Corporal Ross J. Pettijohn
January 4, l9l7, at the age of 26, I enrolled as a
student at Link's Business College at Boise, Idaho and was
attending school there when war was declared between the
United States and Germany, on April 6, l9l7. I
wished to complete my schoolwork before enlisting, so
studied day and night and finished it about November lst.
I then wired to Twin Falls, Idaho to ascertain whether or
not I had been called by the draft board of that county, and
being assured that I had not been called, I reported to the
Army Recruiting Office in Boise. On my way there I met a
fellow student named Homer Beutler. I asked him why he was
not in school. He said that he was on his way to enlist, so
we went together. We were accepted. We were told that a
regiment of artillery for overseas service was being formed
on the coast, so we chose that branch. We were to leave for
Fort Douglas, Utah the next morning. I shipped my trunk
home to Twin Falls, and made arrangements to leave.
I was getting room and
board at the Whipple home at ll20 Washington Street.
Charles Whipple decided to enlist also. He left the next
day after we did.
I went to Links and said
goodbye to the teachers and my few acquaintances. They
wished me the best of luck. About a dozen recruits gathered
at the station that evening. There was no band in
attendance, and very few of anyone, but those that were
there shook hands all around and said "Give them hell!".
There was some delay because of a derailment between Boise
and Meridian but we finally got aboard the train and were
off to the big war. I could not but wonder how many years
it would be, if ever until I again stood in Boise and if
anyone would remember.
We arrived in Salt Lake
City, Utah, November 5, and reported to the
recruiting office at 2nd South and Main Streets. We
stripped off our clothes and had a beauty contest after
which we went to the Chesapeake restaurant and had lunch.
Then we took a streetcar for Fort Douglas. There were three
of us from Boise; John Coski having joined us at Glenns
We were assigned bunks in
the recruit barracks. There were about 200 recruits there.
I saw a good many boys I knew. Each day, detachments would
be sent to training camps and a constant stream of recruits
came to fill their places.
Next day, we again posed
for the doctors and got a shot in the arm. This was a
vaccination for typhoid. Then we took the oath to do our
duty and support the Constitution "for the duration" or
until properly discharged.
Next day we heard that a
detachment of coast artillery recruits was to be sent to San
Diego, California, and everyone wanted to be on the list.
My name was not on it, as the names were taken in
alphabetical order. Instead, I was put on K.P. duty. I had
visions of an eternity of scrubbing huge greasy pans,
peeling potatoes, etc. When the roll was called for those
to go, one man was missing. I stepped out to see what was
happening, and the clerk asked me if I wanted to go. I
did. So I went.
We had a fine trip.
Changed cars at Los Angeles. On the way to San Diego, I got
my first sight of the ocean. We got into San Diego about
dark. We were to report to the C.O. at Fort Rosecrans,
which is across the bay from town. The last boat had left,
so we reported to the Military Police station for
instructions. We got rooms in a hotel and proceeded to see
the town. We were in uniform and couldn't do anything very
radical. Next morning, we took the Government boat for the
Fort across the bay. We were assigned to a recruit company
and located in tents. We found San Diego to be a fine city
with a wonderful climate. When we left Boise, the weather
was very cold. Here everything was in full bloom. Roses
were climbing over the barracks.
We started in drilling
immediately. One day I was again put in K.P. duty. Each
company kept a roster and the men were taken in order for
'Kitchen Police' duty. I hadn't scrubbed many pans when a
sergeant came and told me to report to the company office.
With the guardhouse in mind, I went in. The First Sergeant
asked me if I could hammer a typewriter. I said that I
could. He told me to take off my fatigue uniform, for I had
a job! From that time on, I was in the office nearly all
A battalion of artillery
was formed at the fort for overseas duty. A battalion is
made up of two batteries, with three battalions to a
regiment. Battery "A" was formed from the 2nd Company,
C.A.C., and Battery "B" from a company of National Guard
stationed there. About l50 men were needed to fill up these
two companies to battery strength (250 men). These were
picked by the captains of each company. Captain Ranney, who
was in command of Battery "A", asked me if I wanted to join
his outfit. I said that I did, so he put me on his list.
We were given some special
drilling with gas masks and instructed in trench warfare,
etc. We practiced rolling packs. We carried three
blankets, an extra suit of underwear, two pair socks, extra
pair shoes, half of a pup tent, towels, soap and other
toilet articles, mess kit and cup, condiment and bacon cans,
tent pole and pins, besides an overcoat, rain coat, rifle,
bayonet, canteen, ammunition, and first aid pouch. This
made about 70 pounds.
On February 27, l9l8,
we were told to be ready to leave in the morning. About 4
am, we rolled out and had breakfast. The battalion was then
formed with the Color Guard carrying the flag in front. All
the companies at the Fort were lined up along the line of
march to the dock. They came to "present arms" as we
marched between the two lines. The boat was loaded to the
limit. We crossed the bay to San Diego and boarded a train
for Frisco. The clerks had to make a "sailing list" of the
entire battery. These lists showed each man's full name and
home address, the name and address of nearest relative, and
it certainly was some job to try and write on that train,
which jolted and swayed like it was off the rails. We
finished the list on the dock at San Francisco. There, we
learned that we were to go somewhere on board the transport
Northern Pacific. We boarded the transport on March lst
with the other two battalions, one from Washington, and one
from Oregon. Sailed out through the Golden Gate on the
morning of March 2nd. One of our corporals deserted
in Frisco and was sent to Alcatraz Island.
I got my first taste of
seeing the world through a porthole. The roll of the boat
was a new sensation, and became more sensational all the
time! We headed nearly west and there was much talk of the
Hawaiian Islands and the Suez Canal. March 5th we saw
islands in the east. We saw very few ships. The weather
was getting better. We saw some flying fish. We slept in
the hold, in three decker berths. The lower berth was "par
bon" if the man above got seasick.
