France. 8 Oct. 1918.
After spending three long months in a hospital, living the life of a Gentleman with all the attention and soft beds that go with such a life, it was more than music to me to hear that I was to be discharged on the following day. You can imagine how I felt, I was to see my brothers and all the rest of the old company. The only thing that bothered me was the thought that I would have to spend the 4th of July in Saint Aignon, the replacement camp. So that night I did not sleep well, regardless of the nice bed, I was anxious to get on my way and the next morning found me very early for breakfast.
Arriving at the replacement camp, I inquired at once if it would be possible for me to get back to my old company and received the satisfactory reply that I would.
The next five days we’re devoted to gas drills, in fact I had so much of it that I was willing to be gassed in order to get a rest. Finally, after what seemed weeks of waiting, I received the good news that I was to leave that noon for the front.
There we’re at least forty of us who boarded the train, all smiles and as happy as could be, at that time. We little realized what a lot a fellow takes in when he says, “to the front.” After riding for two nights and the same number of days we arrived in the town of –X-, at that time divisional replacement battalion. Upon learning that I was a painter I seemed to be in instant demand and finally landed with the 3rd Army Corps Headquarters at the town of –X-, just behind the lines. My dream of seeing the old friends was shattered and I had to settle down to the calm and quiet duty of painting road signs. I soon learned that a Hdqrs Troop is like a band of Indians, always on the move.
Our first move brought us over on the western front. We traveled all days the 14thof July which was Fete day of France. I don’t believe I have ever seen such a display of flags as France produced this particular day. We we’re received everywhere with cheers and songs. July the 15th was a much larger day to me. In fact it shall always live in my memory for it was my first time under shell fire. I had just finished my morning wash and was returning to the billets when the first shell struck exactly in the center of the street, and not more than twenty feet from where a bunch of Americans we’re shooting a game of craps. As I have stated this was my first time in such a place and to this day I do not know what thoughts run through my mind. I do remember the street coming up in my face and shuting out the light of day for a few minutes. After the excitement had died out I started feeling myself over to see what damage had been done. “Lucky Dog”, all I could find was a scratch on the little finger on my left hand. Upon inquiring, I learned that two others had received bad scalp wounds, outside of that Fritz had gone to all this bother for nothing. Of course the street was ruined and I can truthfully say that the water tower on Cheeks Hill could be buried there with ease. The night of this same day gave me another thrill, I had always longed to see an air raid, my mind is changed now as one’s mind often does. That night I had my chance and want to say that they are not half as funny as they sound. At first we thought the Huns were shelling the town again but upon going to the windows, could easily see the powerful search lights stretching their boney fingers far into the sky in search of Boches machines. The antiaircraft guns were putting up a continuous barrage along with the occasional put-put-put of machine guns. So this was War. It was not my style of fun anyhow, and rather than be caught in a building with a bomb. I and a friend took a walk down along the river. Early that morning the barrage that started that great Offensive for the Allies was turning the blackness of night into day and the noise resembled that of constant thunder, at that time none of us knew what the meaning of all the noise was, but later found out, as you shall see. Again we moved, this time right up next to the lines and it was here that I had my first glimpse of what war realy was.
Early in the morning I could see far off in the distance, what seemed to be small jelly beans suspended from the clouds. As we advanced, they grew larger and larger, and later I learned that they we’re our Observation Balloons, our camp was not more than three kilometers from these balloons, so you can imagine we we’re not far from the lines. Just before we entered the woods that were to hide us for a while, we passed an american field hospital. Here I saw a number of americans lads bearing ugly wounds with a true american spirit which is a smile and a curse for the Kaiser. I did not realize than that before the week was up, I was going to feel a hundred years older in the line of adventure and experience. This hospital personall was very small and at that time the americans were coming in thick and fast, much faster than they could handle them, so we would often go down and lend them a hand, usually at night so that it would not interfere with our work, never will I forget that first night for I had a most pleasant job wished upon me. That of burrying thirty-one dead heros. I hated to start the job but after I had asked for work it was up to me to see it through. Anyway, captains, lieutenants sergeants and privates were put to rest one beside the other. They had all died for the same cause and there was no distinction between the work they had done. That mound is now a monument to the memory of americans as are many more along the line from Montdidier to Verdun. So I was glad when this job was finished and the rest of the night I helped bear stretchers.
