The Story of the American Expeditionary Forces
THREE MEMORABLE DAYS
ONE YEAR'S TOUR OF FRANCE ON FOOT
CORN-WILLIE, GOLD-FISH AND HARD-TACK
(AKA Sgt. Albert K. Haas,
Company E, 309th Infantry, 78th Division)
Monday, May 20, 1918: Leaving for "Over There"
One battalion of our regiment had already gone and we were quite sure that our's would be the next to go. There was plenty of talk. A certain fellow heard from a friend of his that a friend of his said we would leave on a certain date, but we never knew until the night before. Even then there was no definite word given. But when the cooks placed all the surplus food on the counters in the mess hall and invited all to help themselves, cafeteria style, (minus a cashier) it seemed certain that it would not be long before we started.
Ready for France
There was a hair-cutting party in the company street. Several of the men who had worked as barbers before entering the service, started clipping hair. They clipped all the hair with the exception of a small clump in front or on one side. Packs had been rolled early in the evening. The straw bed-sacks had been emptied. Rather than unroll packs to get blankets, the men lay on the springs of the cots and did very little sleeping. Some were carried out into the street, cots and all. The thought of the future and its possibilities was of no interest. They were living entirely in the present and having a good time. It was a happy, care-free crowd.
At three o'clock in the morning of May 20,1918, we were called out for reveille which consisted of a check roll call and a few final instructions. Then we were dismissed and went in to breakfast. Little did we realize that it was to be the last American breakfast we were to have for many days to come. After the usual cleaning up, or policing as it was called, we slung our packs and once more fell into line.
At four o'clock we started down the main road leading to the railroad station. As we passed the other barracks, heads appeared at the windows to wave farewell to some comrade or to wish the men good luck and "God's Speed. The hour being early, there were no people at the station with the exception of the regular force and a former member of our company. He had been transferred two days previous to another organization that was to remain in the United States. There were tears in his eyes as he wished us good luck.
News of our coming had evidently preceded us for whistles and sirens blew and along the way workmen waved to us from various buildings. At Jersey City a crowd of people had gathered. We passed through the crowd in a lane made by soldiers with fixed bayonets. A ferry was waiting for us which took us to the "Bush Terminal" at Brooklyn. A few minutes wait on the pier and the battalion filed up the gang-plank, receiving a final checking as they did so, to board H.M.S. Kia Ora. Each man was assigned to a place. Each man also received two postal cards which were addressed and were to be held until news had been received of the successful passage of the ship, and then released.
Ruins of the Brooklyn Army Terminal
While it was not a very large boat, the "Kia Ora" could hardly be called small. Before it had received its coat of camouflage, and had been pressed into service as a troopship, it had been a cattle boat, plying between England and Australia. There was but one deck for troops known as the "berth deck" and was the first one below the main deck. When all the troops had boarded the ship and each man assigned to a life boat or life raft, we were permitted to walk about and become a little more familiar with out surroundings. At five o'clock, May 20, 1918, all troops were ordered below and the "Kia Ora" started on its trip across the Atlantic ocean for parts unknown to us.
Departure Point for France
. . . After a few days, about half the men were seasick, the others were either half sick or had lost their appetites entirely. One day the mess orderlies brought down some stew. It had a very peculiar odor. The chief cook said it as alright; the odor was due to the "thyme-sage" used in its preparation. Certainly we were not qualified to doubt the cook's word, but if he had said "Time and Age" I think we should have been a little more inclined to believe him. Perhaps [the most memorable] dish served was stewed rabbit. No one, not even those who were not sick, was able to eat it. There had been a school of fish following the ship. After the rabbit had been dumped overboard, they were not to be seen. We do not know whether they ate the rabbit and died, or were angered at such cruel and inhuman treatment.
Sunday, July 21, 1918: My First Time in No-Mans-Land
Just after dark [while training with Australians], I was invited to go for a walk. Not knowing where or why, I consented to without question. But when I was told to put my rifle in working order and to take a few hand grenades with me, my enthusiasm was not quite so keen. But I said nothing about my feelings to anyone. I had never seen a loaded hand grenade and we knew nothing about its operation except what I had learned from our lectures. I did know one thing and that was if the pin was pulled out of the grenade, it was time to throw it away as I had no further use for it.
I followed my two companions up and out it the trench into "No Man's Land", the area between the two front lines. At one time this area had been a prosperous farm. It was covered with wheat, now nearly ripe. While we moved along as quietly as possible, it seemed to me that the sound would be audible for miles.
