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17. In the Open at Last


A STORY
of
THE 305th MACHINE GUN BATTALION
77th DIVISION
A.E.F.
By

HENRY W. SMITH
Chapter 17
In the Open at Last


CHAPTER XVII

IN THE OPEN AT LAST

IT WILL be recalled that the open, rolling country was dotted with small patches of woods and part of C Company, under Sergeant Bill Russell, moved forward and took positions in one of those patches with part of one of the infantry regiments. We had not eaten for some time and when the infantry officers succeeded in having some food brought up for their men, Russell tried to get us in on it. He told the officers that as we were operating with them that they should arrange for feeding us and, said he, "If we are not fed by the infantry, I'll take my men out of here." We gave him the horse laugh for that one, or what is now known as the Bronx cheer. "His men." Where would he have taken us? Well, I suppose we couldn't blame him for trying but it was a laugh hearing him try to bulldoze the infantry lieutenants. Incidentally, Russell, as usual, had the best funk hole in the woods -beneath a huge rock. The writer and his old battery mate, Wanner, dug a two-man funk hole and spread our shelter halves over it to keep out the rain. After doing guard duty, I slipped into the hole and tried to tell Wanner that the rain was seeping in but I couldn't get any response so gave it up. In the morning we found that we were in the hole the wrong way and I had been talking to Wanner's feet. He could have kicked my head off or I, his, but there was no restless sleeping in those days. Once you put your head down, you just went dead.

After a day or so in those machine gun positions in the woods we moved around in the direction of Grand Pre and in the ditch at the foot of a hill we were caught in a box barrage laid down by the enemy. Fortunately the rain made the ground so mushy the shells threw up mud and stones, having gone into the ground so deeply. Several German prisoners carried stretchers with American wounded and those Jerries were certainly horrified when their own shells came whistling over. Rust, of C Company, as usual, had to investigate a disabled and abandoned American truck and again found himself the target of German artillery and once again was lucky enough to get away unhurt.

Day in and day out the weary grind had continued so that no one seemed to know very definitely anything about dates. If anyone were to inquire, the answer would have been, "What do you care?" Well, it seems we had moved along to the sixteenth of October. During one of our breathing spells back in the woods a dense fog fell and, taking advantage of this, we were permitted to build a bon fire. The warmth of that fire certainly felt good. Such things may seem like trifles but they were big items to that weary, wet, hungry and cootie-tormented crowd of soldiers. Faces were haggard and muscles ached but the old pep once again took possession when we realized we were being relieved. This was no rumor for there they were, coming up through the woods, the various elements of the famous 78th Division, known as the Lightning Division. They had been following in support right behind us. Some of our fellows yelled to them, "Where have you birds been so long?" and they yelled back, "You guys were going too fast f or us. We would have relieved you long ago but we couldn't catch you." It was their job now and we were going back for a well-earned rest but, brother, the word "rest" in the army has a funny meaning. Ask any soldier. Anyway, it was away from the tension of the front line and that meant a good deal.

Back we trudged through the rain. Yes, it always seemed to be raining. We left the front on the eighteenth of October and a couple of days later were in the fairly comfortable Camp de Croix Gentin near Florent. It was while we were at this camp that we had our first overseas service stripe sewed on our sleeves, which marked the completion of six months in France and what a tough six months! I remember a little lady in Florent who was kept busy sewing on the stripes, for which, strange as it may seem, she charged practically nothing, explaining that her son was a soldier and she knew what it meant to him to have all his stripes sewed on. Once again the Battalion was together but not the same number that went over the top with the first wave on the morning of September twenty-sixth. Men of each company looked for familiar faces in the other three companies and were doomed to sad disappointments.

The one-story French barracks were equipped with rough wooden cots, some double-decked, but we could sleep on anything and it was dry and comfortable indoors. Many of the men, however, were miserable for several days with dysentery. The weather had settled and the surrounding trees of the woodland, in their fall dress, were a riot of color while underfoot lay a thick carpet of leaves. How fortunate, we thought, to be quartered in such an ideal spot for a much- needed rest and we looked forward to happy days of dreaming, crap games, poker, perhaps a little horseshoe pitching and above all, furloughs to some pleasant leave area. We settled in at Camp de Croix Gentin for ten days and, as one fellow puts it, enjoyed a rest by cleaning machine guns and drilling. One afternoon a corps ordnance inspector, a colonel, made an inspection of the machine guns and a spare barrel which had been carried in a fine leather case all through the Argonne, without being used, was condemned as unfit ' It looks as though the French put over a fast one that time. Well, it was squads east and squads west up and down the road. In addition, we took the machine guns to a range for target practice, which was a little strange. While pasting up targets after firing, ricochets from the guns of other companies still firing sung around and the business of repairing targets promptly ceased as it was too late in the game to be taking any chances especially with bullets from the guns of our own Battalion.

One morning, while at calisthenics, Major Peake congratulated Lieutenant Winslow Williams for the manner in which the men were snapping into attention. We tipped off the Lieutenant that the Major was coming and we were set for anything. He said, "Lieutenant, it does the heart of an old soldier good to see the men snap into attention." We might mention that Lieut. Williams blushed to the roots of his hair and took time out for a good laugh. The Major was not there then. Trained as we were with the British system, the Major bawled us out, on another occasion, for not knowing the American drill. He told us that we would find the drill in the book and advised us to read it. What he failed to do was to produce the book.

At night shows were put on by each company in the Foyer du Soldat, or French Y.M.C.A., and Harry O'Beirn, for C Company, sang his old stand-by, "When You and I Were Young, Maggie". Harry started out too high and had to start over on a lower note. During our stay in the rest camp we were favored with a call from our old friends, the Argonne Players, with Joe Raymond and his orchestra.

It came time for the long-looked-for passes for three-day furloughs to a leave area. The writer was fortunate, or so he thought ' to be among the first three in C Company. Complete new outfits were issued and, as it turned out, that is all we did get out of it. All we had to do was to keep ourselves clean and await the order to move out. At the show in the Foyer du Soldat, that night, Adjutant Ellis said that those going on leave would be held over a day. The next night it was the same thing but it was explained that it was not to be taken that the leaves were called off, simply that transportation was not ready. The third night we were told that all furloughs had been called off and then -
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