like a mountain burro, carrying a fifty-pound pack containing his wardrobe, bed, toilet articles, pantry and other necessities and accessories. The army rules governing such a moving day require a steady march of fifty minutes, followed by a rest of ten minutes, when the soldiers "fall out" on the right side of the road, Each soldier must keep his place in ranks,
and is forbidden to drop out except by special permission, which sometimes is quite difficult to obtain.
This particular hike was a mere fifteen-mile jaunt, up hill most of the way, with a hot sun and plenty of dust clouds. Only the regimental and battalion staffs, marching at the head of the troops, knew of the destination. Stocks jumped sky-high whenever a little village appeared, nestling in a valley or along a hillside, but curses and epithets increased in number and variety when no order was received to halt and adopt the town as a new home.
Toward the end of such a march husky men would blindly stagger to the roadside and drop in a ditch or shady place to come along later as best they could. Blistered feet, weak spines, fainting spells, dizzy spells, and well-nigh, broken shoulder blades were but a few of the tortures which urged the body to give up the fight. One was unconscious of all else except dirt and sweat. heat, blind staggers and bodily ills, and won the fight only by an almost superhuman muster of grit and will power.
During the last fifteen minutes of the march of the battalion which marched farthest, whole groups were dropping out, completely exhausted, and staggering toward the side of the road.
"Fall out, unloose packs, and rest until further orders." The order finally came at the outskirts of Puits, a quaint little town of Cote d'Or.
In the villages considerably difficulty was encountered in trying to make the bewhiskered town officials understand just what was desired. Signs and gestures aided by a knowledge of a few French words and expressions didn't take the place of Patois French by any means. But finally arrangements were made to adopt the villages as "hangouts" and the men were billetted in the barns and in vacant rooms of peasant dwellings. It would Be difficult to decide just which of these places made the best place to hang up one's sombrero.
The first day spent in the village of Cote d'Or was profitably occupied in nursing blistered feet and sore muscles, and in currying the coats of sweat and road dust collected during the past week. The remaining few days were occupied in making the acquaintance of the peasants, in learning to speak their local language and in acquiring knowledge of the hidden mysteries of the cognac shops.
In Puits an incident happened which taught some few a real lesson. A wealthy wine merchant invited the officers to his chateau for a party. The It. colonel, a connoisseur of wine and liquor, plotted to outdrink the Frenchman, who, in turn was proud of his ability to handle the "fire-water." After a great deal of feasting and drinking, the wily Monsieur the wine merchant passed a candied honey preparation which he courteously but
wisely refrained from eating. The combination of the super~W~II~U honey w^lrn cognac, anntssette, Benedictine, Van rouge, triple sec. trots etoiles, earl de vie and other French concoctions which the merchant lavishly issued, produced quite disastrous effects in a short time. Reports of the guests indicated that they experienced all the sensations of acute gastritis, intoxication, delirium tremens, and St. Vitus dance. Next morning, Lieut.
, sitting on a rock near the chateau, solemnly swore he never drank before and was "off the ~t3^1ff~ fair 1if~
tie seemed discouraged with life as he sat on the bowlder med tating about the evils of liquor and the temptations of war.
A couple of months' sojourn with the hospitable peasants of Cote d'Or.that was a happy thought indeed! Blistered feet and the hardships of the cast few wacky ~~^f'^l~ easily be forgotten.
"Prepare the troops for a long trip by trucks," came the concise order from regimental headquarters. Pleasant anticipations of sleep and decent food were again sent scurrying. Expressions indicated the soldiers' simple philosophy of "Oh, well, what's the use?" (Generally another, more expressive word, was used in place of "well").
Early next morning, on the grassy borders of country roads just outside of the regiment's adopted towns, the peasants were bidding "adieu" and "Bonne chance" to their new acquaintances Les ~4mericains from over the sea. The troops were resignedly awaiting the coming of the trucks.and they continued to wait. Evening came and night passed. The following day was spent in searching for food and wine and lounging around the village and along the roadside. Night came again and with it pouring rain and the train of big army trucks.
After passing the night hours in the cold downpour, the men and their packs were loaded on the trucks with less re~rar~1 then is often given to the loading of prize live stock on a car or wagon. But men were badly needed on the firing line, and the boys up there had far less comforts than we. Furthermore this was far better than hiking on blistered feet, with heavy packs; so why worry? --
"K-K-K-Katy, beautiful Katy, You're the only, only g-g-g-girl that I adore, W-W-When the m-m-moon shines over the c-c-c-cow shed, I'll be waiting at the k-k-kitchen door."
The long trip from Cote d'Or to Haute Marne through Coulmiers-Le-Sec, Chattillon-Sur-Seine and Champlitte was cold and weary, but not the worst by any means.
Back a Century
Frettes, Champlitte and the other little towns in the Department of Haute Marne, typical French peasant villages, from a distance made very pretty views. Nestling among the green fields and beautiful wooded hills, their red-tiled roofs here and there shyly peeked through the foliage of giant oaks. Towering above each mass of color was usually the chapel spire, and setting on the highest rise of ground a chateau several centuries old. The scene could hardly help but please the artistic sense of even an unappreciative infantryman.
