WWI Memoir of C.R. Black
World War I Memories
My Diary --
My life is but a weaving
between my Lord and me.
I cannot choose the colors
he weaveth steadily.
Oft times He weaveth sorrow,
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
and I the underside.
Not till the loom is silent
Ant the shuttle ceases to fly,
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the skillful weaver's hand,
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.
At Nielles France, July 19 1948 -- CR Black
When the United States entered the world's conflict in 1917, many young bloods were eager to participate in the excitement, or felt it their duty to follow the path of their illustrious forefathers by enlisting in Uncle Sam's new army for the duration of the war, then existing only on paper, but in plans in the greatest constructive minds in the country.
The executive ability later displayed in carrying out those plans and the results obtained give all Americans who had the opportunity to make a comparison with the same work by Europeans, more enthusiastic for Yankee progressiveness and ability than ever before.
After enlisting and being told all about the signal corps we hastened to bid home folks and friends a fond farewell, placed our business affairs in such shape that they would not suffer in the event of an immediate departure of us newly made soldiers, or rather new enlistees.
- 1 NOW THE STORY
- 2 At Forth Leavenworth
- 3 The Split-Up
- 4 On to Dix and Devins
- 5 Lake Michigan and the Mountains
- 6 Camp Dix, N.J.
- 7 On The Atlantic
- 8 In England
- 9 In Sunny France
- 10 On the March
- 11 First Glimpse of the Battlefield
- 12 Camping on the Battlefield
- 13 Shelled Out
- 14 At Chateau Thierry
- 15 Into the Battle
- 16 ONWARD AGAIN
- 17 Grand Pre - "Over the Top"
- 18 "Zero Hour and Over the Top"
- 19 The Battle
- 20 Mopping Up and Burying the Dead
- 21 Back to Rest and in Reserve Position
- 22 Mass Burial
- 23 "No Mans Land"
- 24 The Final Battle
- 25 Killed and Gassed
- 26 OUT OF ACTION and Going Back
- 27 The Field Hospital
- 28 Base Hospital No. 2
- 29 ARMISTICE and End of War
- 30 At the Close of a Perfect Day
- 31 Back to Normal
- 32 Margaret Wilson visits Hospital
- 33 Letters from Home
- 34 Missing in Action
- 35 A Trip Through Paris
- 36 Evacuating Fast
- 37 "You are going home!"
- 38 Leaving Paris Behind
- 39 Passing the Presidential Train
- 40 Brest, France
- 41 Good Bye, France
- 42 Over the Dark Blue Sea
- 43 Going Home
- 44 The Storm
- 45 AMERICA!
- 46 Our Great Welcome and Greetings
- 47 The Statue of Liberty
- 48 Debarking
- 49 To Camp Merritt, N.J.
- 50 At Camp Merritt
- 51 At Camp Dodge
- 52 Good Bye Army Life
- 53 In Conclusion
- 54 References
NOW THE STORY
On February the 13th at Lisbon North Dakota, together with twelve other Ransom County young men we enlisted and were sworn into the U.S. Army in the Signal Corps at the Ransom County Court House in the presence of County Auditor Chas. E. Best and witnessed by Dr. T.C. Patterson and another court house official. The unlucky number thirteen of us and the date thirteenth proved fairly lucky for us. When we answered roll call and signed on the dotted line we were: Halfton M Sagvold, Dan M Hookenson, Henry Hookenson and Edwin Ankerfelt of McLeod, North Dakota, Leo J. Billings and Curtis Armstrong of Lisbon, Francis McCann of Verona, Harvey Sole and Earl M Sannes of Enderlin, Clyde M Duty, Percy G. Carter, George Hoy, and myself of Sheldon, North Dakota.
After a brief talk given to us by Auditor Best and a handshake we took in the town so to speak until our train arrived which took us to Fargo. At our brief stop in Sheldon we stepped off to shake hands and bid goodbye to several friends.
Arriving in Fargo we were met by a Sgt. from the Fargo Recruiting office who took charge of us, took us to the office, issued us each our meal and sleeper tickets, and Earl Sannes was placed in charge of us. After eating supper and giving the town the last final going-over we went to the Great Northern Depot where we entrained and pulled out of Fargo shortly before Midnight for Minneapolis, arriving there the next day around noon.
Here we were joined by some sixty other enlistees from the northwest. Most of us took off down town to see the sights while others stayed close to the depot area. We were instructed to be back at the depot at 7 that evening. However, our train arrived some two hours late and when it did arrive we found out it was an 8-coach troop train and we were bound for Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. "What have we done now?" several said. "That's where the Penetentary [sic] is". Well our trip to this place consumed two days and one night; we arrived there on the 17th.
At Forth Leavenworth
Fort Leavenworth was strictly an old military town, rows of big brick barracks three stories high and perhaps 50 years old. These were well furnished, modern and up-to-date, steam heat, hard wood floors, etc. Oh, boy, we thought, "This is going to be the life." Here we were kept busy for several days, taking shots for this and that, also vaccinated and it seemed that every Dr. you went to was armed with an epidermic needle ready to give you a shot for something or other. We were served very good eats at one of the several big brick mess halls; what we had was good but very little of it. This humdrum passed by after several days and finally we were called out to line up and get our uniforms. This turned out to be some great feature. We formed a line and passed through a building, the quartermaster's office and as we walked by a long counter where several men in uniforms stood, each one threw or handed you a piece of your olive drab duds; one a shirt, then another a trouser, one a pair of shoes, another a jacket and so on until you had your outfit. Then we were marched out and into a large one room building, turned loose and told to dress up. Well, you should have seen the fits and misfits, it sure was a darb. If you ever did any trading and swapping you did it here. There were some three hundred of us and we finally emerged dressed up in our first U.S. duds - what a sight. We were given sort of a barracks bad to pack our civilian clothes in to send "back home" and there were several fellows armed with pencil and paper taking your names and ones of whom you wanted them sent to. They charged each of us a "buck" and not only us but several others found out weeks later that our personals never did reach home. Some graft.
After a few days, we got our first try at "K.P.". Well we washed, scrubbed, and polished pots and kettles 'til they shined like a nigger's heel.
A few more shots, and by now our arms were just about air conditioned and did the old vaccination ever take ahold. We were lucky to be able to lift our arm, let alone use it.
Very early one morning about 3 a.m. the old bugle blew and we were ordered to dress in full regalia and get out in formation. This we did and stood until nearly 7 a.m. going through the process of splitting up. There were over 400 of us in line, a big old Irish Capt. held in his hand all our names in alphabetical order. He'd call out a name in "A", he'd step one pace forward and then he'd blat out some name in "B", forward he'd go. Then to "C" and so on until he reached the "Z" zone. Then over again. After he'd gone through the process several times he decided to quit and the result was, those that stepped forward were in one bunch and the balance left was in another.
When we rallied and came to, we found that there were 220 in one crowd and 210 in the other. We were now separated. H.M. Sagvold, Henry Hookenson, Clyde Duty, Earl Sannes, Percy Carter, Armstrong, Hoy and Ankerfelt billed for Camp Devins, Mass. and the balance of us to go to Camp Dix, New Jersey.
We were dismissed, told to go eat breakfast, then report to our barracks for issue of blankets, a few toilet articles and when this was done we were marched a mile or so to the depot where a sixteen coach troop train awaited us. These were very fine sleeper coaches, four of which were baggage cars to carry our eats and other paraphenalia[sic] in.
Finally we all got aboard and somewhat settled, then "toot toot" and were off. Bye, bye Leavenworth.
