Thanks to Rick Riehl, who give us this diary, from his Uncle
For most of 1917 I was at Lehr, North Dakota working as a rural mail carrier. In September, when the first draft was called, I was at the depot to see the boys off. Mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers of the boys were there also. There was crying, praying, yelling and the band was playing. It was an awful sight. Every mother, father, sister and brother who was there thought that the one who was leaving was sure to be killed at once-no chance whatever of his coming back. It was on a Wednesday. That evening while waiting at the barbershop to have some work done, I found a chance to sell my outfit to Mr. C. J. Rott, who also carried the mail. I got into the chair when my turn came and said to Kowan the barber (better known as "Kelly"), "What do you say about enlisting?" Kelly said to me "You're on!" I asked him if he meant it and he said he did. The doings at the depot that day had gotten our "goats" and we thought this would be a good time to show our colors. When "Kelly" finished working on me he commenced putting his tools away and some of his customers who were waiting wanted to know when they were to be shaved. "Kelly" said: "I am through barbering; we are going to enlist." The people there and a great many more about town thought that we were trying to play some kind of joke on them. Thursday morning I carried the mail for the last time and at noon that day we boarded the train for Bismarck. When we got there we could not find the recruiting officer and later on that evening we talked to a member of Company A, who told us all about the company. Next morning we met him and he started over for Mandan (where the company was maneuvering at a fair) to see the commanding officer, Capt. Murphy. We had our first army feed that day and watched the boys drill. We wanted to get in worse than ever then and the next morning (Saturday) we were enlisted at Ft. Lincoln by Capt. Murphy. We boarded the Saturday train back to Lehr in our uniforms. A great many of the people there came to us and in German told us how crazy we were for going "frei willig", meaning volunteering.
That night the Americans of the town gave us a reception and a farewell party, as we were to leave Monday. A great many who were not Americans were very angry about this party, as they thought that we should not have anything like that. Think of it! "Going to fight our Vaterland frei willig!"
Monday came and twenty minutes before train time we received a call from Capt. Murphy telling us that we could go to our homes in Wisconsin and catch the Company on their way to Camp Greene, North Carolina. A few of our friends went to the depot with us, but there was no crying, yelling or band playing. We said goodbye and left in a hurry. We arrived at our homes Tuesday afternoon.
Saturday morning I received a telegram from Capt. Murphy telling us to meet the company in St. Paul. We thought it would be impossible to reach St. Paul in time, so we went to Chicago that evening and stayed there until Monday, when we rejoined our Company. After a few days we reached Camp Greene, where we remained until the first part of November, and then moved from there to Camp Mills, Long Island. Here we received our overseas equipment and were sent to Camp Merritt, New Jersey, to await transportation.
On December 14th we sailed on the giant steamship Leviathan (formerly the Vaterland; an interned German ship. This was her first voyage sailing the seas flying the American flag. There was something like thirteen thousand aboard, including 500 Red Cross nurses. We reached Liverpool, England on Christmas evening and from there went directly to Wischeser to a rest camp. We rested at this camp-and also rested our stomachs. We were put on English rations and they weren't very good. Ask some of the boys who have been there.
New Years Day we went to Southampton and boarded another boat that sailed up the channel to Le Havre, France.
After our ride up the English Channel in a "cattle boat" - as we called it- we were not in the best of conditions to encounter much hardship. The channel was very rough and the ship was tossed about like a cork. Some of the Napoleon boys know the results. We were all seasick. The boat was very crowded and there wasn't standing or sitting room and there were no pathways either, as they were filled with soldiers who were lying over seasick. Naturally those who happened to be in back of several others didn't "make the railing" and quarters were anything but pleasant.
We landed at Le Havre before daylight, but remained on the ship until about 6:30AM. That was January second of 1918. We had breakfast- some goat meat and a loaf of bread for seven men and some coffee- New Year's morning.
We were then given a sandwich of cold fat mutton to be consumed on our trip. When we landed we received two English hardtack and a piece of cheese. That was our breakfast for that day. We landed and started on our hike through the LeHevre. We saw several ambulances and nurses there, and the people greeted us in warmer spirits than we had been greeted in England. At one place an old French lady and man were trying to raise the stars and stripes as we marched by. They were so excited that it took some time for them to get the flag up. We were glad to see our flag and We did some cheering for a while. After the old couple succeeded in getting the flag up they put the French flag up right beside ours and we cheered again. This pleased the old couple very much. We couldn't understand them very well, but upon this occasion, actions spoke louder than words.
We hiked several kilometers enjoying ourselves pretty well, as everything was new and strange to us. After a couple hours' hike we reached our camp - another "rest camp." We were marched to tents and "counted off."
eight men to a tent. We looked the tents over and found them quite empty- not even floors in them.
We didn't worry very much about the tents as we were more interested in something to eat. We were told that we weren't expected there and that there were no rations for us. Noon came and there were eats in sight. Night came and we were promised something to eat. About ten we got some slum that had been burned (we got very little of that) and were told we would have to save some of that for breakfast.
We slept on the ground, each man receiving two extra blankets in addition to the two that he carried. All the while we were at this place we never saw a fire except the one that burned our slum. Being January, the weather wasn't very warm so we didn't sleep to well that night. We arose very quickly the next morning when we were called, not because we'd had too much sleep but because we thought we might get warm by jumping around. We then partook of breakfast- the remains of the burned slum, a few hard tack biscuits and a piece of cheese. We got word that we were going to leave there that day so we didn't complain.
About noon we left and after an hour of hiking came to a railroad station. We had to wait here for about two hours because we were to take a "special train." While waiting there we saw several German prisoners working about the station. They were all in pretty good shape but didn't seem to be hurting themselves working. After our train arrived, we sized it up and got in. It was a "special" all right. It was marked 8 Chevaux , 40 Hommes; meaning eight horses or forty men. We had 42 in my car and I think one of the chevaux must have tramped a few boards out of the floor because some were gone. One door was also missing so none of us took sick for want of fresh air. When the Frog train got into motion we got the full benefit of that January breeze.
That night we got some hardtack and some "corned willie". We ate all that we got without overworking our stomachs. All night we were very cold, as we were crowded in so that we couldn't jump around to keep warm. So we sat there and took it as it came. I remember that I tried to sit on my feet and fell asleep - so did my feet.
After about three days of this "pleasure trip" through "Sunny France" we reached La Courtine and marched to some old barracks where Napoleon's army had been quartered. These barracks were made of stone and were very large and roomy.
Some Russian soldiers were quartered here. When the revolution was going on in Russia these soldiers did likewise. The French army was called to quiet them and had to use machine guns on them.
We reached here on a Saturday eve. Sunday morning we were getting some souvenirs. Sunday afternoon we got our barracks bags for the first time since leaving the States. Monday we took a bath and got cleaned up. Tuesday morning we went out for a hike and when we returned at noon we learned that we were to be transferred to the First Division. Dame rumor started at once. Some said the First was in China, others said it was in the Islands, and there were all kinds of guesses imaginable. Some said it was at the front, or near there. And they were at the front.
Wednesday noon we boarded another "special" and bade goodbye to our friends who were not being transferred with us, and it would have been far easier to have counted those who were not "shedding" than those who were. Not only the enlisted men shed tears, but the officers as well from Col. Fraine down.
How well we shall remember Col. Fraine that last time we saw him! He would cry and then walk along and try to "brace up." Soon he would be sobbing again; no matter how hard he would try to keep from it. The Colonel was not alone - he had a great deal of company when it came to crying.
I remember when our special pulled up how Colonel Fraine went to some French officials and we thought he was trying to get some better cars for us. We could see that he wasn't talking very gently to them.
Our special pulled out and we were on our way. We had some corned willie and some hardtack with us for the trip. The eats hadn't been very plentiful at this place, as there seemed to be some mix up in the rations, but we were living on promises pretty well and pulled through. We were quite a jolly bunch and always looked at the bright side of things. For instance, we were getting our room and board free, plus we were seeing sunny France out of a boxcar when we were in the car with the door off or the one with the boards kicked out.
The morning of the day we left La Courtine I reported on sick call, having a very sore throat. I received some pills and thought that I would be all right. That night I became very sick and as my fever was very high, I was unconscious. Kelly helped me out of that car and I got a chance to lay on a seat in a third class coach that officers were riding in. This seat had no cushions on it, being merely a wooden seat but at that I had a chance to spread out. I was very sick and unconscious most of the way. We were on this trip for two days and three nights.
On January 11th we reached our destination- Hudlencourt. I don't remember much but I know that Kelly stayed with me as much as he could.
I was taken to a hospital at Gondrecourt and the rest of the boys joined their respective companies. On the morning of the 15th they started to hike for the Front. As I lay in the hospital I was continually thinking of them. The later part of January I finally got out of the hospital and was taken as close to the Front as we could get by truck. After nightfall we rejoined our companies just as they were going in. We lost no time rejoining our companies in time to get into the lines, but of course we had avoided the long hike that they got.
When we got near the front we found sentries along the road and in the villages who wanted to know who we were and where we were going. They told us that we had gotten a whole lot closer to the front than we should have gotten with a truck. We had to travel without lights and a good share of the time we were engaged with lifting the truck out of a ditch or similar place.
