Memories of Ira Irvin Boggs
The War Years
Until June (after I turned 22), I worked on the farm at home and hired out some for my neighbors. There was war going on in Europe and had been, since 1914. I had been reading about the war for three years, and I felt that Germany was far in the wrong. The war could have been prevented it in the first place, but Germany was ruled by warlords who thought she could conquer the world. They were waging war on France, Italy, Serbia, Belgium and some smaller nations. Austria, Hungry, and, I believe, Romania, were with the German Alliance. Germany expanded the war to take on England and they almost made war on Norway and Sweden (but those countries wouldn’t fight back. They let Germany interfere with their rights). Most of the American people were for France, but some were so strong for Germany that they were very unpatriotic toward their own government.
France was our best friend in Europe, or one of our most favored nations, because France had helped us in the Revolutionary War against England. We couldn’t afford to stand by and see a War Lord nation takeover France or England, and Germany was making headway toward taking both of them.
France was pretty well prepared for war, but Germany was better armed. Germany was supposed to be neutral with Belgium, but Belgium was in her way, between Germany and France, and the North Sea and the English Channel; so Germany swept through Belgium, brutally murdering women and children. They committed many crimes against helpless nations such brutal deeds that we could hardly believe it.
It made my blood boil to read about it. It was hard for me to believe until I saw it with my own eyes as I did later, in the battle of the Argonne and during the Meuse offensive. (They were as brutal as the Japanese were in the death march when Japan took Corregadore in the Second World War.)
Germany got so brave that she broke international laws as if she owned the world and could do as she pleased with any nation. The U. S. was shipping food and supplies to Europe, mostly to France and England. Our ships were unarmed, and we were helpless to protect our merchant vessels from armed battleships. According to international law, we were at liberty to ship anything we pleased. Germany had the right to capture our ships and take our cargo, as long as she didn’t harm our crews or destroy our ships; but, under international law, she was required to turn our ships loose to go home and to pay for our cargo when she did take it.
Germany sunk a big passenger liner, the Lusitanian, and didn’t even try to rescue the passengers; they just let them drown. Some American people were aboard the ship. President Wilson called Congress to Washington. He and the Congress didn’t have to declare war on Germany; they just declared that war already existed. We started mobilizing our troops and ships, and our government called all reserves to duty and declared a draft law. We went to war against Germany and her allies (April 6, 1917).
I helped with the crop until we got it worked over once (June 19, 1917); then I told Mother that I might as well volunteer. I would be called soon, anyway; so I thought I should go while I could choose my organization.
Mother said, “Granddad said you don’t know what you are doing.” (Granddad had been in the Civil War.) I told Mother somebody had to go. We couldn’t afford to be ruled by such people as the warlords of Germany. Mother was right; I didn’t know what I was doing. Until he has been there, no one knows what war is like. That’s for sure! I might try to explain it, but that can’t be done either. No one knows until he goes through a war. You take a healthy soldier and train him and drill him to every hardship of battle; but, until he has seen the battlefield, he still won’t know what he is getting into. I’ve said, “A well trained soldier has more lives than a cat’s nine lives.”
I went to Charleston and tried to get in the Navy. I had been told that the Navy was a good place to learn a valuable trade, but I didn’t pass their physical examination. The recruiting officer said that only one out of ten passed the Navy physical. I went to the Army recruiting office on Summers Street. (They still have a recruiting station there.) The Army rated me l A. I stayed overnight, at the Washington Hotel. The date was June 19, 1917. The next morning, along with several other recruits, I boarded a train at the C & O Railway station; and we traveled to Columbus, Ohio, where we were sworn in. They issued us our uniforms, and some other recruits and I stayed there for two days. Then, we took a train south.
The next day, we arrived in Chattanooga, Tennessee. There, we got off the train and hiked ten miles to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. We got there at about three o’clock p.m. That was my first hike in the army. (I had many, many more during the following two years in the service!) Ft. Oglethorp had been an army post since the Civil War. They displayed a lot of old relics such as cannons, wagons and all other guns and material from that war. There, we were assigned to some barracks. The next morning, the old bugle sounded reveille. That was my first time to answer to its duty. They led us to the quartermaster’s barracks, where they issued each of us another uniform and some underwear. The quartermaster clerk just looked at us and threw each of us a uniform. He said, “Take that, and trade amongst yourselves. Make them fit the best you can.” We traded around until some fit and some didn’t fit. “Well, you’re in the Army now. You’re in the Army now. You Son of a Gun, you’re not behind the plow, you’re in the Army now.”
The bugle sounded again, “What’s that call?” “That’s mess call.” We went to the mess hall for the first time. It was about two hundred and fifty feet long with a long table on each side. There were board seats on each side of the tables, with an isle in the middle. I went through the chow line, where they filled my tray. Then I carried it to a table, stepped over the wooden bench, and sat down for my first meal in the mess hall. We had pot roast beef, potatoes, corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes, butter, baked beans, fruit, and a few other vegetables. It was a very hearty meal for people who did hard work.
After dinner, our captain lined us out and gave us a good speech about what it takes to be a good soldier. Then he gave us some manuals containing our general orders about drilling, guard duty and other activities. The next day, our first sergeant lined us up with the tallest of the platoon at the head of the line on down to the shortest at the other end. He selected us for squads of eight. There were three platoons to a company of one hundred and fifty men. The Sergeant took us to the practice field and explained our drill. Then we started practicing. We learned to step off and count time to do squad right and left, to the rear, and forward march.
We soon knew how to soldier. Each morning, the bugle sounded for reveille, and we hustled out to get our clothes on. We didn’t have much time to dress; and if we weren’t in line, fully dressed, to account for ourselves, we might have to look out for punishment such as being put on a nasty or hard labor detail. Experienced officers who knew how to command the recruits led my division. They understood how to handle soldiers, and they knew that we would have to be disciplined and well trained.
Several of our officers were direct from West Point. But some of the Lieutenants and Captains didn’t know the drills as well as some of the sergeants and lower ranked enlisted men. The old regular divisions had the best soldiers. A lot of them had been in military service for fifteen to twenty years, or longer. They had a lot of arguments with some of the newly trained commissioned officers. They almost fought at times. Often, a commanding officer didn’t like to give in, even after he learned where he was wrong.
My Company Commander, Captain White, was one of those seasoned regular soldiers. He was very strict. Everything had to be done to the point. I’ve heard him jeer at those West Point officers until a fly would be afraid to light on one of them. He was a strict, rough going commander; but he did it in a way that mostly every soldier liked him. We enjoyed listening to him argue with those high headed West Point officers.
We drilled hard and long hours through the week. After about six or eight weeks of hard work, we could drill fairly well. Sometimes we passed in review before our general in command. After training to march, we got our rifles and soon learned the rifle drills. We were quite awkward at times, and it appeared as though some of the soldiers would never learn the drill. A few of those noncommissioned officers got rough with them. If we didn’t drill to the point, they would give us a lot of trouble. If a recruit kept making mistakes, they would put him in the “awkward squad” and drill him extra time. Sometimes, they would double time them until they almost collapsed. The persons who couldn’t keep time with the music were the most awkward ones. I don’t believe I got put in the awkward squad more than once. It was considered a disgrace.
We practiced until we were pretty sharp at the rifle drill and could handle our guns well to the command. The next thing was the bayonet drill. We practiced at that for quite a while. Then they lined us up, facing each other, to thrust our bayonets toward one another. We used real steel bayonets, not rubber ones. If he made an awkward thrust or got in the way of another soldier’s bayonet, a soldier could get stabbed. I’ve heard of a few being killed at bayonet drill. We learned to thrust our bayonets in all directions up, down, to the left, right, and to the rear. We also learned to use the shoulder end of our rifle to quickly strike the enemy at close range, getting him into a position where we could stab him with our bayonet.
The next rifle training was on the range, shooting at targets. Those 30 30 Springfield rifles shot with power. If you didn’t hold one solid to your shoulder, it would spring up, or back, when it fired, hitting you in the face or bouncing against your shoulder. It could hurt you so badly that your face or shoulder would be sore for a week. I’ve seen soldiers with bloody faces. Some of them had lived in the cities and had never shot a gun. I was raised on a farm on the edge of a huge forest, and I learned to handle a gun when I was just a boy. I made “Marksman” the first and only time that I was on the practice range with a rifle.
Every three months, each man had to take his turn, for three days, at K.P. (kitchen police). I didn’t mind it; but they always had some rule breakers or some unruly toughs that were into trouble with the mess sergeant, and he was as mean as the outlaws were. We had to peel potatoes for about two hours. It took about two bushels or more for dinner. We had good cooks, and our mess sergeant saw that we had plenty to eat. Some of the other outfits didn’t put all of their food allowance on the table. They used some of it for parties and other pleasures.
One Saturday morning, the battalion was called to pass in review before one of our commanding officers. I was on kitchen duty; so I didn’t get to march that day. The band was on the field, and everyone was marching to the music. I could see them from the kitchen. That was the first large band I ever heard. I realized that their music would be nice to march to. I loved music in general, but I always liked string music the best of all.
I got sick, with a pretty high fever. I told my mess sergeant that I had a terrible headache. He said, “You had better go to the infirmary and see the doctor.” I just walked off without going to the office to get a relief slip. (I thought my sergeant would look after that.) I had the German measles, and my doctor sent me direct to the infirmary. I had to stay there for about two weeks. He wouldn’t let me go back to my barracks because I could give it to the others. I had a very bad case of measles. One night, my fever ran so high that I was almost unconscious before I got the orderly to my room. I kept ringing the bell for him and he wouldn’t come. There were two more patients in my room at the hospital. One of them was about well enough to leave the hospital, and he went to hunt the orderly. He found him down in the basement playing poker. The orderly came and said, “My God! You have a terrible fever.” I asked him how high it was, and he said 104 but I’ll say it was higher than that. He hurried around and got me an icecap to put on my head. He put a cloth between the ice cap and my scalp. It didn’t seem to do me any good. I took the cloth off and put the bare icecap to my head. (That was dangerous and against the rules, but I was suffering so much that I didn’t think of that.) My face broke out so much that it looked almost as red as blood.