On to Dix and Devins
It was to be exact 11:40 a.m. on Feb. 24th when we headed eastward out of the Ft. We traveled through some of the prettiest country we've ever seen and did we hit the breeze. We had the right of way, all other trains side-tracked for us. We only stopped now and then for coal or water. Our first real stop was at Mendota, Iowa, a most beautiful town and country. Several hundred natives were on the depot platoform; we suppose many of them were perhaps looking for someone they knew or some relative in this bunch.
We were ordered off the train, formed a line four deep and headed up through town on a two mile hike, a sort of a limber-up process which did do us good, fresh air and to take some of the cramped situation out of our anatomy. This process took about an hour and a half, then back to our coaches and seats and were on our way again. We went through this procedure two other times enroute, and our big-time stop was when we hit Chicago, arriving there at about dusk on the 26th. We were told to get off, go anywhere we wanted to but to be back at 11:30 that night, "And", said our Captain, "That don't mean 11:25 nor 11:35. That means 11:30."
Did we go places? Well, I guess so. Most of us went to a show, some to dances, some for a big feed. Well, we made good use of our 5-1/2 hours. At the appointed hour we were all back and "honky dory" in the big waiting room of the Union Depot, then we were told we had again split up here. Those assigned to Devins were to leave later and now we were soon to pull out, headed for our N.J. Dix. We got busy, hunted up in the crowd our folks that left from Lisbon, a good old handshake, a fond goodbye and then to board the train, get settled and onward again. That was Chicago.
Lake Michigan and the Mountains
Early next morning we found ourselves speeding along the east coast of this big lake, largest of the great lakes. We left the beautiful scenery behind in the early forenoon and headed due east. One or two other stops for our usual exercises and then no stopping for water. This was taken on the go, while coaling required a stop. We were double and tripple [sic] railroad tracks now and on the New York Central Railway. Early in the afternoon those chain of Appalachian Mountains loomed up and towards four o'clock that afternoon we entered the tunnel and emerged on the eastern side of these great monarchs. Here the scenery was just simply grand, woods, forests, etc. and towns were all large but old fashioned and everything seemed away behind the times to what the west was. We were speeding through Pennsylvania now and soon we are to be in New Jersey.
Camp Dix, N.J.
On the early forenoon of March 28th we arrived at Wrightstown, N.J. Here we stepped off our train and loaded into several big army trucks and off we went, those three miles to Camp Dix. What a sight greeted our eyes, mud and plenty of it, very poor roads, plank board walks. The barracks were newly erected and it seemed as though whoever built them had simply stuck up a bunch of 2x4 studdings, held up a board, let the wind take it out of their hands and whereever it hit they nailed it in said place. One of these was our home from then on until late in may when we left for "overseas". Well, it sure looked dreary but we soon got used to it. This condition of affairs was not allowed to exist very long for by the time we had learned to do squads right about without forgetting which was the column was moving, Camp Dix commenced to show a wonderful array of barracks with streets and sewers laid out in most efficient manner. This was all due to the efforts of all us new soldiers who toiled early and late in the great transformation. At last these barracks and all were wonderful and a tentable place for the embryo army that was then pouring in, wearing the ribbon of local draft board number whatsis.
We, upon arrival here, were assigned to Co. "C" 303 Field Signal Battalion and of the 78th Lightning Division. After the third week or so in Dix there was one thing looked forward to more than anything else. Week-end passes were issued so that from Saturday noon to Monday morning those living near Dix could spend the weekend at home. Nearly everyone went until the arrival of Major James Kelley who proceeded to cut the passes down so that one got a pass not oftener than once a month. At the end of April most of us were all well fed up on drill and training and full of desire to go anywhere just to get away from the hum-drum of camp. Some of the boys triled out the precarious A.W.O.L. stunt, with the result that pay-day held small meaning for them for several months, and in connection recieved plenty of K.P. and guard duty.
In early May the camp was quarantined on account of an epidemic of measles. The Y.M.C.A.'s and Red Cross were closed, no one was permitted to leave camp era [sic?] and even the old pasttime of going to Wrightstown to be burglarized was tabooed. The last day of quarantine was duly celebrated by a grand exodus from camp then set in; Wrightstown being the mecca for most of us and that little town of less than half a dozen blocks in size was greatly over-crowded with twenty to twenty-five thousand men trying to get into the stores and other various places of amusement at the same time. The shop and store keepers hailed this liberation with glee. Had not all these men more or less money to spend, and was not Wrightstown the only place to spend it? "oy! oy! Raise der prices kvick, Ikey." They were some prices: twenty-five cents for a whisk broom or a soap box that cost a nickel or dime at home, and six to ten cents for a cake of five cent soap made you desire muchly to get some of those highway robbers by the neck, lead them to a mustering officer and thence to a rookie squad, where they would be taught the gentle art of shoveling mud for Uncle Sam at one dollar per day less insurance, liberty bond and allotment money. After a month of this they should be marched to Wrightstown with a month's pay in their pockets to discover how little those burglars would give them for their month's pay.
However there was one place in town that was a contrast to all the rest. It was called the Hoversack. This was a soldier's club conducted by a Miss Durgin from East Orange N.J. and there were also five other ladies to assist her. These folks never seemed to tire of serving ice cream, coffee, pie and cake to a never-ending stream of us men from Dix and their prices were very reasonable. There were also plenty of reading material and plenty of reading rooms, tables, etc. and all kinds of musical instruments. This Hoversack did much to make life at Dix more endurable.
Came May 15th, we were issued full "overseas" equipment, confined to barracks and battalion era, given warning not to talk about any movement on our part in our letters home and elsewhere. Our outfit had been ordered to move once before but as usual the next day the order was changed. We were getting tired of these rumors and signs, not even if the leaves turn the white side, the sky turns black and the chickens hunt cover, we refuse to believe in signs.
Very early on the morning of May 26th, 1918, we were awakened by the bugar, ordered to pick up for immediate movement; we had a quick snack of bacon, pancakes and coffee, rushed into formation, given a short lecture on what was to happen. We then marched to Wrightstown, boarded a train, took a farewell look at Dix and the town and on our way to Jersey City, N.J. A ferry carried us to Brooklyn and unloaded us at the pier. We embarked from there. An hour or so later we were on the lower deck of the H.M.S. Toloa, a former fruiter and cattle boat owned by some fruit company, but then masquerading as a King's transport. At 6 o'clock the next morning the Toloa slipped past the Statue of Liberty in a heavy fog and waited outside the harbor for the rest of the convoy and upon its arrival, started her zig-zag course across the Atlantic.
All on deck that could get there, we stood silently at the ship's railing, some with tears in their eyes, some smiling slightly, others laughing somewhat, but for the most part they were silent. Thus we looked and gazed at the receeding view of New York City, New York and that great and beautiful edifice, the Statue of Liberty.
On The Atlantic
After a day or so out, new ships were noticed in our fleet. They were ships sailing from Halifax, when finally we noticed that our convoy was complete, there were fourteen troopshops, one big battle ship ahead and back of us, and six sub-chasers, three on each side of us, this formation was maintained all the way across the ocean and each ship was about a half mile distant apart each way.
Our Toloa was manned by a British crew and had made several trips from the U.S. to England with American soldiers, and the same crew in cooks galley having been with the ship continuously, naturally these old salts knew the ways of our boys and were very much alive to the fact that the food furnished on shipboard was far inferior to the worst we had ever received in training camps. While at times, nothing but an old salt with a shark's stomach could make a meal of the tripe and ancient fish that was served. We don't know how many tons of this tripe, dried hare or rabbit, hardtackand corned beef we consumed on the trip, but guess it was plenty.