The surrounding rolling country was cut into numerous narrow fields, each colored according to its special crop. This odd system of farm division is a relic of feudal days when each retainer or peasant farmed the narrow strips of land allotted him. From an aeroplane these rural districts resembled large patch quilts, the villages appearing as little bunches of red yarn, the numerous light-colored country roads, reflecting the bright summer sun, forming an intricate design of radiating and interesting threads.
But for the sake of truth we must spoil the picture. These little villages, when viewed from their muddy, unsanitary streets and lanes, present a far different aspect, and quickly dampen the enthusiasm of the distant observer who had taken too much for granted. Their isolation, very poor sanitary conditions, and lack of amusements or attractions, except cafe life and barracks entertainment, explain the average soldier's statement that he wouldn't give a nickel for the whole of France. Had these men had the opportunity to visit Paris, Nice, Monte Carlo, Aix-LesBains, the Alps, Biarritz and other centres of unequaled beauty and interest, the American army in France would now have some delightful memories to offset things which they would like to forget.
The buildings are all of stone, many centuries old. Generally, in the same structure are included the peasant home, wagon shed, barn, and occasionally a rabbit pen or pig pen and a chicken house. And where did the soldiers live.in the homes, you think ? A few fortunates did, but the majority called the barns or wagon sheds homes for many weeks, each soldier claiming enough space to make up his bunk, and barely far enough from his neighbor to avoid an argument resulting from a false kick or arm swing in a troubled sleep. How pleasant this was when your neighbor was entertaining, cooties or fleas and hadn't bathed his feet for ~ week ~
Little exertion of the imagination is required to picture many other similar situations.
It is told of an American billeting officer that upon returning to a certain village after an absence of several months he could hardly recognize the place because it had been cleaned up by American soldiers. The old familiar dung heaps, which had served as guide posts to cafes, boulangeries, Rotisseries or the home of a peasant lass, had all been removed. Consequently he had to become reacquainted and never again felt at home in the place.
The village inhabitants were a kind-hearted, long-suffering class of people who worked hard in the homes, public wash-houses and fields, and saved every possible ce^1^ltime and franc. During the regiment's sojourn one seldom saw able-bodied Frenchmen, they being on the firing line or already with their comrades who had "gone west." The old people, girls and children did all the work. Washing was done in a rickety public building with cold water and little or no soap, muscle energy taking the place of hot suds. Is it any wonder then that many Americans contracted French itch ?
How these millions of European peasants have worked, saved and suffered we lucky Americans can not appreciate.
"Butt Swing! Strike! Cut!"
The ordinary setting of Frettes and the other little towns of Haute Marne on the stage of life was that of a group of old world peasant communities at peace with the world. But the world was now staging a production of thrill and action and not peaceful drama. So we find Frettes, Coulmiers-le-Sec, Champlitte, and their sister villages placed in sharp contrast to their ordinary arrangement on the world's stage. At the time of our story these towns wore a decidedly military aspect with American soldiers the predominant figures.
During its six weeks' sojourn in this training area the regiment was subjected to a schedule of intensive training for an active part in the big game at the front lines. The end in view was to place the soldier in the best possible state of health to endure the severe hardships of life in trench, shell hole, and dugout; and to so train him in discipline and in the use of all infantry weapons, that in the excitement of battle, when men cease to be
men, he would automatically or sub-consciously properly perform his duty.
"Gather round. Oh, Gawd get a 'ustle on! You are batty slow this mawnin'."
It was the voice of a husky British bayonet sergeant on one of the village drill fields with bayonet practice in full swing.
He would calmly advise the infantrymen to shove a bayonet only a "hinch" into a man's throat, two "hinches" into his kidneys, or a couple of "hinches" into his "art." "If you git the blade too deep in 'is ribs, you will 'ave difficulty in gittin' it out, and the next Boche will git you," he repeatedly cautioned in his Tommy brogue.
And the cold fact is that a blade tangled in ribs might cost a man his life.
"On guard I Long point ! Butt swing! Strike! Cut! Rest!"
"Long thrust! Hand ahead! Pull out! On guard!"
The series of commands came in rapid succession as your weary arms swung, cut, and thrust with heavy rifle and bayonet.
"High port! Charge!" This command always resulted in quick action.
To see the long line of doughboys bearing down the field with shining bayonets at "Port" and then at "Charge", yelling as they came, one would judge them to be really blood-thirsty. And such is the intended effect upon an enemy.the charge and yell lessen an opponent's nerve.
At any time at drill one could expect the practice warning. Maybe it would come during a formal drill. Then helmets were dumped, guns dropped between legs, and the masks dug out of their cases as quickly as possible. How pleasant it was to wear them a half hour or more, while drilling, resting or running, until the gill valves would make noises like bellowing cattle.
An observer on one of the drill fields any week day might see all sorts of maneuvers and war antics. To start the day there would be close order drill. This is formal drill at strict attention mainly for disciplinary purposes. It is an inspiring sight.when out of the ranks.to watch platoons and companies marching in step, heads up, rifles at proper angles, the whole command moving and performing as one man, according to the orders of the officer or sergeant in charge.
"Company! Tension! Forward! Ho.! One ! Two ! Three! Four! One! Two! Three! Four!"