When the doctor examined me the next morning, he said, “This is the first case like this I have had in several thousand patients. Your blood has come to your skin.” When the orderly came into my room the next morning, the head nurse said, “I heard the bell ring and ring. Why didn’t you answer it?” I had a notion to tell her that he was down in the basement playing poker. I should have reported him, but I always avoided trouble. If I had told her, he could have been court marshaled. He had made a serious mistake. He could have got a pretty long sentence and I could have died if the other patient had not have been in my room to help me. At that time, measles was a severe disease. (With modern treatments, and now that we have vaccinations to ward it off, the disease doesn’t often cause so much trouble.) I said to my nurse, “If I ever get to Germany, I hope those Germans won’t be as hard on me as their measles are.”
After about two weeks, when I reported back to my company, my first sergeant said, “I had you marked AWOL for several days before I learned where you were.” I said, “My mess sergeant sent me to the doctor. I had the measles, and my doctor sent me on to the hospital. He didn’t want me to spread the measles.” He said, “You should have come to my office first.” I said, “Maybe it’s well that I didn’t as you might be in the hospital now with the measles.” He agreed! I had been pretty sick, and I was still so weak that I had to stay in quarters for a few days before I could go back to work. About all I had to do, while convalescing, was to keep my bunk and my surroundings in pretty good shape. I read the news and wrote a few letters, and I fared very well.
Inspection of quarters and equipment was scheduled on Saturday, the day my doctor let me go to work. We were supposed to have all of our possessions laid out in such order that everything could be seen, and they had to be clean and in proper shape for use. If we were short of any article that was required, we were supposed to report it to our superior officer. These were just our personal belongings such as your mess kit, comb, shaving kit and clothing.
We had arms inspection at least once a month. All of us had rifles at that time, and we had to take them all apart and clean every particle of dirt or rust from anywhere the company commander knew where he might find it. When we had rifle inspection, we would line out with our rifles; and when the officer came by each soldier, he was required to bring his rifle up in both hands. The officer would grab it and look it over, then slam it back at him; and the soldier had better grab it properly and bring it properly to the ground by his side.
One time, I had cleaned my gun in good shape for inspection; but when I put my lock in my gun, I failed to snap it so it wouldn’t come off. I jerked my rifle up for inspection and snapped the lock back so the officer might look through the barrel. I jerked the lock back with so much force that it flew out of my hand and hit the soldier next to me. The commanding officer said to my sergeant, “Take this soldiers name.” The next Sunday, I didn’t get my day of rest. I had to work in the kitchen. That’s the only time that I remember of getting punished while in military service.
When war started, there was a big German battleship in or near New York harbor. They were captured. (I remember that its masts were so tall that they had to take them down before they could get them under the Brooklyn Bridge.) The sailors on it were brought to Fort Oglethorp. They worked around the camp and marched by my barracks mostly every evening. There must have been five hundred, or more, of them. They certainly knew how to march. You could hear the sharp cadence of their steps clicking to time.
I was at Ft. Oglethorp for only about three months. They were building a big camp about two miles from there. We moved to Camp Forrest, Chickamauga Park, Georgia where I soldiered for the rest of the year. That was the winter of 1917 and 1918 one of the coldest winters we ever had. About the first of September, the temperature dropped to three above zero, and during January and February, it snowed a lot (for that far south). Camp Forrest was named after General Nathan Forrest, a leader of the Confederate forces in the Civil War.
After three months from the time I enlisted, I got a furlough. Three months was the longest I had ever been away from home. I went straight to Chattanooga and caught a train to Louisville, where I had to stay overnight. I caught a train to Charleston the next morning and got home the same day. I was glad to get back. I told my parents that I was very well satisfied with the army. I liked the training and experience of being a soldier. At that time, I was the only one of the family in military service. Cornelius tried to enlist, but was turned down because he did not pass the physical. So he went back home and got married; but, after a few months, he was drafted. He was on the waters, on his way overseas, when the armistice was signed. He went to France and was stationed there for about three months before he was sent back home and discharged.
I certainly enjoyed seeing all of my friends and relatives, and I had a good time while at home. After about ten days, I started back to training camp. I knew I wouldnÆt return home until after the war was over, but I always felt that I would get back home safely.
I went back to Camp Forest and was there until the next June. There was only one person in our battalion that I had known back home. Edgar Rogers was from Wallback, and I found him within three buildings of my barrack. Edgar was a good soldier. (After the war, he learned the barber trade. He lived at Miami, near Cabin Creek until he retired. He died in 1963.)
About six months after I entered the service, several members of our division were transferred to units that were sent to France and soon went into battle. I was left at Camp Forrest to help train troops. Later, I was assigned to a machine gun battalion where I stayed until discharged in June 1918. Edgar Rogers was transferred with me. Edgar and I never got separated, and we were close friends clear through the war. Edgar was an orderly for his company commander, and a runner, as they called it at times. When on the front, a runner sometimes had to take some daring adventures to take a message to another officer in active battle. Sometimes, they would have to risk getting into no man’s land. That is between the enemy and our own troops.
While at Camp Forest, Edgar and I attended Sunday school and singing sessions at a little a country church. We would sing with the choir during regular services, but we didn’t join them at their singing conventions. Sometimes our chaplain held services at the YMCA, or at movie picture shows. Sometimes he had short services at the library, where we went to do most of our corresponding. I had joined the church while we lived at Wallback, but I hadn’t been baptized. Before we went to France, the chaplain gave an invitation for baptism. Another soldier and I responded, and he set a date. We were baptized in the Chickamauga River near Camp Forest.
The army included all kinds of characters. Some of them caused trouble at times the same as in any other body of people. They would gamble in playing poker and with other civil games. Sometimes that led to uncivil behavior. If they got into a fight in the barracks, the sergeant would get them a pair of boxing gloves and take them out behind the barracks. He made them fight until one of them gave in. That was exciting for a lot of the soldiers.
We were transferred to Camp Wadsworth, South Carolina, where there was a range suitable for us to practice firing our machine guns. We went to a little town by the name of Spartanburg (which is now a city). While there, we lived in big tents a squad of eight soldiers to a tent. We lingered there for two or three days, waiting for animals and carts to haul our guns and ammunition to the target range.
After our carts and mules caught up with us, we were given fresh mules from the west. They had never had harnesses on them or a bridle in their mouths, and lots of the soldiers were from the city and had never had a thing to do with animals. That caused a lot of excitement. Some of the mules did very well, but some got scared and balked. Some of them ran away. We followed them out through people’s farms, and over fences, until, one by one, we got them back into the road. We eventually got the harnesses on them, loaded our two wheel carts with ammunition and a machine gun on each cart and started for the machine gun range. We finally got to the range where we had corrals to hold the beasts. The mules survived, and nobody was seriously injured.
We stayed on the range for about ten days and learned to fire and take care of our machine guns. We had the Vickers machine gunwhile on the range. (When we got to France, we had to use a French machine gun, which was a little different from the Vickers gun.)
We left Camp Wadsworth on June 29, 1918 and traveled to Camp Mills, Long Island, New York, where we stayed until July 7, 1918. We went from there to Brooklyn, New York and crossed the bay to Jersey City, New Jersey where we loaded onto an English vessel (The Desney Belfast) that had been converted from a cargo carrier to a troop transport ship.
We started out through the East River between New York City and Long Island (through the Long Island Sound). We departed from there, on our voyage to France. In order to get out of so much danger from German submarines, we sailed into the Atlantic for a few miles. We got out to sea far enough that we couldn’t see land for three days. We sailed for Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and stayed there on board the ship right where a spy had blown a shipload of ammunition to bits. (The city was burned, and only tree stubs were left. Several hundred people were killed in that disaster.) We were at the Halifax port for about three days waiting for a fleet of Canadian troops to join our fleet.
This was my first voyage on the waters. I got a bit seasick, but not as bad as some of the other soldiers did. At least, I didn’t have to vomit. Our ships were loaded with cold storage rations, but we nearly starved for duration of our voyage. We got so hungry that some of the soldiers got very cranky and nearly fought over what we did have to eat.
We had twenty four ships (the largest convoy of the war). It included: one cruiser, two cargo ships and twenty one transport ships loaded with 90,000 soldiers. For our protection, several destroyers followed us for the first three days. The cruiser could sail from one side of the convoy to the other in just a few minutes. On the second day of our voyage, we began to fire our big guns. They had spied something sticking up out of the water that they thought was a submarine periscope. We fired about twenty five shots at it. The water was very calm at this time, and a submarine couldn’t get within torpedo firing range. To lose the submarine, our ships increased their speed and changed directions every few minutes. While it was submerged under water, the submarine couldn’t travel as fast as we did; and it didn’t dare to come to the surface where the cruiser guns could get it. If the water had been rough, it could have gotten close enough to fire a torpedo at us.
I was on was one of our biggest transport vessels. The Germans had sunk her sister ship and were always after the Desney Belfast. We stayed near the middle of the convoy, where we were safer. The sea was very calm for about five days, but then it got very rough for about two days. I had gotten over my sickness before we left Halifax. I felt a little queasy at times, but I didn’t suffer any more seasickness for the rest of the voyage. Some soldiers got very ill by the seventh day, some Canadian troops had died. They wrapped them in a white cloth and lowered them into the ocean for burial.
