Chapter 7. The Vesle Sector


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


FROM the 6th to the 8th August, 1918, the Regiment entrained at Bayon and Blainville (Meur-the et Moselle), and after a trip of about twenty hours by rail, detrained at Coulommiers (Seine et Marne), and adjoining villages about thirty miles east of Paris and twenty miles southwest of Chateau Thierry.

On the 10th of August the Regiment was transported by French trucks through Chateau-Thierry and Fere-en- Tardenois to bivouac in the Forest of Nesles, just east of the village of Seringes (Aisne). Regimental headquarters were in a ruined farmhouse at the eastern limit of Seringes.

No member of the Regiment will forget this trip over the recently contested ground, which Americans had done so much to regain. The evidences of terrific battle were on all sides, fresh and gruesomely eloquent of the heavy price that had been paid. At last, the time for real action was at hand for the 302nd Engineers.

From the 1st to the 10th of August, while the 77th Division had been moving from the Baccarat Sector, the Allies had pushed the Germans back from the line of the Ourcq River at Fere-en-Tardenois to the Vesle River at Fismes and Bazoches. In that part of the line held by American forces, the 42nd Division on the left, aided by regiments of the 4th Division, and the 32nd Division on the right, had, on the 1st and 2nd of August, overcame determined German resistance on the line of the Oureq River east of Fere-en-Tardenois and had advanced toward the Vesle River. It was during this operation that the 42nd Division was relieved by the 4th Division and the 32nd Division by the 28th. The 4th and the 28th Divisions had pushed on to the Vesle River, where the German troops had been ordered to make a stand and not to yield ground at any cost.

During its brief action in this sector the 4th Division suffered such heavy losses that relief soon became necessary. The 77th Division was therefore pushed forward to take over the front held by the 4th Division, and likewise part of the French front to the left as far as Mont Notre Dame. On the night of the 11th to 12th of August, the 302nd Engineers relieved the 4th Engineers.

Due to the concentration of troops on this front, the width of the divisional sector was much narrower than it had been at Baccarat. The 1st Battalion of the 302nd Engineers, attached to the 153rd Infantry Brigade, covered the left half of the sector, while the 2nd Battalion covered the right half with the 154th Infantry Brigade. Regimental and divisional headquarters were stationed at the Chateau de Fere, north of Fere-en-Tardenois; both battalion headquarters were in unforgettable Chery-Chartreuve.

The 77th Division front extended along the valley of the Vesle from Fismes and Fismettes on the right, to Mont Notre Dame on the left-a front of about seven kilometers. The American outposts were located north of the Vesle River, both on the right and the left of this sector. But in the center, around Bazoches, the north bank of the river was strongly held by the enemy. St. Thibaut, a deserted village on the south side of the river (opposite Bazoches), was lightly held by the Americans.

Due to its position, Bazoches was of great value to the Germans, and a thorn in the side of the Americans. Much of the regimental and divisional history during this period centers around Bazoches. Upon its capture depended the satisfactory advance of Allied forces.

The American divisions on the Vesle front were at this time (12th of August) operating under orders of a French corps commander. The French command did not contemplate an immediate advance. Instead, work was to be expedited on three defense positions, viz., (1) the front line position of outposts, or so-called "green line"; (2) the support, or "red" position; and (3) the reserve, or "blue" position. To the engineers was assigned the task of laying out the trenches and placing the barbed wire. The infantry, under engineer supervision, were to dig the trenches of the support and reserve positions. Each position was to consist of three parallels with the necessary approach trenches. No dugouts were to be constructed.

Co. "C" and Co. "F" were assigned to the work on the outpost position; Co. "B" and Co. "D" on the support position; Co. "A" and Co. "E" on the reserve position. Headquarters Co. and the Engineer Train were stationed near divisional headquarters, fulfilling their regular functions of map-reproduction and transportation.

In addition to the main work of field fortifications just outlined, the lettered companies had other duties, such as the repair and upkeep of roads, the construction of road screens to prevent enemy observation of movements on roads, reconnaissance, etc.