Shells were flying all over our heads, whizzing in the air.
Myself, as well as the rest of the boys, had gas masks and helmets, but they were somewhere in the truck. If we had needed to put them on, I don't think a single one of us would have succeeded.
We didn't realize that we were in as dangerous a place as we were, and never thought of the gas masks and helmets, which afterwards we learned to put on and put so much faith in.
We were puffing along the roadway every now and then into a shell hole, when a sentry halted us. The driver stopped and the sentry said, "Are you men crazy? Do you know what you are running into? Fritzies' lines!"
We turned around in a hurry, I remember. This sentry told us where regimental headquarters was, and we got back and reported that we were sent to join our companies. The truck driver was told to hurry and get away from the place about as quick as he could before daylight.
Regimental headquarters were all Beaumont. I was sent to my Company, which was in reserve behind the front. After a few days we were to take the lines and 'take the day'. Our Lieutenant called us out and told us just what positions and posts we were to take that night. When my name was read off it was "Last on listening post." Later the Lieutenant tried to explain just what our duties were and said, "Listening post means just what it is named; you are out there to listen and when you hear anything that doesn't sound right, let someone know about it." He also told us that we were not to make any noise- the Boches were to make the noises and we were to hear them.
On the way to the Front lines, in the communication trench, we had to go through a great deal of water. Quite naturally we got wet feet and limbs, as for quite a distance we walked through water up to our hips. Shells were falling quite rapidly all around us so we didn't notice the water.
When I got to my listening post I tried to follow my orders as best I could. I didn't move a muscle, and doubt whether I even blinked an eye. I stood there with my rifle ready for action. I also realized that Fritz was not coming around with a brass band. When he came, he was going to also be as quiet as he could be. There was a barbed armament out in front of me. I was sure that the posts of it were walking around and the more I stared, the faster they would bob around.
Every now and then a flare would go up and I could see my post there- as dead as ever. I was "seeing things". Ask some of the boys who have been on this assignment and see if they haven't seen posts walking around too.
I stood still so long without getting a chance to move that I almost froze that way and commenced to think that I couldn't do anything if I had to. My feet being wet were almost stiff. I was suffering, but up to now I hadn't had time to notice it. It seemed as though I could stand it no longer. I had my rifle up beside me and with my eyes steadfast on No Man's Land I unlaced my shoes, took the blankets out of my pack, and wound an extra pair of leggings around my feet. I slipped a pair of Red Cross heavy wool socks over the leggings. I stood in one wool blanket and my shelter half, and put the other blanket over my shoulders. I had a pair of socks on my hands and then got back to the alert position.
I commenced practicing throwing the blanket off my shoulders, socks off my hands, and when I got so that I could do that quickly enough, I got so that I rested a lot easier.
I was on listening post all night. The next morning I was told that I could take a sleep, and the "day shift", or day relief would go on. I tried to sleep that day, but I didn't succeed very well.
Up to this time I had not been accustomed to having rats crawl over me when I was asleep, so maybe I was staying awake to keep them off. I saw a great many of them. They were quite tame and came close to me, although I made several unnecessary movements. They were a lot larger than the ordinary rat that we have in this country, also a lot darker and their fur longer. They looked very much like our muskrats.
That evening it happened to be my turn to go after "chow". Our kitchen was at Slestervay. I picked up a heel of bread at the kitchen and put it in my pocket. When we got back to where we "fed" I sat down on a short piece of board to eat. I happened to drop my hand to my side and there was a big rat eating my piece of bread out of my pocket. Did I jump? Oh no! Well, anyhow I tried to make that rat move. He ran off a ways and stopped off to look at me as much to say, "Do you mean it?" I tried to make him understand that I did.
Whenever I got a chance to sleep or lie down in the night after this, I often felt rats walking across my body. I have even felt them on my face. I have laid almost rigid when they were on me. I don't know whether I got used to them, or didn't mind them, but anyways they did not bother me very much. I have seen fellows lay hard tack along their bodies on the buttons for the rats to get, but I have never coaxed them to stick around me. As many as there were, I have never seen any killed. We have been told that they are a good thing to have around, and I guess they are, as we might have a whole lot more diseases if it not for those rats; but I still like them better a long ways off.
The Front line at this place was curved enough so that one of our men took a notion to shoot at me, thinking I was a German. A bullet hit in the parapet of the trench right besides me and I commenced looking around. Another bullet hit a piece of tin, just missing my helmet. I felt the whiz of another past my nose. He shot five times at me. I dropped to the ground, stuck my rifle up in the air, and fired five shots as fast as I could shoot. Soon a corporal came down the trench and asked me what was the matter. I told him that some of our own men were shooting at me. He asked me what direction the shots were coming from and I showed him. Believe me, I didn't stand up to show him, but pointed out the direction. The corporal was hugging the ground himself. We weren't very anxious to have our own men shoot at us.
The corporal went back over to the place where the shots came from and asked if anyone over in that direction had been shooting. A big, husky fellow by the name of Bittner answered, "yes, I shot at the Boche across there and I got the devil- at least he hasn't shown up anymore." Believe me, I didn't show up anymore until Bittner had been warned. The corporal told him that he was "crazy" - that he was shooting at his own men, and to be careful hereafter. The next time I saw Bittner we had a good laugh.
We were in the holes for nine days on this trip and then were taken back on the reserve. When we first got in, the Germans were real tame. The French had been carrying their chow over the top and had been allowing the Germans to do the same. We carried ours through the trenches and after we took a few shot at Jerry, he did likewise.
One day we saw a big fat Jerry up on the parapet pumping out his dugout. We didn't get on top to pump out our dugouts and we didn't want to see Jerry up there. We were in the war to shoot every German we got a chance to and we took a few shots at this fellow. He got down into his trench in a hurry, not even waiting to pull his pump in after him. Different times we saw them get up, but after we were in the trenches a few days they kept down.
We had a few raids pulled on us in this sector, and we also pulled off a few. I was relieved of my post at 12:00 one night, but at 2:00am I was awakened. About forty Germans were intending to raid our trenches. They were coming in at the post I had been relieved from. "Intending to raid us" was as far as they got. A fellow by the name of Phillips halted them and someone muttered something back in German. Phillips didn't like that kind of talk and pulled the trigger of his rifle. The German gave a moan and muttered something else and then they commenced throwing "potato mashers" (hand grenades) at Phillips. Their hand grenades looked so much like potato mashers that we named them that. Those that were hurled at Phillips might as well have been potato mashers because none of them went off. Phillips fired from the hip and must have hit the fellow in the hand because next morning we found a pistol with the stock badly nicked and blood on it and on the ground.
Flares soon got to going up in a hurry - a three-star rocket - which at that time was a signal for a barrage.
It was fifty-five seconds after the flares went up that we got our barrage. It was some barrage, as many of us said we couldn't see how even a rat could live through it. Every time a flare went up we fired our rifles at anything that looked like a man.
None of us went to sleep any more that night. I stood post for twenty-two hours without relief and when I got it I was ready to sleep.
When daylight came the lieutenant and several noncoms went out to see what they could see. They brought back a number of potato mashers, a German rifle and the pistol with a nick in it.
Several officers from all around came there the next day to see where the Boche had tried to get in. As I happened to be on that post I showed them where the wires were cut and the blood of the Boche on the ground just over the parapet from the Listening post. Being the first raid it was something new.
The Germans used to signal one another with a noise like a duck ("quack") and another would answer "quack, quack." At times we would hear four or five "quacks." Sometimes they used bird whistles. We soon got wise to this and were on the lookout for "ducks," as much as though they had been talking.
We stayed up in the front lines about eight or nine days and then would go back on reserve while the other companies went in, and then change about again in eight or nine days.
We had three turns at the front, also that number at reserve. When we were on reserve we used to get plenty of detail work and at times it wasn't very pleasant. Fritz used to drop a few shells around and among us.
One day a piece of shell dropped about twelve feet from me. I thought I had a pretty "close shave." I picked it up and burned my fingers. I dropped it and when it got cool I put it in my pocket and carried it for a while. I got several "shaves" a lot "closer" not long after that, so I threw the piece away and laughed at myself.
We stayed at this front - known as St. Michael (often called the sector northwest of Toul) until March 15, 1918. We were relieved at that time by the Second Brigade. We lost a few men and several were wounded, but we were quite lucky. There was not a great deal of action at this Front.
The night of March 14 we hiked back quite a distance. The next morning trucks took us back to a training area, where we were to have a long rest and get some more training. We got the training, but I guess the "rest" must have just left for America - we couldn't find it.
After we were out about a week (March 21st) rumor started that we were to go in again, as Fritz had started on a drive and was going to Paris. We were drilling eight hours a day while we were "resting." We were told that we were going back and into a large battle this time. We had several inspections for the occasion. Among them were two by Gen. Pershing. We were out twice in front of our billets ready to go, when orders were changed.
Finally one Saturday evening we boarded a French "special" and after a few jerks back and forth the next morning we got off and started to hike. We didn't know how far, but before we stopped, found out that we passed through the outskirts of Paris that morning, and that's as close as I ever got to that city.