On about the ninth day of our voyage, we met ten submarine destroyer boats that had been sent to protect us. They had run into five subs that were after us, and they sank three of them. We went on over to England and France. Some of our division landed in England for a few days. My boat landed at La Harve, France.
We were starved and worn out when we got ashore; but we had to hike about four miles to an English camp, where we rested for a few days. We could hear artillery in distance, so we knew that we weren’t far from the front lines. After resting for about four day’s, we started toward the front. We traveled in a boxcar (or freight car) for about forty eight hours. It was supposed to hold twenty men per unit, but there were forty men on each of those cars. Some stood up while the others laid down to rest for about four hours each shift. Before that trip was over we were about as tired as we had been when we disembarked from the boats. We got off our train at a little town by the name of Chairvox.
The 18th machine gun battalionwas about ten hours ahead of us. (They were on a train that wrecked and killed twenty soldiers.) We hiked eight miles to our camp where we could drill and maneuver for battle. We stayed there until August 11, preparing to meet the Hun (German enemy). We were billeted in a small town, Dentenville, where only old people and a few children were living. The women and the old men worked in the fields on the farms. One day, we noticed that they were celebrating drinking and singing. We learned that they were honoring several soldiers from this little town that had been killed. We stayed there until August 27, at ten a.m.
We loaded onto trucks and traveled until 11 p.m. We got off and laid down on the ground where we rested until four a.m. We got back on our trucks and traveled until three p.m. We stopped at a little town by the name of Vagna. As we were marching to our billets, we saw an air raid some distance away. We were within about twenty miles of the battle zone. Here, we met the first American troops that had come from the front lines. They were a replacement unit from the 42nd Division, the “Rainbow Division.” They were in more battles than any other division. When a division had lost a lot of troops, the 42nd Division would replace them.
We left Vagna on September 3rd at seven a.m. and marched to a small town by the name of Leholy. Here we stayed in pup tents just large enough for two soldiers to lie down in. There were more air raids near us. On September 4, at noon, we struck tents. We rolled our packs and started for the front lines. This time, we rode in American trucks. They were much more comfortable than the French trucks. We had 27 men on each of them. We traveled about fourteen miles, climbing the Vasgus Mts. We arrived at our camp at about midnight.
Here we met some strange and miserable company. The French had left us cooties(body lice). We drilled there for a few days and saw some more air battles near us. The chicken wire mattresses made us feel at home with the cooties. We had to fight them constantly. One soldier caught two to see if they wouldn’t fight each other. They had quite a battle. Jeff beat up Joe pretty badly.
We slept in bunk beds, one over the other. This location was on the border between Germany and France, where the war began. We were near the Crown Prince of Germany’s summer resort. In the surrounding area, there were pretty forests of big and tall pine trees that surrounded some clean and grassy little fields. There were also a few steep hills and gorges within our view. An enemy plane was shot down while we were there.
On September 9, 1918, we ate supper at about four p.m. Then we unloaded the ammunition from our carts and left camp. Each of us picked up and carried 48 lbs. of ammunition, one 24 pound box in each hand. We already had on our full field packs, which weighed 75 lbs. We hiked around a hill in a narrow path and went as fast as we could; but, with that load, we couldn’t keep up with the infantry. We would hike for fifty minutes and then rest for ten minutes. I thought my arms would come apart; but, in places, I could drag one box along the bank. That helped some.
We got too far behind the infantry to catch up with them; so we laid the ammunition down by the road and waited for the wagons to come and get it. After loading it on the wagons, we hiked along with them until we got to the end of the road. Then we had to unload the ammunition again and carry it about one and a half miles down a steep hill into the narrow valley (about like Porters Creek at Bomont, West Virginia). We got to our trenches at about three o’clock a.m.
Some of our crew had to go on guard duty on the front lines. I got to rest for about ten hours. Then we relieved a French division, all but a few French gunners. We didn’t get our guns until the next day or two. We each had a 45 caliber pistol and a knife, which we kept at all times.
The French had driven the Hun back into the mountains about fourteen miles into Lorene State. This was on the southern front, near Mulhouse, France, only a few miles from Switzerland. There didn’t seem to be any urgency, for either the enemy or us, to take this place. So the French and Germans almost mingled together there. There was some farming on both sides, and they had to share access to the water. One side would wash their clothes one day and the other the next day, all in the same place.
There wasn’t much need to start a battle, but we didn’t have any orders not to fight. The Germans didn’t know we had shipped in; so they started showing up on their farms, as usual. We scouted around some and did guard duty, but we couldn’t consider this a game of friendship or sport. We wanted to get this war over with. So we started something of interest, and we soon had a few close run ins. We showed them that we came to fight.
After we started war with the Hun, they fired somewhere around us about every day. At intervals, they would open up on our entrenchment lines. The Hun had a one pound cannon near us. (That is a gun that shoots a one pound shell. It will fire about 75 rounds per minute, and it is very accurate.) They kept this up for a few days, and it caused us some trouble in getting our supplies. We kept firing artillery at it without success because we didn’t know its exact location. When we finally noticed a big rock against the hill about five hundred yards from our hideout, we put some artillery on it; and that was the last trouble we had from that cannon.
We had to go to our kitchen, about a mile back of the lines, on or near the top of the hill, to get our food and carry it back it in big cans, ten gallons and larger, to our stationary troops. We would start for that chow at about eleven o’clock, and we didn’t usually get more than three hundred yards from our billets before the Hun started shelling the road that we traveled. We usually halted about midway to our kitchen to rest for a few minutes and to wait for the firing to stop. One day, while we waited there, some shells started whizzing close to us. They made a wobbling sound.
This must have been poison gas, or mustard gas. We were trained to recognize that sound. The canisters didn’t land quite close enough for us to get the gas. So we didn’t have to put on our gas masks. We went on to get our rations. When we returned, there was a two hundred pound shell, six inches long, laying under the pine tree where we had stopped to rest. It must have glanced off of the trees without hitting on the front point where the explosive trigger was located. It just didn’t explode; but it could have been a time bomb, set to explode at any time, in minutes or hours. We didn’t tarry long there. We had been taught what to do in such a case, and it didn’t take us much time to get out of range of it. The commander sent an experienced squad of soldiers to examine it, and they determined that it was an old shell that had lost its explosive energy.
One day, when we started for our lunch, the Germans started firing about three hundred yards ahead of us. A six inch shell of TNT landed in the road there and formed a crater about 15 ft. in diameter and 15 ft. deep. We stopped until they cut out the firing. They were trying hard to get us for real! Some infantrymen were billeted in a little village by the name of Paree, close to where that shell hit. One day we heard shells falling there. We soon learned that several soldiers were out in their lawn, playing ball, when the shells landed. The enemy must have spied them. They landed a shell or two on them before the infantrymen had time to take cover. They shot one soldier’s legs off, close up. He said, “Stop the blood!” Then he fainted away. He died while they were carrying him to cover. Another soldier lost his “under arm.” (We heard from him three days later, and he was still living.) The shell injured six more soldiers, some critically.
They continued trying to get us at our lunchtime. Once, we were on our way to get our chow and heard the shells bang at our kitchen. It was near a little dreen, behind a point; but they hit close to it. One soldier was eating his dinner with his mess kit in his lap. The shrapnel knocked a hole, about an inch in diameter, in it. The enemy struck an American flag up from their trench and one of our men let loose at him. In turn, an American soldier put his helmet on a stick and pushed it above our trench. It was hit at once, by a machine gun. (That was dangerous because he could have gotten hit by a slug, or by a bullet bouncing from the helmet.)
There was a small cannon on the hill in front of us, about three hundred yards from our billet. We soldiers usually camouflaged our posts; but sometimes, when things had been quiet for a day or two, a few soldiers would get a little careless and the enemy could spy them. (The enemy had previously retreated from these trenches, and, no doubt, they had maps of every foot of them, and of every hideout.) We heard cannons back over the hill about two miles. (We could hear the shells before we heard the gun.) The trees began to blast apart and fall. The soldiers who were in the open jumped into the trench just in time to save themselves. A shell hit their cannon and knocked it into the trench and covered it with dirt.
One day the enemy tried his luck on our billet. They were firing six and eight inch cannon shells in rapid session. We were located near the hill where their shells were coming close and landing behind our billet. Some flew only a few feet over us. Our shavetail, Second Lieutenant Harper, was standing in the lawn near our billet. He said, “Soldiers, get out of here before a shell hits our billet and tears it to pieces.” We beat it to our trenches.
We stayed up late that night and played cards. We joked with each other about getting killed and we talked about where we should be buried. Someone asked who would like to be buried next to our commanding officer. One soldier spoke up and said, “Not by me! I’ve already had enough trouble with him here.” Who was going to be in heaven? They all agreed they had enough hell here, and everyone thought he deserved a place in heaven. I asked, “Who are you a Jap or a Chink? They believe they are sure for heaven if they die in battle.”
The next night, I was standing guard on our camouflaged line with a rifle. (We rotated positions, with a rifle or a machine gun.) I was posted in a 6 x 8 booth that was sticking out where I could see into no man’s land. It was one or two hundred yards away from any of my soldier friends. The moon wasn’t shining and it was very dark and lonely. Some new German troops had taken over the positions opposite us and they were young and venturesome. They were also slick and skillful in their maneuvers and we had been warned to keep a close lookout for them. I kept quiet, listening for any maneuver they might make. They chirped, like birds, to let their comrades know where they were; and we didn’t know enough about the local birds to distinguish which sounds were real. I heard plenty of chirping and so did the other guards at their rifle or machine gun posts.