All troops had been warned to be on the watch for enemy traps. It was discovered that the Chateau de Fere (divisional headquarters) was mined with tons of high explosive and hundreds of unexploded trench mortar shells. Mines had been placed not only in the Chateau, but also in the arches of a beautiful old viaduct, the destruction of which had no military value. Fortunately, the German troops' charged with the execution of this vandalism, had failed in their mission, and it was the duty of the engineers to clear away the explosive. This work was accomplished successfully under the direction of Lieutenant Macqueron (French liaison officer attached to the 302nd Engineers), and Master Engineer John L. Bleier.
For the engineers the Vesle Sector was very different from that of Baccarat. Not only were the engineer troops much nearer the fighting front, participating in its many activities, but conditions of life were fundamentally changed. All companies, except Co. "C" and Co. "D", were bivouacked in woods or on hillsides, and existence was very primitive. Danger from shells and gas was ever present. sleep was disturbed by artillery fire, which was almost incessant.

After the first day or two in this sector, Co. "C" an(' Co. "D" were quartered in a large cave in a hillside near the road between Chery-Chartreuve and St. Thibaut. To them this will always be "THE CAVE". The location of this cave was almost ideal from the point of view of the engineers. It was quite near the front, only about two kilometers south of the Vesle River; yet its damp confines spelled rest and safety (also "cooties") for the troops when not at work. This retreat, however, was immediately discovered by the Boches, who took special pains to enfilade its approach. Several times during their occupancy of the cave the kitchens of Co. "C" and Co. "D" were partially destroyed by shell-fire and many animals were also killed in the same way. One of the Co. "D" tool wagons was likewise added to the "casualty list".

Shortly after the relief of the 4th Division, the Regiment had its first death from enemy fire. Private Wallace A. Parmenter, Co. "B", was killed by a shell splinter on 12th August, 1918, near Chery-Chartreuve. Other casualties soon followed in all companies. Capt. R. L. Thomas, Adjutant of the 1st Battalion, was severely wounded in eleven places, while at Chery-Chartreuve on 20th August, 1918. In fact, Chery-Chartreuve was within easy range of the Boche light artillery and was a favorite target for their gunners, day and night. It will long live in the memory of those whose duty called them there.

Co. C Bridge

During August, the following named officers of the Regiment were transferred to the United States for promotion, and for duty in connection with the training of new engineer regiments then in the process of formation:
Lieut.-Col. H. C. Herkness
Capt. J. W. Mark, Supply Officer
1st Lieut. C. A. Volz, Co. "E"
1st Lieut. H. A. Philip, Co. "E"
1st Lieut. J. E. L. O'Ryan, Co. "A"
1st Lieut. E. L. Robinson, Co. "Y"
2nd Lieut. J. H. Murrin, Co. "E"

All these officers, except Colonel Herkness, had been with the Regiment since its formation, and their transfer was greatly regretted. Lieutenant H., C. Cresson, Co. "A", was appointed Supply Officer to fill the vacancy caused by Captain Mark's transfer, and was soon after promoted to the rank of Captain.

During all its operations, the Regiment was short of commissioned officers, at one time having only two-thirds of the authorized number. Had it not been for the high quality of the non-commissioned officers, the Regiment would have been seriously handicapped.

The change from the quiet sector of Baccarat to the great activity of the Vesle front, brought with it a striking change in the duties of the combat engineers. Dugouts were no longer even thought of; wire and trenches sank into secondary importance. The principal work of the engineers became "communications" which, translated, meant bridges and roads. BRIDGES! What recollections that. one word brings to the mind of every man in the Regiment!

BRIDGES, where so many of our brave comrades fell! From the Vesle to the Meuse, every operation of the Regiment seemed to lead as inevitably as death to one thing- BRIDGES! Much other useful work was done, but, in retrospect, everything else seems to fade into insignificance in comparison with the building of footbridges in front of the infantry, or of artillery bridges just behind them.