We were hiked all times of the day and night. After we reached a small town near the front we learned that we had come over three hundred miles and had hiked the most of that distance. We learned that we were going where there was real action on the Somme front.
We saw hundreds of wounded French coming back and at a hospital there we saw a great many going out the back door, but they didn't walk. They were through with the war. They had "gone west."
While we were looking through a window we saw a Frenchman when he awoke. His leg had been amputated. He looked up, and then down at his stub, and said: "Finnie LeGuerre!" meaning that the war was over for him. He didn't seem to feel bad about it, in fact he seemed to feel glad to know that he was through.
We saw some awful sights and, maybe, they did us good. That is, they sort of broke us in for what we were going to have a lot of.
After a few days rest we started out early one evening and after hiking all night reached the front lines again. The roads were full of shell holes, as were also the fields. We knew that we were at a whole lot more active place than we had yet seen-.the shells were dropping around us quite fast. We lost a number of men that night going in. We had already commenced to think that Sherman was right, but now were convinced that "War is hell."
We relieved the Algerians (a colony of France) at this sector. They were pretty well worn out, as they had been up against a pretty hard fight and had been in the trenches for twenty-three days.
We couldn't understand how they could endure it all. They were alive with "cooties" and left plenty of them behind for us. We had gotten rid of a few on our trip, but now were could get as many or more than we had before. We didn't mind their "living expenses" as much as we did their "traveling expenses."
There were not as many of the "French Negroes," as we called the Algerians, who left this sector, as there were entered it when they went in.
We were lucky enough to have a few men with us who could "compre" and "Polly" French enough to get along. The "French Negroes" told us about how many they had lost and were wounded. They had been replaced several times. They left plenty of proof, because there were several pieces of man lying about, and when the wind happened to be in certain directions the air was not very refreshing.
We stationed ourselves along in the trench. It was raining - something quite unusual in France. We were soaked to the skin and there was plenty of water and mud in the trench. We didn't sleep any, because things were more lively around there. Fritz furnished amusement enough to keep us awake. He must have known that a relief was made that night.
After daylight next morning he quieted down a bit, yet sending over a few shells now and then so that we wouldn't forget about the war. We couldn't lie down to sleep because there was too much water in the trench. We didn't dare expose ourselves or Fritz would greet us with torrents of shells. Every now and then there was a sort of a shelf, that is, a pile of dirt left up above the "water line" in some places. Some lay there and slept and then would change off with others who had been kneeling or crouching to keep from being seen.
That night we made some more "shelves." We also had some cold "slum" about midnight - our first since the night before about six o'clock. We dipped some water out of the trench with our drinking cups and dug a few holes for the water to run into.
We lost a few men that day and had several wounded. One big fellow by the name of Brunner, a big husky fellow, was badly wounded in the stomach and lost a limb. The First Aid men started to take him back to the hospital, but shortly returned. We asked how they had returned so soon and they told us that Brunner had "Gone West" on the way. They had rolled him off onto the side of the path because that was their orders. We saw him there a few nights later.
That night a squad went after chow, but only half of them came back. A shell had burst amidst the bunch and had punctured our coffee can so we had nothing to drink that night. The part of the squad that did come back went directly to the hospital. After that we did not think very much about the boys being killed or wounded because it became a way of life and did not help.
A couple of days later, while we were all laying in the trench, a fellow by the name of Dickson (we called him "Dicky") came running down the trench. He ran right over the top of us and was not very particular about where he planted his hobnails. He was on his way to the Lieutenant P.C. crying, "Frazier got killed." Frazier was a fine fellow and a favorite of every man in the company. The Lieutenant thought a lot of Frazier and he went up the trench less particular about where he put his boots than Dicky was.
There was not enough left of Frazier to identify him. Even his pistol was blown to pieces. That one shell did a lot of dirty work. It not only got Frazier but another fellow by the name of Hecklesmiller. Another buddy of mine named McCarthy got a bad stomach wound and lost an arm. On the way to town that night he got gassed and died the next day.
Another fellow whose name I do not remember- we called him "Texas"- lost both legs just below the hips and had eighteen other wounds besides. His body was not buried, but his limbs were. When we lifted him out of the trench that night he put his hands up on the side of the trench to help us get him out. He said, "I wish I could get one crack at those devils before I leave!" A couple of days later we got word that Texas had died before he reached the hospital.
Up the trench a little further three fellows had been killed about the same time. They had bunched up, which was very often the case when a bombardment was going on, so as not to be killed alone. Instead of staying spread out as we should have done, we usually bunched up as best we could.
After a few days we began to look for relief. We were under a very heavy strain and were getting part of one cold meal a day. A great many of our men had been killed or wounded and we thought it was about time to "feed up" and also get a little sleep. One night about 40 fellows whom we had left behind joined us. Fritz had been shelling the reserves and got them started on the way in. These "reserves" brought along a bunch of rumors, among which was, "The First Division is going back to the States to be used as a training division."
We brightened up pretty well because this rumor, like all others, came from a "good source." Some fellow had told another that he had "heard an officer telling another fellow about it" and that it must be true.
A Major from the Third battalion had been killed and buried. A shell came along and dug him up. He was buried again and again. Three times he had been buried and dug up twice. We used to say, "every shell has a man's number." If that were true, the Major had three shells.
We remained in the trenches waiting for relief, but instead of a relief more replacements were being sent up to replace those who had been killed or wounded.
Each day we thought that that night would see us out of the trenches for a rest up. Some did go out. Some were "relieved" for good. Others went to the hospital, but those of us who were neither killed nor wounded had to stick and perform the duties of those who were missing.
One night an order came from Battalion P. C. for a bunch of men for detail. Word went back that we were sending all the men we could spare but not nearly as many as had been called for. Fritz had been feeding us a lot of gas and often we sat, lay, or walked about with our gas masks on for hours at a time. This was very uncomfortable, especially when it was warm and we had any hiking to do. Those noted details had to be done regardless of how much gas there was around.
One afternoon, while we were lying in the trench, a bombardment was going on. Fritz put over a few gas shells as well. I did not see or hear the gas shells explode and not having any idea that he was sending over gas, I did not have my gas mask on. I noticed the peculiar odor, but for a minute thought it was high explosive. As soon as I found it to be gas, I slipped my mask on, but did so too late.
That night, with a bombardment still going on, the Lieutenant sent a non-com to call for volunteers for the chow detail. I volunteered to go, but on the way back I got very weak and dizzy. I did not know what was the matter. We got to where we met the chow and, while waiting, something black and white started to circle about three feet above the level of my eyes. It kept coming down and down, and I kept going down.
I felt myself sinking and called for water. That is all I can remember.
When I awoke I was in a hospital and men from the medical corps were feeding me pills. They gained the required results. I vomited blood and green matter. I felt very weak and they told me I had been gassed. I don't know how long I had been unconscious, but something like a couple of hours is as near as I can figure it out.
After I had been there a few hours a medical sergeant came along with a handful of tags. He tagged me and I asked him what that was for. "You are going to a base hospital," he replied. I asked him if I couldn't remain where I was for another day and informed him that I would then try to go back to my company. At first he said "no," that they were awfully crowded for room, and then in a few minutes told me that I could stay there one day.
That night, just as it was getting dark, I got up and after getting a handful of pills I asked to go back to my company. He asked me "why?"
Up to now several of the boys that had a yellow streak or cold feet used to pretend to be "gassed" in order to get away from the front. I told the doctor that I would rather be sick up at the front than have anyone think that of me. He told me there was too much proof in my case and that he would give me a note stating that it was not the "fake gas" that got me. I told him I would rather go back to my company, but would thank him for a note to my Lieutenant excusing me from all details. He gave me the note and I returned to my company. The "chow" detail met and I waited until they returned. I went directly to where my equipment lay. I hadn't reported to the Lieutenant, as I wanted to get a few minutes rest.
Somebody must have told the Lieutenant that I came back, because he sent for me to report to him if I felt able to. I did. He said "Hello, Last; I thought you had been gassed and that you were in the hospital." I told him I had been gassed, and had been in the hospital, and produced the note from the doctor. I told him that I didn't want anyone to think me yellow or cold-footed and that is why I came back.
After reading the note he said: "You go and lay down and if anyone asks you to do any work, you send that person to me." I laid around for a couple days and nights and then reported back for full duty.
We have had another gas attack and one company (H) of two hundred fifty men sent all but 48 to the hospital. We also lost our gas officer - a Lieutenant by the name of Hall. We sent several gassed men to the hospital this same night. The gas affected the eyes most and some of our boys were almost blind.
Still we were looking for relief, and still more replacements were coming up, but they did not replace us. At the end of fourteen days we were sure of a relief, but nothing doing. We only lived on hopes.
One day while lying in the trench on one of our mud shelves built up out of the water, I noticed the dirt crack. It had been raining and I was soaking wet - shoes and all. My head was dry - my "tin Lizzie" kept it that way. I watched the dirt crack and crumble down for some time and finally gave it up, thinking it would continue no further, when all of a sudden I became buried alive.
My head and one shoulder were out and if any of the Jerries had been listening I'll bet they heard me calling for help. I soon got it. They threw a good pile of dirt off from me. I thought my legs had been broken, as they felt that way.