About three days out that freadded seasickness hit us, and was that ever something. We personally excaped [sic] this malady going over and back so were lucky. Some of the boys just felt like jumping overboard and ending it all. We pitied them but that did not good. A little story and incident on seasickness unfurled itself. One of the gang was at the railing, feeding the fish and plenty sick. A well feeling buddy came along and said, "buddy, you must have a weak stomach" , to which the unfortunate replied, "What do you mean weak? I am throwing it just as far as the next one, ain't I?"
On the Toloa was the 309th Machine Gun Battalion and the 303rd Field Signal Battalion, with one thousand five hundred men respectively. These fifteen hundred men maintained a guard of sixteen posts. One the last night of the trip the 303rd was on guard, when at about 1 a.m. some of the Tommies seemed to display a rather deep and a trained silence and quietness. Out of curiosity the Stg. on the guard asked as to the cause, whereupon he learned that we were passing through the "Rathlyns", and that this was one of "Von Tirpitz" favorite hunting grounds.
At shortly after daylight we could see the coast of Scotland.
Our ship ran into Liverpool that evening, and we docked at about 5 or 5:30p.m. and remained on board and spent our last night on the ship. This was June 7th. Bright and early on the next morning we went down the "gang plank" and stepped on England soil.
A few blocks march and we reached the railway station where we boarded those hearse-looking things that were used by Euopeans and called coaches. After squirming, grunting, and getting settled into these compartment affairs, we were off for Dover; this ride took fourteen hours. After that ride our few train rides were all in "Cheveaux Eights" that made even the cramped comfort of a third class European coach seem like a pullman.
The country through which we rode travelled through was very pretty, and at Dover it was no less so, but we discovered in the twenty minute walk that followed out arrival that although the land was pretty, it was composed of chalk and was most uncomfortable when it settled in dust form on us. We hiked to one of the cliffs where we moved into an old hotel building. All of the windows were shaded in order to keep any light from guiding one or any of Germany's bombs. This little sign told us that we were at least within the sphere of "Heinies'" activities. During our stay in Dover of three days, we saw the Dover Castle and Dover with its crooked streets and got ourselves covered in chalk dust. Those large high cliffs on the Dover seacoast were all chalk and white as snow; on the roads and in the streets this dist laid from one inch to two inches thick. IT was just like flour and what kind of a condition would exist if a heavy rain fell we don't know. Perhaps this is the sight the writer saw when he wrote that song, "The White Cliffs of Dover". We crossed the English Channel on a large ferry boat some twenty-two or more miles to Calais, France.
In Sunny France
our crossing this body of water which took a little over an hour we set foot on French soil at Calais, we were accompanied across the channel by sub chasers and planes. There was much singing and bright prospects of airing ourselves in the big British rest camp there, that we heard so much about at this place.
Oh, what a disallusionment [sic] awaited us at Calais! Rest camp No. 6 was reached after a two-mile hike through about four or five inches of some more chalk dust, well seasoned with fine sand. The journey also ended in about the finest sand pile as any seacoast could furnish. Those Owego sand hills would have been out. The tents were of circular type, designed to shelter about eight men. Each tent was pitched over a hole in the ground (sand , that is) with sandbag walls and board floors. This was for protection from shrapnel during air raids. Into each of these tents sixteen men were crowded. Sleeping was possible only during the short interval that one's feet remained on top of a pile of feet in the center. All feet were placed in the center, which naturally made a pile of feet. The feet on the bottom of the pile, having thirty feet on top of them, would get tired and be withdrawn by the owner and placed on top. This process would be kept up all night, and so you did get some sleep. No tears were shed when we left Calais.
Calais from a military standpoint was a very important point; therefore, frequent raids were made by bombers. One of the nights we spent there was marked by these raids, and our first taste of war, some two dozen bombs being dropped in the area., and believe you me we hit the ground in a hurry. However, no one killed or injured. Separated from our tents by a barbed wire fence were the barracks of several hundred Chinese laborers. The air raid got those folks very much excited, and long after it was all over they kept up a jabbering discussion. We could not tell what they said, but they seemed to cover the subject quite thoroughly. Here at Calais we had gas drills and instructions galore and under English instructors. One of the things they told us before the gas was put over that they had casualties during instructions every day. Well we got our gas masks on in nothing flat and when the signal was given to don masks and a yellow fog moved across the ground in our direction.
All accommodations pertaining to a training camp were very poor at Calais. Imagine our come down from spring cots with mattresses in nice barracks, to a blanket on a hard board floor in a tent, one-half large enough with plenty of sand to fill the hair, ears, nose, and mouth of the sleeper. From the meals furnished in a land of plenty in a model mess hall to the notoriously poor cooking and dark and dreary mess hall at Calais; from the rugged shower baths at Dix, to a plunge in three feet of salt water as cold as ice. The only reason we could see for calling it a "rest camp" was that a man certainly needed a rest after he had been there a few days.
While we were here, the barracks bags that we had come to believe were so necessary and which had been placed in the ship's "hold" at Hobokan [sic] and stuffed with clothes and in some cases a lot of our personal stuff we could not carry were supposed to arrive any day, and if not here we were told we'd get them when the war was over. Well, we've been out of the army thirty-two years and have seen nothing of them yet. Nearly all of the equipment we carried over was turned in to the W.M.C. here to be re-issued to us or some other outfit. Following is an approximate list of equipment carried over by each man:
3 suits winter underwear
4 pair shoe laces
5 tent pins
1 mess kit
1 steel helmet
100 rounds ammunition
3 suits summer underwear
3 pair shoes
1 shelter half
1 winter cap
1 condiment can
1 hoversack and pack carrier
|3 O.D. shirts|
6 paid socks
3 pair gloves
1 tent pole
1 campaign hat
1 bacon can
1 30-30 rifle
Then your own personal stuff such as a sweater, handkerchiefs, toilet articles and several points of rations (hard tack, corned beef and a couple cans beans). Some pack, 80 to 90 pounds, try a load like this on your back on a good hot day and hike fifteen or twenty miles, tired? No, just down and out.
On the March
After our ten day stay at Calais we marched to the rail station four miles away an introduced to the famious "Cheveaux Eights". On the side of a French box car is this inscription, "Hommes, 40; Cheveaux, 8" meaning that forty men or eight horses are to be loaded in the car. These cars were real small, with so meany men in each car it was a difficult matter for all to sit down at the same time. This was a three day ride, and we landed on a siding and as usual in French railroading we stayed a while. It was here that the Red Cross gave us some good hot coffee which reminded us that there was still some job in life. In come little time later our train pulled out and another four or five mile ride took us to Lumbres, in the privince [sic] of Pas-de-Calais. From here we took a four mile hike to a little town by the name of Lart where we pitched our tents in a nice green field. This was about 4p.m. and at about 4:05p.m. we discovered about three hundred yards from camp a beautiful stream of (ice cold) water. An old mill pond and a spring board. A cake of soap and a towel soon put the pep back into our road-weary bunch. Here training was started again as soon as we got settled in our new home. Buzzers, Lucas lamps, flags, semaphores, telephones, and field maneuvers. We thought the war would be over before we were pronounced well enough trained for the lines. Under our British instructors, all their plans were for a sort of stationary warfare in trenches and dugouts. Accordingly they explained how to make ourselves at home and what preparations to make for an extended stay in these trenches when we got there. Another point they covered well was how to make a good retreat; getting all the equipment or destroying it - not a word of advance. All this advice was a great help to us - we don't... (portion missing)...the whole of our work was during advance or raids, of which the Tommies had told us nothing. We never knew retreat.