One of the first noteworthy operations of the Regiment after reaching the Vesle, was a river reconnaissance conducted by men of Co. "C". On the night of the 15th Au-gust, 1918, four volunteer parties, led respectively by 1st Sergeant Quinn, Sergeant Ruhlberg, Corporal Burkhardt, and Corporal Bell, made a complete reconnaissance of the Vesle River, where it lay between the lines, reporting locations of existing and demolished foot bridges, narrow places, etc. These parties were well ahead of the infantry outposts, and conducted their observations under artillery and machine gun fire.

Based on the information obtained through this reconnaissance, a detail from Co. "C" was sent forward to fell trees across a narrow part of the stream to form footbridges for the infantry. Corporal Burkhardt led this detail which ' in its first attempt on the night of the 18th of August, was unsuccessful, because the infantry commander refused to allow the detail to pass through the lines. Again, on the night of the 19th of August, the men made a second attempt, but were halted by a German outpost. Finally, on the night of the 21st of August, accompanied by Lieutenant Mack, of the infantry, who, with his aides, acted as a covering party, this detail succeeded in dynamiting two trees across the Vesle, a few hundred feet southwest of Bazoches.

On the same night as the Co. "C" reconnaissance (15th of August), 1st Lieut. Madison H. Lewis of Co. "F", accompanied by Sgts. Jules Gingras and Frank Roskoski, both of the same company, was also reconnoitering the river west of Fismes. At this point, the American line was north of the Vesle. An infantry relief was taking place at the same time. Heavy-laden infantrymen were crossing a narrow footbridge. The valley was a target for enemy gas shells, so that it was necessary for the men to wear gas masks. The combination of darkness, gas masks and a narrow bridge (already overtaxed by the passage of infantrymen) added greatly to, the difficulty of the task. Several infantrymen fell off the bridge into the river, and were in grave danger of drowning. Without hesitation, Lieutenant Lewis and his two sergeants tore off their masks, plunged into the stream, and rescued the infantrymen. The three engineers were severely gassed. Lieutenant Lewis never recovered sufficiently to return to the Regiment for active duty. All three were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for this act of heroism.

A few days later (22nd August, 1918) a Boche attack was expected, and it was desired to clear a "barrage zone" for artillery fire. Unfortunately, "The Cave" lay in this zone, and Co. "C" and Co. "D" were ordered to a new location toward the rear. While on the way back to this new position, Capt. L. F. Harder, Co. "C", received an order (at 12:30 A. M., 23rd of August) to burn down some German shacks which were obstructing the fire of one of the. infantry outposts. These shacks were several miles distant, in front of the American line, where it lay north of the Vesle, and about one kilometer west of Bazoches.

Corp. Leo R. Bell, Pvt. Frank L. Cromer, and Pvt. Lee B. Crum volunteered to carry out this hazardous mission. The orders were to burn the buildings at 3:30 A. M., as a signal for American gunners. There was no time for preparation. The detail started out at once, carrying only a three-gallon can of gasoline. The men proceeded first to the headquarters of the 1st Battalion, 306th Infantry, and obtained there a runner, Pvt. Neil Sheehan, who guided them by an exposed short-cut to the headquarters of Co. "D", 306th Infantry. From this point another runner guided them across the Vesle to the outpost platoon of Co. "D", 306th Infantry, which lay behind a railroad embankment. The shacks were obstructing the fire of this platoon.

Immediate action was imperative. Without time to reconnoiter, the three engineers crawled over the embank-ment and dashed toward the shacks. It was bright moon-light, and the ground was flat and bare. Speed, matched with daring, was their only protection. There were about ten buildings in the group. A central one was selected for firing. The men climbed inside, and almost at once the shacks became targets of enemy rifle grenades and machine guns. Hastily loose lumber, boxes, bunks-anything that was at hand were gathered together and sprinkled with gasoline. Exactly at 3:55 A. M., Private Cromer set a match to the building, which immediately broke into flames, which quickly spread to the other shacks in the group. The three men dashed back through the bullet-swept space to shelter behind the railroad embankment, safe and happy in the knowledge that their mission had succeeded-and with them they carried enough fuel to use in a second attempt in case the buildings were not completely destroyed. This act of daring and successful accomplishment deserves special mention here, because it has never been properly rewarded by official recognition. Through an unfortunate loss of papers and affidavits, no decorations have come to these brave men, who not only were successful in a most dangerous and important mission, but by their foresight in saving enough gasoline for a second attempt, showed themselves ready again to face almost certain death if their first efforts failed.