"Squads Right About! Yo! Left! Right! Down with that gun! One! Two! Three! Four! Private , eyes ahead and your mouth shut, you're at attention! Compan-n-n-n-y Halt! Rest!"
This is just the mixture of commands and "close order" jargon ^Dne can hear from most any drilling officer.
A casual civilian passerby on the hills nearby would on several occasions have seen some wild scenes. Toward the end of the training period six or eight non-commissioned officers and a "shave-tail" from Frettes would load up with bombs, rifle grenades and pistol ammunition which was left over, and celebrate on the grenade range north of the village, several evenings each week.
When the soldiers were ready and eagerly waiting, the "shavetail" called his commands. "Line up! Ready! Pull Rings and Fire i"
The line quickly ducked behind the stone rampart, and the explosion of forty or more bombs in quick succession made plenty of racket and threw enough dirt and bomb fragments to give a real, front line effect.
I dare say that the pleasantest part of the training schedule was the short hikes over beautiful French countrysides. Forgetting the more serious phases of war, the company spent many a pleasant morning along country roads leading to innumerable beautiful, landscape views.
Quaint little peasant towns, hiding in valleys and behind the hills; chateaux on the summits of low wooded bluffs, road chapels and an occasional small cathedral.these and numerous other interesting scenes would come to view as the brown column curved round a woods, went over a hilltop, or followed a valley.
As enjoyable as the scenery were the pleasantries, songs and banter. In such a collection of men as made up the organization of most branches of our army, there was considerable good vocal talent and some rare wit. Until the hikers began to become tired or weary there was usually a steady run of songs, jokes and quips of great variety.
"Oh! I want to go home, Oh! I want to go home, The bullets they whistle, The cannons they roar, I don't want to go to the trenches no more. Take me back o'er the sea. Where the Dutchmen they can't get at me, Oh, my! I'm too young to die, Oh! I want to go home."
Then in chorus would generally follow:
"Some day I'm going to murder the bugler, Some day they're going to find him dead,
We'll amputate his reveill-i, and stamp upon it heavily, And spend the rest of our days in bed."
An ex-sailor frequently sang a ditty that began like this:
"Oh! I'm Loco, oh I'm Loco in the cocoa, Tilly-oco-Tilly-oco."
Almost invariably opinions were freely expressed about the "canned Willy", "horse meat", "slum", "chopped hay", "Java", "punk", baked beans and other common items of the "chow" wagon. And as favorite a pastime was that of spreading all sorts of rumors. It might be that we were going to Italy or that the Allies had suddenly captured Berlin. According to these reports the Kaiser was killed at least a score of times, the war ended about twice as often, and we were due to leave for the front "next day sure" at least twice between reveille and taps each twenty-four hours. It was a common belief that the United States Army possessed a most deadly gas that could wipe out the enemy forces in a a very short time. Not a few constantly awaited reports that these deadly fumes had destroyed the whole German Army.
As the soldiers gradually became fatigued, the exchange of banter lessened and usually ceased. From then on until the return to quarters the column marched silently, each man busy with his own thoughts.
There was but little amusement in these training areas to break the monotony of drill. Occasionally the battalion would organize a little show or a Y. M. C. A. troop would entertain. The evenings were spent lounging in quarters, in the cafes, sipping wine or beer, and in the "canteen" or battalion store. There were no doubt many private sin rouge parties and some real exciting sessions of craps.
But the greater number of monotonous evenings were spent in billets, lounging, arguing and telling stories and rumors.
Finally on September 6 orders were received to prepare for the next move. There was but one place to go, if we were to follow the customary schedule.and that was to the front, the area of fight and fireworks!
The morning of September 7 was announced with the usual reveille bugle call which still seemed to sing.
"I can't get 'em up, I can't get 'em up, I can't get 'em up in the morning; Privates worse than corporals; Corporals worse than sergeants; Sergeants worse than lieutenants; And the captain's the worst of all."
During the day there was the customary clatter of wooden shoes of peasants treading the village streets, the familiar ringing of the chapel bells, and the usual barks of dogs and mews of stray cats. But the absence of other familiar sounds was noticeable. The rifle range was silent, and one could not hear the fusilades of grenades, automatics and bombs. It was a day of quiet preparation for the big coming event.
At "Retreat" formation, after roll call and salute to "The Colors" a few orders were given relative to the departure next morning. After supper the men for the last time witnessed the homely little incident of the aged and bewhiskered little peasant sheep-herder driving his flock through the village streets, repeatedly blowing the sheep horn that appeared to be at least as ancient as himself.
"Taps" finally marked the close of six weeks of life which we soon came to regard as so many weeks of comfort instead of as a monotonous period of training.
The bugle this time seemed to chant a different message.
"When your last Day is past, From afar Some bright star, O'er your grave, Watch will keep, While you sleep With the brave."
The Weird Trip with the Yellow Men
Early morning of September 8 found the battalions lined up in the villages in heavy marching order ready to leave for the front.
"Rive les A~nericains!"
Such were the passing remarks of peasant friends as the khakiclad columns trailed along the crooked streets of the little towns and took up their march over the dusty road to LaFerte railroad station.
