OUR SONS AT WAR

by,
Lee McCollum
1940



FIRST DAY
October 2, 1918

NORTH from the position where Whittlesey's troops were halted at the end of the first drive ran a long ravine, straight into enemy territory. This was the point where Whittlesey must attack. It was planned that he should advance until he came to Charlevaux Mill, and there he was to halt, reorganize, and wait for further orders to advance. These orders would be dependent upon how the rest of the American troops, on his right, and the French, far to his left rear, fared in their advance.

At 11:35 A.M. Whittlesey received from Col. Stacey, his commanding officer, the following order:

"The advance of infantry will commence at 12:30. The infantry action will be pushed forward until it reaches the line of the road and the railroad generally along 276.5. The General says you are to advance behind the barrage regardless of losses. He states that there will be a general advance all along the line."

In that last sentence, unknown to Whittlesey, unknown to the general, Robert Alexander, in command of the 77th Division, who issued the order, lay the seeds of tragedy. Promptly at 12:30 Whittlesey gave the command, and his seven hundred men advanced up the ravine. Simultaneously the heavy guns of the Allies began to cough behind him as they laid down the creeping barrage which he followed. For more than five hours Whittlesey's battalion fought forward through the forest, with men dropping like the leaves of the autumn woods that covered them. At six P.M. the force, now more than a hundred less in number, reached their objective, the Charlevaux Mill. Quickly sensing the danger and sizing up the lay of the land, Whittlesey ordered his troops to occupy the south side of a hill crossing the ravine up which they had just advanced. His mission was accomplished, and now he was faced with the task of holding his position until his forces could be connected

with those of the French on the left, and the balance of the Americans on the right. To aid this, he established a runner system through the ravine back to the American lines. Through these runners the Allied command was informed of Whittlesey's success in reaching his objective, which was Charlevaux Mill.

Back of the lines, as the reports came in from the French, the peril of Whittlesey's position became evident to the Allied command. Attacking simultaneously with Whittlesey, but from the other side of the forest, on the left blade of the shears, the French had again been repulsed. On the right blade of the shears, only Whittlesey's force had reached the objective, the remainder of the division having been repulsed by a heavy German counter-offensive. Not only was the shears still unjointed, but worse still, the American side of the blade bad now been broken.

So night came down over the forest of the Argonne. After four years the enemy pins had been moved, yet they had not moved according to the desperate plans that had been set forth. Instead of the line of Allied pins moving forward together, only one pin had moved, breaking the enemy line alone and unsupported. In the dugout at headquarters, officers shifted the pin on the map, thrusting it deep into the enemy territory. There it stood alone in the center of the patch that marked the Argonne Forest, surrounded by the bristling thicket of enemy pins. Its fate was in the hands of the gods of war.

The gods rattled the dice in their cup, while on the hillside the six hundred men who remained of the original seven hundred dug themselves in and waited for what might happen when the dice were thrown.

SECOND DAY
October 3, 1918



DURING the night of October 2, the first night of the siege, the German troops, working under cover of darkness, completely surrounded Whittlesey's command. Whittlesey had entrenched his men along the slope of a hillside overlooking Charlevaux Mill. This slope was heavily wooded with underbrush and young timber. It was the only position available that offered protection against artillery fire, as it provided a reverse slope to the enemy. The position occupied a front of about three hundred and fifty yards along the slope, with a depth of from seventy-five to one hundred yards.

Directly above Whittlesey's position, continuing on up the slope of the hill, was the position occupied by the enemy, and from which the frontal attacks of the siege were to come. It was separated from Whittlesey by a road, and the enemy position was a continuation of the same hill as that occupied by the beleaguered battalion. The position afforded the enemy an excellent hiding place, and an unusual point of vantage from which to observe the effects of its attacks.

The next morning, October 3, the seriousness of their plight dawned upon the besieged battalion, and they set about strengthening their defense and preparing themselves to resist the attack that was soon to come. The hillside they occupied had a slight dip halfway up its slope, much like a broad, shallow trench. The center of the trench was deepened to provide protection for the wounded. Around its edges the men dug "fox-holes" for themselves, throwing the earth up around the outside of these individual holes, as a protection against fragments of busting shells.