On the night of the 23rd-24th of August, Captain Simmons of Co. "D", with a detail of twenty-five men, set out with a portable truss foot bridge, which had been designed by Major Giesting and Lieut. Thomas H. Ellett, to the Vesle at a point about two and a half kilometers east of Bazoches. The trip to the river was made under heavy artillery fire, and upon arrival at the designated spot, the officer in command found that the truss was ten feet short of the required length. To a less determined man than Captain Simmons, this would immediately have spelled failure. But not to him! By means of axes and rope lashings, which the party carried with them, the men quickly constructed an extra "bent" or trestle on which to rest one end of the truss. This done, the bridge was soon made Passable for troops. Captain Simmons personally supervised this task and worked in the water himself.

These twenty-five men of Co. "D" were cited by Division General Order No. 35 for this piece of work. While transporting material for this bridge, Sergeants Doris and Wever were killed outright, and Sergeant Rothfuss, Corporal Chapman and Private Van Allen were severely wounded.

At about this time, Co. "E" relieved Co. "F" at the front. Captain La Fetra of Co. "E" determined to throw across a foot bridge with some material that had been prepared by Co. "F", but had not been used before the relief came. The Co. "E" foot bridge was a "double lock spar bridge", the first and last bridge of this type used by the Regiment while in action. The construction of this bridge took about three hours, during which time the valley was under heavy gas and machine gun fire.

The various actions, which have just been described, are merely "highlights" and are typical of the fine spirit of determination and aggressiveness of the Regiment. Much hard routine work was also accomplished on the different defensive positions. The ground, which had been gained by the Americans at such heavy cost, was not to be lost again. All the efforts of the Regiment were devoted to strengthening the positions, and to preparing for a further American advance. Plans were made, and material collected, for heavy artillery bridges across the Vesle, to be built as soon as the Boches could be driven back. The Regiment here for the first time made use of captured German material. Two carefully designed German portable trestle bridges had been left behind by the retreating foe. Different companies of the Regiment practiced using this material in order to be prepared for the expected advance.

Much creditable work was done during this period by Co. "C" wiring outpost positions, and Co. "E" and Co. "F" placing road camouflage at night at Villa Savoye and Mont St. Martin.

Quentin Roosevelt's grave was near the regimental headquarters, and Colonel Sherrill directed Pvt. Leland Easton of Co. "A" to cut and place a stone to mark the spot where the plane had crashed to earth. Colonel Roosevelt wrote personally to Colonel Sherrill and thanked him for this act of sympathy and respect.

On the 25th of August, the Regimental Adjutant, Capt. G. H. Crawford, was placed in command of Co. "B". Capt. Marshall J. Noyes was made Adjutant in his place. At the same time, Co. "B" relieved Co. "C" of some of the latter company's work on the outpost position. With commendable initiative and courage, Sergeants Braun and Boyd of Co. "B" handled the work in connection with one of these outposts a few hundred feet south of the Vesle. Though consisting only of trench digging and wiring, it was carried on steadily, day and night, in a very exposed position in advance of the infantry. At about the same time, Sergeant Desoucey of Co. "B", with a detail of seven men, was gassed severely while occupied on similar outpost work.