Souvenirs of Service in France
We proceeded until we reached a line of barbed wire in front of the Australian trenches and passed along the line until an opening was found, thru which we passed. Several times we were forced to remain perfectly still while a flare burned overhead. These flares transformed the night into day and while they burned for a comparatively short period of time, it seemed as though they would burn forever. When I heard the first machine gun bullets crack I wanted to get down on the ground, but followed the actions of the other two and remained standing. I soon learned that you could be reasonably certain that you could not be hit by a bullet that sounds that way. Once we had to get down and had to do it very quickly too! In doing so, one of the Australians encountered the putrid body of a dead German who had been there for some time. The stench from it was almost unbearable. The [Aussie] proceeded to hold a monologue in which he gave vent to his feelings with a series of oaths that would have made Satan himself blush. Without further excitement, we proceeded until we reached the enemy line of barbed wire. Passing along and examining it showed that there had been no gaps cut in the wire, which indicated that no action of any consequence was planned over the next few hours. We returned to our starting position again and sat down in the shelter of a small dug-out to rest and await further developments.
Thursday, October 17, 1918: I Get Shot
[With the Battalion attacking near St. Juvin in the Argonne Forest] we crossed through the fire at the top of the hill and back to where the [commanding] officer now lay. He had moved forward a few yards. I dropped into a small, shallow hole just in front of him. The hole was too small for me and I had to double up. We were so close that it was possible to carry on a conversation. He directed my attention to a certain point where he said he thought a machine gun nest was located. I looked, but not for a very long time. A series of whistles sent my head below the edge of the hole. Then, for a moment, I thought someone was throwing bottles at me and had hit me, for I became conscious of dull thud and a stinging sensation that lasted but a second. A man to the left of me let out a yell of pain; one just to the right stiffened up and fell dead. I then became aware of a burning sensation, but because of my position was unable to take an inventory.
The Argonne Sector Near St. Juvin
I explained to the C.0. that I thought I had been hit, but could not ascertain the extent of the damage. He stretched up a bit and looked over. "Just tore a hole in the seat of your pants," said he. Here was my perfectly good suit starting on the road to I wreck and ruin. But after a while I came to the conclusion that it was more than a clothing tear. When the fire let up, the commanding officer told me to go tack to the dressing station at St. Juvin and get vulcanized. When the fire let up a little I went to the man on my left, but he needed no help. I made my way over the crest of the hill a fourth time and toward the town of St. Juvin.
Albert Haas was Shot By Here
The back areas were being shelled merrily. At times it was necessary to take shelter in a convenient shell hole. One of these shells, approached too close to be comfortable, I started to get into a shell hole. But my foot slipped and I made a nose-dive, landing in the mud at the bottom. I [had] reached the dressing station at St. Juvin.
Like everything else in the army, I had to get in line. The station was located in a partly-wrecked building. Men were coming in rapidly, some under their own power, some assisted and some carried on litters. While waiting, I looked myself over. My slicker was wet and caked with mud. It resembled a bit of clay modeling. My gas-mask was covered with yellow clay. My shoes, leggings and breeches were similarly coated. The mud, drying on my hands and face, cracked and pulled when I moved them. My pistol was still in the holster, the open portion at the flap so caked with mud that I would have been unable to draw it if it had been needed. I took off my slicker and tossed it on a pile of salvage. It was still drizzling but I could not get wetter than I was. A temporary bandage was put on and I was very much surprised when informed that I was to go back to Fleyville and then to a hospital. The bullet had entered, making a small opening just the size of the bullet, passed through the gluteus-maximus muscle and out about three inches from where it had gone in. A chunk of flesh, about the size a quarter and a little thicker had been torn out when the bullet left. Although I could not put much weight on my left leg, I was able to limp along. The artillery fire was so heavy that ambulances could not come closer than a point mid-way between Fleyville and St. Juvin and I was asked to walk if possible. Those who were unable to walk, were carried about two and a half kilometers and as there were plenty of men waiting to be carried, I elected to walk at least part way. Just as I was leaving the town, I met one of the men from E Company who had been hit between the shoulder blades with a shell fragment. Together we set out in the direction of Fleyville. I made a short detour to the ravine to get something from my pack and turn over my reports, but the pack was gone.
On one side of the road. was a steep embankment. A large open space extended from the end to the river and for some distance beyond. On the other side of the road, the ground was considerably higher than the road and formed a protected path. The 156th Infantry brigade was crossing this open area beyond the Aire River. The enemy was shelling it heavily. The men were advancing in open formation. The line stretched for some distance. A whistle of an approaching shell took every man out of sight as they dropped to the ground as one. After the explosion they moved forward again. It was a thrilling sight. At one place along the road, some soldiers had dug little holes. There were six men there, all dead, sitting or lying in life-like positions. There was no sign of any wounds on any of them. They must have reached point close to absolute fatigue and the concussion of a large shell, exploding on the bank over them, probably caused their death.
Albert Haas Would Eventually Reach a Hospital Like This
It was five kilometers to Fleyville. We were hungry and looked about for something eat. A can of
hard-tack and some bully beef were in the pack of a soldier who had no more use for them. We took the former, and with the hope that we might find something a little more palatable, left the latter. Our progress was not very rapid. I knew that our kitchens were somewhere in Fleyville and hoped that we would find them.
Margaret Haas, daughter of Albert, provided this article from her father's diary. She passed away in 2010.
Sources and Thanks: Most of the images were from the Haas family collection. Photos of the Argonne and Hospital were contributed by Ray Mentzer.
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