The battalion's nine machine guns were placed so they could cover an attack from any direction. Supporting them were riflemen armed with Chauchat (automatic) rifles, while the major portion of the command had ordinary rifles. The sole encouragement of the troops was the fact that they possessed plenty of ammunition. But to carry this ammunition they had forfeited food and water, as the original plan had been to send up rations from the rear. Now surrounded by the enemy, they would face starvation unless the line in the rear could be opened up.

Directly across the ravine, the enemy had set up their artillery with which to strafe the battalion on the hillside. Whittlesey's runners were purposely left un-molested the night of October 2, until the enemy cordon had been drawn tightly around the little force. Then striking suddenly, the enemy broke the communication lines to the rear, killing or capturing all of the runners.

Just after the sun came up, an enemy plane droned high over the hillside. The men flattened themselves, hugging the ground, expecting to be fired upon by the plane's machine guns. However, after circling mysteriously a few times, the plane disappeared over the tree tops. It had only been a reconnoitering plane, scouting the battalion's position.

In a scant half-hour the roar of the heavy German guns began. Very few shells fell on the battalion's position, owing to the reverse slope, which afforded natural protection from artillery fire. When the battalion advanced the previous afternoon they carried with them a cage containing five pigeons. While the German artillery was pounding the position Major Whittlesey released the first pigeon, carrying the following message to the 77th Division message center:

"We are being shelled by German artillery. Can we have artillery support? Fire is coming from the northwest."

The pigeon fluttered aloft; cowering beneath the blasts of enemy shells, the men of the battalion sped it on its journey with their prayers. Soon the answer came -the welcome roar of American artillery to the south, and the enemy barrage suddenly ceased. The men turned in their fox-holes and grinned at one another.

The silence that had so suddenly dropped over the woods with the cessation of the enemy's barrage did not last for long. The enemy, finding that his artillery could not harm the surrounded force as long as they remained dug in on its reverse slope, then brought up a trench mortar and commenced again to fire on the battalion.

The short, high, barking note of the trench mortar became a forerunner of shells that exploded more frequently among the battalion. Knowing the havoc that would soon be wrought, Whittlesey dispatched a small force to attempt to capture the gun. They were greeted by a terrific blast of machine-gun fire, forcing them to tall back immediately. Heavy firing could be heard to the south, which indicated to the members of the right wing of the Fourth French Army was making every battalion that the remainder of the division, and the effort to advance and relieve them.

Hopes of the battalion were high. Yet more and more German troops could be seen skulking into the forest at the south. Knowing the enemy was weakest in this direction, and to prevent their establishing an impregnable force at this vital spot, Whittlesey dis-patched about one hundred men of Company K, 307th Infantry, under command of Captain Nelson M. Holderman, to force a surprise attack on the enemy. Should this attack be successful, the men were under orders to continue south and attempt to reach the American lines.

Cautiously they left the hillside and entered the forest. But soon again came the deadly rat-tat-tat of machine gunfire, and shortly later the bloody remnant of Company "K" fell back on the hillside to rejoin the battalion. They had succeeded in penetrating the German's second line of defense, only to be repulsed with heavy losses. During the remainder of the siege, no force larger than a small combat group was sent out of the position, as the loss of a single man would weaken its defense. Shortly after the return of Company "K," a message was communicated to all company and detachment commanders of the battalion:

"Our mission is to hold this position at all costs. Have this understood by every man in the command."

It had become evident that nothing could be done except remain on the hillside and defend the position, with hopes that relief would come before the command was wiped out. Definite orders affecting the defense of the position were now given to all units, and a strong patrol set up to observe enemy maneuvers. The patrol soon gave information that large numbers of Germans were gathering in the northwest, and appar-ently concentrating for an immediate attack. Whittlesey carried on, organizing his position, and ordered the release of his second pigeon, bearing the following terse message:

"Our runner-posts are broken; Germans working to our left rear. Have located German trench mortar at 294.05-276.30. Have taken prisoner who states his company brought in last night from rear by motor trucks. German machine guns constantly firing on valley from our rear. "E" Company met heavy resistance. Two squads have just fallen back on position."