As has already been noted, the village of Bazoches, on the north bank of the Vesle, held by the enemy, was a constant source of trouble for the Americans. Orders were received to capture the town and drive the Boches back from the river. To Co. "G" of the 306th Infantry was allotted this task. A squad of men from Co. "C" of the 302nd Engineers was assigned to the attacking party, for the specific purpose of bombing a supposed tunnel in the cellars of the Bazoches Chateau. This squad was made up of the following:
Corp. Thomas F. Reilly, in charge
Corp. Allen Stromberg
Corp. William J. Knowlson
Pvt. 1st Class Raymond T. Ball Pvt.
1st Class Arthur Georger
Pvt. Frank Schulz
Pvt. John Bastedo
Pvt. Lionel Hodgkinson
Pvt. Edward P. Morrissey

On the evening of 26th August 1918, the attacking party assembled about a kilometer northwest of St. Thibaut. Early on the morning of the 27th the attack began, covered by an intense machine gun barrage. The advance proceeded smoothly from the west toward the east. In a short time, the town was in the possession of the Americans. The engineers looked in vain for a tunnel in the Chateau. It was not there!

The American plan was to "clean up" Bazoches, and then to retire to a position south of the village until the inevitable enemy artillery fire had subsided. Everything proceed according to schedule until the latter part of the plan was put into execution. As the American troops started for their objective toward the south of the village, the enemy began a heavy counter-attack, which drove the Americans south of the river, with many casualties. Corporal Knowlson and Private Georger were instantly killed during this action.

During the raid on Ba-zoches, Privates SchuIz and Morrissey of Co. "C" had an experience which they are not likely to forget. Stopping to give first aid to two wounded comrades, they became separated from the attacking infantrymen, and before they could catch up they were intercepted by the German counter-attack. The sought refuge in a pile of charcoal bags, to which they also took with them a blinded and half-crazed American infantryman. For five days these three men stayed in this precarious position, almost starving, and at last without water. Each day they expected that an American advance would rescue them. Finally, after making careful plans

They slipped out from their shelter, attacked and killed two German machine gunners and, leading the wounded infantryman, escaped to the American outposts, bringing with them valuable information. For this, and for their bravery in rescuing the wounded man, both Morrissey and Schulz were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

All this time, the Regiment expected an advance northward, and preparations were made accordingly. As soon as the order came to advance, each battalion was to throw two artillery bridges across the Vesle, as well as several foot bridges. In addition, one company of each battalion was to accompany the advancing infantry.

On the 2nd of September, orders were, however, received by the engineers to pack up and march to the rear for intensive training. This was welcomed by a few because it seemed to mean a much-desired rest, and a respite from the grueling work at the front. But to most of the officers and men, life at the front was more alluring than the routine of training, and it was with disappointment and regret that the southward "hike" was made.

The Regiment was concentrated several miles south of the Vesle, near Mareuil en Dole. For one company, however, there was to be no rest. No sooner was the new camp reached on the afternoon of 2nd of September, than the com-manding officer of Co. "B" received orders to build two footbridges across the Vesle "where desired by the Commanding Officer 305th Infantry."

Led by Captain Crawford of Co. "B", the 1st and 4th platoons, under the command respectively of Lieut. F. W. Weston and Lieut. R. C. -O'Donnell, turned about immediately and marched back to their old bivouac, northwest of Chery-Chartreuve, reaching there on the morning of the 3rd of September. The bridges were to be built undercover of night, so the day was spent in resting and practicing bridge building with some trestles which previously had been built by Co. "C" from material salvaged from a German hangar.

At about 8 P. M. these two platoons set out for the river. The route lay through the village of Mont Notre Dame, which was being heavily shelled at the time. Beyond Mont Notre Dame, concentrated gas was encountered in the valley of the Vesle. The night was dark, it was impracticable to wear gas masks, but it was decided to go on and risk the gas, for the bridges had to be built.

After passing through the infantry outpost, the platoons took the wrong route and in a few minutes had lost the location of their objective. The situation was precarious. Operations were being conducted in "No Man's Land", within range of enemy machine gun and gas shellfire. The route to the rear was open, but the advance planned for the infantry depended upon the success of the mission. Protected only by the blackness of the night, the two platoons waited for about an hour, until a reconnaissance had been made.