To show how little he thought of civilization and humanity, Fritz would occasionaly come over and drop a few bombs around the hospital as well as fly very low above us and open up with that deadly put-put-put-put of his machine gun, luckily none were hit and he only wasted his time. One night a little later while working at this same hospital, I decided that I would give the helper on one of the ambulances a lift. These poor fellows are compelled to lead a tough life and often go days without sleep, so to show them that I was O.K., I decided to go the rounds for one of them. I want to state right here that was the last time I have volunteered for anything for I got more WAR that night than I ever want to be told about again. Fritz had been bombing along the roads as usual that night and where traffic was thick he would swoop down and cut loose with his machine gun. A Scotch division were entering the trenches, relieving the Americans and as we started for the front they were still trudging along the road, a gay and humorous set these Scots, and before the night was over I learned to more than idolize two of them. As I have stated we were well on our journey and we’re just nearing an open place along the road. I noticed the driver feed the car more gas and felt jerks as it picked up speed, but little dreamed what it was for. We had just cleared this open, when, Bong, Bong, Bong and the now familiar rattle of a machine gun. AH, my eyes we’re open now, and I could plainly see the reason for all the speed. We had been lucky, but as is often the case some we’re unlucky and we knew this was no exception to the rule for the moans of wounded and the shrieks of dying plainly and loudly called us back. What a few minutes before had been a laughing, singing, bunch of Scots, was now a bunch of sad and revengeful faces. Thirty some had been killed and many more wounded. We loaded four of the bad cases on the ambulance and started back for the hospital. The trip back I shall always remember for from the inside noise I knew that four human beings we’re making their last fight for life. It seem as tho” we were weeks getting back although in reality we made it in good time. As soon as we could get them out of the ambulance we rushed them to the operating room, two of them died just as we were lifting them on the table. I began to feel sick and am glad that I am unable to state what happened to the other two. I made one more trip up the line and called my nights work done. I hand it to the ambulance drivers and always shall, but I am willing to be a painter myself.
Our next move brought us on a diefferent front but with just as much if not more WAR than the one we had left, here I received my first taste of wartime sign painting as well as the condition the Boche can leave a place in, when leaving it, towns were raped to the ground and not a thing remained but totering walls to prove that they had once been busy little places of life. The first night on this front was worse as usual. We were all sitting just outside the shell of what was once a house, talking over old times when our ears caught the pur of a Hun bombing plane, at once there was an argument as to weather it was an Allied plane or a Boche. A frenchman sitting near by said it was french, and as he had four years of experience we let his word go good, and every one felt at ease again. He was now over our heads and I would gamble not over three hundred feet in the air, when S-s-s-wich! Bang! Lucky again this particular bomb happened to land right in an old shell torn house or I would not be writting this now, you never saw such a scramble for a cave in all your life, and for once I can proudly say that I was not the last one there. I resolved that I would never believe a frenchman again as long as I lived, and it still holds good. This all happened at 9:30 P.M. Fritz was still dropping them at 4:30 A.M. next morning so I will let you guess as to how long I was in this said cave. A few days later, while putting up signs too near the lines to be comfortable, I learned to my joy that I was not far from the 32nd Division. I could hardly wait for quitting time to come, and that night I started out to look up my old company. I had great success and very early in the morning run into them, they were the same old boys regardless of what they had been through. I missed many of the old faces simply because they had paid the price or were back in hospitals. Baraboo can and should feel proud of the Boys she has furnished this one particular company for they received praise everywhere, even from the french officers. I only regret that I was not with them, for I now feel like a back number and have no such tales as they to tell. One of the boys from Madison, who spent two months in the hospital with me, now lies up in that sector with a small wooden cross marking his resting place. I was there two weeks and did all in my power to make that mound look like a grave, I also had several meals with my old company before they left for another front. I am now on the front where the fire works are largest and most continuous. We are back a good distance so get no effect of it. All that bothers me now are rats and cooties. I stay awake one-half of the night knocking rats off the bed the rats that come on, and the other half I devote to playing tag with the cooties. The mornings and evenings are quite cool at present and we have very much rain which includes mud inches thick. Between these discomforts and doging bombs I am soldiering as well as possible and always looking ahead to that one big day when the “Yanks March Into Berlin”, and “Kan the Kaiser”.
Corp. V.A.Gibbons, Hdqrs. Troop, 3rd Army Corps., A.P.O. 754. A.E.F.
Jan. 21, 1919
This is a history of the first battle in which the Baraboo boys took a very actave (sic) part. And also won considerable fame.
Corp. Vaughn R. Gibbons
Co. A 128 Inf.
Am. Ex. Forces
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The Baraboo boys at Chateau Thierry
On the first of August a day never to be forgotten by any man in the company, and as I remember it the most beautiful day any member of the company had saw since there (sic) arrivel (sic) in France. The birds were singing in the tree tops as we passed through the woods, it seemed as though we might be a great many miles from this war stricken country that lay a matter of yards beyond us.
Little did the men realiaze (sic) that in a very few moments they would be face to face with the great dragon that was trying to rule the world.
“The zero hour,” or rather the hour set for us to go over was two pm at that hour every man was ready, waiting restlessly for the command. When the command finaly (sic) came they started forward like a company of brave veterans, never a man fell back but steadly (sic) pressed forward until hill two hundred and thirty lay just before them. While assending (sic) this hill where they earned every honor that was given them, the gates of hell were thrown open and it seemed to those present as though every gun in the Chateau Thierry sector were being fired upon there (sic) arrivel(sic).