The boys jerked me out and shook me up. I thought it quite a joke after I got out and got shook up and some of the dirt off from me. I then sat on the pile of dirt waiting for it to get dark so that I could clean out my trench.
It got dark and I got my trench all cleaned out, when an order came for Last to report to the Lieutenant's P. C., which I did, and learned that I was to go to another sector and act as Liaison agent. "Liaison" means "connecting." I was to "connect" the company I was in to another one; that is, I was to carry any messages that the commanding officer of the new sector might have for the commanding officer of the sector that my company was in.
A little fellow by the name of Lee had helped dig me out and said something about the dirt "working" about him also. That night before I left I told him he had better take my place, as there wasn't any more danger of the dirt caving in on him there. "Yes," he replied, "but there is a lot bigger gap for a shell to drop in." So I thought it was up to him.
The next night when I brought my first message over I asked how many men had been killed and wounded and learned that Lee had been buried alive and before they got him out he was dead. Also, "Count", an Italian, had tapped a hand grenade and forgot to throw it, so one of his hands was blown off at the wrist.
One night I was stationed on an outpost in no man's land about 40 or 50 feet from a German machine gun nest, close enough so that I could hear them talking very low and hear the rain sort of ring on their helmets. I went on duty at midnight and remained there until daylight. It was on an old road with a bank about waist high on one side.
I was on guard and my orders were to shoot anyone I saw if I could handle them. If I thought there were too many I was to fall back to where there were a few more of the boys before the Huns saw me.
I was certainly on the lookout. It was raining and there I stood in the crouching position ready for instant action and ready to get down behind the bank every time a flare went up. There were plenty of dead soldiers out there who had been there since the big battle in March. The Germans had been stopped by the Algerian troops after breaking through on the English.
The Algerians, as I said earlier, held this sector for 23 days and up to now we had been there for going on three weeks so these dead were not very fresh. If I could have seen as well as I should have been able to, I would have had my gas mask on by all means as there was one dead man not more than 12 or 15 feet away, and several not much further. The wind was giving me full benefit of those remains.
The next night we were on a special "stand to" all night. We had gotten some information and were expecting Jerry over. We were under a very heavy bombardment all night and along toward morning Jerry did start to come- but he went back with fewer men than he started with.
After twenty-one days, we were finally relieved by our Division's Second Brigade. They lost several men coming in. We actually got out pretty well, but didn't go far when Jerry seemed to locate us and he rained shells on us. We double-timed and after falling to the ground a great many times we seemed to get out of the barrage. We ended up in a big field of nice, tall grain with scarcely a shell hole. The lieutenant said that this was a peaceful-looking spot and that we had better take a rest because we had been losing men all along the way who were too tired to go on.
We sat or lay down in the growing grain and it seemed so good not to hear that awful rumbling so close, and not to see the field speckled with shell holes. All of a sudden a shell landed right among us. Nobody got hurt but it threw dirt all over us and we got up.
Fritz played about three batteries on us for about half an hour. We were all sure that they must have some way of seeing us, for no matter which way we went they were right at us. We lost a few more men and also lost our way. It would soon be daylight and here we were. We hiked on, every now and then a man dropping out.
About six o'clock we reached an old town quite a way back and could travel about that without being seen. We rested and talked about our close shaves. When we got to the other end of the town we found motor trucks waiting to take us back for a rest.
Up to now we had been on the Somme Front and held the sector directly in front of Cantigny, between Cantigny and Villera Tornell. The outpost I have mentioned was on a road right on the outskirts of Cantigny.
We got to our destination about 9:00AM and were marched to our respective billets where we feasted on warm "slum", our first for over three weeks. We soon got another meal of beans.
We were an awful-looking bunch. Some had not washed during the three weeks and none had shaven. Our clothes had dried off on the way out and they were stiff with the mud. We hadn't had our shoes off for three weeks and when we got to taking them off, a blind man would have known it without being told. We were all tired and worn out. There was no place to bathe, only to get some water in a tin can and get a sponge bath.
After a couple of days we got a few clean clothes. We were getting a great plenty to eat because so many boys had left the company and we were still getting full rations. We only got one meal a day in the trenches so of course the grub piled up. We were at Maisonelle and how well everyone who was stationed there will remember it.
We had been out of the trenches for about two days and then began to drill again. When we lined up the whole company was not larger than one platoon ordinarily.
The first two days we were out were spent trying to clean up and stand inspections. We had to wash our overcoats, uniforms, blankets, shelter halfs, etc. without water. The few French "civies" who were living in the town locked their wells so that we could get no water. We were lucky enough to have one officer get us enough for drinking and cooking purposes. The later was unfit to drink; requiring medication first. There were large basins or cesspools around the village that were used to drain the streets when it rained. In these places we washed our clothes and equipment. Our sleeping quarters were old, tumbled down buildings- anything from a house, to a chicken coop, to a hog pen.
Dame rumor was around pretty strong. As soon as the Second Brigade got fourteen days in, we were told, they were going to join us and we'd be going back to "God's Country", the USA to be used as a training division because we had the most experience in French warfare. We'd been out just seven days when we were ordered to go back into the battle at once.
We'd had some rest, three meals a day, some drilling, and most of us had gotten cleaned up as best we could. The barber had been busy cutting hair. We had shaved several times, and had read and reread our shirts for cooties. When we saw a cootie we let him know there was a war going on.
We got rid of a few cooties, received some mail, had a chance to write a few letters and notes, and we were in pretty fair shape to go back to the Front again. About dusk we started; the motor trucks taking us up quite a way and hiking the rest. Evidently Fritz didn't know we were coming because he was pretty decent this time- only dropped a shell now and then. We had received more replacements and looked more like a company when we went back in. Those new men had never been up before and as Fritz was unusually quiet, they formed a better idea of the Front before they got into it. Then they changed their minds. We got into the lines without losing a single man. We couldn't understand why we had been 21 days in the trenches and the company that had relieved us had been there only seven. We soon found out that the reason was that we were to make the first drive ever made by Americans over here.
Preparations were being made nightly instead of daily for our drive. Each night they called for "details" to carry ammunitions and tools. The batteries were getting closer and closer to us. Ammunition dumps were being brought up closer and closer so the artillery could crowd up as the infantry advanced.
Once in awhile a truck got up quite close to the front. I remember one sight of a big truck loaded with ammunition that ran into a shell hole. The axle laid it up so that it could not be moved. Jerry could not help but see it and what a fine target it would be. They could also get an idea of what was going on over on our side. It was too late to get any other truck or means of getting the stalled truck out because it would soon be daylight. So the Doughboys were rounded up in a hurry to cut branches to get the truck camouflaged before jerry could see it.
Jerry did not make things so exciting for us on this trip to the Front. He seemed rather quiet compared to what he had been. Rumors were afloat that the Germans were running short of ammunition and we were fools enough to believe it. Every now and the some one would say, "I found a piece of shell and it had 1918 on it; they are shooting their shells at us as fast as they can make them and will soon be out of ammunition."
One morning Jerry dropped a shell into an ammunition dump about three hundred feet to our left. Things got very interesting indeed. He then sent over gas for two hours straight. We were sending bombardments over to Jerry quite often also, and plenty of them.
Five days passed and we had lost quite a few men, but not as many as the trip before. The Second Brigade relieved us again and we were to go in as "support". We backed up for a little ways and settled in among some hills. There was plenty going on around us; a few hours more and it would be "over the top at Cantigny" for us for the first time. Everybody seemed to be more or less excited or anxious... or something. I don't know if one can exactly explain the sensation. A Frenchman once said that it would be like a young man trying to express his feelings when he proposed to a young lady.
The time was set for 6:00 am as it would be getting daylight. We turned our hands up very often to look at our wristwatches. Everyone seemed jolly enough, but we all did a lot of thinking. Soon the barrage tore loose, and it was some barrage. The aeroplanes got busy too.
A Jerry came over to see what was going on. He was dropped a short distance from where we were. The German had no more than hit the ground before he was stripped of his iron cross, watch, and ring by souvenir hunters. The barrage kept up steadily. Jerry let us have one in return and got quite a number of our men. Word came from the Front that the Colonel of the 23rd had asked the Colonel of the 18th for a company to reinforce his men. My company was sent up. We hiked about under shellfire in broad daylight, passing through very dangerous places. Gas was coming over pretty strong. We were double- timing with our gas masks on and ready to drop at any instant. We halted in a trench and remained there just long enough to get a little to eat- but we had nothing to drink. We started out running again and about dusk we pulled up close to the Front. We had to go slow because our runner got lost. Every time a shell dropped close by, we dropped to the ground.
We passed a number of dead and wounded men, some of whom begged us for help, but we couldn't stop as our orders were to keep moving. We had lost some men, but none at all compared to the Company whose sector we had taken. There were just three men left there. I am not certain, but as I remember it was Co. 1 of the 28th Infantry.
Taking Cantigny was nothing compared to holding it after we got it. The Germans made nine counter attacks and nine times they failed. We didn't know what sleep was as we had to stand to all the time. Every little while this order would come down the trench, "Pass it on- Stand to- They're coming!" They're coming. They're going to flank us on the left!"