Late in June we moved about four miles to a town named Nielles, a larger village. Eggs, milk, potatoes and lettuce were plentiful, and when added to a few pork chops made to us was seemed like a regular banquet. Beef steak was never very popular with us after the discovery that in French butcher shops the beefsteak was mostly out of the carcass of a "Cheveaux". In northern France the buildings are usually placed in the same positions; for instance, the house is built on one side of a square with barns, pigpen, grainary [sic], etc, on the other three sides, all facing the center. The center or courtyard is used for garbage dump, front yard, chicken and pig feeding place and front porch. You can tell the number of persons dwelling in the house by counting the number of pair of wodden [sic] shoes which they always removed and set near the door way before entering the house. We made our homes in some of these buildings at Neilles, which was o.k. as soon as we became used to the chicken lice and sleeping alongside the pigs. Nielles was our home for several weeks, during which time we learned that the French were usually ready to help Americans part with their Francs (if you had any). For instance, wine that the French soldiers bought cost them one franc (20¢) while the price was four and five for us. With the exception of the Australians, we were the most highly paid soldiers in France, so you can scarcely blame the shopkeepers (who are mostly of ignorant class) if they saw us coming. Our last gas test was taken while here. We were getting fed up on training and it did not bother us a bit when on a few days after the 4th of July had been duly celebrated at Nielles, we hiked to a little town by the name of Affringues, where we started our second journey in Cheveaux Eights. We wound up early the next day about seven miles from a large town named St. Pol. Unleading we started on an eight mile hike that was the hardest one we yet had. Due to an overdose of "scotch" consumed by our French guide, we took a route two miles further than necessary, and with "scotch" setting the pace for us loaded with our heavy packs we stumbled into Herlin-Le-Sec about midnight with the majority of the men strung out along the road for a mile or so in the rear. The only water was about four or five hundred yards from our camp site. Naturally a drink of water was the principal thought of every man there. The water was in a deep well with only one bucket to draw it up in, causing the process to be very slow. It was over two hours before the line at the well was finished.
The next day we discovered that we were within a kilometer (five-eights of a mile) of Herlin-Le-Sec, which contained a store, butcher shop, several other small business places and a beer and wine tavern.
Along the roads around the village were about a hundred Lorries (trucks) that belonged to the British and used in transporting troops to the Arras front, which was a few hours ride from here.
About three kilo's north lay St. Pol, and although not a very important city, it was a railroad center and drew quite a few air raids from the enemy.
After they had learned where our camp was they dropped several nearby one night, but doing no damage outside of a direct hit on the railroad. This was our first gentle reminder of what was ahead of us.
It was the day following Jerry's first visit that our nice little four acres of tents that had been pitched so correctly on a piece of sod was moved to the nearby shelter of trees.
Again followed the old monotony of continuous same old stuff as before, and with August well on it's way we had visions of a winter in the trenches.
With these thoughts in mind we woke up one morning to find the third and fourt platoons ordered to join the 311th and 312th Infantry Regiments.
This looked like business, and even looked more so a few days later when the balance of the 303rd was loaded on a train and hauled to Bourboone-les-Bains in the Haute Marne Province, where the 78th Div. had been ordered.
First Glimpse of the Battlefield
On the way to the above named town we saw our first view of the battlefield. The train stopped several times while crossing the newly captured territory, giving us an opportunity to investigate the German equipment that was lying around everywhere. What a sight, but this was nothing compared to what we saw later.
The end of the train ride was LaFerete. Here was the end of rail travel, bridges were blown up, very little remains of what was once a highway, rails and roadbed blown up, shell holes galore, barbed wire entanglements, blown up tanks, destroyed planes, could this be real? Well, we guess so.
Camping on the Battlefield
We hiked some fifteen miles over and through these newly torn land, through several little villages, not a building left standing. We halted at dark that night, ordered to make camp, be quiet and strike no matches, not even light a cigaret [sic]. Well, we just couldn't bring ourselves to believe it. Everyone took to the task of making some sort of a bed - in a shell hole, trench or dugout, and eating from our rations we carried, which was plenty of English hardtack and corned beef. Most of us had only a point of water left in our canteens and we were ordered to only wet our tongues and a small swallow.
We were finally somewhat settled and trying to settle down for some rest and sleep, when one of the fellows used a flashlight for some quick purpose. Right then and now on the order of our Captain we were ordered to get up, grab what we could and move; during our quick procedure the whole sky above us lit up. What was that! Well, it was a star shell and the whole era [sic] seemed to be daylight. Our commander ordered us to move at once. We ran, fell and stumbled about - two hundred yards to the left of our location. Hardly we moved when things broke loose, the enemy had spotted us and then our first taste of the real thing arrived. The place we had just vacated was literally bombed and riddled with machine gun fire. The bombardment lasted around fifteen minutes and we lasted longer. If we hadn't of moved when we had of the whole company of us would of been wiped out. We slept and rested the best we could, dark as pitch and to make things worse a light drizzle of rain set in. However, it was only an hour or so duration, but enough to get plenty soaked. The enemy didn't forget however and at intervals of half-hour's time generously spred [sic] a small field three-inch gun and machine gun fire over and into the place we had vacated.
At last came the dawn and then daylight. What a sight met our eyes. These trees were no more trees, jsut snags remained, limbs and leaves stripped from them, their trunks were air conditioned by machine gun fire.
After a sort of breakfast of hardtack, beans and corned beef (all cold) and very little water to drink we strung out single file through the woods and headed for the battle front.
At Chateau Thierry
We had marched all day until we entered a large hill, heavily wooded and all torn to shreds. Just over the hill was the once pretty town of the famed "Chateau Thierry". It was here that the Germans were turned back and that was the nearest town the enemy held for a time some 40 miles from Paris. Very little was left of town - big artillery shells were screaming over our heads, those of ours and the Germans. Away up ahead there was a steady roar of the front line activities, and at last we knew something of what lay in store for us. Overhead was enemy scouting planes, and ours as well. Here we saw our first plane fight, a battle in the air. We watched awe-stricken. Finally the battle ended and the German plane came down in flames.
Into the Battle
Under cover of darkness on the evening of August 14th we halted about half a mile from Harbaro what was once a small village but now in shambles. Here we got our first sight of the war dead, seeing several French and English soldiers lying where they had fallen. What went through our minds! Well, you could only guess. Marching in single file, we marched till nearly dawn and we began to realize the front was only a matter of a few miles away. At near sun-up all the earth about us seemed to explode, bombs were bursting, star shells falling, planes galore overhead were dropping their lethal doses of death. We were into battle now. We didn't seem to know what to do. Was it a dream? No, it was real and it was life or death. Well, we realized right now, Sherman was right - "War is hell". This battle we were in now was the drive to wipe out the enemy and the St. Mihiel Salient. Just how we managed to go through this battle is still not clear to us. We were in sort of a daze, yet knew what we were doing. It seemed as though one acted like a machine, not a human being. Finally, the battle died down, sort of a lull, then as if by signal both ours and the enemy's big "Berthas" would bark their challenge. Well, it's just no use of anyone trying to explain to you the conditions that exist in these drives and battles.
Evidently our attack hard borne fruit and the enemy had gave ground. We had extended our line about three miles and from reports radioed and phoned in from scouting planes the enemy was retreating and was headed for a river and large range of hills to make a stand and counter attack. Here at this location we remained three or four days. Just holding the front lines. We began to learn what it is to be a soldier. Eating only when we are lucky, marching day and night, always in the rain, sleeping (when we sleep) on muddy ground, in shell holes and water soaked trenches.