I had been on guard for almost an hour, and my time was almost up. (On the front lines, they didn’t keep us on guard longer than that. A person might get sleepy, and we had to be very alert.) I was suddenly alerted by a rustling noise. A German had slipped up within bayonet reach of me. I suppose I must have moved when he startled me, and that startled him, too. He hurried away from my booth and broke to run. I opened fire on him and emptied my rifle of six shots. I was reloading it when I got relief and was told to quit firing. I still don’t know whether or not I hit that Hun; but, if I didn’t get him, he must have hit his old mother earth and hugged it closely. Other guards were disturbed that night, and one machine gunner released a burst of fire at the Germans.
The Hun was still disturbing us at chow time. They still shelled our road, about every day, at around eleven o’clock. One time, a six inch shell hit pretty close by, and the shrapnel sang all around us.
We were stationed in the warm part of France before we went into those mountains, and we were stuck with our summer clothing (mostly khakis). The weather in the mountains was very rainy and our raincoats were porous. They leaked and we got wet. At times, it was almost cold enough to snow; and we would almost freeze when we had to stand still. We were supposed to have O.D. or wool clothing; but it never came. Some soldiers caught colds and pneumonia and had to go to the hospital.
One of our officers was killed while making a scouting trip across no man’s land. He had some important maps and orders on him, and we didn’t want them to fall into enemy hands. His body was on the enemy’s side of the lines and up against a hill. Several of us machine gunners fired a box barrage around the lieutenant’s body while the infantry rescued his remains. We fired over their heads and on each side of them so that the enemy couldn’t get to our troops. (We had drilled and trained for all kinds of maneuvers with our machine guns.) By day, we could see his body to protect those maps on it; but we had to level our guns each time we fired a few blasts because they would vibrate off of the target. We couldn’t see him at night, so we set up a stakes in front of our guns in direct line of the target and leveled our sights to fire over the stake. We lined our machine guns around the hills and fired around the body at different intervals to keep the Germans from getting to the Lieutenant. To see the enemy after dark, we shot flares high into the air and that made the night bright as day.
We got to the officer after he had lain there for eleven days. The detail of soldiers that retrieved the body did not lose even one man. The enemy didn’t fire at them. A bobby trap set by the enemy had killed the officer, and the electric line that electrocuted him was still touching his body. A sergeant grabbed the officer and tried to pull him loose, but the soldier got shocked and had to let loose and leave the body there. Another soldier put on a rubber suit and gloves to cut the electric line.
A few days later, we captured two German soldiers. They told our officer that we were lucky that all of the rescue detail didn’t get killed. Those captives said that they had a gag on the engine that charged the line, but our troops didn’t cut the live wire and that’s what saved them. The enemy had machine guns set on the soldier’s body and they intended to open fire when alerted, but our soldiers cut the dead line instead of the live one.
I had one more venturous experience before we left the Gardarmer sector front. We were expecting trouble that night; and, to prepare for it, we mounted one of our machine guns about one hundred yards back of our billets. The others were deployed in other strategic positions. It was my turn to guard the guns. I took another soldier with me, and we stationed ourselves in a ready position about one hundred yards up the hill from the field where my machine gun was previously deployed. The weather was getting cold in those 5,000 foot mountains, and we were in a drizzling rain still wearing our summer clothing (Our O.D. clothing still hadn’t arrived). We got miserably chilly, and we had to keep still while on guard. I told my friend we would have to be very quiet; but we did talk some, in low voice or whispers. We were expecting the enemy at any time.
We hadn’t been posted long before we heard sticks breaking about thirty feet above us. I cracked one of my grenades and counted five. I threw it and immediately grabbed my buddy. We ran around the hill. I was afraid the grenade might roll back and explode on us. It landed a few yards up the hill, just above where I released it. We waited a few seconds, and then I told my buddy to go and alert our lieutenant. He might want to get around the enemy scouts and capture them. The grenade didn’t explode, and the enemy slipped away quietly. I never heard another move from them. We were using some old grenades that the French had kept there for about five years. They had probably gotten wet. (Our munitions experts tried several of them the next day, and just a few exploded.) A French outfit relieved us at about midnight and we moved out the next morning. We had been on the Gardarmer front for thirty two days but it seemed more like two months. We were the only Americans ever stationed on that sector. We were glad to get out of this miserable, damp and cold place as well as out of the danger. We had experienced many narrow escapes.
We went back to the same small town, Vagna, where we had stayed before we left for the front lines. It was great to get back to where we could have a little pleasure and rest in comfort. We drilled some and took time pretty easy for about three weeks. The weather was pretty comfortable down in the valley. (The climate there, and about everywhere else we were stationed during the war, was much like that we have in West Virginia.)
We needed a little exercise to keep us in shape for service; so I took my squad and gave them a few right face, left face, about face, forward, and to the rear march commands. We didnÆt expect to be there long because we thought that we would soon be in a real battle but we realized that the war was about to end. We were pressing the enemy on all fronts. General Pershing had been made Commander in Chief. He took over from the French Generals, Touch and Jeffrey. The trouble with the French was that they moved from place to place. They would start a battle on one position and give the enemy time to fortify on another front.
General Pershing said, “We’ll hit them as hard as we can on all fronts. We will not give them any rest.” By that time, we had a big army of about one million American troops. After our unit had stayed at Vagna for about three weeks, we were well rested and in good shape to fight again; and we were anxious to get this war over so we could go back to God’s country.
We never knew for sure just where we were going. That was a secret. The enemy might learn what was coming; and the main idea was to take them by surprise, to catch them off guard as much as possible. When we finally got orders to move out, we supposed we were going to the Meuse Argonne front; but nobody confirmed our expectations. We left Vagna on October 26 at 2:30 a.m. We marched to ReMurmont got there at five a.m. and loaded our equipment onto the train. We boarded the train and started for the front at about 10:30 a.m. traveling up the Moselle River through Ohnil, Nancy, Toul, Camay, and Lorouville. We got off of the train at four a.m., October 27, and marched about fourteen miles to Barelle Woods. There, we pitched tents on the hillsides. We were several miles from the Hindenburg line, where some of the heaviest fighting of the war was going on. Airplanes battled over our heads. They glided like birds, below and above the clouds, while firing their machine guns. Sometimes one would fall, or sail, to the ground.
The next day, October 28, the roads were filled with a string of ambulances carrying wounded Americans from the hard fought battles of the Argonne Forest where the French had fought the enemy for about four years. The Hindenburg line was so strongly fortified that it looked impossible to tear it apart; but navy took their 16ö guns off their ships and loaded them on heavy freight cars. They moved them within easy striking range of the Hindenburg line. On about the 29th of October, they opened up with them and let the enemy have all they had for about 72 hours. That was the heaviest barrage of the war. The Americans tore those heavy fortifications to riddles.
The enemy was losing on every front so badly that they started for the Rhine River. Their men wanted to get back home before their leaders surrendered. General Hindenburg, of the German army, had already told Kaiser Wilhelm (or “Kaiser Bill” as we called him) that he thought they were going to lose the war.
We were about thirty miles from the main actions, and we could hear the battle of the Hindenburg line. There was a continual roar from the bombardment. On October 29, our unit struck tents and got ready to move to the front. We hiked on to the Argonne Forests, where we halted for a day or so. We stopped right where the German headquarters had been. It looked like a pleasure camp. They even had underground theaters there. We felt comfortably safe; but we had to be very careful about stepping on boardwalks, or anywhere that the Germans could have set explosive death traps for us.
We hiked on, along the Argonne Forest, and crossed the Hindenburg line. There weren't any trees left there, only a few stumps and snags. Near the lines, the devastation was about a mile wide. They had been bombarded for three or four years. We met several detachments of German prisoners. (We had captured about 5,000). They knew they were whipped; so they surrendered to any American soldier they could. They didn’t trust surrendering to any of the other allies. They might not have any mercy on them. (We were good to our prisoners; and, somehow, the German soldiers must have known that.) At the last of the war, they got so they would surrender to us at any chance they had if they could get away from their commanders.
On the third of October, we resumed our pursuit of the Hun. At about three p.m., we stopped to rest for a few minutes. During our stop, near Varens, France, close behind the front lines, some of the soldiers became rowdy. Our captain in command got their attention and told them they had better rest while they had a chance. We were liable to go into action at any time; and we could be in battle for two or three days without rest. We hiked until about eleven p.m. We were pretty tired almost worn down, and the rain was falling in a cold drizzle when we stopped for the night. We didn’t have to lie down on a soggy wet sod of grass, but we were glad to have the opportunity to rest. We pitched our tents and laid our raincoats on the wet ground. Our raincoats were made of a cheap material; so they didn’t keep us from getting wet; but we were tired enough to sleep ? even if we were drenched and cold.
The skies were clear, and there was a heavy frost on the ground the next morning. Several of us had rheumatism, from exposure; and some of the soldiers were so disabled that they couldn’t go any further. Pvt. Bernard, a Frenchman by decent, was about forty years old. He had to be carried to the ambulance. On November fourth, we continued our daily hike. When we halted for the night, at about nine p.m., we pitched our tents on a hill, near a meadow. The officers made us pitch our tents in formation, saddling around the hill, and we couldn’t lie that way in our tents. We were very tired, and we had a lot of angry soldiers! If the officer had let us, we could have pitched our tents in better positions to rest that night. After I lay down for a few minutes, my buddy rolled down against me. That annoyed us, but we were so tired that we still managed to get some sleep.