At LaFerte the men were again loaded in live stock fashion, about thirty or forty to a little box car. This time the train also carried horses, kitchens, one-pounders, machine guns, trench mortars, ammunition and other supplies and equipment for combat service. The battalion left LaFerte the same evening, the shrill train whistle sounding more tinny than ever.
The following day the outfit arrived at Pains a Meuse, near Bar-le-Duc, on the main road from Chalons-sur-Marne to Verdun. Here all clothing, baggage and equipment not needed at the front were stored.only to be looted before our return several months inter. This stripping of the division for fiction and the final weeding-out of men unfit for battle was indicative of big near-future events.
At Fains the outfit was privileged to see something that is still a rare sight. This was a fleet of at least a hundred aeroplanes, in flying-duck formations, on their way to take part in the St. Mihiel drive. One seldom sees such a bevy of birds or hears the combined whir of so many powerful motors.
The departure from the world of calm and the trip to the inferno of pyrotechnics and death were weird events. The fall of darkness over the Department of Meuse found the Lorraine Cross Division assembled on the darkened streets of several villages, awaiting orders to board the French troop trucks, crowding the streets and lanes. Here and there in front of cafes and confectionery shops were little groups of slouchy yellow men, babbling in their peculiar guttural tongue. These Chinamen were hired by the French government to drive troops over the Sacred Road to the battle lines east and west of the Meuse River.
Shortly after dusk the doughboys were loaded into the rickety conveyances, about twenty-five soldiers with their packs and
weapons in each bus. Comfort was of secondary importance, the shipment being packed according to the latest standards of loading efficiency.
Stuffy boat decks were not half bad after all! Neither were the dirty French box cars ~ Such was the natural trend of thought of many a youth in the trucks, as he squirmed and twisted his body to free a leg or arm, or to relieve a cramp. Later, even these jouncy old "boats" would have been a gift of the gods. But step by step the soldiers became hardened to-new physical demands until they tended to become animal-like in endurance.
For hours the trucks rumbled over rough roads and through darkened villages, passing French sentries and military police at various points. To only the officers in charge of trucks, sitting beside the Chinese drivers, were the numerous, strange, new signs and objects visible; for the trucks were covered like old American stage coaches, shutting off the view of the doughboys inside.
The mystery and weirdness of the night ride reached their climax with the appearance, one at a time, of the various signs of front line activity. The first hazy flashes could easily have been mistaken for heat lightning, and the low rumbles for distant thunder. But, as the flashes increased in number and intensity, and the thunder-like noises became sharper and more frequent, their origin was unmistakable.
About the same time one could hardly help but notice the bright beams of powerful searchlights piercing the darkness of the starless night. One or more of these would suddenly appear, cut across the inky darkness a few times, and then as suddenly die out.
Finally arriving within a few miles of the trenches, the effects of star shells and flares of odd designs made the night almost enchanting. Of greatest frequency were the signals of stars. One would suddenly shoot toward the sky, and four others follow at about equal distances, the fire gradually dying out as they fell.
All these, together with rockets and other explosive fireworks of various colors and designs, could always be seen in the battle areas from dusk to dawn, and occasionally in daylight.
The truck train finally rumbled over the cobbled streets of the deserted, shell-torn village of Dambasle, and stopped along the narrow, rough road beyond. This was about 3 :oo a. m. There were no definite orders except one passed along the line to debark. In the darkness and confusion it was difficult to assemble the men in their proper organizations. Not a few spent the remainder of the dark hours sleeping on the hard benches of a little chapel back in Dambasle or resting in the shell-torn buildings of Recicourt. Most of the regiment, however, went to Brocourt weds; back of Recicourt.
Bombs, Jackasses and a Gas Attack
A little less than two months had elapsed since the regiment had stepped off the transport at Brest. The night previous they had left the rickety trucks and their Chinese drivers on the road between Dambasle and Recicourt. What next? Where bound? What useless questions they were!
It seemed to be a new world that we were now in.
The dirty shacks and dugouts of muddy Brocourt woods. just recently vacated by a regiment of darky troops.was another drop in the scale of living between the home fireside and the ditches and hovels of the front line area.
During the two weeks following the beginning of this wildboar life, several exciting events served to break the monotony of the period of watchful waiting.
Two sausage balloons, anchored above Bois de Brocourt, were the center of interest the first day. At frequent and quite regular intervals Fritz would "strafe" them with fusilades of anti-aircraft shells. As the explosives broke around the big "sausages", one awaited the explosion or collapse of the huge gas bags. But the barrage never seemed to do any harm, the only visible result being the scores of big puffs of smoke around the balloons.
Finally, late in the afternoon, a German plane suddenly appeared.seemingly from nowhere, encircled the balloons several times, and sent them both flaming to earth, by piercing the bags with incendiary bullets. The French observers were lucky enough to land safely in their parachutes.
For the first tirr.e was heard the peculiar whistle of shells on their course, far over head. These few peace notes apparently fell harmlessly far beyond. But the shells which bombarded Recicourt, our Division Headquarters, did more damage. If reports be true, there was a hasty and rather undignified stampede of generals, colonels and aides. Rumor has it that a perfectly good dinner was abandoned when a shell addressed to the headquarters' mess was properly delivered. It was a shame to leave such good "chuck" and vie, but shell music is not as pleasant as a jazz orchestra, especially at meal time.