This kept up for three days; one continuous rain of shells, no sleep, no eats, and all the water we got was what we took off the dead men by crawling out on the top and taking their canteens.
Men were being picked off to the right of us and to the left of us. Still the wounded who were not able to get back were lying about us in the trench, besides several who had some strength left were crawling down the trench and working their way to the rear as best they could. Some got back and some never did, as we found several dead on the way out. Some were blown to bits and others had just died. It was common to walk near a man or roll him over or give him a touch with the foot to see if he was asleep or dead. Three full days passed with nothing to eat.
The lieutenant came around the other morning and asked for some volunteers to take a wounded man, whom the other company had left there, to the rear. It was daylight and there were plenty of snipers on the job, and we "thought again." A young fellow next to me and myself said that we would go if two more could be found. We looked at the man that we were to carry back. He had lain in the trench for three days without any care whatever. He had been badly wounded in the left forearm and had another wound in the stomach. He had a very dead look about him right then. A sort of film seemed to have grown over his eyes. He couldn't talk very much as he was very weak. I don't remember exactly what he said but I do remember that pitiful, thankful look when he learned that he was to be taken back to the rear. Soon two more of the fellows joined us and just as we were starting out the Lieutenant said, "I am not sending you men. You are going of your own free will." We told the Lieutenant that we understood that. He told us that if snipers started shooting at us we should drop into the nearest shell hole and stay there until night. We were very weak and didn't get along very fast. Every time we heard a shell coming, we dropped our man as easy as we could and also "dropped" ourselves. Finally we got back to where no man's land had been before we went over the top. It was full of dead Algerians. There were not very many Americans at this place. These Algerians had been killed in March and the first part of April and now it was the first part of June. There was an awful odor all about and a dew that morning held it close to the ground where we had to drop very often among those Algerians who presented a horrible appearance. They were all bloated up to almost twice their normal size, the clothing of some having burst from the pressure. The flies and maggots had been at a great many of them and if we had had anything to eat during the last few days I'm sure we would have lost it then and there.
As there were four of us carrying the litter it was very often necessary to step over one of those dead men or on them sometimes. In falling to the ground when a shell came our way we dropped close beside them for protection.
We soon reached the First Aid station and there we found a great many dead Americans- piles of them- who had gotten back for first aid and after receiving it had died before they could be gotten to a hospital. In several cases more shells from the Germans had come over and blown them and the litters they were in into little bits.
The doctors and the medical corps were also "all in". We asked for something to eat and drink. They showed us where we could get water and told us where we could find something to eat "just around the hill." We found food and plenty of it. There were also plenty of dead ones lying about and yet we lived to get what we were after. We found cans of slum, coffee, and beans. Some were blown up pretty baldy but others were whole. We crawled up and tested some slum. When we found what we thought was the freshest, we dragged it up to a hole and ate and drank. We then found a whole can of coffee and a sack of bread and started back.
We found an old communication trench and started down that. Two fellows carried the coffee on the sack of bread and the other two the litter. We reached our company and one platoon of that company surely ate and drank with thanksgiving. We lay about the trenches all that day. Fritz had let up a little bit but we still knew that a war was on.
That evening our Lieutenant asked if I would go as a guide to get our relief. I said that I would. At dusk I started, following my directions. I got back to where I was to meet our relief and sat down to wait for them. It was only about twelve to fifteen kilometers from the Front- but some hike on what we had been getting to eat and without any sleep for so long. While I sat there waiting I fell asleep. So did all of the others who were there. At the first sound of the trucks I awoke and woke the others who were still asleep. The trucks were very late. When we reached the Front lines it was turning daylight very fast. The officers from my Company were very angry toward the other officers for getting there so late, but they couldn't help it as some of their trucks got lost.
By the time the new relief got settled in it was daylight and we didn't dare go out or Fritz would have blown us to bits. We had to stay in that trench all day with our own company as well as the one relieving us. If Fritz had known it he would have had some fun. Think what a few shells could have done.
Our company knew enough not to expose themselves after what we had gone through the past few days and we had strict orders to shoot any man we saw getting up high enough. We lay there all that day hungry and thirsty. That evening, just before we were leaving , a bunch of the boys returned with a sack full of canned tomatoes. They had gone out in search of food without anyone knowing it and had found a crate of the tomatoes. We divided them by allowing one can for two men so that our hunger and thirst were somewhat checked.
At dusk we started out. After doing a lot of double time marching and losing several men who were not strong enough to keep up, we finally got out and back to a place where Fritz hadn't been dropping so many shells. We had a little rest and a few of the boys caught up to us.
We started out again and about midnight we reached a little town far enough back so that we felt quite easy. We got some warm slum, some cold beans, and some coffee and bread. That was quite a feed for us and we had all expected that we would receive convalescence time after going so long without any. The supply sergeant told us that he had a few blankets and some overcoats that we could cover up with.
Whenever we went into a fight we always left all of our personal belongings and other valuables behind, thinking that if we lived we could go back that way and get them. At some point during this battle, they had been collected and thrown into a pile. After that it was "first come, first served". I hadn't gotten anything returned except a couple of letters.
While we were eating a runner came up to the captain and delivered a message. We were to go back into the lines at once. The Germans were making an advance and we were to relieve some French to our left who had been told to go and strengthen some of their lines at Montdidier.
The major sent a runner to announce that it was impossible to go back that night, but that we would go the following night. We were told to get all the sleep we could, but that proved to be very little. We could not sleep. We were completely exhausted. And then the news that we were to go back before we had even finished a square meal! We were willing to do our bit, but we couldn't understand why we were being kept under this constant strain for so long. It was beginning to gnaw on us, especially those of us who had gone through the entire performance.
We talked about many things that day. One thing we discussed, I remember, was the pro Germans in the U.S. We spoke of some of their dirty
tricks and thought of what we were going through while they were sitting back there reading the newspapers and frowning when they learned that the Allies or us were making any headway, and smiling when they saw, "Germans advance" in the headlines. They were enjoying what we were suffering for and we declared that the Pro- Germans had better stay clear of us when we got back. I actually believe that every American soldier has said the same thing, but a great many people still listen to their pro- German friends as much as ever.
That evening I was called up and told that I was the Company runner "until further notice". We got aboard trucks about 9:00pm and they hauled us most of the way- leaving us at Eselanvillers, from where we started on a hike and landed in a big forest. It was very dark and we had to keep hold of each other so as not to get lost.
When we got out into the open again, Fritz had just started another bombardment. We lay around a hill as close to the ground as we could until it was all over with. We started again and had to go through a lot of gas before we finally reached the lines.
There was an old chateau there and a Frenchman had been on guard at one corner of it. He had just been killed and had fallen against the ruins of the building, which made him appear to be just leaning there.
We took our posts and were told that we would be there for a few days- and maybe a lot longer. There had just been a battle on at this place and there were a lot of interesting things lying around- among them several dead Dutchmen.
This sector wasn't nearly as lively as what we had in the past and we were thankful enough for that, as we could stand the rest we got pretty well after the doings at Cantigny.
I was acting as Company runner and had several runs to make. I found some of them very interesting, especially when there was a bombardment and I had to get a message to some of the officers. Just then there were always plenty of runs to make. Our company P.C. was in the basement of an old chateau at this place and things were pretty comfortable. This was in the village of Grevense and not more than a week before we settled there, the Germans were holding the town. Being stationed in the town we could walk about during the day without being seen by the enemy; that is as long as too many did not walk about together. One afternoon the Company mechanic and myself took a walk about, going into some of the old, ruined buildings where we saw the deviltry of the Germans.
We went into a very old and well- built chateau which must have been the home of many generations. Although the furniture was very old fashioned, it was very good and costly looking. In the recreation room was a pool table that had not been destroyed by enemy shells. The Huns had broken it. There was a piano that looked as though they had used an axe on it, as the whole front and back were knocked in. All the furniture was destroyed in this way. Several marble slabs were also broken.
We went into an old church but there wasn't much of it left. It was a Catholic church and all of the statuary had been knocked down and broken to bits. Shells had done their bit in tearing up the church, but what the shells had not destroyed, the Germans had broken before they left. Each of us picked up some pieces of ribbon lying around which we intended to keep for souvenirs, talking about the dirty work of the Huns while we observed the gross destruction being carried on by them. The church was hundreds of years old. Many generations had worshipped there, and here it was a pile of ruins and we were standing among them. We visited many places in this village and each represented a silent gruesome story. Were I to go into detail in writing about them, it would make a book.
We found a Hun aeroplane that had been brought down. The engine had been taken out, but the remainder of the plane was there- although pretty badly banged up. We studied different parts of it and each took some little brass signs or instructions printed in German.
After about ten days the major came into the Company P.C. and said, "Dietz, your men have had a pretty hard time of it and I'm going to send you back on reserve. There are trenches dug there and all you'll have to do is take it easy."