We had just got settled when orders came to break camp and get ready to move at any minute. We struck tents, rolled our packs and loaded them on our backs. Then we fell in line, waiting for orders to move on; but that order didn’t come until six o’clock the next morning. I took a chance for court martial. I broke ranks and tried to find a place to lie down out of the mud and water. I didn’t find that place, but I did find a little high ground with a clear area large enough to lie down and rest as best I could. I laid down on my pack, which was on my back, and put my arms over my eyes to keep the cold rain out of my face. I went to sleep, and I didn’t hear any complaint about it. There were others who did the same.
That day, we crossed the line where the 72 hour barrage had been fired. The earth was so full of craters and ditches that it looked as if there had been an earthquake. We went on through a place named Granpree, where there had been a little town the day before it was torn to shambles. Later, I met a soldier who had fought in that battle after they lifted the barrage. He said, “When we bayoneted a German, he would squeal like a pig.” He gushed when he talked about it. This man seemed to love his job.
We hiked on to a large field where the whole sixth Division had halted overnight. We built fires; and I don’t know, to this day, why the command allowed us to do that. They must have thought the war was over, but it was still going on overhead. The Hun planes began to drop their bombs on us. We threw our blankets over the fires and extinguished them within a few seconds. I jumped to a big tree and hovered close to it. A bomb hit about thirty yards from me. My friend, Edgar Rogers, from Wallback, was lying in a tent when that bomb hit close to him. The shrapnel went over Edgar’s tent and killed another soldier four paces away. Edgar jumped up and ran for a sector of woods. We didn’t build any more fires that night.
The Hun did come back during the night we could hear his plane motoring over us, not knowing what moment a bomb would fall on us and blow us to dust. They bombed the general’s place and killed his orderly. It didn’t hit our general, but shrapnel from the bomb did wound him some.
On November fifth, we hiked further along the road. It was muddy and sloppy, and red with animal and human blood. We halted for a few minutes when we got within a few feet of our advancing front lines. The enemy was getting away as fast as they could, but they left machine gun nests behind their retreating forces, and they would open up and kill a few of our soldiers and animals. They would rather kill our horses than our soldiers. The horses pulled our artillery and machine guns and ammunition. We would joke sometimes and say, "Our commander would rather lose a soldier as a horse." When we stopped for a minute, some of the soldiers stepped out into the brush and saw a lot of American dead lying there. I didn’t want to see it.
We went through a little town that the Hun had captured four years back. They had held the old people and women and children as prisoners and used them as slaves and worse! When they left, they took the able bodied people with them and put the old people and children in a church. From the outskirts of the town, they shelled the church where they had left the helpless people. Some of our soldiers went in and saw the dead and wounded children and old people. I could hear the mourning. To hear it was enough for me! I didn't want to see it. I saw a lot of dead enemy soldiers on the roads and on the battle lines, and that was enough for me. (That was fifty years ago, but it still makes me nervous to think of all the horrible things of war that I witnessed.)
The mountain roads were mined with time bombs, but we walked over them, leaving our supplies behind. We continued on, after the Hun, to a little village named Stoney, near the town of Artrucke. The Hun had left at about noon that day. We halted there, and we got to sleep in a barn of straw and hay. This was the first and best place we had rested since October 26. We found some money and other things that the Hun had left, as they got out in a hurry. We stayed there until November the sixth.
Our kitchen and food were lost behind us with the other supplies. Our command sent a detail after them; but it was a few days before they caught up with us. In the meantime, we had some corn beef and a few bites of bacon for rations; but the corn beef was so salty that most of the soldiers couldn’t hold it on an empty stomach. We didn’t have anything else to eat except a few little potatoes that the Hun had left in the ground. They had dug their crops in a hurry before they moved out. Some of us scraped up a few little potatoes and fried them with our bacon. They were really good! That was all we had eaten within about fifty hours.
We slept in the hay barn and waited for our kitchen and our outfit to get together again so we could move on to another front. We scouted around, for a mile or so; but we couldn't go too far from our outfit while on duty because we might have to suddenly move on, regardless of our supplies. There was a wrecked airplane in sight of us. We went to see it and there were two dead Frenchmen in it, but we didn’t do anything about it. I suppose the French would take care of it.
There wasn’t any fighting to mention, and we didn’t need any second line at this time. The Hun were on the run and trying to get back home before they were captured. If we had captured them, they would have been prisoners of war. They realized that if they got home before surrendering they would be freer but we did seize most of their army and their supplies.
Our planes blew up the bridge over the Rhine River, at Coblenze; and we captured all of the men and their material about all of a division. The planes that blew the Coblenze Bridge sailed over our heads in formation while going back to base. I counted seventy some of them. That was an exciting view. We had a good idea about what they had done to our enemy before we heard the reports about it a few hours later.
We got orders to go on to the Verdun battle, but we were allowed to rest for seventy hours before going any further. That was a welcome must. We couldn’t have stood much more of that punishment. We dug about a half bushel of those little potatoes the Hun had left in the ground when they harvested their crop hurriedly before they shipped out. There were 172 men to eat them. We also found a few sugar beets and cooked them for our breakfast.
Our kitchen finally caught up with us on November the eighth, at about dark. Our detail had marched back thirty miles and found them and brought them to us. That slumguillian (or beef stew) certainly tasted good! All of the company of war strength (250 men) was together again.
Our next destination was Verdun, where the hardest fought battle of the war was still being waged. The English and the French were under a continuous siege there for nine months. No Americans that I know of fought at Verdun; but, if our unit had got there before the Armistice was signed we would have had a turn for our first real offensive. Our commanding officer drew a map of the battle area and explained to us how Verdun was nearly lost. If the enemy had taken Verdun, they would have gone right on to Paris. At one time, they had Verdun bottled up, but they just didn’t know how to put the stopper or plug in the bottle. If they had known it, the Hun had it in their hands; but this was one of God’s plans, just like an Israelite miracle. It wasn’t destined to be in the enemy hands.
Verdunwas a city of about 75,000 population and it had a natural fortification. It was behind a half moon hill from the German lines and fortified with line of concrete and armed with heavy artillery. On the German side or no man’s land was a slope of land cleared for several miles. That probably saved France from losing the war before the Americans came. We had about one million men there when we won the war, and we captured most of their army and their supplies.
We left for Verdun on November the ninth. On our way out, for a part of the way, we moved back over the same ground we had previously been over. We went to Buzancyand stayed overnight. We aimed to take our time on this five day hike so we would be in a physical condition to fight and try to take any line that was still held by the enemy. We pitched our tents at Buzancy, but we didn’t get much rest. It was cold and damp, and everyone who was inclined to get rheumatism was stiff. We were so sore that we could hardly walk without punishing. Some of our soldiers had to go to the hospital from there. I, too, had it pretty bad; but I didn’t intend to drop out not as long as I could keep going. I told my comrades that we had just as well stay with our job and finish it. A number of us felt that we would never again be of much use to ourselves or anyone else, but I wouldn’t give up. I wanted to stay with my outfit and finish the war, and we knew it was about over.
On November 10, we hiked about 15 miles and pitched tents for the night. On November 11, we moved on toward deadman’s hill; and we hiked until night when we heard that the war was over. The Armistice was signed at eleven o’clock that morning on the eleventh month, eleventh day, and eleventh hour.
We shouted and sang, shot our pistols, lit flares, and set off loose ammunition that the Germans had left behind on their retreat. We really enjoyed ourselves, even though almost all of us were almost too weak to walk and we still had a five day hike to get to deadmanÆs hill. On November 12, we resumed our hike and continued on the move, eating only two meals, until we caught up with the rest of our division. That night, we pitched tents and stayed at Flevelle for a good, long rest. The weather was cold, but we could now build fires; so we were much more comfortable than we had been before the armistice.
We talked about all the narrow escapes that we had experienced, but we felt that we had hardly been in any warfare. We hadn’t seen any hand to hand combat like some of the other units had experienced. One of our soldiers shot himself in the leg, and someone accused him of doing it just so he could go home, but I believe it was just another accident. On November 13, we continued our hike and stopped in Granoville. On November 14, after another long day on the move, we camped within sight of Verdun, where we relieved the 26th Division. (We stayed there until November 18.) Some of my outfit went immediately to the battlefield to bury dead soldiers on deadman’s hill.
I wanted to go with them, but I wasn’t able to go on that detail until November 17. When we found a dead soldier, we would search his pockets. We found some paper money and a few coins on a few of them. (We kept it for our next party.) The chaplain was with us. He would say a prayer, and we would cover the bodies with a little dirt to protect them until the French could take them to a cemetery. They were mostly French Algerians. They were about as dark as our Colored soldiers. (As I have said, the Americans didn’t lose any men nor enter into any battle there.)
We scouted around over the battlefield and picked up cartridges, grenades, guns and other battle souvenirs. I got a German officer’s spiked helmet, which I later brought home with me. This battlefield had been turned into a mess of holes. They fought so long and had such hard battles that it looked like an earthquake had hit there. I picked up a German boot, and it had a leg bone in it. I didn’t want that for a souvenir! On November 18, we started on a hike at three p.m. We went a few miles, pitched our in shelter tents, and stayed overnight. On November 19, we hiked through Verdun and on to Camp Savoryards, where we stayed in some French barracks until November 22 while we got some more needed rest. Here, we got had more of the French company (cooties).
Lieutenant Harper’s orderly, a little Filipino, was so short that his pack almost dragged the ground. He got completely exhausted from carrying his gear, and Lt. Harper asked if some soldier wouldn’t carry it for him. Lt. Harper was from Florida; and, from appearance, he had been used to ordering Colored people around. He was so overbearing and bigoted that no one in our outfit liked him. We called him a “shave tail.” He didn’t get further than a Second Lt., and I doubt that his superiors liked him any better than the enlisted soldiers did.