We had orders to sleep
below, but a lot of us took a blanket and slept on deck.
Too hot below. I slept out on the stern nearly every
night. There is plenty of fresh air out there, but the
stern of a boat bucks like a bronco, and the spray comes
over occasionally to make things pleasant (wet). As we went
south, the North Star sunk nearer and nearer to the
horizon. Our little boat seemed like a tiny island in a
universe of water.
The mess hall was down by
the boilers. It was a very "pleasant" place to dine! The
K.P.'s were stripped to the waist. They put the mess kits
into a cage and soused them in a vat of boiling water. The
soap and grease stuck to them and consequently flavored the
otherwise tasteless chow.
They always fed boiled
cabbage and greasy pork the first few days. It gave you a
good appetite. I went down to the mess hall about once a
Saw a school of jumping tuna fish.
March l0th: At daylight, no land was in sight, but soon some small
islands appeared in the east. These were covered with
tropical vegetation. Bright colored birds flew through the
trees. The town or Panama is about a mile from the canal
entrance. A gasoline launch came out to meet us and a pilot
came aboard. He wore a white duck suit and a wide, high
crowned straw hat. We went directly into the canal, so all
I saw of Panama was adobe walls and tile roofs. The Pacific
entrance to the canal is east of the Atlantic entrance, for
the reason that the isthmus makes a bend at this point. The
town of Balboa is some distance inland. Miraflores is near
the locks. The canal is on sea level for some miles on the
pacific side. There was a detachment of soldiers at
Miraflores. They said that they wished they could go back
to New York. Too hot there. We all crowded along the rail
on the side where there happened to be something to see, and
the boat would heel over and almost capsize! Then an
officer would come and chase a bunch over to the other
side. The locks were a very interesting sight. We arrived
in Colon, at the Atlantic end of the canal in the evening
and tied up overnight. We were not allowed off the boat.
We got a chance to buy some fruit from peddlers on the
dock. The salt pork and cabbage had lost their charm.
There was a canteen on board which opened every day for two
or three hours. A line of men would form to wait for the
canteen to open. I heard one fellow say that he didn't know
what they had for sale, but if he got to the window he was
going to buy a hell of a lot of it! It seemed like half of
our time was spent standing in line. Chow lines, canteen
lines, inspection lines, clothing lines, pay lines and a
thousand and one other breeds of lines.
We pulled out of Colon
early in the morning of March ll and ran into some
rough water, much worse than any we had seen before. Most
of the boys turned green around the gills. However, it was
not so hot, and that helped some.
We are among the Bahama Islands. In the evening we saw the
mainland off Florida in the west. The cooks have changed
the menu. The name "slum gullion" fits it exactly. The
diagnosis is dishwater, stale bread, mule meat and a few
trimmings like hair, soap, mutton tallow and bones. Then
the lot is thickened with Portland cement. Sure "fine"!
March l4th: Someone started a peace rumor. Starting rumors if one of
the army pastimes.
We rounded Cape Hatteras and struck the roughest weather on
the trip. I did not get seasick but felt none to hearty. I
remembered my father, Captain Dyer Burgess Pettijohn,
telling of rounding Cape Hatteras in small steamers during
the Civil War. We entered Chesapeake Bay and tied up at
Norfolk, Virginia. The bay was full of shipping.
Battleships, destroyers, tugs, and hundreds of merchant
vessels and small craft. As we passed a battleship, their
band played "Over There". We stayed in Norfolk the rest of
the day but were not permitted to leave the boat. A sailor
in the docks said that the reason he joined the Navy was
because he got drunk and patriotic at the same time.
We were on our way to New York. Had beans and prunes for
breakfast. Tasted mighty fine. By evening, we were outside
the New York Harbor. For some reason we did not go in, but
turned south again. There was much conjecture on where we
were bound for. However, at about 5 p.m. we again turned
north and laid outside the harbor all night.
March l7th: Passed the Statue of
Liberty. Saw the famous skyline of New York. We unloaded
and boarded a train for Camp Merritt, New Jersey.
This was a good camp. We
had lots to eat, no work, and good barracks. I got two
letters while there. We left Camp Merritt on March 24 at 6:20 a.m. I hammered a typewriter until my fingers were
sore, making another sailing list. Had to make six copies.
We boarded the train at Cresskill Station. Left New York at
6 PM March 25th. We were ordered below until out of
the harbor. When we came up we could just see the light of
the Statue of Liberty.
We were on board the famous
liner Mauritania. The crew were mostly men who had been
wounded and unfit for land duty and boys. This boat has a
battery of six 6" guns, four forward and two aft. The gun
crews looked like they knew their business. They had
several lookouts up in the 'crows nest' with field glasses.
We were assigned to Compartment 'K' which is as near the
bottom as possible and still be in the ship. We had
hammocks to sleep in, but I took mine down and flopped on
the floor. One day a bunch of the boys were in our
compartment telling how brave they would be if we were
torpedoed. Just then, "boom" went a terrible explosion!
One of the braggers shouted "Don't get excited, boys!" and
just about tore the stairs down in getting up. They found
that the gun crews were trying out the guns and one had been
fired just over their heads. I was on deck at the time.
There were about 3,000
soldiers on board, besides 400 Red Cross nurses and a
considerable number of unattached officers. The upper decks
were reserved for the nurses and officers. Soldiers and
other low animals stayed below. Our food was punk. I never
found out just what it was. Part of it seemed to be cat
meat (at least we found fur and claws also tails and
intestines). We wore life jackets all the time. They were
stuffed with something that looked like cotton, and were
supposed to support a man in the water for two hours. The
crew said that after a man had been in the ice cold water
two hours he would be willing to sink. We stood lifeboat
drill twice a day. Two days from Liverpool, four American
destroyers came out to meet us. Two went ahead and two
stayed alongside. They were a great sight as they plowed
through the waves.