At three o'clock that afternoon the Germans, covered and protected by the heavy fire of their machine guns and trench mortars, attacked the battalion. As they came down the hillside, tossing their potato-masher hand grenades ahead of them, Whittlesey and his men lay waiting for them. The Germans, in their eagerness to storm the position, had carelessly exposed them-selves, and a fusillade of rifle and machine gun fire from the beleaguered battalion burst upon the oncoming Germans. They quickly fell back in confusion, the attack lasting but a few minutes.

Despite this failure at the outset, it was evidently the opinion of the German command that they would make short work of the battalion. In no more time than it took to reorganize their forces, they attacked again, this time more fiercely and with a stronger force. Again the American troops held their fire until the enemy was in plain sight, and again the ravine was filled with the terrific burst of their gun fire. Casualties among the enemy were heavy, and again they fell back.

Night came down, and in the darkness could be heard the moaning of their wounded. Under its cover the enemy recovered their maimed and dead. Meanwhile the battalion had turned to care for its own wounded, who were many. No medical officer had accompanied the battalion, but among their forces were three enlisted men from the Medical Corps. Directed by them the soldiers applied their few bandages and first-aid supplies where they were most needed. After those were exhausted they used the khaki wrappings of their leggings, the only substitute they had.

The suffering of the wounded men must have been bitter, as the night was cold and even those who had escaped the gunfire were shivering miserably in their foxholes. No complaints, though, passed the stoic lips of the wounded of the battalion, only an occasional involuntary groan wrung out by unbearable pain.

The night passed quietly, and there was no recurrence of the day's attacks. Under cover of darkness scouts were dispatched to attempt to carry news of the battalion's plight to the rear. Toward dawn a couple of them, wounded, stumbled back to the hillside, to tell of their failure. The balance of them were either captured or killed.

THIRD DAY
October 4, 1918



DAYLIGHT of October 4, and the third day of the siege, found the men tired and hungry, for the few rations they had carried forward had been consumed by the wounded on the morning of October 3. In spite of all, morale was high, for all were certain that the Franco-American lines would advance that day. The dead who had fallen during the battle of the preceding day were buried with great difficulty, for the men were exhausted from fighting, lack of sleep, and hunger.

About 8:30 A.M. a new and serious situation arose, which proved very distressing to Whittlesey's command. The enemy had brought up two more light trench mortars (minnewerfers), and had placed them in position; one slightly to the right front, and one to the left front of the battalion, giving them a total of three of these murderous weapons.

The dread of those powerful high-angle shells was now tripled. As the men lay there helplessly in their fox-holes, they cursed the military genius who invented those stubby, wide mouthed guns that could lob a shell into this position, so well protected by nature from all other forms of artillery fire. About fifteen per cent of the trench mortar shells fell directly into the beleaguered battalion. Due to the inferior ammunition of the enemy, many of the shells were duds, and failed to explode. For this reason alone the battalion was not wiped out.

Yet enough shells exploded to cause heavy casualties, and many were wounded and killed. In the middle of the morning Major Whittlesey released one of the two remaining pigeons, bearing the following message:

"Germans all around us. We have been heavily shelled by mortars this morning. Situation is rapidly cutting in on our strength. Men suffering from hunger and exposure. The wounded are in a very bad condition. Should have more ammunition. Cannot support be sent at once?"

Included in this message was a map coordinate that gave the position of the battalion. By afternoon the men on that shell-strafed hillside had proof that their winged messenger had arrived safely at their Divisions Message center. The American artillery began to roar again in an attempt to break up the enemy forces which surrounded the fast-dwindling band of American doughboys.

For a while the shells fell among the enemy to the south of the battalion, then increasing its intensity the American barrage crept down the slope to the rear of the battalion's position. The barrage continued and crept across the marshy bottom of the ravine, where it hurled mud and brush into the air, then gradually its shells began falling into Whittlesey's command. Instead of breaking up the enemy, it was registering on its own forces.