The usual parting regrets were not expressed when the doughboys left the mud and filth of Bois de Brocourt. Any place should be an improvement. From this time on all hikes at or near the front were at night, special care being taken to keep
our presence and movements entirely unknown to Fritz. Something big was soon to occur, but what it was we were not to know until suddenly plunged into it a fortnight later. The next stop of the gypsies was at Bois de Recicourt.
The wooded and bushy slope of this hill, with its climbing vines and winding paths could easily have been Shakespeare's Forest of Arden. But the hewn-stone bomb-shelters and musty dugouts spoiled the little fantasy. Here occurred an incident involving aerial bombs and jackasses that promised to be serious, but took a humorous turn and ended as one of war's jokes. It happened on a bright, starry night, the ideal time for the operation of bombing planes. About nine o'clock one could easily hear the unmistakable whir of a Hun plane.
"Trow sumtin' down an' see what you kin hit. Do sumtin' Fritz."
It was the voice of Captain Schoge, the odd character described in the beginning of this account. We were sitting in front of the opening in his damp dugout, and wanted to see something happen.
"Come on, Fritz, where.". He never finished the challenge. Crash! Bang! The hill rocked with the explosions. Several more of the Rhineland love-messages were duly delivered with typical German regularity. Between explosions we could hear scurrying feet carrying anxious doughboys to bomb proofs and dugouts. According to the non-coms' reports the following day, it was a wild stampede.
At this point the affair took a humorous turn. About a dozen jackasses, stabled in a shed down the slope, gave a chorus of brays and "hee-haws" in jackass key and with good donkey harmony. The little beasts were used by French soldiers to carry supplies up the rough and hilly trails. Several times since our arrival they had favored us with their peculiar chorus.
Here was excitement aplenty, with a Forest of Arden setting, and ushered in by the brays of "jacks." The bombs had fallen half a mile or more away; it was an attempt to destroy the railhead at Dambasle. But judging from the intensity of the explosions, we naturally concluded that they had fallen in our little woods.
The next stop, a few days later, was Bois de Hesse, close to the first lines of the trench system. Here occurred an incident as humorous as the one in Recicourt. This is a story of a gas attack, a lost mask, and a bunch of laughing Frenchmen.
The regiment was sleeping under the trees along the narrow guage track in Hesse woods. Some had pitched their dog tents while others had merely rolled up in their blankets and coats. We had arrived about TI p. m. and knew little of the location.
The colonel had given orders for the men to sleep with gas masks "alert' 'or ready to don as quickly as possible. This
order, together with the mystery of the situation and the occasional shriek of a big shell passing overhead, aroused feelings of nervous expectation.
About midnight there was a sudden confusion of sounds and events that quickly changed many a pleasant dream to a nightmare of reality. The shouts of "Gas! Gas!", the bellowing and screeching of gas horns and claxons, and the fusilades of rifle fire could mean but one thing.a gas attack. There were few that night who failed to make record speed in donning their masks.
But one poor fellow had lost his and was shaking hands and bidding good-bye to his pals, his imagination probably already causing him to feel suffocated with the deadly fumes.
"Climb a tree, Jack, the gas stays close to the ground," called some cool doughboy, as he jerked out his mouth-piece and quickly returned it.
Needless to state, Jack was among the higher branches in close communion with the stars in short order.
After what seemed an age the gas officer shouted the order, "Masks off! No gas !" He had tested the air and found nothing at all suspicious. It was a false alarm that had been started near Dambasle and spread for miles along the line of waiting troops.
Jack then sheepishly slid to the ground, well satisfied with the turn of events.
Over on the main road French artillerymen were doubling with laughter at the antics of the crazy Yanks.
The Eve of the Argonne Battle
At the last officer's call in Foret de Hesse came the first news of the coming Argonne drive. The regiment's mission was to take over the front line at Dead Man's Hill, and in the big drive, to capture Avocourt, Malancourt, Cuizy, Sepstarges, Mantfaucon and Nantillois beyond.
The colonel, with his usual serious mien, talked like a strict father to the semicircle of lieutenants, captains and majors collected in front of his dugout in the woods. It was the last meeting of 314th officers before going over the top, and they knew that a few at least would be missing before the next summons to regimental headquarters.
The younger officers tried to plague each other.
"I'll appropriate your cigarettes and dog biscuit tomorrow, when you're yelling for Peter at the gates," called Lieutenant an eastern football star, to Lieutenant , an "E" Company platoon commander.
"Say, whop, you're mistaken. I'll be taking that five bucks you owe me from the last poker game, when you're with your monkey ancestors," came the quick answer.
Happy-go-lucky, dare-devil young fellows like these, both of the ranks and commissioned, were the backbone of the American Army. A man between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five apparently has less fear for his life than an older person.