April 2nd: Liverpool in sight. We tied up near the liner Carpathia
(later sunk by subs). Stayed on board that night.
Out on the dock. The land felt good to our feet. Lots of
traffic about the docks. We marched a short distance to a
railroad station, boarded a train and had a good trip across
England. We had rations of corned beef and hard tack. This
tasted okay at first. England looked like a toy country to
us. (At this point it had been 5 months since leaving
One of the boys from Texas said it looked like
they were just fooling when they made that country. We
traveled third class. Piled off at a station or two and
were served something they called coffee. Arrived in Romsey
in the evening and marched out to the so-called rest camp.
We rested our stomachs there. From then on we dreaded being
sent to a rest camp. We left on April 7th at 9:45
a.m. and marched twelve miles to Southampton. My 70-pound
pack felt like a ton before we got there. We marched about
three miles through the streets at attention and got a
rousing welcome. Swarms of small boys ran along after us
and asked questions. We rested on the dock for an hour or
two and had our first and only experience with English
money. Talked to some Australians who had been on the
Turkish front and were now going to Flanders. They had been
in the service four years.
We boarded a little old
side-wheeler cattle scow named Mona's Queen. We were
crowded into the hold of the boat like sardines with no room
to sit down. We were on the boat twelve hours, and I think
that was the hardest night I ever put in. We reached Havre
about daylight and another pleasant surprise awaited me. We
lined up in regular order, the tallest men on the right of
the line. The first and second sections were ordered to
fall out and unload the boat, so we packed cases of canned
goods up two flights of stairs, and had canned bill and
hardtack for breakfast. Then we marched 5 miles up a steep
hill to another rest camp (camp #l). We rested here until April l0th. Then we marched down the hill again and
were introduced to the famous '40 and 8’, which were French
boxcars. Each had painted on its side "40 hommes, 8
chevaux", which meant that the car would hold 40 men or 8
horses. It held us, but there was no room to spare. We
went through Versailles the first night and Orleans the next
day. Saw a lot of fine country and had a good time in
general, barring the 'corned willie' and hard tack.
If we could have extracted
nourishment from the scenery, we would have gotten fat! We
arrived in Limoges on April l2th. This is a large
town of about l00,000 population. Our quarters had once
been Napoleon's barracks.
It looked like it had never
been cleaned out since he was there! A high stone wall
enclosed the grounds, and guards were stationed on it to
keep the boys in and the girls out, but we went over the
wall every night in mobs. At first we had all the liberty we
wanted, but soon the roughnecks got into trouble in town and
then we had to go in squads with a non-com in charge. Later
we could get passes from the 'skipper'.
Lots of rain and fog.
Nearly all have bad coughs. We made the acquaintance of vin
rouge (red wine) and vin blanc (white wine), two brothers
whose society was much in demand. Wine was about l franc a
liter (about a quart). Most of the boys were broke. We had
not been paid since February. They shot craps and played
blackjack as carefully as if they had been playing for
April 25th: Mail day for the first time since leaving New York. I got
l8 letters. Took a bath at the public bathhouse in town.
Issued straw ticks and straw to fill them. Luxurious
compared with sleeping on boards, and hardwood at that! I
was working in the company office. No end of reports and
Most of the battery left for Nexon, a small town about l4
miles from camp. The rest were to go to school. I was
studying telegraphy. Others were taking up telephone work.
Nothing was doing yet. We had 3 days of real rest.
May 9th: Seemed to be a screw loose in the schoolwork. We practiced
some in the barracks, but mostly did bunk "fatigue" and
ate. Good chow.
I was ordered out of Nexon to take the office work. The
other clerk, Corporal Dismukes from Amarillo, Texas was
promoted to Sergeant. This meant that I would be Corporal.
I packed my barrack bag and put it on a truck for Nexon, and
climbed up beside the driver. We drove through the most
beautiful country I had even seen. It couldn't have been
painted any prettier. When we got to Nexon, a funeral was
in progress. The procession, led by the priest, came down
the road to the church, the people walking in pairs. Then
they went to the cemetery. I later walked through the
cemetery and saw graves over l00 years old. They decorate
them with wreaths made of wire and spun glass.
The battalion was billeted
about the town. Our battery office was located in a barn
back of a wine shop and blacksmith shop. The 'top
sergeant', mess sergeant, supply sergeant, one bugler and
clerk slept downstairs on the floor. Upstairs was a
sergeant with a few men. The kitchens were in the next
room, which was open on two sides.
Charles Lamb, the bugler and I went down to the town washing
pool and hammered out some clothes. The pool was about l5
feet square and had flat rocks along the sides. The old
women bring their laundry there and hammer it out with heavy
wooden paddles. Charles was a boy about 20 years old with
big dark eyes, and looked very saintly, but during seances
with fermented spirits, he was transformed from a "lamb"
into a lion!
Payday. Our first one since leaving the fort. The boys all
swarmed the wine joints and were shooting craps and playing
blackjack. At retreat, half of the men were too far-gone to
get in line. The line looked like a row of animated
May 26th: The celebration still continued. The noble heroes billeted
upstairs got into a free-for-all fight. Riley finally had
to be bound and gagged to restore peace.
Unfavorable news from the front. Lots of refugees were
coming in. Old men and women and children came plodding
along the roads, pushing carts with part of their
belongings. The great German drive was on. We learned that
the order was out for us to go from Havre into the trenches,
but miscarried and never reached our colonel until too
late. We would have been watching daisies grow from the
roots up by then.
The Chateau de Chalus,
where Richard Coeur de Lion was killed, was near and was
fairly well preserved.