They then cautiously approached the bridge site, and in a few minutes had erected two-foot bridges. This was about midnight of the 3rd to 4th of September. The men noticed that the night had grown strangely quiet, and counted themselves lucky that the enemy artillerymen had not discovered their operations.

As soon as the bridges were completed the platoons marched back to their bivouac, and after two or three hours rest there, continued the march south to rejoin the Regiment. On reaching headquarters, about noon they were greeted by the news that the Germans had retired from their position on the Vesle, and that our infantry was already advancing. Furthermore, orders had already been received for the engineers to be "up and at 'em" again. ..

Co. "A" and Co. "D" were at once detailed to advance with the infantry. Each of the other four companies was to erect a heavy artillery bridge across the river. To Co. "B" and Co. "F" was assigned captured German bridge material; Co. "C" was to build a "crib" bridge; and Co. "E" was to repair a demolished German pile bridge.

Although several miles south of the river, the Regiment started at once, the several companies spreading fan-like over the area, and reaching their objectives during the afternoon of the 4th of September.

Co. "F" encountered considerable difficulty at Fismes and Fismettes. Not only was it necessary at that point to bridge the Vesle, but also the Ardre River, and the railroad cut, where the latter was crossed by the main road. Major Giesting took personal charge of this work, which was completed on the 5th of September.

Co. "C" was meanwhile building a crib bridge at Bazoches, which, because of the many difficulties encountered, was not completed until the 5th of September.
Co. "E", further east, repaired the old German bridge north of Ville-Savoye, which was ready for use by 9 P. M., 4th of September. The same night, Co. "E" cleared a portion of the Rheims-Rouen Road, which had been obstructed by the retreating enemy.

The same officers and platoons of Co. "B" that had built the foot bridges the night before were also selected for the construction of the artillery bridge, because they had had Practice in putting together the captured German material, and speed was of prime importance. Although officers and
men had had only about four or five hours sleep in sixty hours, the bridge was completed at about 6 P. M., 4th of September. It was placed about 600 meters west of Bazoches, on the left of the American line. Part of the 164th French Division used this bridge on the 4th and 5th of September, and because of this, the French Government awarded the Croix de Guerre with palm to the 302nd Engineers. The citation follows:



ORDRE No. 16,657 "D" (Extrait) Bureau du personnel
Apres approbation du General Commandant en Chef des Forces expeditionnaires Americaines en France, le Marechal de France, Commandant en Chef des Armees Francaises de L'Est cite A l'Ordre de I'Armee:
. . . . . . . . . . ..

Colonel SHERRILL, du 302' Regiment du Genie Ameri-cain:
"Le 302' Regiment du Genie Americain, sous le Com-mandement du Colonel SHERRILL, a construit, le 6 Septembre 1918, en trois heures sous un violent feu d'artillerie, un pont sur la Vesle, ce qui a permis des le debut des operations, le passage de l'artillerie francaise contribuant ainsi au succes de l'offensive."
. . . . . . . . . . ..

Au Grand Quartier General, le 20 AVRIL 1919.

Commandant en Chef des Armees Francaises de l'Est
Le Lieutenant-Colonel,
Chef du Bureau du Personnel
(Signed) --------------------

Co. "C" and Co. "B" were likewise assigned to work on the St. Thibaut-Bazoches Road, which was in an indescribable condition, due to the fact that for five weeks it had lain in No Man's Land. This road had been badly torn up by shells. The cut leading north from St. Thibaut was blocked by two heavy-laden, wrecked motor trucks. It was necessary to dynamite these trucks from the road. Lieut. J. J. Hyland personally carried out this work.

This whole area was strewn with the dead from the 4th U. S. Division, our own division and the enemy. It was the Regiment's introduction to the horrors of war on a large scale.

As soon as work was begun on the St. Thibaut-Bazoches Road, Captain Harder of Co. "C" sent a detail into Bazoches to recover the bodies of Corp. William G. Knowlson and Pvt. Arthur M. Georger, who had been killed on the 27th of August during the raid on Bazoches.

