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Chapter 12. After the Eleventh


The 302nd ENGINEERS

by,
Gilbert H. Crawford
Thomas H. Ellett
John J. Hyland


THE day following the Armistice, the 77th Division was relieved by a French division. The honor of marching through Luxemburg to Coblenz was not to be allowed us. Instead we were ordered to the rear to a training area near Chaumont. The Regiment concentrated immediately at the villages at Vaux and Sammauthe, a few miles south of the Meuse. There, after a few days spent in cleaning up and some hard work on the nearby roads, started the long march south.

In order to get to our Winter quarters near Chaumont, it was necessary to march 161 miles nearly due south. This was the longest march engaged in by the Regiment at any time. It started from Sammauthe on the 21st of November and ended on the 4th of December at Chateauvillain and the surrounding villages.

Fortunately for the Regiment, the Winter rains had not set in until just before the close of this long march. But immediately after arriving at their Winter quarters, the rain started and, almost without a day's intermission, continued for several months.

Bright hopes were entertained for a quick homegoing at this time, December, 1918. Captain Greene, who returned from the hospital to the command of the 2nd Battalion early in the month, was particularly optimistic. He had the most circumstantial rumors to repeat, that the Regiment would be in the United States before the New Year. Unfortunately, these rumors were not to come true, and the Engineers had several trying months ahead of them before they were to see the Statue of Liberty.

December was spent mostly in drill. The War being over, it was apparently of the utmost importance that the Engineers become expert infantrymen. So the different companies "snapped into it" and out of it, daily in the mud and cold rain of the most miserable of months. Untold machine gun posts were captured, and every one practiced rifle fire on the improvised ranges-even the cooks and K. Ps.

Toward the end of December it was discovered that while the Engineers were so engaged in perfecting their drill and military etiquette, the roads in the divisional area had decidedly gone to pot. Due to the constant rain the roads had softened and the United States Army truck did the rest.

Large holes appeared everywhere in the once magnificent highways, and the Regiment was given orders to fix them up forthwith. This job sounds easy, but it must be realized that the roads in the divisional area were several hundred miles in length. The working force of the Regiment was scarcely more than 1,200 men. Tools were scarce, material scarcer and the weather atrocious.

Then was seen the phenomenon of rapid road deterioration in an area containing over 20,000 practically idle men. It was physically impossible for the men of the Regiment to keep all the roads even superficially repaired. Colonel Giesting, realizing the situation, obtained orders from General Alexander that the troops in each village, infantry, artillery or what not, were to keep their own roads in repair, and that Engineer non-commissioned officers be sent to all the villages to supervise the road work. This plan worked so well that later it was adopted by most of the other American divisions, who found themselves in the same plight as the 77th.

At Chateauvillain, in January, was held a memorial service for those who had fallen in the field. None will ever forget this last taps for their absent comrades.

From the 1st of January until just before sailing home, it was the constant work of the Regiment to keep the roads repaired. This hard, tiresome work, carried on day after day in the rain and snow, was a great anti-climax to the work of the war. It was necessary, however, and words cannot describe the fine spirit shown by the officers and men during those long, weary months.

In January, 1919, most of the organization property was turned in to the various supply depots; only individual property was retained. This was in anticipation of the hoped for homegoing. Early in February, orders were received for a move to the Le Mans area. Le Mans was the center of the area west of Paris, which was used by the American Army for preparation for embarkation to the United States. The orders were received with the enthusiasm they deserved. Quick work was made of the preparations, and on the early morning of the 10th of February, the Regiment entrained at Latrecey. The day was very cold and cheerless. A most uncomfortable trip of nearly 72 hours followed. The weather was miserable, and if it had not been for the splendid health of the men, much sickness due to the cramped quarters and cold would have followed.

The Regiment detrained at Sable sur Sarthe on the 12th and 13th of February. Sable was a fine little city on the banks of the beautiful Sarthe River. The Regimental Headquarters were to remain there until a short time before embarkation. Road work immediately called forth the efforts of the men. The 1st Battalion maintained its headquarters in Sable; the 2nd Battalion headquarters were in Parce. The companies were billeted in various villages, sometimes divided into platoons for better working on the roads.

In February several promotions were made in fulfillment of recommendations made before the Armistice. Major Per-Lee was promoted to be Lieutenant-Colonel, Captains Crawford and Simmons were promoted to be Majors of the 1st and 2nd Battalions respectively, and Lieutenant Edwards was promoted to be Captain.

The grind of road repairs continued with little letup, except for an occasional game of baseball between company teams, until the first part of April. It then became apparent that homegoing was not far off. The Regiment had been so separated that permission was asked and granted for a regimental concentration in one city for the purpose of getting the men together once at least before they left France. The city of Chateau-Gontier was chosen. Over-looking the reaches of the magnificent Mayenne River, it was a fitting place for the elements of the Regiment to gather for the last time. The few days spent in Chateau- Gontier will long be remembered with pleasure.

In spite of their many months of hard labor on the roads, the men responded instantly to the desire of the commander to regain the old-time snap. A most interesting competition was held to determine the best-drilled platoon in the Regiment. Each company picked its best drilled platoon. A battalion competition was then held and finally the regimental competition. Co. "C" and Co. "F" qualified for the finals, and in a wonderful exhibition, the 4th platoon of Co. "C" won the prize. This platoon was commanded by Lieutenant Finlayson and Sergeant Reyes. The drill was indicative of the fine spirit of the men, even after all the disappointing months following the Armistice.

It was at Chateau-Gontier, also, that the colors of the Regiment were officially decorated by Major-General Alexander. This impressive ceremony took place in the market square, and was followed by a review. During the ceremony, General Alexander took occasion to speak in the highest terms of the work of the 302nd Engineers.

An incident of considerable interest at Chateau-Gontier was a regimental inspection held in the city parks. The fine way in which all the equipment was laid out for the area inspectors was indicative of the fine discipline of the Regiment.

On 17th April, 1919, the final French entrainment took place. For the last time were the men crowded forty to a car in the little French freight cars; for the last time were the discomforts of this kind of traveling to be experienced. The Regiment arrived at Brest on the 18th and 19th of April. The weather for a great wonder was good. Camp Pontanezon might not be all that the philanthropic at home desired, but it looked good to us. It was so much better than the usual French accommodations for soldiers that it appeared almost paradise, especially as it spelled another letter in the word HOME.

At Pontanezon the usual series of inspections took place-rather an extended series. But as the Regiment had been thoroughly equipped to the last bristle of the tooth brush, there was not even the suggestion of a delay. And apparently Pontanezon was the only, place in France where American Army equipment was plentiful. It was refreshing t o observe the speed with which it could be secured, and made us wonder why such an excellent system had not been adopted before.
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