On the evening of September ^25 an officer and four scouts from each company were sent to the front lines to locate platoon positions among the battered trenches, shell craters, and masses of rusted wire on desolate Dead Man's Hill. The pitch black night and the necessity for silence made this a very difficult and "spooky" mission. Towards midnight these same guides met their platoons at the regimental dug-out and guided them single file to their respective areas of holes, ditches, barbed wire and mud, there to await the approach of their first zero hour. The troops were fully prepared for battle.more or less a matter of inceasing their supply of ammunition and lessening the amount of clothing, bedding and other such luxuries of the march. Each soldier carried his rifle, at least two hundred rounds of rifle ammunition, bombs, emergency rations, raincoat and overcoat, a canteen of water, and any extra firearms he might be using. With these he was ready to go over the top from Dead Man's Hill and trust to God for food, water and luck for an uncertain length of time.
This same spot had been the scene of wholesale slaughter in I9I6, in the Second Battle of Verdun, when the German hordes tried to take that city. The country was an area of desolation as far as the eye could see on a clear day. Trees were full of lead, dug-outs were caved in, and if current reports be true, the intense shell fire had lowered the height of the hill about two feet. The division's mission this first time over the top was to capture the territory thus far held by the Germans against all attacks. Montfaucon, the city on the high point across the broad desolate valley, was the main objective. The Germans called it Little Gibraltar, and boasted that it was impregnable. It had been the Crown Prince's headquarters in the second battle of Verdun.
Sometime after midnight, shortly after the moonlight had broken through the screen of dense, black clouds, cannon of all sizes began belching a steady stream of high explosives and gas shells, the deadly messengers of destruction flying over the heads of the-waiting troops and falling somewhere on the enemy posi
tion. Tons and tons of steel shrieked and whistled, each type of missile sounding its weird warning of destruction and death. Accompanying the roars and shrieks were intermittent flashes of the guns lighting the horizon as far as the eye could see. At the same time, over toward Montfaucon, one could see the flashes of exploding shells doing their deadly work of destroying barbedwire entanglements, trenches and dug-outs, as well as the city of Montfaucon. Now and then a shell from an enemy counter battery exploded somewhere on Dead Man's Hill, adding to the clamor and thrill of the weird night.
One who has not actually experienced the infernal, yet wonderful babble of noises and weird lightning-like flashes that accompany such a barrage as prepared the Argonne advance, cannot begin to imagine the emotions one feels on such an occasion. With belching cannon behind, tons of explosive flying over head, innumerable shells bursting on enemy territory beyond, and the time of the jump-off approaching with the daylight, one could only wonder and try to feel a little more significant.
From 6 :oo to 6:30 a. m. scouts crawled out with wire cutters, and opened passage-ways in belts of barbed wire. During the same half hour a dense smoke screen was placed ahead by a gas regiment in the rear, in order to conceal all movements.
The outfit was ready to go over the top of trenches and shell holes at the command of its of ficers at exactly 6:30 a. m.
Zero Hour on Dead Maws Hill
This chapter of the account, telling of the fighting of the 314th Infantry in the woods and swamps of the Argom^le battle, is probably quite typical of the experiences of the many thousands of other Americans in the same great struggle. Analyzing his own mental state the author will try to show just what were the feelings and emotions of a human being during the varied stages of such an uncanny ordeal.
Directly following the account, to lighten depressed feelings we will take an imaginative trip to the boulevards and palacegardens of beautiful and gay Paris, the queen of all cities. But, for the present, let us advance with the waves of infantry and see the attack through.
Zero hour and the big gamble of life that was to follow were but a few minutes distant. The jumping-off position on Dead
Man's Hill, northwest of Verdun, at that moment presented a situation strange indeed to the normal trend of natural events.
Through the screen of fog and smoke, pungent with the strong odor of various explosives, one could indistinctly outline groups of American infantrymen. Standing in shell holes and trench ruins, they were awaiting the signal to advance through the barbed wire and face whatever destiny held in store for them in the haze ahead.
"A Company, Over!"
"E Company, Ahead!"
"Third Platoon, advance! Combat groups about thirty paces. Scouts Out!"
These and other orders and directions were given at 6:30 a. m., September ^26, and the regiment began its part in one of America's greatest battles.
The area of bursting shells of the creeping barrage advanced ahead of the troops at about their own rate of speed. These were fired overhead by guns of all calibres directly behind.
The "waves" and groups advanced at about an ordinary pace. At first the platoons were under good control, but in a very short time squads and files were separated in the fog and smoke. From then on organizations were completely broken up and new ones formed from scattered groups.
The path of the drive led over desolate country completely cut up with shell holes, mine craters and trench systems. Early in the advance it was necessary to go through a swamp, waist deep, near the outskirts of Malancourt, the first objective.
Pop! Pop! Pop! Tzing! Tzing!
The singing, cracking and whining of machine gun bullets was good evidence that at least a few Prussians had survived the intense hurricane of high explosive and gas shells of the previous night's barrage. But for several hours very little strong resistance was encountered, Fritz having retreated to new lines of resistance.
About ten a. m., as the fog began to clear, the advance of several companies was held up by machine guns on the opposite side of a shallow valley. But after a little resistance the gun crews surrendered.the first prisoners. These men were middleaged, dirty, miserably dressed and apparently glad to be alive, no matter what the cost.
A little later a score or more of the enemy were captured and sent to the rear under guard. An incident happened at the time which goes to show that the "Kamerad" act didn't always save the Hun. A lieutenant ordered a private to conduct two husky prisoners to certain officers in the rear. Within an incredibly short time the little Italian reported back,
id,. ~ . . ^.