We had breakfast at 6 a.m. The Battery was drilling hard on
the guns, which were 9.2" Howitzers. They were called
This was fair day. They had fairs on the l5th and last days
of each month. The peasants did their trading and brought
their stock for the Government buyers to inspect. They had
some fine beef stock and sheep. The battery was ordered out
into the country to practice placing the guns. We hiked out
about 5 miles and worked all day in the hot sun. Did not
have enough water along, and got very thirsty. When we got
back, Charles Lamb and I sampled some cider. It was hard.
Then some vin rouge, then some vin blanc. We did not get
tipsy, but did get sick!
June l6th: D. S. Nelson (Cook Nelson) and I went down to the gendarme's
house this evening. They are very nice people. They gave
us some wine which was a revelation. The wine we get in the
shops is a twin brother to vinegar.
Lamb and I went to the soldier's bath-house. The water was
ice cold. In the evening a bunch of roughnecks had a
free-for-all in the wine joint in front of our billets.
They threw bottles and chairs and a good time was had by
all. There was no guardhouse there, so they were punished
in a cruel and unusual way. The outhouses and latrines were
most vile and unsanitary, and they had not been cleaned
since Noah's flood! So a cart was procured, a number of
large galvanized cans placed on it and the offenders put to
work cleaning out these places. They filled the cans by
shoveling and then pushed the cart out into a field near
town where a hole was dug and there they emptied the cans
and went back for more.
When they would start down
the street, all the people would flee as from the plague.
This fragrant institution was called the 'honey wagon'. The
detail was in charge of a corporal who had flown the
straight and narrow. They would send one of their number
for wine occasionally and kept just sober enough to stand
upright. It was comical, (if it could be observed from a
distance) to see the honey wagon come zig zagging down the
street, propelled by a mob of hilarious youths, surrounded
by a halo of stench and profanity.
June 24th: Sgt. Julian Van Assche and I
took a walk over the estate of the Baron de Nexon which
adjoined the town. There was a small castle on it. The
tower had portholes for crossbow men. There were deer in
The town had a big celebration. The people were making
American flags, counting the stars and stripes in our
company flag. They made them all sizes and proportions
(some were square!).
The battalion went on a 20-mile hike in heavy marching
order. The boys say that the colonel was a little fuller
than usual, and wanted to show off before his lady friends,
so he had the outfit pass in review a half a dozen times.
Coming back, a lot of the boys dropped out. They came
straggling in all night.
Went with Kerzak to the school up on the hill. The family
in charge of the school were cultured people and they had a
modern home. One of the girls spoke English, some.
Some Italian opera singers gave an entertainment on the
plaza. They were fine!
We were packing up to leave.
We rolled our packs, said goodbye to our French friends, and
marched to the station. We had a good trip through fine
country. Saw several very old castles perched on the tops
of hills. Arrived in La Courtine at 7:30 p.m. This is
where the artillery tries out the guns. As we got off the
train a solder standing by said, "Cheer up boys, it's only l
kilometer to camp instead of the usual 5 kilos!" There were
about 50,000 solders there. We had good barracks. They
were occupied by Russian troops at one time. After the
Russian revolution, the French and Russians had some
difference of opinion and the French used machine guns in
the argument. The machine gun oratory won the argument.
Bullet marks are all over the walls. We had lots of work
there, preparing to go to the front.
Hammered a typewriter until 3 a.m. making firing data for
Went on rifle range today. Made a score of about 45 out of
Had a grand review for the brigadier.
About 40,000 colored troops came in. They were field
Sunday: A band of colored soldiers had a revival meeting under a
tree in front of our barracks. The speaker warned them of
the evils of wine, wild women and gambling. A lot of our
boys got in a fight with some of another regiment and as a
result our outfit is confined to quarters.
We left La Courtine at 9:l5 a.m. We were learning to like
the old 40 and 8 boxcars. We rode through a fine country -
thousands of acres of vineyards. The boys called them vin
We were still going north. Passed through Dijon.
Another day on the boxcars. 10
Arrived in Rouvroy at 4 a.m. Hiked into town and got a
little sleep. I slept in a barn with another donkey. This
was a typical French small town. It was on the Marne
river. The country was quite rolling and not so fertile as
the other places we had been. I was billeted with Sgts. Van
Assche, Ebbing and Rasmussen. We went through a donkey barn
into our boudoir. The redeeming feature was that the
inspecting officers didn't know where we were and also that
there was a wine joint in the same building. A nice girl
tended the bar there. We didn't have to stand at "calls"
because I was Battery clerk and had left our names off the
We were ready to leave. This town was our base. We left
our heavy baggage there while we were at the front. Sgt.
Ebbing stayed there as a caretaker until our return. We had
our packs on, waiting for the order to fall in. The wine
wagon had just arrived, so we all gathered around for a
farewell drink. We drank the wine and beer as fast as the
girls could draw it from the kegs. At the last minute,
Capt. Ranney told me to say with the office records which
were on a truck, so I got out of marching! At last we were
off. We pulled out into the main road and waited for a
French truck train to pass. I never saw so many trucks in
my life. They were driven by French colonials from
Indo-China. They must have been an hour in passing.
It had been arranged so that all the men rode on the
trucks. This was much better. One night the truck caravan
came to a halt on a hill. The truck behind the one I was
riding in was hauling the firing beams, which were iron
beams about a foot square and l4 feet long. They were used
to bury in the ground, making a sort of dirt box to keep the
funs from kicking over or out of position when fired. A
soldier was sitting on one of them with his feet in front of
the end. The truck behind failed to stop, and bumped into
the beam, which was sticking out behind. The beam was
driven through the front end of the truck, crushing the
soldier's legs in front of it. The poor fellow was in great
agony and moaned while they were trying to pull the beam
loose. It was about 20 minutes before we were able to get
him loose. Luckily there was a doctor in the caravan and he
gave the soldier an anesthetic and put him to sleep. He was
rushed to a hospital, and we never heard of him again but he
must have lost his legs.