On that hike from Verdun to our delousing camp, we had stopped at a little town and bought some limburger cheese; and some of our soldiers got a little too much wine. They could hardly keep up with the rest of us. We sat down to rest; and when we were ready to continue our hike, one of our sergeants refused to get up and go with us. He was pretty drunk, but any disobedience of orders by a soldier in time of war is dangerous.
I was sitting near that Sgt. when Lt. Harper asked him to move on with us. Lt. Harper pulled his 45 pistol from his belt and said, “What do you want to do move on as ordered or lie here?” The Sgt. said, “Well, if you are that kind of man, I’ll move on.”They later court martialed the sergeant. They could have shot him; but the war was in the armistice, and they didn’t want to shoot him. They declared it a mistrial and freed him. He had always been a good soldier. This was the first time I had ever been in a court, and I was glad to see the case dismissed. I think all of us had endured enough punishment to free the devil.
We got orders to go to central France where we would camp until we could go home. There weren’t enough trucks to haul everybody. The division would always look after its own men first, and we were a unit on our own just attached to a division. (The machine gun battalion was just a small unit compared with a division.) That was a sixteen day hike, but we would have to do the best we could. On November 23, we deloused by bathing and changing clothes (all but our shoes) and then started on our long journey.
Our officers said 75 per cent of us should be in the hospital instead of starting on a long hike. I started with my company, but I wasn’t able to carry my pack. I had arthritis so bad that sometimes my knees would give way. I would nearly fall, but my legs didn’t give way both at once. I could catch myself from falling to the ground. I kept up with my company for two days, but I wasn’t able to carry my pack. There was a Greek soldier by my side who punished so much that balls of perspiration would burst out on his forehead, but he just kept marching on. I said, “We had just as well take it as best we can, as we will probably never be fit for anything when we do get home.”
We received an order that a small percent of my company could take a furlough. Naturally, everybody wanted to stay with the company. We were going right on to Brest, where we expected to catch a boat home soon after this hike was finished. We were afraid that, if we were left behind, we might have to stay indefinitely. The number of soldiers who wanted to take the furlough wasn’t enough to fill out the quota, but I didn’t think I would be able to complete the sixteen day hike. I was hardly able to walk; so I was glad to have the opportunity to avoid it.
We waited there until eleven o’clock that night, when we caught a train going to southern France. We traveled until the next night before reaching our destination (Ax Les Bains, France, in the highlands of the Alps). This was a beautiful little tourist city where the kings and other rich people went for their vacations. We got off the train and hiked about six or eight blocks to our hotel where we ate breakfast before we were shown to our rooms. We were all very tired but we had first class accommodations and felt like millionaires. We had a good shower bath and crawled into our beds in the expensive hotel. This was the first time we had had such comforts in the eighteen months that we had been in the army. We slept until about ten o’clock the next morning and got up and ate our breakfast at a high class restaurant. We had civilian privileges again with all expenses paid!
We walked to different tourist attractions, and we saw where the kings and queen had lived and where they had bathed several centuries ago in hued stone bathtubs. We saw a stone arch, still standing, that had been built in the thirteenth century. The next night, we went to a resort where we heard some good music and saw a show. It was a noted gambling resort. (This was where Harry K. Thaw and Standford White had their trouble, about 1912 or earlier, when White shot and killed Thaw. This crime story attracted about as much attention as some of the murder stories that we have today.)
The next day, we took an elevated train to the top of Mt. France. We climbed the hill on a cog railroad. There was a gear in the center of the track and a gear on the locomotive that lifted the train by steam or electric power. It was raining in the valley when we started up the mountain, and we climbed up and up until we went through the clouds. We got off on a 12,000 foot peak that had about six inches of snow on the ground. The air was very clear, and we could look out over the clouds and see peaks of mountains sticking up. They looked like islands on the ocean. We could also see Mt. Blanc, Italy, several miles from us; and we saw the battlegrounds of the Bible days, where warriors rolled stones over the mountains and demolished armies.
Trouble began the next day. I wasn’t well, and that spoiled the pleasures of my remaining furlough. I had influenza and had to go to the hospital. This was a new disease and the doctors didn’t understand it, which made it hard to treat; and, from what my doctor said, I had an unusually bad case of it. That was the beginning of the flu epidemic, the kind of epidemic that nearly always occurs in time of war. It was pretty bad in France but not as bad as in the States. Only a very few soldiers died of it, but that was probably due to better care than the civilians received in the States. We soldiers had good hospitals and doctors to take care of us at once.
My doctor said to some of my comrades, “You soldiers may think you’ve had the flu, but Boggs had a real case of flu.” I hemorrhaged with it. The flu killed many people in the States. Whole families died with it. My Grandmother Estep died with pneumonia (I suppose, as a complication of the flu) in February 1918, while I was in France. I never got to see her again. Other members of my family at home had it, but I didn’t lose any other relatives with it. I got better, after about two weeks in the hospital, and I told my doctor I thought I could make it to my company in central France. He said, “This is a new disease, and you think you are stronger than you are.” The next day, he told me to put my clothes on and walk a few blocks. I walked without watching my route very closely, and I got lost for a few blocks. When I got back to the hospital, I was about ready to faint. I stayed another day or two and then started back to rejoin my army unit. There were about five other soldiers with me. We traveled all day and into the night, when we had to change trains. I was almost as tired as I had been on some of those long hikes, even if we didn’t have bags to carry. (We shipped our baggage by freight or express from the hospital and didn’t have much to carry with us.) One soldier had to go to another hospital. He couldn’t make it back to his army unit. I ventured on, and the next day we made it on through the city of Dijon, where we changed trains again. We rode that locomotive about forty miles to Poinsinet, where I rejoined my army comrades.
We saw some beautiful country. France was mostly all cleared, except in the rough mountains where they grew their timber. That was pretty, too, with big towering pine forests and sometimes a little green plantation of mostly pastureland with grazing cattle. We traveled along the Marne River for several miles. It had been raining a lot, and the Marne was out of banks. That was a big river. It was still clear, even at high tide. That section was all plantations, mostly grape vineyards and some grassland; and there wasn’t any mud to stir up the river.
I was pretty sick and tired when I got back with my battalion and reported to my sergeant. I wasn’t able to stir much the next day and was sent to our infirmary to see my doctor. They checked me over. A soldier was sitting in my room near the door where the doctors were talking, just after I had been examined. The soldier told me that they said my heart was in pretty bad shape and that I ought to be in the hospital. That would get the other doctor into trouble for releasing me too soon, so the doctors marked me for quarters and told me to report back to them again.
I was ill all winter. I had chest pains while sleeping, and I would wake up screaming. That would awaken my comrades. This “flu” was, no doubt, the cause of so much heart trouble thereafter. We were there (instead of going home right away) until late in May (from Dec. 1918 to May 1919). It rained, or snowed, for forty some days without missing a day. (The elements were about like we have in West Virginia, here around Charleston.) It didn’t get very cold, except on a very few days.
We kept up drill practice and worked on the French roads, to save our taxpayers money. Quite a bit of the time, we worked in the cold, wet weather. We gathered stone and napped it into the roads. We had to pay the French for every pound of stone that we napped on their roads while we used them. We would discuss it and grumble. Some of the soldiers were so angry that they said some pretty harsh words about the French and about Uncle Sam for making us work on their roads after coming from our peaceful country and saving them from defeat in the war.
One day I was working on the road when it started snowing. We were getting wet and I told my corporal that I wasn’t able to work and that I was going in out of this miserable weather. He said, “Well, go on home, but you report to the first sergeant.” I went in and found the sergeant sitting in the office by a good fire. I told him that I wasn’t well and the weather was getting bad and that I didn’t think it was a good idea for me to work in that miserable weather. He said, “It’s too bad for anyone to be out.” He cursed those damn French and said, “Orderly, you go tell them soldiers to be getting in here to the fire.” So my coming in saved our whole detail from having to stay a few more hours in that bad weather. We bathed and changed clothes, had a good warm meal and then got ready for our beds.
Conversing, playing cards, and telling stories provided us with about all of the amusements we had. I and an Irishman named Ryan would start a sentence that rhymed. We would continue talking rhymes back and forth until we caused some amusement among the gang. We played cards a lot. Some soldiers would gamble all their pay away if they didn’t win a big stake. I never gambled, and I didn’t drink the French wine or the cognac. Some would go to the French saloons and get on a drunk. They sometimes fought with the French, or amongst themselves, until our commanding officer would stop them from going to that joint, for a month or so. That hurt the French, from losing business.
Sometimes we received cigarettes and chocolate bars from the Salvation Army or the Red Cross. I didn’t smoke, but I liked candy such as it was. It was the best we could get. It was usually Hershey bars, but only about half sweetened. I ate so much of it that I don't care about chocolate flavor today.
I wrote several letters to friends and relatives in the States and some to my Uncle Garee Boggs, who was in France. I also received mail from home nearly every week, usually from Aunt Florence or from a lady friend. Uncle Garee also wrote interesting letters. When they announced mail call, the soldiers rushed out to hear their names called; and when his name was called, the soldier would throw up his hand and yell, “Here!” The letter would be passed to him through the crowd. We received a few magazines to read in addition to our army newsletters. All of that reading kept down the monotony, to some extent; but that was a long, lonesome winter so far away from home, hoping every day that we would get orders to go back to the States.
An engineering battalion was located about five miles from our camp. Except for some of the commanding officers, they were all Colored men. They kept the Coloreds in a group to themselves. For a time, they were in the fighting forces, but they were poorly trained for combat. When they got into battle, they got so enthused or excited that their commanders couldn’t handle them. So they put them into non combat units. These Colored soldiers organized a show and invited us to see it. We all loaded on our trucks and went to see their performance. This was the only show we saw while there from December until June. They were fantastic. I had never laughed so hard as at their antics. Some dressed in women’s clothes. It was astonishing to watch them.