On September 26th after one bombardment put over by the enemy, and in the early dusk the Captain in charged called us all together and informed us that our great time had arrived. We were going into it for real. Then our Chaplain took over. It was a heart-breaking talk, yet it gave us some courage. "We are going into battle soon. Some of us are going to survive. Some will fall, never to arise again. May God bless you, my buddies". Then the prayer. Nothing but silence. On each other's faces what that set face, a grim look, our thoughts were of home and America. Needless to say, there was not a dry eye among us.
Grand Pre - "Over the Top"
A few days later after keeping hid and out of sight and marching by night and the enemy giving ground and backing up we were halted in the edge of a heavily wooded era and this particular piece of woods had seemed to missed being destroyed. It was in fact the best trees we had seen for many days. These woods bordered a small river. What were we waiting for? Why were we getting so anxious? Here was our home for a few days. We were all tired, weary, hungry, and very little water. No one had shaved and didn't seem to care. Our uniforms were muddy and torn, we hadn't undressed or taken our shoes off in the past two weeks.
Then it came - about midnight one night we were ordered to make up a combat pack; this meant discarding all our blankets, extra clothing, etc. We were told that we were going "over the top" in the early morning. Here we had been quartered in fair "dugouts" trenches, and fairly good ramshackle buildings, built and left by the Germans. Their equipment, guns and some eats were left behind in their hasty retreat. We'd found some white and dark (rye) bread, the first bread we'd eaten since leaving St. Pol France.
"Zero Hour and Over the Top"
There was very little resting or sleeping that night; everyone was restless, uneasy and quiet in the dugouts, trenches and our small tents we sat, each staring at each other, that silent and grim and set look, very little was said. Some were reading their small bibles, some reading old letters that they had read and reread scores of times before. Up towards the front a mile away not a sound, just an occasional rat-tat-tat of a machine gun, a few bombs screaming over our heads. Just a reminder that the enemy was on watch. It seemed to be that quiet lull just before a storm. What was ahead of us up there? Just a few more hours and we'd know, and some wouldn't. Yes, it was - "All Quiet on the Western Front".
Our time for going "over the top" was all set at 4:05a.m. As the minutes ticked slowly by we waited, those ticks sounding like a trip hammer, they were so loud, a whisper here and there, that was all.
Then the time came, everyone sprang into action, gas masks on and the signal is give, barely audible and we are into action.
The whole earth seemed to open up, big and little guns roared, the shells screamed and the artillery flashed all around us, star shells were falling, gas shells exploding, men were shouting, the drive which was to wipe out the Argonne Forest Salient began and we were in the war at last.
There's no use to try tell you of the things that happened, it just couldn't be done. The best writer or orator could never make it clear to you, dear reader.
Ten minutes later we saw the dead - the enemy was waiting and then hell broke loose - what a sight! Will we ever forget it? The answer is NO. Wounded and dieing [sic] laid everywhere - on we go, 10 rods, 20, 30, 40, and so on, twenty minutes gone by - dawn giving way to daylight. The town of Grandpre just ahead three quarters of a mile away, the town is our objective. When this is reached we stop as suddenly as we started, word is passed along from one to another, "Get under cover, in a building, a cellar or basement, half the town is afire." Are we in a dream? No, it's real. We began to help our wounded buddies, of which there are many, and the ground is heavily dotted with the dead. You step up to one, look quickly and closely, you see a quiver of the body - then all is still; he's beyond helping.
Here comes the prisoners, hundreds of them. They, too, are wounded, some a slight smile on their faces - but for the most part, like us, that scared far away look. All is silence. It was here that out of one big German dugout 67 prisoners were taken out of. Later when some of the infantry boys explored the dugout, the packs and material were all packed up, they had been ready to vacate but our attack had surprised them and too late to retreat.
Death and destruction had tramped through ruthlessly, leaving in their wake the muddy clay trenches, strewn with tangled barbed wire, mangled bodies of our buddies and those of the enemy, unused ammunition, guns, shattered dugouts and desolation, with shell holes everywhere.
Mopping Up and Burying the Dead
It's late morning now. We have eats now; we raid the German soldiers' pack, bread, salmon, beans, hardtack and several other items. But hold on, we've got to be careful of it, perhaps it's poisoned. Anything that has been opened we are given orders not to eat, and to destroy it. We never did hear of any such case of eating poisoned food, but water - that was banned entirely.
The Medics are in motion now. They are helping the wounded - applying and giving first aid, searching the pockets of the dead, looking for his personal belongings and identifications. The disk aluminum tag we wore around the neck was the first and important thing. Just a shallow trench, a couple of feet deep, sometimes not that. Just a good covering of soil onto the body where he had fell - that was his resting place.
We remained in our positions here for several days; in fact, two or three weeks, staying inside in the daytime, going out only under cover of darkness to get some eats, water and fuel. If you showed your body in daylight, you would be machine-gunned or some "sniper" would pick you off double-quick.
Back to Rest and in Reserve Position
We were moved back to the rear from where we had been before going into battle - Rest! Well, where was it? We were busy stringing telephone lines day and night, policing up, trying to put things in order, what a job. You just didn't seem to get anywhere. Big shells from heavy artillery dropping here and there. Several wounded and four killed on this, our particular area.
It was here that we did the biggest and saddest burial we ever did, and we never want to see it again.
We dug a trench some seventy or eighty feet long and three feet deep; into this we laid side by side fifty seven blanket-wrapped bodies of our buddies. What a gruesome sight! That, too, was no doubt their final resting place. We've often wondered if they've been reburied. We doubt it.
"No Mans Land"
Whoever coined and put together those three words knew what he was talking about. Picture yourself standing alone on a spot of this ground that has been fought on and over, look closely at the ground all around you, then further away. Not an insect, bug, no flying insect. No birds, not a sound. You are alone, sort of in a trance and you are in space, so it seems. If you have the right kind of imagination, then multiply that by ten or fifteen fold and then you'll see "No Mans Land".
The Final Battle
On October the 16th we were advised that it would be our time to go into action again. That day also more of our buddies came in from the rear area. These were of the 78th and of our division. They were to replace and strengthen our force. This was to be their first action and into the battle.
We were soon to take over the positions of the 77th and part of ours who were still holding the front lines and positions. They were coming out to rest in our place, or to be more clear, we were just changing places.
Then the final word was passed around, to be ready in an hours notice. We also had been warned that the enemy was getting ready for an attack. Well the idea in mind was to beat them to the punch.
Came the late afternoon on Oct 18th. We were ordered and advised to get ready, make up a combat pack, see to it that nothing was forgotten, troops began moving ahead, and again under cover of a dark, clear night we advanced forward and into position again. Here we were, day and night, until the morning of October 24th.
Our zero hour was 4:12a.m. Well, there's no use to tell you the rest. The town of Grandpre fell before our savage onslaught and dear reader, we suffered for it, too. The battle was over a little after 7a.m. We had stormed the big hill and Fort about one-half mile out of town; the "hun" was on the run. Again they had been caught unawares, but their counter attach was stubborn and fierce. The battle field was ten times worse than the previous one.
Killed and Gassed
It was here that Leo. J. Billings of Lisbon, N.D. was killed, one of the buddies that had left Lisbon and enlisted with us. Although we didn't learn of it until long after we were in hospital at Paris.
It was here also that the writer, along with seven other signal men were badly gassed. We suffered the ravages of mustard gas. Our eyes were partly closed, nose and throat burning up with the deadly stuff, turning violently sick and vomiting. What a taste; however we were more fortunate than many of the others, they being severely burned by having the liquid-like stuff splashed on their clothes and bodies.