We would travel all night
and rest in the daytime. In the daytime everything had to
be under cover of the trees or camouflaged. The camouflage
was like burlap and colored to imitate the grass and
On the evening of September
lst, we had just finished a banquet of corned bill and hard
tack and the men were preparing to make the last lap of our
journey to the front. It had started to rain. A soldier of
our battery named Lloyd Whitmore, from Oregon, decided that
he had had enough. He leaned against a tree and put the
muzzle of his rifle under his chin and pulled the trigger.
His brains were scattered
over the ground. His reason, as near as we could find out,
was that he had contracted a venereal disease at Limoges and
had been under arrest and in the isolation squad at the
battery. He imagined that he was getting worse, however.
He was engaged to a girl in Oregon and was very despondent
over the trouble he had gotten into, so he decided he would
stay in France.
We were nearing the front. The rumble of the guns was
louder each kilometer we went north. We climbed a hill and
there before us in the night, we could see the flashes of
the guns and the signal rockets. One of the boys yelled, "I
want to go home!" Airplanes hummed overhead. They must
have been Boche, for searchlights were sweeping the sky for
them. They were trying to bomb the roads. Once or twice,
bombs did fall so near that they threw dirt and gravel over
us. We entered a woods. A guard stopped us and told us
that we were going into a warm place and to have our gas
masks ready. At last the trucks stopped, and we piled out.
It was pouring down rain,
and as dark as pitch in the woods. We got the order to form
single file and place a hand on the shoulder of the man in
front of us. We crossed a stream on a narrow footbridge,
and then were told to sleep anywhere we pleased. There
appeared to be no choice, so I put my blankets down in the
mud and flopped! My tin hat served as a pillow. The others
did the same. It was cold (like sleeping under a street
sprinkler). It was about 3 a.m., so we didn't have long to
wait for daylight. When it was light, I looked around and
saw the top sergeant with his overcoat turned up around his
ears, walking back and forth, trying to get warm. We
learned that we were in the Saint Mihiel sector. It was
comparatively quiet. The gun crews started to work, placing
the guns and the truck drivers were hauling ammunition.
There was some shelling going on. Every night the roads
were full of men and guns and trucks hauling ammunition. As
soon as daylight came, they all disappeared. There was a
narrow gauge railroad, which ran to the reserve trenches.
It hauled shells all night. We could see that something big
was about to be pulled off. A shell struck the crossroads
in the midst of heavy traffic and killed several men and
horses. The hole was filled, and traffic resumed. They
said that more artillery was concentrated in that sector
than had ever been in a like area. The 75's were
everywhere. The three Battalions of our regiment each had
eight 9.2" Howitzers. The shells weighed about 290 lbs. and
were about the heaviest guns used except the naval and
railroad artillery. We were assigned trenches, roads,
dugouts, etc., to fire on. I was not on a gun crew. I
carried orders and reports to and from headquarters and did
anything else that the occasion called for.
We slept with gas masks in
position, ready to be put on. A gas guard was stationed
with a huge klaxon, ready to give the alarm. (The klaxon
sent out a hair-raising screech.)
The great Saint Mihiel offensive started at ll p.m. It was
preceded by an ominous silence. Somewhere off in the
distance, a gun boomed. Then the air was split by the crash
of l0,000 guns. They fired steadily for hours. The night
became as bright as day, so that our motorcycle riders could
speed 60 mph along the roads. The explosions blended and
sounded like the roll of a great drum. Two l6" naval guns
near us fired every minute or two. The violence of their
reports cannot be described. Soon there was a stream of
ambulances coming back from the front-loaded with wounded
soldiers. Then, after daylight, the prisoners began pouring
back. Our guns did fine work. They made direct hits on
every one of their targets. They would make a hole l0' deep
in the ground. Afterward, we went over the ground and saw
what our guns had done. One shell landed on top of a dugout
and exploded inside, killing all the Bosh there. The
barrage gradually died out until only an occasional report
was heard. The naval guns fired all day. They said that
they were shelling Metz. We soon got orders to move, and on
September l6th, packed up and pulled out. We had no idea
where we were going, and it seemed as if no one else did,
either. We traveled all the roads in that part of France.
We would meet an outfit one day, and next day, meet them
again. Every regiment had some design painted on their
trucks and outfit. Ours was a white bear. We finally
headed into the woods near Mount Vaucon and Very.
On September 20th we
arrived in position at daylight. We had just stopped, when
a gas alarm sounded and we unloaded the trucks with gas
masks on. We were dead for sleep, but immediately went to
work camouflaging the kitchen and digging gun pits. The
roads were knee deep in mud. We cut brush and built a road
from the main road to our position, about a quarter of a
mile. That evening the Captain came and gently imparted the
news that he had a job for me. I tried to remember when I
didn't have one. He grabbed two others, and we started out
in his car. Another followed on a motorcycle. The job was
this: the guns had been loaded on railroad flatcars after
Saint Mihiel, and shipped to out new position by rail. Our
supply point or "railhead" was Ippecourt, near Bouilley.
This point was about 20 kilometers from our position. The
country was traversed by a network of roads. We were to
pilot the guns from Ippecourt to our position.
It was just dusk as we
started. A short way out, we came to a sign, "take left
road, road to right is in sight of the enemy". It was dark,
so we took the right hand road, as it was nearer.