"What did you do with the prisoners?" demanded the liet~tenant.
"I tended to them, sir," he answered. His sheepish glance told better than words what had happened. Such occurrences were not uncommon on either side.
By mid-day the fog had all cleared. As the battle increased in intensity, glances to right and left over the rolling farm country gave the observer an appreciation of the bigness of a modern battle. The general plan of infantry attack was to advance in thin lines following each other at varying intervals. A distant view showed the series of human waves going forward in the tide of attack, gaining in one place and held up in another, according to the fortunes of battle. Ordinarily there were nu^1nerous high-explosive shells bursting in the lines and shrapnel overhead, but thus far Fritz' artillery was not in an effective position after its hasty retreat.
In the early afternoon the real battle began. Thus far there had been a great deal of excitement, plenty of prisoners, but few casualties. Surely reports had exaggerated real conditions at the front, one naturally concluded.until the troops suddenly met the stonewall resistance of the concealed German machine gun defense! The Huns had fallen back of necessity, but had organized a new line through and in front of Montfaucon, the lookout city which they called Little Gibraltar. According to their boast the place was impregnable.
The experience of a patrol, making first contact for a large combat group, illustrates how the tide of battle can turn just as quickly as a reverse can occur on a football field. A lieutenant, Sergeant McCawley and four men had advanced through a network of barbed wire defenses to the crest of a low hill. They were just clearing the knoll in skirmish formation when fired upon by an automatic rifle in a clump of bushes ahead. Sergeant McCawley and his gunner Jones, over on the right flank, immediately returned the fire. Champa, and Calabretta on the left quickly followed suit.
Then, as if by prearranged signal, enemy machine guns, automatics and snipers located in trees, gullies, and bushes ahead and on the flanks, opened with a hot fusilade which filled the air with snaps, cracks and whines of flying lead. Cut weeds, flying gravel and the harsh cracks of the bullets were proof enough that the patrol had located the resistance.and were in a bad trap.
The mission of the patrol had been accomplished.that of locating and testing the strength of the enemy even if it was necessary to sacrifice itself. It was the moment of every man for himself as best he could. Whether or not McCawley and Jones heard the repeated orders to take cover in a low bushy
spot to their right will never be known. McCawley was shot through the head while operating his gun and died with a smile. Tones and Champa were hit in the legs and Calabretta mortally wounded in the stomach.
The officer had only his revolver and two bombs as weaponsuseless luggage in this situation. By crawling and wriggling with his nose in the ground, he finally managed to roll into a shell hole, wondering in a dazed way why the "lights hadn't gone out." When the helmet rings with the cracks of "close ones" and bits of flying gravel play a tattoo, one just naturally feels weak in the stomach and expects everything to suddenly turn black.
For hours German snipers, machine gunners and automatic riflemen, organized strongly in depth, and well concealed, swept the area with a steady sheet of fire. Heinie saw to it that the Yanks continued to hug the ground most of the afternoon.
At least five lieutenants and captains of one battalion were shot down in an hour's time, the losses being heavier that first afternoon than at any other time of the drive. Not a few miracles and almost unbelievable, narrow calls happened that day.
Just a few such miracles which came under the author's observation will be cited. Undoubtedly most every man in the outfit knew of similar cases or had as narrow calls to taking the long journey from which no man returns.
First Sergeant Joe Cabla, the big Texan, forced out of one shell hole by dangerous fire, made a run for another. A bullet hit the whistle in the breast pocket over his heart, and then spoiled a little French book underneath. The whistle was flattened and the book shredded, but the sergeant was barely bruised. Another bullet took off the heel of his shoe, and a third cut him across the toes, after which he secured protection in a deep shell hole and nursed his foot. Joe is today gambling on Texas oil.
Another line sergeant had his skull bone scraped by one of the sniper's messengers, but is still very much alive.
A gas non-com's pack was riddled with machine gun bullets as he dug his nose into the soft mud of a shell hole, but he himself escaped with a whole hide.
A piece of flying shrapnel ripped the shoulder of another lucky doughboy's heavy overcoat.and spent itself.
Others, not so fortunate, paid war's penalty by giving their lives or being severely wounded.
Lieutenant Rebuck stopped an explosive bullet with one of his wrists and still has a stiff forearm.
The battalion gas officer was made a casualty by the very thing he had trained himself to combat. Not a few "went west" like real men, either this day or the following, and many others
Most any man in the regiment could tell of narrow calls that first afternoon.
The battalion was reorganized in the evening, on the flank of the Hun defense and at dusk the companies started ahead in combat formation.
This first day of the Argonne ended with not a few comrades absent. Many lessons had been learned, but the price paid was dear enough.
Before daylight on the morning of September ^2^7, the regiment advanced directly through the German strong position of the previous day. The Huns had fallen back to a new line of defense in the hills and woods ahead.
The events of the early part of this day left but a hazy impression in the mind of the author. There was a steady drizzle of rain and the day had the chill of early autumn. A strongly defended woods was skirted and a position taken up in a trench system in which it was necessary to walk through sticky yellow mud and over scores of bodies shrouded in the German dull, gray-green uniforms. The situation was anything but cheerful.