We at last were just about passing out, we didn't seem to care what happened. We were in a small dugout and overhead big shells were still going over, but they were ours and we guess they were doing all right. There were very little answering artillery fire from the enemy.
What aid we knew of, we applied to our malady, which seemed to relieve us some. Above all we were thirsty. Well, where could you get water?
Our Lieutenant gave us orders to start marching back and to keep under cover as much as possible, so together with hundreds of other wounded and gassed men we do just that. This was near noon. How many miles we walked, we don't rightly know. Again we were in that daze, moving along mechanically-like, but it seemed to be a different daze.
Before we tell you more about us, we shall mention just one more thing. In our times and experience in the front lines there stands out clearly and who could ever forget it? It is this: We came upon a fallen and seriously wounded "buddy". What a sight! We stop to help him, give him words of encouragement. He is badly wounded we see. We converse with him, he tells us briefly of his home, parents, wife, or sweetheart, will we write them telling them as we have seen him. With a heavy heart and a lump in our throat, we listen, give him our promise. He asks for a drink of water, then a cigarette. He lights this calmly, a few puffs, then death. Well, you do through things like this, then you'll know. We hope you never have to.
OUT OF ACTION and Going Back
For several days we were in a sort of first aid station, but there was very little they could do for gas casualties. We just suffered it out, too sick to eat or sleep. A day or so later, on Oct. 30th, a big British truck managed to get through to us, and those of us who could, got in while others were helped on. That evening, shrtly before dark, we arrived at a big tent field hospital. We were some thirty or forty miles from the front now.
Here we enjoyed some hot coffee (the first we'd had in two weeks.) Our eyes were...(missing portion)
The Field Hospital
There were two large tents and from what we learned, they were about eighty feet long and thirty or forty feet wide. They were heated with large drum-like stoves, tarpaulin covered for floor covering, and each contained about two hundred cots.
These were Red Cross hospitals and English and French nurses and English and American orderlies and doctors. We were quartered here for three days, and then boarded Red Cross trucks and were headed for the Base Hospital.
Base Hospital No. 2
We traveled all that day and at about midnight we arrived at the big hospital on the edge of Paris, France.
This was a large building, built of brick mostly and contained around three hundred rooms and was three stories high. Before the war it had been a summer resort, but was turned over for the use as a hospital. In each room there were four cots and in the room we occupied the window over-looked Paris and the Great Eiffel Tower showed plainly. It was about three miles away. Here we were assigned to rooms and each room was occupied by four of us. The rooms were real large so we had ample room. All our clothes were taken away and we were supplied and wore regular hospital attire for several days. Then when able again were issued and wore new uniforms, etc. We had a small bag stuffed with many war souvenirs when we came in and of which we hung onto for dear life all the way from the battle front. These we were told must be taken from us, a notation taken of them and they'd be returned to us as soon as we were able to be about or when ready to leave there. Well, these too were like our barracks bags. We've been out of the Army these 30 years and no sign of them yet. A great many of the medics and hospital orderlies have plenty of souveniers [sic] while we have nil. It seemed as though they changed orderlies and other hospital employees every few days, so we had no way of tracing our loss. We were allowed to keep our personal articles, such as shaving outfit, toothbrush, etc. This too brings up one item they didn't get their hands on, and that was the "diary" or log, one that I had started and kept since leaving Fort Leavenworth. I juggled and hid that while we were being admitted to our ward and kept it hid from them on until after the Armistice was signed. We often thought we might get in trouble if found on our person, but we don't see what bearing information it would give the enemy. A good number of others have these and like us, treasured it. Ours is priceless; we think the world of it, and its first among our remaining souveniers [sic].
With this help to bring back memories and dates, which in our mind are getting dim we go to it and thus our and this story should be rightly formulated.
We were getting the best of care here. The eats were of the finest and best, the only thing was that we were unable to swallow or even have an appetite for some two weeks. However, we made up for lost time when we did get on our feet and able to eat.
We were under the care of army doctors and interns and will we ever forget those English nurses? Well, they were just grand. But not any better than our own American ones. The hear nurse was a Major, her name was Ella Ambrose from Trenton N.J. She saw to it that we got the best of care; she visited each room every day, and if things weren't right it would soon be. She was just tops with all of us and so were the doctors. An epidemic of flu swooped down on us and some 120 died while we were there. The war news was sounding good. We were able to get newspapers (English), so read or had read the news. It sounded good.
ARMISTICE and End of War
Then it came - at 11 o'clock on that big date, November 11th, things started to happen. It struck at once, all together, just like the noise starting up at the front, zero hour!
Phones in our hospital buzzed, bugles blared, our hospital bell and whistle boomed, a regular commotion set in. Buddies were yelling, slapping each other on the back. Even those in the isolated ward and those in splints and casts came to life; what a din and feeling. Hospital doors were thrown open and we all tore outside. Nurses doctors and all; we were mixing with French natives; they too thumping each other on the back. Well, everybody was happy, some with joy, then again sadness. People cried with tears of joy - and sorrow. While all this was going on, let's look at Paris - yes it was Gay Paree now. Bells ringing, whistles tied down, some hundred planes flew low of the now gay city of Paris, dropping pamphlets and leaflets...(illegible")...these in large letters was "Finish la Guerre"; in plain American, "The war is finished". Streets and sidewalks were literally covered with these missiles.
The whole city seemed like an ant hill, people dropped their work, factory and shop doors left wide open, clerks and employees left their posts. Here again people pounded each other almost to death; here for the first time in our army career you could go into any businessplace and help yourself, but we didn't. It was given you free.
And while we all sang and danced and shouted in "Gay Paree", we stepped into a little steep-roofed tavern and by chance happened to see a group of old bent figures gathered around a wooden table over a bottle of wine. They were veterans of 1870 celebrating the Victory of 1918.
When they saw us Americans enter, some covered with mod, others fresh from the war and us in our hospital clothes, it seemed to them to fit the occasion miraculously. They invited us over to join them, patted us on the back, gave us some wine and we drank the day together. At around 4 p.m. we got aboard the Red Cross trucks and vans that we had come downtown in. It was about a four mile drive.
At the Close of a Perfect Day
That day in France shall never be forgotten. It was a most perfect day, very still, bright and sunshiny, and if we remember rightly, about 46 or 48 above. All hospital rules were abandoned that night. "Taps" meant nothing and was never sounded that nigh. The news just didn't seem to be true, but it was. We all felt better in spirits, body and soul. That night a big dance was held and put on in the basement floor of the hospital. Officers, nurses, enlisted men and French young men and women danced, dined and sang. Many of those who were unable to leave the hospital that day to go down town were present at this gathering. For ourselves, we were content to sit on the sidelines and watch the frolicking. We venture to say some three hundred couples were there. Back in our rooms at shortly after midnight, we looked again out our window at the gay lights of the French capital city. The noise and celebrating had quieted down some. Just how long it lasted we do not know. Slowly undressing and getting ready for bed we could only wonder and think "that the world was at peace...(cut off)
Back to Normal
Several days gone by and its November 19th. We are recuperating and on the road to recovery and also many are being sent out or discharged to some other hospital and many go back to rejoin their own company and outfit. Many of these were strangers to us when we came here, but now are almost old friends to us. Before we go further with our story we want to tell you of the fact that on November 16th a new bunch of men from the front, some thirty or more wounded slightly and severely arrived at the hospital. It was through them that we learned if Leo J. Billings being killed at Grandpre on the same morning that we were gassed. He had been killed about 200 yards to the left of our position.