We went through the famous
Clermont on Argonne, which was completely demolished. It
was shelled every night. The Germans tried to put the
bridge out of commission there. We stepped on the gas. The
Captain told me to closely observe the road so that I would
not lose my way coming back with the guns. As it was as
black as the ace of spades, I might as well have been
blindfolded! We arrived in Ippecourt, which was only a
station. We had no blankets or rations and had had nothing
to eat since morning. There was a big Y.M.C.A. warehouse
there full of supplies. The man in charge generously gave
us a ten-cent box of soda crackers. He wanted to know
whether we had any souvenirs or not. We felt like giving him
a souvenir that he would remember! We lay down on the
station platform and slept. Didn't have any trouble in
going to sleep. The Captain went back to the position,
after giving us instructions. We were to stay there until
the guns came in. The gun crews were with them and would
have chow. We were to immediately unload and start for the
positions. Each of us to pilot a gun, keeping the guns
separated and getting to the position by daylight if
possible. If not, camouflage the guns and leave them not
nearer than 6 kilos to the front. The guns were expected
next day. They didn't come. We were hungry and getting
more so every minute. We managed to bum some chow from a
bunch of engineers nearby. They were not anxious to feed
us, as it was against orders to feed anyone except their own
outfit. That afternoon, three of us got on Bugler
Mellinger's motorcycle and went down to Souilley. We went
to a Y.M.C.A. joint. They had nothing but cigarette papers,
and not many of those! We found a Red Cross station. There
was an American girl there. She served us hot chocolate and
sandwiches. We were a tough looking trio. Whiskers about
l0 days old, gas masks hanging on us. Six shooters on our
hips, tin hats on our heads, and mud over all. Some
contrast to the sleek looking Y.M.C.A. heroes and "gold
brick" soldiers there. The girl opined that we had been up
front. After getting seconds on the lunch, we rode back to
Ippecourt. The guns arrived next evening. We rushed for
their chow. All they had was hard tack, but that tasted
better than any cake I ever witnessed. We unloaded the guns
and I was elected to guide the first one off. They were
hauled by huge caterpillar tractors. My caterpillar driver
was George Washington Lee, from Texas. It was now dark and
raining hard. The caterpillar, gun and caisson and gun
carriage hooked together were about 60' long. I had to
guess our roads. The Military Police stationed at the
crossroads didn't know the name of the next town.
I soon had a presentiment
that I had guessed wrong. We got mixed up with a bunch of
horse drawn field artillery. They were ahead and behind us
and got stuck on a steep hill. Some of their horses balked.
The road was slippery, and they had a sweet time getting up
that hill! We finally got away from them and then explored
France all night. Near daylight, I saw a signpost with a
name on it that I recognized - it was Parci. We came down a
long hill with hairpin turns in it. The gun caravan could
just barely make the turns. We had to make them, for we
couldn't turn around. We got down the hill and came to a
river. The bridge had been hit by a shell. We looked it
over and decided that it might hold up the gun. I breathed
a sigh of relief when it was across! I did not fancy going
back and telling the Captain that No. 1 was at the bottom of
the river. In Paroi, I scouted around and found a Military
Police station, or rather they found us. That caterpillar
made as much noise as a battery of machine guns! The M.P.
said that we were 3 kilos from the trenches. George
Washington Lee voiced the opinion that we had better "get
the hell out of there"! We all agreed. It was now about 3
a.m., and would soon be daylight, so we decided to hunt a
place to camouflage the gun. As we started out a side road,
Bugler Mellinger appeared like an apparition by my side as I
was walking in front of the caravan. He said he had been
sent on his motorcycle from Ippecourt to the position to
bring back a truck with some chow, and had lost his way.
After we covered the gun, the other boys pulled their water
soaked blankets off the carriage and rolled in the mud
somewhere. Mellinger said that he had left his machine at
Paroi, so he and I walked back there. We decided to wait
for daylight and then find the road to camp. He said he had
tried every road in that territory, and had not found the
right one. He slept in his sidecar and I lay down on the
floor of a house. That is, it had been a house, but the
roof had been caved in by a shell. My clothes were soaked,
but I was asleep in two minutes!
We were gently roused by
the whistle of a narrow gauge locomotive about l0' from
where we slept. We got up and found that there were several
soldiers there, who had gotten lost from their outfits in
the night. They were asking if we knew where the 2nd
division was. We had no trouble in finding the road to
camp. I went to the Captain's dugout. He had been up for
several nights, and was sitting at his table sleep. I told
him where the gun was. He said it was okay, and that they
had decided to bring them on in by daylight. They got in
about 4 p.m. and we pulled them into the pits by hand.
This position was quite
interesting. The woods showed evidences of fighting.
Nearly every tree was broken off by shells. Shell holes
everywhere. And more coming all the time. Several of the
boys had close calls. Shrapnel burst overhead, and we could
hear the bullets and pieces of shell zip through the brush.
The Battalion Headquarters was moved to Vraincourt, 3 or 4
miles away, and I was sent down there the evening of the
23rd to do some office work. Vraincourt was a deserted
village. It was shelled that night. I didn't sleep well.
Some of them struck so close we could hear the stones and
tile roofing falling, after the explosion.
We stayed there the next day and on the morning of the
25th, got orders to move quick. We lost no time in
getting out. About an hour after we left, the town was
shelled and knocked flat. We heard that there were l2
killed and l7 wounded there. We moved back into the woods
about one and a fourth miles from the guns. The big drive
started the evening of the 26th. We found a
phonograph and played "Little Liza Jane" while the barrage
went over. We found a few records, but no needles. We used
sewing needles and pieces of wood. The Top Sergeant and I
had a dugout of our own with a fireplace in it. It was
under a big tree. I burned my overcoat, trying to dry it
Took mail over to the guns. I can see a double line of
observation balloons. They extend to the horizon on each
side. German airplanes have shot down several of our
balloons lately. Lots of air fights.
October 4th: We left for Verdun at 6 p.m. We got there about 2 a.m. and
stood in the street for a long time while the officers
located quarters for us. At least it seemed a long time.
The shells were coming over, every half-minute.