During the winter of 1918, we stayed in French quarters; and we built a few extensions for our kitchen and mess hall. We burned wood, and the French sold us some timber for fuel. It looked like our beech timber. When we cut a tree, we sawed it into blocks and split them. We also cut up the branches and saved every twig for fuel. We even picked up our chips, just as the French did. (They didn’t lose a twig.) The ships that transported the soldiers home would bring food on their return trip, now, instead of war supplies; so we were fed very well! We had three meals per day.
While we were in Poinsinet, an order came for us to pass in review before General Pershing. I thought it would be nice for us to see our General of the Allied Forces before leaving the services, and the commander said that everybody that could possibly get there would have to go. I still had rheumatism and wasn’t as well as a lot of the other soldiers and I wasn’t really able to make a long hike, but I was glad for the opportunity to see him. We had about a week to get ready for the parade and we stayed on the practice field for two or three days to get back into practice. We hadn’t drilled much all winter, but it wasn’t much trouble to get back into the swing of it.
The parade ground was thirty miles from our station and we had to hike the whole distance in one day. We got lined out and started early in the morning on the day before the scheduled event. With full field packs, about 68 lbs., we followed the usual routine fifty minutes of walking followed by ten minutes rests. At about noon, we stopped for an hour or so. Then we loaded our packs and started on with the rest of the division. We got to our destination at about nine o’clock that night. That was another lot of tired soldiers! We rested for about eight hours and then got ready for a big review with the whole division. We lined out in a big field and stood at ease. A few hours passed before the officers got there. Finally, our commanding officer called us to attention; but we still had to stand rigidly for an hour or so before the general and our commanding officer passed within two paces of me. It took them a long time to walk past thirty thousand soldiers. I got to see General Pershing, Commander in Chief of the U. S. Forces and the Allied Forces; and I felt that this privilege was well worth all the hardships involved in getting there.
I was in the sixth division, an old regular division. It had been General Pershing’s old division. When I was first inducted into the army, General Wood was our Commander in Chief of the Army. General Pershing took his place a little later. I was with the 17th machine gun battalion, attached to the sixth division with the 51st infantry. At that time, a fully manned, war ready, division required about thirty thousand soldiers. We didn’t have as many different kinds of combat troops as they do now. During the First World War, we still used horses in the Calvary Division; but we had some trucks. They used mostly horses to pull their artillery. Machine gun outfits used mules to pull the machine guns and ammunition.
Like most organizations, my division had its nicknames; but I don’t think we were entitled to all of them. Because we were held off of the front lines until the last two months of the war, we were called “Pershing’s Pets”; but we did furnish as many, or probably more, troops for the war as any other division. (Until we got to France, we were a training division; and we sent troops to other units to replace lost troops.)
We were also called the “Sight Seeing Division.” That was natural. The first time we were on the front, we were placed where there hadn’t been any fighting since the first few days of the war. That was on the border of France, Germany and Switzerland; near Mulhouse and Gardarmer. Gardarmer was our headquarters. (We were there for thirty one days.) We did raise some trouble there, but I doubt if it was appropriate. We didn’t accomplish much by it, just enough to cause uneasiness for the enemy. There wasn’t any advantage to taking this section of the country, but we wanted some action to get the war over as soon as we could. We lost very few soldiers there. We didn’t intend to make a drive for the place, but we kept some of the enemy troops tied down there. They didn’t know our plans, and they had to stay alert for us. That kept them away from the front where they could do more damage to the allies.
We got ready and started on that long hike back to Poinsinet, where we stayed all winter; but we got started too late to hike all the way back before nightfall. We stopped at about halfway, pitched our pup tents, camped overnight, and got out early the next day. Our officers lined us up that morning and complimented us, and they told us what General Pershing had to say. We took a little more time on our return trip, and that made our hike easier than when going to the general review.
In the spring, after the weather opened up, we played ball. They formed football teams, and they competed between the companies. They had some good games. These were the first football games I had ever seen. It was of some interest to me, but I didn’t know much about it. One man in my company got his leg broken. My sergeant said, “Well, he will get to go home before we do.” I played some baseball. I had practiced that game before, and I understood the rules. It was a lot of amusement to me while we waited to get on our way home, but we didn’t get organized very well before we moved on.
We were located at Poinsinet, a small town in central France, about seventy five miles west of Paris. This was a beautiful country of rolling hills. There were only a few people in that little farming town and very few of them were young. About all of the French woman worked during the war, to relieve the men to go to the army. The people who remained in the village did a lot of farming. They raised mostly small grain such as wheat and oats. I lived upstairs in a house where a family of French people lived downstairs. There were four members of the family at home the father and mother and two girls. One of the girls was about grownup. They were nice people, but they didn’t associate much with the American soldiers.
French farmers lived in little villages. They weren’t spread out like the American farmers are. Usually, the mayor of the town owned about all the land and the people worked for him. We had by names for some of the people around us, whom we saw daily. One old farmer, “Ye Ow”, was always calling to his farm animals. One young woman, who wasn’t capable of doing work in a factory, was called “Cow s ----.” She was silly, and dirty. We got our straw for our mattresses from a barn, there in town. The old people would send that silly girl to the barn with us soldiers, to help and show us where to get the straw; and about every soldier in town knew her by the by name that we had given her.
The French kept their animals right in town, where they lived, especially their cows and work animals mules, horses and work cattle (yolk or oxen cattle). They usually kept them under their dwellings. They were careless about their backyards, where there was usually a pile of manure; but they kept their barns about as clean as they did some of their homes. In spite of such appearances, the French seemed to be healthy people.
We stayed at Poinsinet until May 1919. For a home sick army of soldiers, life there was very monotonous; but we kept things as interesting as we could. We received official orders to move on, but not to go back home. We had to join the army of occupations. If you ever saw an army of discouraged soldiers, this was it! We got ready and took our hard luck as best we could. That was a soldier’s life! Within about a week after we got those orders, our unit moved out. I was left behind to load our mules on a train. (I was raised on a farm, and I had taken care of animals about all my life.)
We finally got on our way a day or two after the rest of our division left. We loaded our animals on a train and started to Coblenze, Germany. At times, there was some pleasure in being a soldier, especially for a person who likes to travel and see interesting sights. That was my delight. Coblenze was near a bridgehead that we blew up in the last part of the war. (That action stopped the enemy and allowed us to capture a big portion of the German forces.)
On our way to the occupation front, we passed through some of the most beautiful parts of France through level land and low rolling hills. The scenery was beautiful in the springtime, especially in the little farming sections. We stopped at Rheems for a few hours and looked at the town. It was a big city, but it was shot up pretty badly during the war. There was a fierce battle in that city and only a few people remained those who could find buildings, here and there, that werenÆt shot up too much to provide shelter.
The French cathedral was one of the interesting sites that we viewed. It had been a beautiful building; but it was torn up pretty badly from the results of the big battles. This building was started in the 13th century, and they were still adding onto it when the war started. It towered high in comparison to the other remaining buildings around it. Before it was shot up so badly, it must have been one of the most beautiful buildings in Europe. At that time, they said that the French didn’t intend to repair it. They wanted to leave it as a reminder of their enemy, Germany; but I imagine it was repaired.
This was the providence of Flanders. The poppies were in a glow of red, as far as you could see, in all directions. This was a beautiful sight; but the graves of the dead of war were just the opposite no matter how straight, row by row, the crosses were. It made me mourn in grief and to think that I could have been one of those, there among the dead. As the poem by John McCrae, a physician in the Canadian Army, goes:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
We moved on toward our place in the occupational forces where we would be guarding the French and German border. (The borders were not entirely safe, even after the armistice was drawn up and peace was declared.) Some of our army stayed there for a few years before we turned it all over to the French and Germans, but about all of the soldiers that had enlisted or were drafted for the duration of the war were back to the states within a year. Some of our soldiers reenlisted, and they stayed until transport ships brought enough newly enlisted men to relieve them after they had replaced the soldiers that were to be released from the service.
We halted in a little town not far from Luxembourg or Belgium. There we stayed for a day or two. We didn’t know why we had stopped; then, we learned that our orders had changed. We got orders to go to Lemans, France and wait for a boat to sail for the states. After all of our disappointments about it, my battalion didn’t have to join the occupational forces. On May 12, we started back the way we had come. We went back through France, following our previous route; and we traveled through Versailles, where the peace conference was going on. President Wilson and some more American dignitaries were still there. Versailles is a beautiful city just on the outskirts of Paris. It seemed more like an American city than any city I had seen in France. We were there for only a few hours, but we had time to see part of the city. Then, we traveled through the outskirts of Paris, near the Eiffel Tower.
We stopped in a freight yard, in a little town, for an hour or more. There was a car setting on another track, near our car; and it was loaded with barrels and kegs. Some of our soldiers said, “If you French are going to treat us like animals, we’ll act like animals. Animals help themselves to what they see.” They stole a ten gallon keg of wine and hurried it into one of our cars.
We moved out and, by the time almost everybody had a drink or two and filled their canteens, the keg was empty. They dumped the empty container, and it rolled over a hill. We didn’t see where it went, and we didn’t care much. About everyone was pretty tipsy. The keg may have hit a dwelling, but nobody cared. We didn’t get along very well with the French after the war was over. Nobody felt very good toward them. It wasn’t hard to start a row, especially when the soldiers were drinking wine and felt pretty brave.