In this same trench the author witnessed one of those battle sights which leave an indelible impression upon a soldier's mind. It was the expression on the upturned face of a young German, about sixteen years of age.an expression with something of the puzzle of DeVinci's Mona Lisa. The innocent, child-like, questioning wonderment seemed to indicate that he had left this life puzzled as to what it was all about.
About ^4 p. m. the ^3^I^4th regiment lined up in battle formation on the reverse slope of a big hill to the right of Montfaucon, to take part in the big flanking movement, while the ^3^I^3th Regiment made a direct attack on the city itself. Scores of French tanks took positions near the crest of the hill, while in modern battle array followed twelve companies of infantry, a machine gun company, trench mortar and one-pounder platoons, first aid men and regimental and battalion staffs.
Just before starting ahead, Sergeant Connelly, one of the best bayonet men in the regiment, shook the "shavetail's" hand with the remark,
"We're lucky so far lieutenant."
But Connelly was shortly after mortally wounded by a big shell and died later in one of the big base hospitals somewhere in France.
With the buzz of tanks and aeroplane motors and the bursts of high explosive and shrapnel, the regiment started ahead in one of the most exciting fights of its history. It was an inspiring sight to see wave after wave of infantry following the advancing tanks, and the other troops in small groups coming behind and on the flanks; and to watch the shrapnel and high explosive shells bursting among the lines and over the heads of the khaki-clad files.
Beyond the crest of the hill big things immediately began to happen. The storm of "H. E.'s" and "G. I. cans".high explosive.increased in intensity, gas clouds became a great deal more concentrated, and the whining and snapping of machine gun and sniper bullets added to the toll of casualties. One big "H. E." .probably a 2IO.knocked Captain Schoge to the ground, kicked a "shavetail" sideways, and made casualties of Sergeant Connelly, one of the corporals and an orderly.
Gas masks had to be donned several times. Sneezing, choking and lachrymal varieties made one cough, shed tears and sneeze at the same time. These gas concentrations were not always dangerous, but it was at least exasperating to try and keep on a mask under such conditions.
"First Aid! First Aid!"
"Gas! Masks on."
"Break up! Deploy more, corporal! Keep apart and advance!" These are but a few of the calls and commands one could hear between explosions.
Overhead was the pat! pat! pat of bullets in an aero battle. Close by were the peculiar whines, sharp cracks and snappingstick sounds of the rifle and machine gun shower. Here and there on the battlefield, but generally not close, were the thunderous crashes of "H. E." and the noise of falling debris and screeching shrapnel.
These intense battle noises, together with the excited calls of humans made a babble of noises that would be impossible of imitation under any other conditions than a modern battle.
And how did the soldier feel under such conditions, one wonders. Certainly the men were afraid. That is as human as to love or to hate. But as the result of training, and the effect of leadership and mob psychology, soldiers knew but one thing, and that was to go ahead even in the face of the storm. Under the stress of such intense and prolonged excitement man mentally ceases to be a man and becomes more like a trained animal. Some few are surprisingly calm; others bite their lips and clench fingers to control themselves; a few curse and some pray; while
those few whose power of will is not strong enough to overcome their fear, crouch in shell holes, while their buddies go over them and face the hell ahead. This latter class the world calls cowards.
But let us forget our fight below and watch the battle in the air. Who said football was exciting! Six planes, some with black Prussian crosses, the others with allied circles, were maneuvering and shooting streams of machine gun bullets, each aviator striving for a position deadly to an enemy "bus." Like six big birds, some were climbing, others gliding in big "curves, and others suddenly diving. Red hot tracer bullets marked the path of each stream of steel-nosed peace notes.the gunner's guide to his mark. Suddenly an allied plane dropped, twisting and turning, apparently in a mad plunge to destruction. However, it didn't strike terra firma, but righted itself and climbed to a good position. It was the false dive of a dare-devil aviator. And I used to get excited when the pigskin was almost over our line!
Soon two planes did come down, one in flames! both tumbling aimlessly and landing as heaps of wreckage, the one soon shrouded by a cloud of dense black smoke. The German planes, with full speed on for home were hotly pursued by the planes with the circle insignia. Not all air battles ended so well in our favor.
The advance stopped about dusk, on a hill ahead, the men digging in like excited nugget hunters. Each doughboy carried a trench tool.either a small pick or shovel.for just such emergencies. Lying on the ground the soldier dug a hole big enough for his body and built a rampart around the depression with the dirt. "Dig in" was a familiar order in a shell attack.
Outflanked and unsupported, the regiment was forced to leave the hill and take a new position farther back in order to reorganize and again advance. Shortly after passing the big windmill to the right of Montfaucon the fading of darkness announced the arrival of a new day with its fortunes and misfortunes of battle.
* * * * *
Arrived at Montfaucon, the outfit was greeted with the best possible news that a famished, weary soldier could receive.a warm meal was being prepared by kitchens which had not yet been blown up. Some of the companies were lucky enough to receive hot "Willy", "Java" and bread. Others were not so fortunate.
Instead of a warm meal there were sudden orders again to advance. Loaves of bread were quickly broken up and the pieces passed among the troops as the combat groups again started after Fritz.
No more food was received for a couple of days, and thus far there had been only emergency rations.cold beans or greasy
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