The hastily dug shelters were caved in upon the wounded. When the men would endeavor to shift their position in order to avoid the shells, snipers and enemy machine gunners would rake the position. The German trench mortars threw in their shells, which added to the fury of the Allies' barrage. Frantic at the tragic miscalculation, Major Whittlesey released the final pigeon, Cher Ami, with this desperate plea:

"We are along the road parallel 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For God's sake, stop it."

Through this veritable inferno of gun fire winged Cher Ami. Fluttering momentarily above the men huddled there, her beating wings like those of hope's last angel, Cher Ami circled in the air, then headed straight for the American lines.

After what seemed like a lifetime of hell, the barrage suddenly ceased. Cher Ami had reached the American headquarters with the vital message. One leg had been touched by a small fragment of flying shell, and it was necessary to amputate it. By blind chance the leg lost was not the one that bore Whittlesey's message.

By now the number of wounded had greatly increased. The men set about binding their wounds with their rough leggings, and easing the pain of their comrades as best they could. As they were thus occupied they were again interrupted by the drone of a plane flying low. This time the plane bore the welcome red, white and blue rings of the American flying corps. The battalion signal men succeeded in attracting its attention by placing white panels in an open space in the trees. They were rewarded by a rocket signal from the plane, indicating that the pilot had seen them.

Soon after it disappeared another American plane came over, flying low, and attempted to drop packages and message containers with long streamers to the men in the battalion. All of them missed their mark, and were lost in the swampy marshland below the hillside, or fell into enemy hands. During the time that the plane was hovering over the besieged battalion, it was fired upon, seemingly, by every enemy machine gun in the vicinity. But it escaped this devastating gun fire, and rising high, disappeared to the south.

At 5:00 P.M. the enemy attacked again. The attack was repulsed, and the men again turned their attention to those newly wounded, while there was still light of day. Water was obtained from a muddy stream running along the ravine below. A canteen of water cost many casualties, for when the enemy found the men were carrying water from the little stream they set up withering machine gun fire across this position. So many men were wounded and killed while trying to obtain water for the wounded, that guards had to be placed at intervals to restrain men from going after water during the day. After the wounded had been made as comfortable as possible, the men tried to get some much needed rest.

As night came down a cold rain set in, adding to their discomfort. Soon after 8:00 P.M. rifle fire and the sound of the Chauchat rifles used by the American forces could be heard over the ridge to the south. The moral of the battalion was still high, for they felt certain their comrades would rescue them, as they now knew that they were fighting by night as well as by day.

The enemy tried many times to capture the command by direct assault. Failing each time, they now changed their method of attack. About 9:00 P.M. flares began to shoot up all around the position, lighting the entire hillside. All along the slopes the hand grenades and potato-mashers of the enemy began to fall. This was a real surprise attack, and they fired upon the battalion at will. Thoroughly aroused, Whitlesey's command quickly went to their firing positions and opened up on the enemy with such a burst of small arms' fire that they soon retreated over the hill in the fast dimming light of the dying flares.

The attack had taken a fresh toll, and all those previously wounded were now in a desperate condition, for their vitality was at a low ebb on account of exposure and lack of food. Many of the wounded who died that day had not yet been buried. Weak as they were, the remaining survivors of the battalion started scooping out shallow graves for their dead, while the rain continued throughout the night. The hopes of rescue were fading. The unburied dead about them, and the pitiful cries of the wounded, further lowered the spirits of that gallant handful of men who would not surrender to an overwhelming force of enemy.

FOURTH DAY
October 5, 1918



ALL during the morning of October 5, the men of the besieged battalion could hear the gunfire of the American infantry to the south and southeast, and took heart, knowing that an attempt was being made to push through and relieve them. In their long service at the front, they had learned to distinguish by ear between the deep bark of the American French Chauchat rifle, and the higher pitched yapping of the German automatic guns. From the sounds that came to them they knew there was a fierce battle going on in their behalf, but shortly before noon the firing quieted-then ceased, and they knew only too well that another attempt had failed. The Germans still held that solid wall of steel between them and those who would rescue them.