That night we started back for those trenches and Jerry must have known again that we were going out as he sent another storm of shells just as we were going through those dark woods. Limbs and trees were falling as well as shells bursting and we spent a good deal of our time on the ground. Finally we got out and reached a little village that the Major had directed us to. Here we were lost and could locate no one to find out where we were going. The runners were sent out. We stared down the road and found some soldier engineers. We asked them if they could direct us to some trenches near there. No they couldn't, but they could direct us to where there would soon be some trenches.
We went back and reported to our commanding officers and the Company was marched to " where there would soon be some trenches".
Upon arrival there we were halted and told to unsling our packs. Then we were lined up and marched by a couple of engineers who kindly handed one man a pick and the next a shovel. Everybody took one; officers as well as privates. After being led by the engineers to where the string was laid out on the ground, everybody dug. There were no lazy ones in the bunch either. We were told that we would have to get done before daylight and would also have to get the dirt camouflaged with the green grain or Jerry would see us working; or see that we had been. We all cussed the engineers as we declared that we were doing their work.
We got down and got the dirt covered and it was just about daylight. We then had our meal, which we enjoyed doubly after our quick work. We then went to sleep and Jerry didn't bother us much as he hadn't yet discovered that we were there. This trench was protected from view by a forest on a hill and we could get around some in the daytime without being seen.
I was sent up to the Front that night with a message through the dark woods alone and got lost. After hiking for a long time I got out and delivered my message. I got back to the woods just as it was getting daylight, but didn't get lost this time.
When I got back we got orders to move to our left and dig in again. After we had dug in a second time we were sent still further to our left to occupy some dugouts in the side of a hill.
Things were pretty quiet here until one night the French artillery pulled in a few batteries among us and then Jerry tried to get them, and of course got some more of our men. After a few days the artillery moved back again. They had been expecting a drive.
With a light bombardment now and then, and a little gas now and then we had it pretty fair here considering what we had had. Of course we didn't have feather beds or meals served to us or anything like that. We had to keep all of our clothes and shoes on as we were subject to call at any time.
We stayed here for about fifteen days and were then relieved to go back for a rest, but still on reserve at Pilant- quite a ways back. Outside of the aeroplanes we were pretty well off here, but they managed to visit us almost every evening. They did quite a lot of damage here, but none to my Company. The supply Company was quartered in this town as well. A bomb landed among some mules and men and both were blown to pieces; also the building that they were in.
A fellow by the name of Brunner (a cousin to the Brunner of my Company who had been killed some time back) was missing. It was known that he had been sleeping near that building. He was found the next day over the top of a high brick wall, lying in a sort of trench with a leg blown off. This bomb had thrown him a distance of three hundred feet.
We got cleaned up at this place and started to drill. That was the usual rest we got. Pilant was a fair- sized village and hadn't been blown up very much, only by the bombs that had been dropped. It looked quite peaceful with beautiful flowers and fine gardens growing in almost every yard. Several civilians were still clinging to their homes as long as they could; others who hadn't valued their homes so highly or who may have been more able to do so, had left. Perhaps those who remained there had nothing else in the world beside their homes.
When there was any news to be given out to the French people, a Frenchman went around with a drum which he beat on the street corners, and the people would then congregate and listen to what he had to tell them, and then he'd go to the next corner or settlement. Sometimes this was good news and sometimes bad. One morning just before first call was sounded, we heard a drum not far from where we were and we looked. They appeared to have received bad news, as they all went back to their homes with their heads down and some were crying.
We soon found out that they had been given orders to leave that town as the Germans were expected to make a drive. It was not long until we would see others, each carrying a small bundle, perhaps a change of clothes, going out with their children. An old man with long gray whiskers and slowed down by his advanced age was trying to lead two cows out. They had long horns and were swinging their heads trying to get away. Finally one of them struck the old gent in the face with her horn and he had to let go of her. Then the second grew more impatient. An American soldier ran up and helped the old gent hold it. Several other soldiers ran after the cow that had gotten away and after catching it they brought it back and tied the two together. They helped the old gent get started again. There was a lady with the old man. She was a young woman, perhaps his daughter, and her husband was in the army. She was pushing a baby carriage down the road. It was so loaded with things that she could not see over the top of it, so she had to look along side once in awhile to see where she was going. It was a pitiful sight for everyone except the Huns.
Every house had furniture in it, and some had all of the furniture remaining. We were told to leave everything as it was or we would be court-martialed, which was a very good thing as some undoubtedly would have disturbed things without thinking about what they were doing.
One family left a cow with some of the boys and they had some real milk, as long as we were in this town. Chickens were quite common about the place, but quite naturally there were fewer when we left. If the French people who left there were human, they must have expected that. They also left some rabbits to be looked after. The last time I saw them they were still alive.
About every day we saw some civilians return; maybe carrying out a little bundle, but they were doing so against orders. One family came back with a big two-wheeled wagon and a horse to get a load.
We actually got our mail at this place. On account of my having previous experience with the handling of mail, I was made mail orderly. My duties were to get the mail to the boys in the hospital and to those who had been transferred. Thos who had been killed or had died from other causes I marked "Deceased" and those were returned. Under the new military postal and express orders a representative from each company was to be sent to the central P. O. I was recommended and was waiting for my call.
On the 3rd day of July an order came out to issue a twenty-four hour pass to ten percent of the company. I managed to get my name in for a pass to take effect at twelve o'clock. We were allowed to visit Beauvais. This town was of fair size and about 30 kilometers from Pilant, where we were stationed.
Beauvais was in Picardy . We were furnished with no means of transportation, nor were where any to be obtained unless we were lucky enough to catch a ride on one of the trucks.
We started out on foot. A truck overtook us and took us down the road past a few towns, and then by foot again we went several kilometers further, before we gained another truck. We reached Beauvais about six o'clock. The people there were celebrating our Independence Day. Business places were locked up.
The first thing we did was look for a restaurant or café. We wanted to see how it felt to get our feet under a table and to eat like real human beings again. We found out. We could tell you by the sensation felt by our stomachs; secondly be the jostle of our pocket books. We were informed that everything would be locked up at nine o'clock, and that no lamps could be lighted after that hour on account of air raids, of which this town got quite a few. Most of the inhabitants of the town spent time in trenches dug outside the town for that purpose.
We went to a hotel and got a real feather bed. When we got into it we sank most out of sight. We all declared we would never get up. We were willing to take a chance on the air raids. We could lie in a trench any old night, but when we have the chance to sleep in a real bed- and when would our next one be?
We didn't sleep very well. The boys who were not on pass also enjoyed themselves. They had ball games and different kinds of races. Some French generals were there who made addresses and we were told of our good conduct in this sector. Citations from the French headquarters were read and posted on our billboards at all company orderly rooms.
When the French general read the citation and made his address he said that the French who had previously defended that sector would long be remembered as the heroes of Grevance. "You men are the heroes of Cantigny!"
We had been attached to the French army and now we were being released again and were to go back for a long rest.
About the 6th of July we started back and after hiking all night stopped in another small town where we were told that we were to await transportation. We remained here a few days and word came that we were to parade in Paris on the French National holiday of July 14th.
The order was changed after another day and called for one company to be picked from the Battalion to be sent to Paris. They left us on the 12th for Paris and on the 14th at sunset a bunch of French trucks came and got us.
We rode all night and reached a small town about 9:00 on a Sunday morning. We could see the Eiffel Tower in Paris from there. We were then told that we were going into Orleans as soon as some other Division that was there got out and made room for us.
Orleans was an American rest camp and a pretty decent place from what we had heard. We got a little sleep Sunday but no eats as our rations were coming via mules and had not reached there yet- although they had started out a day early. That evening we got a little something to eat.
Monday after getting cleaned up, the Company went out to drill. The French trucks pulled in again and we supposed that we were going the rest of the way to Paris by truck. The rumors were that every man was to have a leave of absence to visit Paris. We waited until evening when we were told that we were waiting for our wagon train. When the wagon train arrived, each man was given two vandeliers of ammunition. We still looked at the sunny side of things and hoped that we had been issued that ammunition in order to make the load lighter for the mules.
We started what we thought was to be the end of our journey to Orleans, but we soon found that we were just commencing a new one. Our rest was still coming to us, and whenever we passed a graveyard we called it a rest camp. We do not always know who or when, but all of us have a pretty fair chance of getting there.
After riding all night again, we unloaded about 10:00 the next morning in a big forest. We were told that it was Belleau Wood, but personally, I don't think it was, because it was not shot up very badly. We remained here for a few hours, trying to get a little rest. We had been very uncomfortable in the trucks, as we were very crowded, and it seemed good to stretch out again. We were soon called to "Fall in". We slung our equipment and started to move. We headed down a steep hill with large trees on each side of us. I saw someone lying near he side of the road. The man being so small, I took a second look at him. There lay my pall, Kelly! I looked to see if he was dead- he wasn't. He was asleep; exhausted, as were many others. We, too, were ready for sleep, and it was very hot.
When I saw that Kelly was not dead, but seemed to be resting peacefully, I kept on going, as I did not want to get away from my Company. I could not have double-timed that day under any conditions. We hiked and hiked, and hiked some more. We went up a steep hill and entered another forest, or perhaps part of the same one. This place was very clean and looked like a park.