Margaret Wilson visits Hospital
Miss Wilson, daughter of the President of the United States arrived in Paris on November the 23rd and came directly to the hospital. It was late afternoon and her together with two other major army personel [sic] and our own major Dr. visited each ward and we had the honor of shaking hands with her. For the most part she said: "You poor men, you will be going home soon, I hope". That night in the big dance hall she spoke briefly and sang a few songs. The whole hospital personel [sic] and patients were present. A fond "good bye", a wave of her hand and a "God Bless You All", she departed.
Letters from Home
On November 25th, we got our first letter from home since around October 20th or so. We had written several just before entering the lines; Where they were mislaid, no one knows. They arrived home just shortly before we left France.
Missing in Action
In the above named letter the folks informed us that they had recieved on November the 8th a letter from the War Department which read:
Nov. 6, 1918
Mrs. J. E. Black
Sheldon, N.D. Route 2
It is with the deepest regret that we inform you of the "missing in action" on the Argonne Front, of your son Clifford R. Black, Co "C", 303 F.L.B. serial no. 1,759,537.
A Trip Through Paris
It is the last days of November and well into December. We are on our road to recovery and are feeling fine, doing light work around the hospital, but for the most reading good books, writing and getting letters from folks back home. We are allowed to go about the hospital ground, weather is grand. We are also allowed to go down town every day, but very few go. Not very many of our number has any money. Our last pay day was on the boat coming over. However, on December 9th we did get paid a small amount $7.50 in French Francs (a franc is 20¢). Then several of us got a pass and took in the sights of Paris. We did get a good look at the Arch De Triumphe and the Eiffel Tower. We were at the base of this structure, but the sightseeing part of going to its top via elevators were closed yet. It is 937 feet high. The big Ferris Wheel standing alongside of it is 463 feet high. We spent our day, and most of our Francs there, too. We made a couple more short visits part way down town on later dates, but our planned next visit never came.
This means that soldiers well and otherwise were leaving our midst fast, while new ones coming in. We were missing our ward and other ward buddies fast and getting new ones in their place. Rumors were started several times that we were soon to move, and go home. Like of old, we didn't believe in rumors or signs. We were beginning to get anxious and wanted to go somewhere. We were almost fully recovered from our malady and we wanted to go places.
"You are going home!"
Very early on the morning of Nov. 15th the doctor who called on us each day came into our ward and all smiles. We knew something was up now. He said, "Men, you are going home. Get up and get ready." What a feeling! We were up, got dressed and packed our few belongings all in nothing flat. He gave us a quick check-up, a snappy O.K. took each of our hand in a firm hearty handshake, a fond "good bye", and "Bon Voyage". He said: "I wish I were going home, too". We still have as one souvenier [sic] the full chart papers that hung at the foot of my bed.
Leaving Paris Behind
We boarded the Red Cross trucks at 10:20a.m., took a farewell look at the hospital and were hauled away about 3 miles to a subway railway station where we went aboard a real American Red Cross train of nine coaches. Shortly afterwards it was "all aboard" and we were on our way. We passed through some very pretty country and the scenery was beautiful. Our train was traveling very fast and we only made four stops, presumably to take on coal and water. All other trains were side-tracked for us.
Passing the Presidential Train
At between two and three a.m. on the morning of the 16th we had taken a sidetrack at some station and it was here that President Woodrow Wilson and his delegration [sic] on a special train sped by us. They were enroute to Paris for that Peace Treaty meeting. Very few of us were awake then, and even if we'd been awake there would of been very little we could have seen, only the quick passing of the train and a blurred sight of passing coaches.
We pulled into Brest at 4 p.m. Were immediately off and marched to a big barracks where we were assigned rooms and beds. We were only about four blocks from the pier. We enjoyed a real good meal, after which a doctor and nurse took charge of us and it was here that we got our last shots of the army. After the usual short check-over and brief examinations we were dismissed and "hit the sack".
Bright and early the morning of the 17th we were all up and ready for whatever may cone. We had not long to wait. However, at about 9 a.m. a captain came in and announced that noone was to leave the building. We had hopes of seeing something of the town of Brest, but our hopes dimmed then.
At 11:15a.m. we were ordered to report at the mess hall adjoining to eat an early dinner and that it would be our last meal in France. Well, it really looked like we were soon to go somewhere. Dinner over with, we adjourned to our barracks quarters, and at 12:20 we were given a white tag, on which was printed our deck and room number, and were ordered to form outside at once.
Good Bye, France
Shortly after 1 p.m. we marched down to the dock. It was low tide and we boarded a large ferry boat to make the trip of what looked like a mile or better out to the big ship anchored in the bay. Pulling alongside of the monster ship we went aboard at about 1:40p.m. Evidentally [sic] we were the final load to arrive, and hardly had we got settled and on top dech when the big anchor began to rumble and all deckhands were at their posts and doing their particular kind of duty.
Several minutes passed by; then two long blasts of the giant whistle sounded and the huge boat turned slowly and with her giant engines throbbing we headed towards sea and westward.
Over the Dark Blue Sea
We were now on board the great French liner, LaFrance. This was a passenger boat and 728 feet long and 280 feet wide and a four stacker. It carried 52 life boats and 72 rafts and there were 8 decks. We occupied the deck at the water line.
Everybody on the boat that could get on the main deck was there and it was a solid bunch of humanity. For the most part everyone was quiet, hardly a word was spoken as we stood and strained our eyes at the fast fading shoreline of Brest, France. We too were silent. What was on our minds? Yes, it was still the thoughts uppermost in our minds -- of those gallant "buddies" of ours whom were sleeping some on the battle-fields where they had fallen, others in the American cemeteries "row by row, where the poppies grow". Thus, we bade France "good-bye" and turned our eyes westward.
There were on this boat 2,270 soldiers, and they were all war casualties. Of this were 286 were yet under the ship's doctor's care and 47 were shell-shocked and were bed patients.
On our third day at sea, Nov. 20th, we headed into a sleet and for storm. No one could be on deck any length of time. Our ship's captain said the storm's wind velocity was nearly 50 miles per hour. Out ship was tossed to and fro until we thought that at any minute we would be shipwrecked. It was so terrific that at times one could barely see the water. Ice and sleet had formed from six to eight inches everywhere. The storm started at about ten in the morning and died down at around 11p.m. the same night. The ship's big fog horn screamed out its thunderous and ear-splitting warning every ten minutes. We heard only five or six answering blasts from another ship in the storm passing by.
We had very good eats, bed, and rooms, everything spic and span, no guard duty. No work of any kind. All we did was eat, sleep, read and every night there was a moving picture show in the big theatre located in midship and on the lower deck, (about 40 feet under the waterline). Some were of good variety, but on the average they were quite contrary.
Now it was the 22nd and we were beginning to look for some sight of land. Some of the boys were still sea sick and others just getting "took". Our trip was getting to be one day after another of "when do we eat?" and "Where are we today?"
"Where are we today?" was shown on a chart in the hold of the ship and was as popular as a scoreboard in world series time. On the last day of our trip the "Where are we today?" chart was wrapped around the cane of one St. James Lane and carried away with him "bon souvenier".
At 10:37a.m. on December 23rd all eyes were strained - yes we could see some faint outline away to the west and we were headed there as true as a die. A short time later we could plainly see the welcome outline of the New York shoreline, New York City itself. But above all, that great beacon, the Statue of Liberty.
An hour later we were crawling slowly into New York harbor and one long blast of the ship's whistle signified that we were near port and then the engines stilled and we dropped anchor.
Our Great Welcome and Greetings
We could see several small tugs headed our way. Several small yachts were speeding towards us and in the lead was the Mayor of New York's big yacht. Behind that was a big U.S. army submarine loaded with doctors, nurses and interns. This sub pilled alongside our floating monarch of the sea, some forty or fifty altogether came aboard.