While casualties were thinning the ranks of the battalion, the casualties of the battalions of American soldiers trying to relieve them were doubly heavy, as entire battalions had been practically wiped out in an effort to fight their way through. Sniping was kept up by both the enemy and the men of the battalion, but contrasted to previous fighting the afternoon was as quiet as a church at sundown. Several French and American planes appeared in the sky, but did not come as close to the ground as the two previous planes. This caused discouragement among the beleaguered force, for their fast-ebbing strength gave them little hope that they could hold on longer.

At 3:00 P.M. a French plane circled the position, but gave no indication of having seen the doomed souls huddled there. Guarded attempts were made to attract the pilot's attention, but little could be done because of the necessity of remaining hidden from the deadly enemy sniping.

Unknown to them, the plane returned to the French commander and reported that apparently the battalion had either been annihilated or captured. No American troops were seen, the pilot further reported, but the general area was alive with enemy soldiers. Immediately the French commander, over the objections of the 77th Division, ordered a heavy artillery barrage laid down on the area.

Once again Whittlesey's command suffered the unbearable tragedy of being shelled by friendly artillery. Over and over again the shells landed directly upon the slope occupied by the Americans. The troops in desperation would attempt to move out of the zone of the barrage, only to be met by the withering fire of the Germans, who raked the position with their deadly machine-gun fire.
As they were being bombarded from this source, it must have been only the most courageous who had any hope left, for all the men knew that there were no more pigeons to send, and no way left to notify the French of their awful error!
The barrage lasted for an hour and thirty-five minutes, with each minute seeming a day, while between shells the men were busy defending themselves from another attack by the enemy.

Incredible as it may seem, the American troops once more repulsed the Germans' attack. The hell of modern war had nothing more to offer these men as the last shrieking shell of the French artillery fell in their midst.

As the sound of the American-French Chauchat rifles of Whittlesey's command carried back to the Division Commander of the American forces, he knew he was correct in informing the French that the beleaguered battalion was still holding out, and renewed efforts were made to smash through the wall of steel the Germans had so effectively held during the siege. The renewed firing of the divisional forces again lit the candle of hope for Whittlesey's command.

Soon an American plane appeared above the position, taking desperate chances as it swooped downward and upward to get more information as to the plight of the men on the hillside. Later it turned and flew toward the American lines. Returning shortly it began dropping packages believed to be food and ammunition, but once again the packages missed their mark, falling into the enemy lines.

And so night came again, and thirst settled over the hillside like a great cloud of parching dust. It was three days since most of the men had eaten, and many were subsisting on the roots and barks of the trees which sheltered them. It was becoming increasingly difficult to obtain water, for the enemy now kept up a constant fire day and night upon the creek in the valley. Darkness settled over the hillside, and for once all was silent, save for the moans of the wounded and the occasional crack of a rifle.

FIFTH DAY
October 6, 1918



THE morning of October 6th ushered in the fifth day of the siege, and the men of Whittlesey's fast dwindling command prepared once more for what the fates might have in store for them. The four days they had spent on the hillside fighting against overwhelming odds had seemed several eternities rolled in one. Every bump and hollow in the foxholes where their weary y bodies had pressed were as familiar to them now as the bedrooms and parlors of their own homes, so far away across the Atlantic. It seemed as though they had been born on that hillside, grown up there, and that there they would die.

They were without hope, self-pity, or even anger. Only blind, unreasoning determination burned with a low steady flame, holding them rooted to the hillside, as much a part of it as the grass and trees that clung to its war shattered soil.

Just after sun-up the men again heard the far off sound of American rifles. The faint sound of the guns spoke of despair, rather than hope. It was at this time that Major Whittlesey, in talking to his few remaining officers and men, compared the low, steady sounds of the American Chauchat rifles, far back in the American lines, to the bagpipes of the Campbells who had long ago marched to relieve a beleaguered British command isolated in the siege of Luck now. Now again history was writing the story of "Sons at War" on the parallel lines of time.

About 9:30 that morning an American plane appeared, flying low over the battalion, dropping packages of food. None of them landed among the men on the hillside. While engaged in this daring piece of airmanship, the plane was subjected to enemy fire of every character, until it seemed that only a miracle would save it from being shot down. Then the plane, rising to higher and safer altitudes, straightened away and flew back to the American line.