As we moved further in, we saw more soldiers who ad just landed. Some pegs were stuck into the ground with little slips of paper: A,B,C, and we turned in at G. After "right dressing" for a while, to be sure that we had a straight line, we unslung our equipment and fell out for a rest.
How long were we going to stay here? We could stand this place very well. It was another "picnic", only we didn't have the eats. Our kitchen and supplies were coming- but when? We were hungry, and very frequently, the question, "when do we eat?" would echo through the forest.
After I had rested for a little while, I went to where the paper on the peg said "Company A". I knew a great number of the boys there. Ike Malman, a favorite friend of mine, was asleep. I woke him up and we had a little talk. Of course, the first person I asked about was Kelly Kowan. He informed me that Kelly had" played out" and was waiting for an ambulance. Ike had just gotten back from the hospital himself. He had been gassed. We talked for quite a while about the number of boys who had "gone west"; boys we knew very well because they had been in our former Company.
Just before dark our kitchen pulled in and we had some half-cooked slum. All lights and fires had to be out before dark, so we had to eat our slum half-cooked, but we were glad to get it. We rolled up in our blankets on the ground, and went to sleep once more.
The next morning, after "policing up", we lay around. We were waiting for the rest of our Company to join us. They had been to Paris on parade, and now we would all be going toward Berlin on another parade. This one would be in battle formation.
The next night, about seven o'clock, we started out with light packs. It rained, and we were soaked. The roads were very muddy and crowded. We were held up because there wasn't a space large enough for us to get through as ammunition trains and trucks were all mixed up in the road. We were stopped many times, but never long enough for a rest. Often we would move ahead no more than five or six feet and then stop again. Trucks were coming and going. Some had taken the wrong way as there was supposed to be only one-way traffic. It was getting toward daylight, but we had not yet even reached the trenches and we were to go "over the top" at four thirty a.m.
We reached our field artillery just as they opened up firing, and I for one, will say that they surely opened up! There was a large dugout in the side of a hill and we stopped there for a few minutes for a rest. Our Captain took out his map and looked up our sector. We started again, going down a steep hill. Some boys were right side up when we landed and some were not. We went through an old village but there was nothing left of it except mortar and stone speckled with shell marks.
By this time Jerry was reciprocating our barrage. Shells were flying very thick. Now and then a man would drop, but no one dared stop to see how badly he was hurt. We soon reached the line and just kept on going. We soon saw a bunch of Germans and as far as we could hear, they were all yelling, "Kammerad!" They were always "kammerads" when they were up against it, but no one knew when one of those devilish "kammerads" was going to plug him in the back. A couple of men were sent to the rear with them. As we advanced, we found several wounded Germans and occasionally an American, but we did not lose many this day.
We left our First Aid man binding up a wounded German, and that's the last we ever saw of him. Had a stray bullet or a shell hit him, had some other German done a job, or had he gone back? These were matters of speculation, but nevertheless he hasn't rejoined our Company.
We searched all dugouts and occasionally picked up a few more prisoners. We put them to work carrying wounded men to the rear so they could get help. We made them carry our own men and the wounded Germans as well.
We searched several dead Germans and some of the boys got pistols and watches. One wounded German with a Red Cross on his arm was pulled into a shell hole by a runner and myself because we could not stop long to help him. We kept on advancing and when we reached our objective we "dug in". We did not have much to go against, because Jerry had been busy retreating and getting as much of his artillery back with him as possible.
We were not far from another village. We were all very thirsty and hungry. I asked the Captain for permission to go into the village and get some water. He gave me permission but warned me to look out for poisoned water. As I passed through the village, I saw come ruins that were being used as a First Aid Station. Quite a few wounded men were lying about. German prisoners who had been wounded were lying right among our own men. A shell had landed not long before and got several of them. It was an awful sight, but along with it was the consolation that Jerry had killed a number of his own men while killing ours.
I soon reached a spring. There were a number of "kammerads" there and I took my pistol in my hand. There were also a few Americans about, taking care of the wounded and getting them to the hospital as fast as possible.
I pointed my pistol at a bunch of Germans near the spring and said, "Drink". They drank from the spring. Without asking any questions I waited a while and then began to load my canteens. One German helped me. I must have had a dozen or more canteens gathered from the rest of the boys. I waited until the canteens were all full and then, seeing that the Germans were all still alive, I took one good big drink.
I saw a garden a little ways from there and started toward it. I had asked a First Aid man to keep his eye on the canteens and he said that he would. When I reached the garden, about all I could find was onions. I got a big armful of them and then went back to the spring, took another drink and fastened the canteens about me to start back toward my company. I gave out a few onions and drinks along the road.
When I reached the Company a few of us ate and drank. We had some canned monkey meat and our meal consisted of monkey meat and green onions. The captain gave permission to a few men from each platoon to go get water. We all declared that we would never eat onions again.
Later that evening some French went by to our right. They were to go over with us the next morning. It was a pretty sight- hundreds of hundreds of horses dashed by. The next morning about 4:30 we started again, obtaining the same results from the previous day- taking many prisoners and seeing many others who had gone to their own "rest camp". The cavalry had gotten many of them and they were now going to the rear. We were again the first wave instead of the second. That afternoon we were in among artillery that we had captured and we were getting our share of shells from Deutschland. I don't think Fritz knew that we were there, but he was trying to destroy his own artillery before it was captured. Some of our men were wounded, but I did not hear of any being dead that afternoon.
That night we had our first feed in two days with the exception of onions and monkey meat. We got some slum that had been out looking for us all day, and when it found us it was thinking of turning sour. Never the less, we were glad to get it. After eating we crawled up by the Germans. The aeroplanes got traces of us and dropped flares which lit up the whole country. The Huns dropped bomb after bomb among us and many of our men were killed or wounded. There sure was some crying, as there is no man who can say he is not afraid of bombs. We dug in just enough so as not to be exposed- each man in a hole about two feet wide and six feet long. They were just like graves, and a great many men really did dig their own graves here. We remained here all night and until about two o'clock the next afternoon.
Some of the boys had been sent out for water. Before they returned, the order had been sent to our Company to move to our left and advance. About the time we were getting ready to move, Jerry succeeded in getting a range on us and we lost a few men in a hurry. When we started out, the Captain told the Company clerk to remain and guide the other boys up to where the Company was going.
He had not gone far when the First Sergeant called to me and said that I had better go back to get them because the Company clerk would not find them. I didn't say anything but I was wondering how I was expected to find the Company if the Company clerk couldn't. I asked the Sergeant where we could join them and he said that he didn't know- the company clerk was supposed to tell me. I found the company clerk and gave him the orders that I had received. I asked him for the directions that he had been given as to where to join the Company. He didn't know!
"Just to the left in advance." I laid down in one of the grave-like holes. Shells were bursting all about us and fast. It was a good thing that the Company had gotten out of there or they would've been blown to bits. A piece of shell struck me on the knee, but it had slowed and merely paralyzed me knee for a few minutes.
I heard someone groan. I looked around, but I couldn't see anyone. Soon I could make out the boys coming with the water. They had gone a long ways for it.
"Where is the Company?"
"To the left and advance" had been our only instructions. How could I tell? We heard the groan again and this time we discovered the source. We went toward it and there lay a man from our Company who had been hit just a few minutes before starting out. He was pretty badly shot up. His right arm was broken and twisted underneath. We straightened him out as best we could, bound him up, and then stuck his rifle into the ground and tied a piece of white bandage to it so that someone would go and help him out.
We traveled to the left and met some soldiers. I happened to know two of them because they were out of Company A and had been in my former Company. I asked if they had seen any soldiers pass that way.
"Yes," they said, "They went toward a village and some of the boys said they had been relieved." We headed toward that village, but from some soldiers who were there, we learned that no one had passed through within the last few hours.
It happened to be very hot so we stopped under a tree to rest. We were trying to decide which way to go. My directions had said," To the left and advance." That could be one hundred feet to the left or that many kilometers. How could I tell from my instructions?
While we were trying to decide, we saw some wounded men coming down the road, trying their best to get to a hospital. As one of them neared us, we recognized a Corporal; being a bow-legged person, he was easy to recognize from quite a distance.
We started out to meet him. He had been hit with a piece of shell, but had tied himself up and thought he could get back to where he could get help. We asked him where the rest of our Company was. He informed us that what was left of our Company was in the direction he pointed out to us. We saw a lot of dead Germans along the road and knew that something had been doing.
We soon met a new Sergeant who had his shoulder blown off. He knew that if he waited for an ambulance, it would be too late. He emptied most of another canteen. He pointed us to where he had left the Company, but what was left of them was on the move. We kept on moving and struck a ravine between two hills. One hill was very steep and served as good protection from German artillery. This place was being used as sort of a First-Aid station.
Here we found several of our men, some severely wounded and others no worse off than the two we had just met. They were waiting for an ambulance, but none would come before night. We passed our water around as far as it would go and we were glad to give it to them, but what about the poor boys that were still in the game?
We asked these soldiers where the Company was, and they answered the same way the previous soldiers had. "When we last saw them they were still going forward, but there weren't many left."
We started off after wishing these boys a speedy recovery. Some obviously would never recover, but we tried to cheer them up at the time. They had done their bit-given their lives-while some pro-Germans might live in a free country like the U.S.