We stopped in Rennes on our way to Brest, the port where we were to take a boat. Someone yelled, “THE AMERICANS WON THE WAR.” The French didn’t appreciate that boasting by the American soldiers. It started a riot! Some of our soldiers got hurt pretty badly, and I heard that a Frenchman was killed. We got out of there as soon as we could. The American officers were about as responsible as anyone for this trouble. They got their share of the wine; so no one was unaccountable for our outlawry. We went on, and I never heard what the French did about our actions. They probably couldn’t do much, and they were just glad that we were going home and that they were through with us.
We landed at Brest and unloaded in a soldier’s camp on the outskirts of the city. We stayed there a few days while we rested and got ready to sail for the states. We received official notice that there was a ship waiting for us at the port of Brest, a ship by the name of the Henry R. Malery. It was considerably smaller than the Desney Belfast, the ship we had sailed to France on. This one was only three hundred feet long, but we were glad to get any kind of a ship back home to God’s country. We got to port early the next morning. We got to see the George Washington in the bay there. It was the ship that had brought President Wilson to France for the peace treaty. It was a big beautiful vessel one of the largest on the ocean. The bay was full of ships and small sailing boats, about as far as we could see.
It was about dark before we finished loading and got started across the Atlantic that day, June 2. We boarded the ship and found our quarters down in the bottom level. Our bunks were spaced one over the other. I had the middle bunk. There was one under me and one over me. Our vessel finally got underway, and we were soon out of sight of land for the next twenty one days.
For the first day or so of our voyage, we got along very well. The water was fairly calm until we were about midway across the Atlantic Ocean; then a storm came up. It was just an ordinary storm, but it didn’t have to be a bad storm to rock that small boat. The waves were high enough to splash onto the deck at the bow of the ship. Everybody who was inclined to get seasick got a touch of it. I got deathly ill. If you ever get a bad dose of seasickness, you will be in such misery that you won’t care much if you die. The smell of that salt water made me more terribly miserable. I got out of my bunk to go to the restroom, but I was so sick that I nearly emptied my stomach before I got there. I had such a bad case that I was still trying to vomit after emptying all the contents of my stomach. (I had the dry heaves.) Almost everybody was ill, and the floor was so slick and slimy that we had to hold onto the bunks as we walked along. Regardless of who was sick, the boat was rocking so swiftly that anyone could fall into that mess, and a few soldiers did faint and fall.
In a day or two, we began to get over our seasickness; and we soon got hungry. Having emptied our stomachs to the limit, we had room for a big meal. This was my second voyage on the ocean; and, at the time, I hoped it to be my last. One of the officers of the ship’s crew also got seasick. He said he was going to try one more trip; and, if he got sick on that trip, he would have to break his life’s career. It’s very unusual for a seasoned sailor to get seasick after getting accustomed to the rock of the boat and the scent of salt water.
I started a casual conversation with another soldier on the boat, and I asked him where he was from. (It is customary for soldiers to inquire about where you are from, especially in my division. It was an old regular division made up of men from half or more of the states.) He was from Clendenin, West Virginia. His name is Lone Rucker. (He later returned to the gas and oil industry and has spent his life there, just as I have. After more than fifty years, I still see him sometimes when I go to Clendenin.)
We sailed on; and, after we were able to eat and refill our stomachs, we started feeling pretty good. We didn’t have any more high winds; so we enjoyed the rest of our voyage. Early in the morning of June 22, someone yelled, “I see land. We are entering port soon.” Everybody got out on deck as soon as they could. We sure were glad to get off of that boat, especially onto our good old U.S.A. soil, and to get started on for home again!
We unloaded at New York harbor. From there, we caught a small schooner and sailed across the Hudson River to Hoboken, New Jersey. From there, we went a few miles to Camp Mead. We rested there for a few days and got ready to be mustered out of military service so we could go home. I met an old friend (Fred Summers, from Wallback whom I hadn’t seen for a few years) there, and we had a good visit.
I was at Camp Mead for about two weeks, resting from our sea voyage and waiting for a chance to take my final physical examination before discharge. I didn’t feel too well; but I thought I would probably be O.K., sooner or later, after I got out of the military service. Now, I think that I made a mistake by not staying in a few days longer and asking for a medical disability from active service. My health didn’t prove too good, and it was nearly a year before I went back to the veteran’s hospital for a checkup on my condition. (They did give me a disability rating, and the doctors decided that it was related to active service conditions. They gave me a twenty four percent disability and paid me from the time I was discharged.)
I left Camp Mead and traveled to Orlando, West Virginia, where I had to wait a few hours to change trains for the final lag of my journey. At about ten a.m. the next day, I got off the train at the Camp Creek railway station. None of my family was there to meet me They weren’t expecting me so soon. It took me about 45 minutes to walk home across the hill from Camp creek. I carried only a valise with a few clothes and toilet kit in it. I had shipped my trunk by rail.
I got within sight of the house and still didn’t see anybody and I was within one hundred yards of my home before anyone spotted me. Mother, Dad and my sister, Ona, met me about halfway. We hugged and wiped the tears from our eyes. It was a glorious meeting. I had been gone for about twenty months, about seventeen months longer than I had heretofore been away from home at any one time; and, when I left for the war, we didn’t know for sure whether or not we would ever meet again on this side of heaven.
My brothers were not at home. They were working here and there. Alvah, the oldest, was the only one that was living any distance away from home. He was staying in Clendenin. By the next day, I had met all of the family. Alvah, Guy and Cornelius were teaching a school and doing some work on the farm. I believe Ray was working for a telephone company. Glenn, the youngest of the family, was only about seven years old. We thought of him as the baby, and we all adored him. I do remember that he slept so sound that, if you had to get him up (especially at midnight), you had to lead him around, or watch him, for a half hour or so. Otherwise, he might get out of place and wander away.
I was very nervous and that lasted for some time after the war. While at home and convalescing, I tried as best I could to adjust myself to civilian life again; but it was pretty hard for me. I was almost as jittery as a shell shocked person and that made men very restless. It was hard for me to get busy, and work was getting scarce. A very bad panic was coming on, and it lasted for several years.
I didn’t have enough education to do office work; and, at that time, there wasn’t much I could do that wasn’t manual labor. We had very little machinery to take the drudgery out of work. Employment in the oil fields required some very heavy labor; but it was better for me to keep busy if it did hurt. If I had not had the mind to work, and the bodily constitution to stand it, I don’t know what might have happened to me; but, after about two or three years, I began to get better and more encouraged. One thing helped My work always seemed to please my boss. Then too, I did get enough employment to get by until I could finally work myself into a job that didn’t require so much hard labor, where I could make a go of it.
I began to get adjusted to civilian life again; but I did miss some good friends whom I had known and lived with for two years. I did write some of them for awhile; but I soon lost contact with them. While at home, I visited a few of my relatives and friends for a few days; but I felt restless and didn’t tarry long about finding a job. I hadn’t seen my Granddad Estep, Aunt Florence Hill and family or Uncle Bob Estep and family, so I went across the hill and stayed there for a day or two. I missed my Grandmother Estep so much; I didn’t mention her because no one else did, and I didn’t want to bring any sorrow to anyone. (My Grandmother Boggs also died while I was in France. She died of rheumatic fever.)
We played ball some and played games at night and had a nice time. Aunt Florence was only about four years older than I. She was Mother’s youngest sister and almost like a sister to me. We had lived near them for several years. We walked through the woods where I had played from the time when I was eight years old and where I had later hunted and killed rabbits, squirrels, quails and coons. Only a few families lived in that area about a half dozen families within a three mile radius (in the head of the two King Shoals and Pigeon Creek). Granddad, Uncle Talty Hill and Uncle Robert Estep farmed and logged.
Uncle Robert sawed lumber on a large sawmill at the mouth of Upper King Shoals Creek. He walked two and one half miles to work, six days a week; and then he worked ten hours per day lifting and rolling those big logs with a cane hook. People worked hard in those days, for $1.25 to $1.75 per day; but that would buy more then than $15 would in 1970. People didn’t need to buy much only a very few groceries. They raised corn, wheat, oats, beans, pork, beef, potatoes, tomatoes, fruits, chickens for eggs and to eat, turkeys, guineas, and sheep. They even knitted some of their clothes. People didn’t depend much on money to live on like they do today.
I stayed around home until about the first of November 1919. During the little while I was at home, we had a few get together parties. I visited some, with friends and relatives; and I associated with the girl friend I had written while in service. I decided that it would be best if I kept busy; so I got the scythe and started to work on the farm. Dad said, “You had better be careful or you will get too hot. You haven’t done any hard work for a while.” I took my time and worked a few hours a day until I could stand to do a little more each day. There wasn’t much work to be found, except on the farm.
I did find a few days of work in the oil and gas fields, such as casing oil and gas wells. I made about $2 a day at that. That was top wages for labor. I decided to learn a trade if I was going to work in the oil and gas business. I thought I would learn to drill wells. I had to stay on the job about one month, without pay, to train to be a driller and learn to heat and sharpen drill bits and pound them out with a sixteen pound sledge hammer. You had to know just how hot to make them or you could get them too hot and ruin them, but you had to get a drill bit hot enough to hammer it into the shape you wanted. You had to learn to build a furnace and to fix the gas lines so they would blow into the furnace at a certain pressure to heat the bit. When the bit got hot enough, it would blow hot, white sparks. If you didn’t get it out of the furnace soon, it would burn and ruin. Those bits were made of the best of steel. They weighed from 300 to 2,500 lbs., according to the size from five inches to twenty inches or more.
I went to work on a well near Clendenin. Clarence Leisure was the driller, and he was the boss. I teamed up with Grant Ross, the tool dresser. (I had known Grant from the time I was a boy; and Clarence married Grant’s sister, Estel. I knew her, too, as they were from Wallback where I had lived from 1906 to 1911.) I could come home on the train once or twice per month. I worked there for about six weeks.