This time, the plane that had taken this hazardous trip was to get full revenge for the discomfort caused by the enemy fire. It had sighted the airplane panels put out by Whittlesey's men, and was able to signal positive position information to the American artillery. Immediately the artillery started its barrage.

The shells registered dead on the concealed battery of enemy trench mortars that had been raising such havoc among the beleaguered troops. The barrage then crept down the slope, crossing the creek at the foot of the hill. It pounded along the hill just below the feet of the men huddled there, then lifting suddenly, landed squarely on the ridge above them. This was the point from where most of the German attacks had come. The barrage registered with deadly accuracy on all enemy positions, while the Americans looked on and marveled at this miracle taking place before their eyes.

So completely did the American artillery break up the enemy organization that the Germans were unable to launch the attack they had been planning. The artillery had more than made up for their disastrous barrage of two days before. Now, having the correct range, and through the assistance of the air-service reconnaissance, they were laying down such a perfect barrage that without doubt they saved Whittlesey's command from annihilation. The air force paid dearly for its bravery, losing two planes, with two officers killed.

After the barrage quieted down, the American planes returned, again trying to drop food and ammunition to Whittlesey's men. The falling packages could plainly be seen by the men so eagerly awaiting them. Another disappointment. Once again they fell into the hands of the enemy.

Some of the German forces surrounding the Americans could speak English, and as they got the packages they would yell down from their hidden places on the heights of the wooded hillside, taunting the half-starved men. This failed to have any effect on the battle-weary doughboys, except to bring out feebly shouted curses.

It was then that the Germans turned loose the full fury of the fiercest attack of the engagement. Lashing out at the imprisoned doughboys who had so gallantly withstood their previous attacks, they strafed the hillside with every known weapon of war. Using heavy artillery, trench mortars, and the staccato-barking machine gun and rifle fire, they filled the air with a blanket of lead. The Americans dug deeper into their foxholes, and under that withering fire their losses were many.

Once again the Americans fought off the attack, but by now, weak and spent from constant fighting and lack of food and sleep, they moved with the mechanical precision of robots. With the coming of the welcome blanket of darkness, for the first time during the siege the enemy quieted down and left the determined group of survivors in peace for the night. The heavy losses suffered by the Germans from the American barrage during the day, and the accuracy of the American riflemen on the hillside during the last attack, had caused them to be thankful for the darkness of night, as well as were the men of the beleaguered battalion.


SIXTH DAY
October 7,1918

OCTOBER 7th broke grey and chill over the Argonne. Could an observer look down on the hillside, he would have seen but few signs of life. Most of the men wounded early in the fight had died of their wounds, or gangrene had set in on the wounded still alive. Sprawled motionless in their foxholes, conserving the little energy they had left, they stared dully at the forest edge, waiting another of the endless attacks. Wounded men took their place on the firing line, as by now there were not enough unwounded men left to man the few guns remaining. The American planes were still trying to drop food and ammunition. No one knew when relief could possibly break through.

Just before noon the enemy again launched an attack, which was repelled. Intermittent machine gun fire continued throughout the afternoon. Suddenly it ceased, about 4:00 P.M., and silence fell over the slope. Then in no-man's-land between the Americans and the Germans an American soldier appeared limping slowly toward the battalion. In his right hand he held a crude cane supporting him while he walked, and in his left he held aloft a broken branch to which was attached a white flag of truce.

The troops were cautioned to hold their fire. As the khaki-clad figure advanced toward Whittlesey, slowly waving the white flag, all who were there wondered "What now?" When he arrived at Whittlesey's foxhole it was found that he was Private Lowell R. Hollingshead, a seventeen year old Ohio boy, who had gone into the enemy lines early that morning, trying to obtain some of the food that had been dropped by the planes.

He had been wounded and captured and taken to the German dugout, while others who were on the mission with him had been killed. In the dugout, after questioning by the German commanding officer, he had been blind-folded, taken back to the German front lines, where the blind-fold was removed, and been ordered to deliver to Major Whittlesey a note containing this dramatic demand to surrender. The message read:

"Sir: The bearer of this present, Private Hollingshead, has been taken prisoner by us. He has refused to give the German Intelligence Officer any answer to his questions, and is quite an honorable fellow, doing honor to his Fatherland in the strictest sense of the word.