We went towards some boys in a large grain field and inquired as to the whereabouts of Company C of the 18th Infantry. They didn't know; they belonged to the 16th. We were surely surprised. We were not even near our own regiment
We went to the left and saw some men going toward an old village. As we got closer we concluded there must be water there. I told the boys that if they would wait for me, I would go and get some water, as it would never do to go to the Company with all of our canteens empty.
I started down the hill carrying a
pretty good load of canteens. There was a well there all right, but it was an open one and the bucket had been dropped into it so many times that the water was actually filthy, but there were dozens of men around there who were getting all they could to drink as fast as they could draw it up. They were very thirsty- perhaps hadn't had water all that day. It was very hot. I had had a little water not long before, but I also filled up on this water. I shook as I did so. If I should see a dog drinking anywhere near as filthy looking water, I would drive him away unless I wanted to see him die.
I filled the canteens and started
out with a good load. Just as I started I met another man from my Company who told me where the Company was. I waited until he took his turn to drink and fill the canteens, and when he had filled them we started out for where I had left my two pals-and then we headed toward our company.
Our new arrival had some awful things to tell us. The Sergeant-Major and a great many others had been killed. One single shell had blown five men from our company into pieces and wounded several others.
We jogged along, ducking to the ground now and then, whenever we heard a shell sizzling our way. Just as we reached our company, a shell burst right near the captain's group. It covered one fellow up pretty well, but no one got hurt. We went to the captain and told of our experiences, explaining about the men we had seen who were wounded and how badly they were hurt.
A report was made and another runner was sent back to where the five men had been blown to pieces. He was to get any personal effects, and identification tags. He came back with a few letters, a few tags, and a watch. Some of the effects on the men had been blown up so badly that they could not be identified. We then got busy and dug in, each making himself another grave shaped hole. With the exception of a few who were place on "gas guard", we slept. Fritz didn't bother us that night because he hadn't gotten our new location.
About ten o'clock that night our Mess Sergeant arrived on the scene and reported that he had something for us to eat. The problem was that the MPs back of the line, who were getting plenty to eat themselves, wouldn't allow him to pass with the food.
The Captain got busy and secured an order for the mess sergeant that allowed the food to come up. He brought up beans, coffee, and plenty of bread. We ate the beans, drank the coffee, and laid in a good supply of bread (besides what we ate) for future use. We then tried to go back to sleep. It had been and still was raining. I had two loaves of bread that I was carrying for a little group of us. I didn't want to get it wet so I wrapped it up in my blouse and used it for a pillow.
The next morning we were awakened in a hurry. A runner from brigade headquarters came in all out of breath to move to the left of where we were and go over the top. The railroad track was to be our jumping off place and we were to reach there before daylight or Fritz would clip us down as we were going over the track.
We were on our feet in a minute. It had sprinkled all night and all of us were very wet. I got into my blouse and fastened the bread to my light pack.
We got into battle formation and advanced double time. When we got to the railroad track we had to go down a very steep bank. Nobody walked down that incline. Some were lucky enough to stay right side up, but very few. At first I tried to keep my bread dry, but forgot about it in a hurry. This was the morning of July 21st, the day of one of our biggest battles- at Soissons.
The first resistance we encountered was a few machine guns and some infantry. We advanced and took all who were not dead as prisoners. We advanced a little further and struck a row of machine gun nests. Here we lost quite a few of our men, among them the Top Sergeant who was hit in the chest by a machine gun bullet. They were sure cutting the grain about us. We finally reached them and then they were all "Kammerads". We destroyed their guns and sent the prisoners to the rear. A young fellow from the South jumped a bunch of them and took 33 prisoners. He got these not even knowing that they were there, and even he was surprised. These German prisoners were making a lot of noise, evidently pleading with us for mercy. Perhaps they expected we were going to kill them, as they were in the habit of doing with their prisoners.
We advanced up a short, steep hill and the Company went up one by one. As the Captain stopped by the bottom, it was my duty to stay next to him since I was the runner. While I was standing there, a shell landed right beside me; so close that I could feel the heat of it. The next moment I was on the ground. The shell had come so close that it had torn the earth right out from under my feet and knocked me down from the torrent of earth that was burying me.
The next thing I remember was trying to get up. I could not hear anything. After I finally managed to get up and shake myself off, I walked over and asked a fellow from South Dakota named Rusty if I was bleeding anyplace. I felt numb all over and did not know whether I was actually injured or not. He looked me over and couldn't find anything. I noticed blood coming from one of his ears, but told him not to be frightened because I couldn't see any wound.
I went and sat down on an old log at the front of the hill and was aware that someone sat down beside me. I don't know who it was for sure, but have every reason to believe it was Rusty. He was our gas NCO and also belonged to the Captain's group. While I was sitting on the log a shell burst about thirty feet in front of me. As was very natural I ducked my head in that direction so that my steel helmet might guard off any pieces of shell coming my way. As I did so, something big landed on my neck. I didn't know what had struck me and yelled, "Take that off my neck!" No one responded. I was afraid to move for a second after what I had just gone through. Presently I turned my head sideways and saw that it was a man's leg lying across my neck and shoulders. I reached up and threw it off. It was the biggest part of the man who had been sitting beside me. I couldn't stop to examine the man, but think that it must have been Rusty.
I was in an awful state of misery. My hearing was coming back slowly, but there was an awful ringing in my ears. I started up the hill. When I got near the top, down rolled Corporal Gilberts yelling. His whole face had been torn off by a shell that had burst near the top of the hill.
We advanced a little further, having to go through a swamp and jump a creek. I wasn't in the best of jumping order that morning. I fell into the creek and sank into the water up to my hips. The Captain and a runner helped me out and I made some remark about this being my "off day". We had gone through one line of Hun infantry and another of machine guns. After advancing a ways we ran into another line of infantry. They were well-fortified and were prepared to hold their own. They were not very close and we could get only a glimpse of them once in awhile.
My hearing had now come back enough so that I could hear orders. We had been given orders to lie on the ground and fire. The Captain had been trying to locate the enemy by field glasses but they were so far off that they were hard to locate. I was carrying a 45 pistol. I fired a few times before the captain suggested saving my ammunition for closer up and surer. I took his advice and only fired when I thought there was a possible chance of hitting my target.
While lying there a shell dropped about a hundred feet from me and something hit me on my left hip. It hurt, of course, but for a moment I thought that a piece of stone had hit me. I took hold of the grass and pulled myself along. The blood was running quite freely now and I soon realized that I had been punctured by a piece of highly explosive shell. I did not know at the time how badly I was wounded.
I got up and staggered down the hill so as to be out of the enemy's sight. I removed the clothing around the wound. Trying to walk had been very painful and I was suffering much pain. The blood was running fast and I decided a blood vessel must have been pierced. Two fellows from F Company of my battalion came toward me. They looked at my wound and said they would have to help me to wrap it very tight to stop the flow of blood. Then I guess I fainted dead away.
They wasted a little water in getting me (back) so that I could help myself a bit. I got my first aid packet out and they opened it and bound me up better. It was customary for anyone who carried a pistol to leave it with someone at the front who might use it. Anyone carrying a riffle could easily carry a pistol as well. It might come in handy in close quarters, so I gave mine to one of the boys who had helped dress my wounds and then I started back.
I realized I could not expect help to get back. I started to walk, but at each step I yelled in pain. I got down and tried to crawl but that was worse than walking. I got up to walk again and it was very painful, but I did the best I could.
Soon two Sergeants from my Company overtook me. One had been hit in the forearm and the other in the shoulder by a rifle or machine gun bullet. They took hold of me and we all started on our way to a First Aid station. They held me up so I could get along on one foot.
As we walked slowly along we saw another fellow soldier. He was a North Dakota boy and was very nervous. He had only a small scratch on his hand, evidently from a thorn or barbed wire. Still, he could not get over the idea that he was wounded. We soon saw that he was either shell-shocked or had gone insane, and we concluded the latter.
We all kept going and soon saw the remains of a town in the distance. We started for it. I told the boys that if I got there I could find protection among the ruins while they went back and got someone to come for me.
Up to now we had been going through brush, swamps and woods. When we got out into the open and into a field of growing grain, bullets began to fly about us. We could see no one, but as the bullets became thicker and faster we commenced to feel alarmed. We could not understand why anyone would be shooting at us behind our lines, as we had been going to the rear all this while. We all yelled.
Whether our yelling or their shooting caused them to get up and look around I don't know. Suddenly there were a hundred or more Germans shooting at us from no more than two hundred feet away. My friends dropped me and ran for their lives. I could not run and the fellow who was either shell-shocked or insane did not attempt to.
Even though they were right near us, and we were unarmed, they kept shooting at us. The machine gun bullets were cutting ruts in the earth near our feet. The grain was falling in places as if it was being cut with a knife. At first a great number of Germans started for us on the run, but then some went back and only a few came. These few kept shooting. I suppose they wanted us to throw up our hands, but I had made up my mind not to do that, or to call them "Kammerad". In advancing, we had lost our liaison or connection; that is, we had separated and left a gap and in going to the rear we had wandered into that gap.
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