We were under quarantine so to speak. Just what took place we never did find out. Finally, at 3:40p.m. they boarded their craft and moved slowly away. Then the four tugs moved into place, two ahead and one on each side towards the rear of the ship. Long cables were hooked from these to points on our ship and we were moved slowly into port, past the Statue of Liberty which we passed about some one hundred yards away.
Then the city came to life. Whistles of factories, trains, all small boats, and that of one large boat at the dock. It was one continuous roar. People were everywhere, Yelling to the top of their voices. We docked at 4:26p.m. The dock and surrounding area was one mass of humanity. We were the first ship to land here from the war-torn country of Europe. We were heros, and it made us feel like going back and coming home again - almost.
The it happened. Those folks on the dock were shouting to us up on deck the ship, Where are you from? Verdun? Arras? St. Mohill? Chateau Thierry? Argonne Forest? Grand Pre? Did we know John? Harry? Dick? James? Tom? etc. What a commotion. Notes were thrown up to us with names of so-and-so on them. Had we known them? Seen them? These were passed around among us, and in several instances, in fact many instances someone did known of them, and there was good news and bad news for the seeker.
The Statue of Liberty
While all this is going on let us tell you a few things about this great structure. It stands on Bedloes Island and covers between four and five acres of land, is 307 feet high. A good sized barrel hoop would serve very nicely as a ring on her finger, and that's about all we know of it, only that we never expect to meet her face to face again.
It is now Christmas Eve and at 6:47 the first soldier went down the gangplank to be followed steadily by others. Our turn came soon after and at 7:40 we went from the dock to a waiting train some two blocks away. On this line of march we were literally mobbed, the Red Cross, the K.C. the Y.M.C.A. and Salvation Army were there with fruit, chocolate, chewing gum, cigarettes, cigars. Well, we were just loaded down, our pockets jammed full. Will we ever forget it? The answer is NO.
To Camp Merritt, N.J.
Through the early evening we sped towards N.J. and arrived at Merritt at 10:32. What a welcome awaited us there! We had only about six blocks to hike (how good it felt) to a big warm cozy large barracks. Here the big mess hall tables were bore down and groaning with eats. Well, who wanted to eat? We wanted to sing, shout and thank God that we were home.
Right here before we forget, we want to make mention of a couple of incidents that took place at the dock. While disembarking and touching good old American soil a fellow in line several steps ahead of us dropped to his knees, grabbed a handful of terra firma and said, "My God America". Still further ahead another dropped to the same position and kissed the good old dirt. He said two words, "Thank God". Now then you know how we felt.
After our feed and such other things as washing up, taking baths (the first decent one we'd had in months) we finally did go to bed. It was 3 a.m. then and Christmas Day.
Here and now we can say it: It was the most merry and grandest Christmas Eve we have ever spent or seen.
At Camp Merritt
Camp Merritt, N.J. was a small-sized army camp and was used mainly to hold over troops due to sail in a few days or for in-coming soldiers, returning from "overseas".
On Christmas Day, bright and early some two hundred or more cars arrived in camp. They came directly to our barracks and invited any and all of us to come and Christmas Day [sic] at their homes. Many of the boys went and were guests at these home [sic] until even in the early morning of the 26th. Nothing was too good for us and these folks really treated the boys to the utmost of everything. Everyone that had gone and been guests at these folks and their homes really enjoyed a grand and merry Christmas Day.
We were at Merritt over the New Years Day, and the same custom occurred on that day, that of being taken away and brought back to camp by these and other folks. Our remaining days at Merritt were few and on January 5th we left there by train for Camp Dodge, Iowa.
At Camp Dodge
Now we will touch only briefly on a few things, the main part of our story is soon to close.
Arriving at Dodge we were issued complete new uniforms and all clothing, and that was the final issue of what we received from the army.
We had very little to do, only a formation once or twice a day, all we did was read, sleep, and write letters. The camp was almost as quiet as a cemetery, evidentally [sic] by this fact, we presumed most of those here had been discharged long ago.
We had several medical examinations by doctors and dentist [sic] and it became monotonous. Along about the 25th of Jan. we began to hear rumors here and there that we were soon to be discharged from this mans army. We began sprucing up, writing letters of the news home, and having a few farewell talks and words with all of our buddies.
Then, at last it came at about 10:30 a.m. on January 29th we were advised to have all out belongings packed, our barracks bags packed and filled with what clothes we were allowed to take home and be ready soon. Hardly had we completed this work, when a Sgt. came into our barracks and said, "How many of you want to go home?" Well, it took about ten minutes for the news to sink in, but it did. He said, "chow at 11:45 sharp." Well, who wanted to eat anything? Well, that was the quickest, shortest and lastest meal we'd eaten in the army.
Good Bye Army Life
Finally, at a little past one p.m. we were told to form a line and go through a barracks building that looked pretty much high officialed, and it was. Here we entered, passed by a long table and here it was - our discharge papers lay there. Your name was called out, sign here - yes, that's what we were looking for, several steps more and - money! It was so long since we'd been paid, that we didn't know what money was. We were paid in new money, as usual in the army, and $186.42 of which $16.47 was for train fare home.
Out of camp in a jiffy, away up to Des Moines. Here we went about town for a few hours - then at 4:20p.m. we headed home and the last leg of our journey would soon be ended.
We arrived at Minneapolis and spent a day there, and on February 4, 1919, we stepped off the train at Sheldon and then - Home Sweet Home.
Just a thought
And just to think -
A slap of ink, embroiled the world
in War! A fleet of ships through "U" boats slink -
A Kaiser is no more.
We have written this story for you. We sincerely hope that you will like it. We have touched only briefly on the many things we have seen and took a great part in, many incidents and subjects have been left out and much about them have been left unsaid.
Long after the war had ended, our old "Co.C" and what men remained formed again for the last time at Cote d'Or, North-west of Dijon, with headquarters at Semur. This was sometime in February, when old buddies and friends formed at this assembly they found some and missed many, for one hundred and fifty-six of the original members paid the supreme sacrifice.
On April 17th, 1919, most of the 78th division and what was left of "Co.C", 303rd F.S.B sailed in several large ships from the seaport of Marseilles, France and landing at the same dock we did at Hoboken N.J. on April 26th.
From there they went immediately to Camp Dix again, where they were discharged on May 29th.
Today, after 32 years since we left the army we are thinking of what the old ranks of "Co.C" would appear like. We imagine only a few would answer roll call and answer, "here" or "present".
In this great war, we had fought a war to end all wars - to make the world safe for democracy!
Today we are on the verge of a World War III. In it and now over Korea there may be your husband, brother, son, or perhaps a sweetheart.
Like you, we say and think of what price glory? And what price victory?
In final ending we say "There shall be wars and rumors of wars, but fear yea not, for the end is not yet." But it is the end for those many of our sons who are falling in Korea today. May God bless and protect them.
- ↑ Poem by Benjamin Malachi Franklin, first published in 'The Memphis Commercial Appeal' newspaper in 1950 (source)
- ↑ These paragraphs appeared on p.13 of "The Service Record", produced by the members of Company C, 303rd Field Signal Battalion. The book attributes them to editor Harold O Mohr. The entire book can be read online here.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 After armistice, CR Black made some errors as to the month; every reference of "November" after his release of the hospital should actually be "December".
- ↑ A reference to the poem In Flanders Field.
- ↑ ibid, page 26 of the 303rd Signal Service Record.
- ↑ Mark 13:7.