He has been charged against his will, believing that he is doing wrong to his country to carry forward this present letter to the officer in charge of the Battalion of the 77th Division, with the purpose to recommend this commander to surrender his force, as it would be quite useless to resist any more, in view of the present condition.

The suffering of your wounded men can be heard over here in the German lines, and we are appealing to your humane sentiments to stop. A white flag shown by one of your men will tell us that you agree with these conditions. Please treat Private Hollingshead as an honor. able man. He is quite a soldier. We envy you.

The German Commanding Officer."

Legend has made famous the reply, "Go to hell," which Major Whittlesey is reported to have hurled at the Germans upon reading the demand for surrender. No answer, written or verbal, was made by him to the German commander's letter. Major Whittlesey ordered the two white airplane panels to be taken in at once. There was nothing white left showing on the hillside.

The Germans waited for the reply. No reply was being prepared, for Major Whittlesey was busy redisposing what few effective men he had left. He was preparing for the attack which was sure to follow. Only a handful of ammunition remained. The men of the battalion began to sharpen their bayonets in the wet dirt. If the enemy attack was successful, this would be their last stand.

Guttural commands of the Germans were soon heard by those in the battalion, and a furious attack was launched by the enemy. The Americans fired carefully, making every shot of the fast diminishing supply of ammunition count. Wounded men no longer able to fire a rifle reloaded the weapons for their comrades on the firing line. Time and again the Germans surged forward almost to the American lines. Each time they were repulsed. At the peak of the fight the enemy surpassed anything he had done before by launching the hell of liquid fire on the battalion.

The enemy had reserved this inhuman weapon until the last, and had used it with the intention of turning the right flank of the battalion and completely disorganizing their morale. The attack almost succeeded. But in a burst of magnificent anger, the American doughboys crawled to a new firing position, and killed the Germans carrying the flame throwers. Though they had again repulsed the enemy, the men of the battalion must have felt that this was the end. Knowing they had not enough ammunition left to repulse another attack, they almost gave up hope of rescue. Sprawled there on that Hillside of Eternity, they awaited what they believed would be the final attack.

Suddenly, loud and close by, they heard the firing of American rifles. Hope flamed anew from the ashes of despair, while the men of the battalion stared numbly toward the south from whence the sounds came.

Soon the Germans were seen running through the forest to the south. Their actions told Whittlesey's command full well that this time relief was breaking through. Cries of the Germans were heard on the hill above, telling of the accuracy of the rifle fire by the oncoming American relief expedition. Hurriedly the Germans withdrew, carrying their dead and wounded with them, while both American and French forces continued their advance toward the battalion. As dusk settled down the men who had suffered so intensely to hold a position they had taken under mandatory orders, that pins might move on man-made war maps, knew the almost despaired-of relief had arrived.

As the Germans withdrew, the American troops came up from the south, driving the enemy before them. Passing in front of the battalion's position, they placed their outposts for the night. The news that relief had arrived spread quickly to all parts of the battalion.

There was no demonstration; no cheering of any kind among the survivors. They were too weak and exhausted to do more than express within themselves their prayer of thanks that they had been permitted to live. Crawling from the foxholes that had been their shelter for six days and nights, they started taking care of the dead and making the wounded as comfortable as possible.

They spent that night on the hillside. On the morning of October 8th, the ambulances arrived to carry back the wounded. Those who were still able to do so walked down what had been the "hillside of death," to the arms of their comrades-comrades who would not be stopped by the German wall of steel, in the almost, but not quite, impregnable Argonne Forest.

Once again back of the lines in headquarters, the rows of tiny colored pins on the huge Allied war map had righted themselves. Tomorrow the pins would move far into the German territory, an inch or a half inch on the map, in the short space of a few hours. Again, far ahead up in the lines, war weary men would die that pins might move.