At last, we were led up a
hill and into a three-story building. Again, I didn't sleep
any too well. Next morning, I found that we were in no
great danger. We were in the citadel of Verdun. It was
sunk in the hillside, and was even with the ground, and had
l5' of dirt on top. We went into the famous underground
defenses. Verdun had been a beautiful city of about 75,00
population, and had fine parks, bridges, and a great
cathedral. Now, every structure in town was ruined by
I was detailed to take a truck load of supplies out to the
gun position which was about 2 miles north of town on the
shady side of a hill. It was unusual for a truck to travel
this road by daylight. We saw lots of German airplanes
observing the operations. Our anti aircraft guns opened on
them. It was a pretty sight. The anti aircraft shells
explode and the smoke looks just like a snowball. They
seldom hit one, but they do make them fly high! In a few
minutes, shells began to come over. Most of them went over
us, as we were on the opposite side of the hill from the
Germans. We unloaded without sitting down to rest. Then we
went up the road a quarter of a mile to a spring, and filled
a barrel with water for the cook's dugout. There were two
or three other trucks there also. A shell burst in the
road, killing a truck driver and wounding several others.
At last, we started back to town. I did not know a truck
could travel so fast. Just as we got to town, a big shell
struck just ahead of us, and threw stones all about us.
The drive started at about 3 a.m. Our truck drivers were
hauling ammunition night and day. They slept sitting up at
the wheel. Several of them were gassed severely.
Two doughboys drove a big bunch of Austrian prisoners
through town and stopped at the Citadel for a drink of
water. They were a poor looking bunch, and didn't have many
souvenirs. They were almost starved.
Sgt. Dixmukes and I went down to the College du Marguerite
and took a bath. It is by the big cathedral. We had to
dodge shrapnel. There were no civilians in town. We have
not seen one for a month.
Great excitement over peace rumors! The firing still goes
on, however. A bunch of doughboys celebrated all night in
the citadel. Next morning they had to go into the trenches,
and over the top.
Big gas attack. A shell struck about 25' from us and
uprooted a big tree. Another gas shell struck the front of
the house. We put on gas masks. After awhile, we got
orders to take them off. I took mine off and could smell
gas, so put it back on in a hurry. Some of the boys were
slow, and got gassed. Several went to the hospital. About
80 Frenchmen on the ground floor were gassed very badly. We
heard of several who died from this gas attack. This gas
irritated the membranes of the lungs and throat, causing a
secretion of water, which, if severe, filled up the lungs,
causing strangulation. A gas victim usually died with eyes
and mouth wide open, gasping for breath. The little I got
gave me a terrible cough.
October 24 to 26th:
We heard that the Germans had recaptured hill No. 3l0. We
left Verdun at midnight for another front. Shells were
still coming over as we pulled out. The Germans had a few
guns, which could still reach the town. We had a very cold
ride that night.
October 28th, l9l8: We passed through what had once been heavy forest. It was a
wilderness of broken trees, shell holes and barbed wire.
All kinds of guns and equipment were scattered about. We
could see the little shelter holes where the soldiers had
crouched for protection. Some were full of water and looked
like a bleak place to enjoy life in. Little piles of empty
rifle shells lay near. German prisoners were working on the
roads. They were mostly boys and old men.
October 29th, l0 a.m.:
Reached Lancon. The guns were already in position at Senuc,
which is 2 miles away. We expected another drive.
Drive started. Our guns fired on the Bois de Loges near
Grandpre. Here was some of the hardest fighting of the
(finished school at Link's one year ago)
We moved our battery office
to Senuc, where the guns were. A French battery was firing
as we passed along the road. One gun fired over our heads
just as we were directly in front of it, and nearly deafened
us. We were the only company on Senuc and had the pick of
the town for billets.
I took a detail out to look
over the field. We went up through Grandpre and up the hill
of Mont le Mort Homme, or Deadman's Hill. The dead were
thick. We saw lots of one company. I think it was the
The 79th Division was coming back from the front. All
morning the road was filled with men and guns. They were in
good spirits. I saw one fellow driving a trench mortar, who
wore a silk plug hat he had found somewhere. They were
plastered with mud.
We were waiting for orders. It was getting cold, with ice
freezing at night.
We got the word that the "guerre a fini". The war was
We got orders at 4 a.m. to move and at 8 o'clock, pulled
out. We went to Floville, then MontFaucon, St. Menehould.
Camped at the side of the road at night. The ground was
frozen and it was very cold.
We stopped in Senancourt for a few days. The mail came
while we were there. I didn't score. Bugler Charles Lamb
was transferred from our outfit at this place. He did not
want to leave us.
We stayed in Senancourt
until the 22nd, when we left at 6 a.m. We went
through Bar le Duc and got into Rouvroy at dark. We were
glad to get back! The girl at the wine shop had died of the
flu while we were away.
We had to coil up endless
red tape here. Made a complete check of our equipment and
sent in a requisition to complete our equipment "C". The
only bright spot was our old friends, vins rouge and blanc.
We left Rouvroy at 4 p.m. Stood in the rain at the station
until 8:30. Thanksgiving Day in boxcars and the only
celebration we had was when we stopped alongside of a train
of wine cars. One of them was leaking, and we gave a
Frenchman some francs to bring us a bucketful but we were
wrong in supposing it was wine, because it must have been
pure alcohol. We arrived in Brest at l p.m. and stood in
the rain until l:30, then went to Camp Pontenazen. The mud
in out tents was knee deep. No floors. It rained all the
time we were there. We slept in our clothes, and were wet
all the time. The kitchens fed l0,000 men each and were like
stockyards. Nearly all the men were sick. Conditions were
much worse than at the front! We were allowed no liberty.
The men grew desperate. Even the officers were savage.