But all this confusion put no fear in these men of only one thought. The thought of going forward no matter what might confront them, and forward they did go until they reached the summet (sic) of this, “neir (sic) to be forgotten hill,” and on until they reached a gravel pit that lay at the highest point of the hill. At this point one presant (sic) might have thought the war near an end by the number of Germans occupying this same pit. But after a few minutes hard battle, found most of them prisoners of war and the advance again proceeded tword (sic) Ready farm. The final objective for our first days (sic) battle.
But there was something lay between this pit and Ready farm that this little band of brave fighting men knew nothing of. It was a strong point the Hun had taken much pains to establish and after trying three times to break the same, and three times met with complete failure, they decided to hold the line between the pit and Ready farm for the night of the first and again try to advance in the early hours on the morning of the second.
It must also be remembered that on starting this day’s work the men numbered two hundred and fifty. And know that the time had come to hold the line for the night, there were but twenty left. Never the less those twenty men swore they would hold until the last one was taken.
As it was somewhat early at the time we dug our selves in, we were not bothered in the least but never the less we had a many troubles yet to come before our nights work finished. After digging in we placed our selves in positions that would give us the upper hand in case of an attact. (sic)
When this work was complete it was considerable late and to lay all the jokes aside our trouble did begin. First our own artillery threw a barage on us which lasted some where in the neighborhood of an hour. But this was through some mistake which we never learned the real cause. “Well,”(sic) that was just a portion of our trouble. As the roar of our own guns died away the German artillery opened fire, and the barage that was now covering every inch of the woods we were holding, or at least that is how it seemed. Raged on for about forty minutes.
I believe I could safe in saying there was not a man in this groupe (sic) of twenty that did not some time through the night get down on his knees and pray to his Heavenly Father to guide him safe through this night of peral (sic). At least I know I did.
Although we were under a great deal of shell fire through the night we held our positions without a single loss and the dawn of the following morning found us with reinforcements enough to carry us through such day. But for some reason luck favored us more or less on this second day as we advanced to Ready farm with out the least portion of struggle.
It may be that the Hun lost his courage during the wee hours of the night and packed up to start for Berlin. I don’t know as I can blame him if he did, for he sure must have saw what took place the day before.
At the farm we took a rest of two or three hours after which we again started advancing, meeting no resistance what so ever. We advanced a distance of about three or four miles, which brought us to the spot where Quentin Roosevelt meet (sic) his death. We at once set to work digging in and the most favorable spot available was the mound where a portion of Roosevelt’s plane still lay, and not more than twenty-five yards away was his grave which the Germans had roughly made.
As I remember we received a light lunch at this point which was a rare occasion in these days of little or no eats. But most of the time no eats as it was a hard task for the soup wagon to keep up. I remember at one place in the very thickest of the battle of one of the boys crying out in a joking way, “When do we eat?” But remarks such as that were to be heard at any time.
After spending what we could call a rather quiet night and also rather short as we started forward again the next morning at three thirty and continued going forward until four o’clock that same afternoon. Covering a distance of twelve miles. But I need not take time to describe this advance as you have all heard of it before. The finish of this advance found us at St. Gillis in a valley that won for itself the name of “Death valley,” in less than a half hour after our arrivel. (sic) At this point we again dug in, and lucky for us we did for we were not to meet the German infantry. But their aeroplanes, and when they fly over a group of men, and turn nose down then open up with those machine guns, a man has no chance for a come back what so ever. There was also a great of artillery work which the Germans we must admit are very clever at. They were never known to make but one mistake and that time they ment (sic) to kill eight men and instead killed twenty three. At least that is the way it was explaned (sic) to me by a Frenchman.
After undergoing more or less hard luck at this unpleasant location for an hour or more we received the news we had looked forward for. The news that we were to be relieved. We were relieved shortly after the news reached us. But just for a short time as the Battalion that took our place at the front was overtaken by considerable misfortune and they were compelled to call on us for assistance. The result was up and at ‘em boys, and over we went again.
As we reached the top of this terrible valley the German eyes were watching every move we made. As right before us were twenty eight observation balloons directing there (sic) artillery fire. They were also getting along very nicely as they could place there shells at most any spot they desired, and they did not seem to be at all saving with them.
Our advance from this location was very short owning to the conditions we were in. I don’t think it was over a Quarter of a mile before we again stopped to dig in. This time at the main road leading into St. Gillis, and after spending three or four of the most miserable hours of our four day’s work we were relieved but just to go back into the valley and wait until morning. During this wate (sic) they tried to fill the valley with gas as the weather was very favorable for such as it was raining and in these days with a rain storm you could also expect a gas storm.
But with the early hours of morning we started back for Cohn (sic) where we found our kitchen and plenty of beef steak. This was sure a welcome sight as we had been without eats for a number of hours. What men were left in the company ate more like animals than any thing else. But they sure earned all they received. After eating all they could, one by one they would look for the most cozy corner they could find in some barn that had stood through the shelling and would afford enough shelter for a sleeping place.
These boys are now located on what is known as the front line some where in Germany. To see that these not to be trusted Huns keep all promises they made through the signing of the Armistice.
Corp. Vaughn R. Gibbons
Co. A, 128th. Inf.,
Am. Ex. Forces.
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