THE FIGHT OF THE LOST BATTALION

In the Argonne Forest near Florent
and on the way to Grand Pre,
A group of American doughboys met
on a rainy and fateful day;
Met for a single purpose,
less than a handful of men,
Waiting the word to "go into" the lines,
to "come out" God alone knew when.

The air and trees around them,
were filled with war-weird sound,
While a battery of cannon far up ahead,
was rocking the war-sad ground;
There were recruits there who were yet to have
their first baptism of fire,
And veterans who knew war through and
through, its dangers, its woes, and its mire

East met West in those few short hours,
and were drawn together as one,
As brother to brother and man to man,
they met to suppress the Hun.
Each was thinking his secret thoughts,
that come to but very few men,
Within an hour they would "go over the top,"
some never to come back again.

The page they would write in history

would be spotted and smeared with red,
An epic of war and all its cost
in wounded and shattered and dead.

A page that was filled with courage,
seldom seen by anyone,

As across the red horizon,
they marched toward the sun.

To an open space in the road they came,
and an awe inspiring sight,

The skyline ablaze with one great flame,
from cannons that belched in the night;
When they reached the barren trenches,
they breathed a silent prayer,
Then settled down and waited,
through an endless night "Up There."

At eleven o'clock that eventful night,
our barrage opened up with a flare,

The earth fairly trembled and shook in alarm,
death screamed as it leapt through the air.

God, how those waiting minutes dragged,
they seemed forever and aye,
As the men crouched there, on the ground
cold and bare, waiting for dawn and the day.

The sky turned grey as the men all lay,
tense for the final sign

To go over the top and never stop

till they'd broken the Kremhilde line.
What did they find when over the top,
in that waste of No-Man's-Land?

An ocean of wire in the mud and the mire,
placed there by the devil's hand.

Three days they fought in that forest,
amid sights too shocking to tell,

Then they were all caught in a well-laid trap,
that sprung from the jaws of hell.

They were gaunt with fatigue and hunger,
what food they had was gone,

Yet there were the Boche surrounding them,
so they battled on and on.

Tired from fighting and half dead for sleep,
they dug themselves in for the night,

And as they lay there 'neath the shell-split air,
they felt 'twas the end of their fight.

Then at break of dawn the Boche closed in,
and they met him face to face,

There were many who fell in battle that day,
yet night found the troops still in place.

For three long days they fought in that trap,
in mud and muck to their knees,

Sleepless, hungry, half dead for thirst, 'neath
those shell-shattered Argonne trees;

Then Death moved up and was waiting there
to collect his ghastly due,

When the word went racing along the line,
"Relief is breaking through."

They went at the food like a pack of wolves,
that had starved the winter through,
Between the munching of bites you would hear
prayers-and some curses too.

Then on and on they carried the fight,
crushed the best that the enemy had,

They gained their objective, were trapped again,
then they went fighting mad.

On the side of a cliff two hundred feet high,
they dug in like so many moles,

Death was the penalty that was paid,
if they raised their heads from those holes.

Did you ever lay out in the cold all night,
when the frost creeps through the air,

Where death and misery fill the night,
and hope turns to despair?

If you have, then perhaps you can realize
the things that were happening then,

That the pieces that lay on the hillside,
were things that had once been men.

That every man who came out alive,
could say he had lived through hell,

And the eyes that saw what happened there,
left the lips too dumb to tell.

Fighting all day, holding out by pure grit,
and fighting at night by the flare,
The suffering borne can never be told,
of those six days and nights spent there.

Death thinned their ranks, took full fold its toll
of their buddies, your brothers and sons,

But before they went, though their strength
was spent, they took their toll of the Huns

Relief came at last, as it sometimes does,
when you're backed by red-blooded men,

But they were so weak, so many were gone,
nothing mattered much to them then.

They stumbled out, more dead than alive,
to food and shelter and rest,

While others tenderly cared for those
who had passed to eternal rest.

Six hundred strong they entered that fight
and all of them game to the core,

All who were left that could walk from the hill,
were one hundred and ninety-four.

So a price was made and the price was paid,
and laid at the feet of Mars,

But the hallowed souls of soldiers gone
shall shine there forever like stars.

Click Here For Homepage