Every man who was able had to work. They went 5 miles to
the docks and carried sidewalk to camp on their backs. I
had to make another sailing list of l2 copies. It took a
week. The rain ran down our necks, as we hammered the
typewriter. The top soak got sick, but wouldn't go to the
hospital. He got a bottle of wine, and we heated it in a
tin cup on the stove. That cured him.
One night a storm blew down
half the tents. We left Brest January l5th, l9l9.
Marched down to the docks and got on a tugboat which took us
out to the transport Haverford. We slept in hammocks and
everything seemed fine, compared with our stay at Brest. The
old tub was very slow. l5 knots was about all she would
do. We went south from Brest. There was a company of
colored infantry on board. They were casuals and had all
been wounded. Some of them were decorated for bravery. I
heard one say as we passed some island, "Those are the
Canary Bird Islands." The home trip seemed like a long old
grind, notwithstanding the fact that we had lots of
amusements on board. The band played every day and we had
shows and prizefights. The men shot craps all night. Two
or three chuck-a-luck games were running on deck all the
We had crossed the Gulf Stream and the air felt cold.
We had reveille at 4:30 a.m. We were in the Delaware
River. It had taken l5 days to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
All kinds and sizes of boats came to meet us! Bands played,
and all the factory whistles and ship's sirens were
screeching. At the dock, the Red Cross served us ice cream
and cake - the first for a year! We put on a parade in
Philadelphia, and got a big write up in the papers.
The conditions at Brest
also came in for an expose'. We went from Philly to Camp
Dix, New Jersey.
The Battery went through the delouser. All of our clothes
were baked with live steam and we took a REAL bath! We had
good barracks, and lots to eat at Camp Dix. Got a lot of
(Note: Transcription of letter dated February 1 from
In the U.S. at last. And it does seem good, but
it will be a great deal better when I am free, white, and
twenty-one again. I have been on duty all the time for over
a year and it gets mighty old. Never a minute to call my
own. We left Rouvroy, France, December 24, and had a very
merry Christmas on board boxcars with cold corned beef and
hard tack for dinner.
We arrived in Brest in the afternoon of the
twenty-eighth and went into camp about four or five miles
out at Camp Pontenazon. We called it Camp Pontoon. It
rained all the time we were there. (Until the fifteenth of
January.) We lived in tents, which leaked like cheesecloth,
and the mud was knee-deep. We lined up by regiments to eat
and stood in the mud while doing so. Besides that, the
regiment had to perform extraordinarily hard labor in the
rain and the men always slept with their clothes on to dry
them out, as there was no fire.
We endured far more discomfort than on our worst
position on the firing line we left. This treatment was not
for any offense but the regular thing for all troops
embarking at that port. No liberty was allowed and any man
on the road not with an officer was arrested by the military
German prisoners never have been so brutally
treated as all American soldiers are being treated right now
in that death camp. We had men die of pneumonia and there
were rumors of hundreds of deaths there every week. If
people of the United States knew how their relatives are
being treated there would be something doing.
But we finally were allowed to leave and boarded
the English transport, H.M.S. Haverford on the fourteenth
and left port the fifteenth of January. We had a good
voyage except that it took fifteen days to reach
Philadelphia, where we were given a grand reception. We put
on a short parade and took a train for Camp Dix, New Jersey.
I have no idea when I will be discharged or
where. There seems to be no plan worked out to discharge
troops. The paper work and red tape obscures everything
I must get to work now. Will, of course, be out that way
as soon as possible.
Had some dental work done at the camp hospital.
We left Camp Dix by train to Canton, Ohio, Chicago and
Kansas City. This was the Colonel's hometown, so he put on
another parade through the streets, after which he had a big
dinner at the Hotel Baltimore. Then we were turned loose.
We surely made good use of the time until l a.m. when our
train left. Our Battalion went to Camp Kearny, California by
way of Wichita, Kansas to Amarillo, Texas then Los Angeles,
over the Southern Pacific railroad.
We stopped in Los Angeles
for several hours and I went to a show. The other two
battalions went to Camp Lewis, Washington to be disbanded.
We got into Camp Kearny at 7 a.m. on February l8th.
Went to town with Sgt. Woods.
February 22nd (Saturday):
Had a great parade in San Diego, in honor of San Diego's
own, as they called us. They turned out the Sailors,
Marines and Cavalry and passed in review with our outfit on
the reviewing stand at the fairgrounds.
All the Battery were disbanded except the old regulars who
remain in the service. I was sent with a detachment by boat
to the Presidio of San Francisco. We had a first class trip
on board the passenger boat Governor. Arrived in San
Francisco at l:30 p.m. We did nothing in Frisco but wait to
be discharged. Private Eno was the only man of the Battery
with me. He lived in Lovelock, Nevada and was telling me of
his girl. He was going to be married soon after he got
home. One day I went down to the camp post office to call
for my mail. Eno said to get his, also. He had not heard
from his girl for a long time. He got a letter. He opened
it, and his face took on a painful expression. The letter
was from his girl's husband requesting him not to bother his
wife with love letters. His girl had married a slacker in
We were discharged on
March 8th, l9l9
I got transportation to
Boise, Idaho. There were about a dozen discharged solders
on the train, and we certainly had a rousing time on the way
to Ogden, Utah. There, the bunch broke up, and I was
alone. I went to Minidoka, Idaho, and paid my fare from
there to Twin Falls, Idaho, my hometown, where I arrived at
noon on March ll, l9l9. I stayed at home for a few
days and looked over the town. I found that I was a
stranger in my own hometown. All the jobs were held by
slackers and girls, if I may be pardoned for mentioning the
two in the same sentence! I finally went to work for the
Gem State Lumber Company at Melba, Idaho.
the summer months in Melba, the handsome young twenty-eight
year old war hero met Hilda Moore, who was staying there
with her parents and operating a little ice cream parlor
with her sister, Martha. They were married on the l8th
of October, l9l9 in Boise.)
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