The 5th of September will never be forgotten by the men of Co. "A". The platoons that were advancing with the infantry underwent a terrific enemy barrage on the heights between the Vesle and the Aisne. Pvt. William Seidenburg was killed in action, and the following men died of wounds received during this engagement:

Antonio Maccagno
William Flaherty
James Moran

Twenty others in this company were wounded, including Lieut. Francis J. Sinnott.

During this advance with the infantry, Co. "D" also suffered many causalities, including Pvt. Stuart Fraser, who died of wounds received at Blanzy les Fismes on 7th of September. Eighteen others in Co. "D" were
wounded at this village.

On the 5th of September, Lieut. J a m e s F. Brown of Co. "D", and Lieut. D. Romeo of Co. "B" were detailed to carry forward in motor trucks some captured German pontoon boats for use on the Aisne. This was a difficult task, as the trucks had to pass over shell-swept roads. The expedition reached its destination-Longeval-and the boats were successfully unloaded. Several of the boats had been punctured by shell splinters.

On the following day (6th September, 1918) Co. "E" had its worst experience of the entire war. The country north of the Vesle was honeycombed with large caves. These were useful as shelters for reserve troops and the different headquarters. In many of these caves, however, the Boches had placed traps of various kinds. It was one of the duties of the engineers to examine all caves and remove all dangerous material.

In a cave occupied by part of Co. "E", a hidden mine exploded and killed outright Cooks August C. Keck and K. Zejmis. Captain La Fetra of Co. "E" was ordered to clear another large cave, which was to be used as headquarters of the 154th Brigade. It was full of mustard gas, which is very treacherous. In order to get rid of the gas, it was necessary to remove all the bunks and litter that had accumulated during German occupation. This work had to be done without gas masks because explosive traps were likely to be concealed in the recesses of the cave. In a few hours, however, the work was completed, but at fearful cost: Over seventy men of Co. "E" were gassed so severely that they had to be sent to the hospital, including Captain La Fetra and Lieutenant Booth. The following men died later from the effects of this gas:
Sgt. 1st Class W. L. Johnson
Sgt. J. K. Lasher, Jr.
Corp. James A. Foley
Pvt. 1st Class P. B. Gregowski
Pvt. 1st Class John Sheehan
Pvt. 1st Class Leo Levy
Pvt. 1st Class A. H. Bergman
Pvt. Walter E. Runge

As an unfortunate sequel of this operation, the men of the infantry headquarters inadvertently took back into the cave some of the bunks that the engineers had so carefully removed. After occupying the cave for a short time, many of these men were seriously affected by the fumes still clinging to the gas-saturated material, and about fifty were evacuated, including Brig.-Gen. Evan M. Johnson.

After the evacuation of Captain La Fetra and Lieutenant Booth, Co. "E" was left without officers for a short period. Capt. Thomas H. Ellett, who was then Adjutant of the 2nd Battalion, was placed in command of Co. "E", and he led that company throughout the rest of the war.

Captain Ullrich of Co. "F", having been transferred, 1st Lieut. R. C. O'Donnell of Co. "B" was assigned to the command of Co. "Y'. He remained in command until after the Armistice.

In the meantime, Co. "A" and Co. "D" had maintained platoons with the advanced infantry which was situated to the south of the Aisne River. The other four engineer companies were working on roads, and preparing for an expected advance across the Aisne. Bridge material, both foot and heavy, was assembled, and practice was had with floating foot bridges. ,

Co. "B" at this time was located in Vaucere. This village was built over several caves, and the retreating Germans had succeeded in blowing up three under the main highway. The resulting craters made it impossible for heavy traffic to reach the village. It was the duty of Co. "B" to reopen "communications" with the village. As the roadway was on a side hill, the "cut and fill" method was used, and in a few hours (6th of September) a one-way route through the village was ready for use. The next day this way was broadened so as to accommodate two vehicles, so that all types of army transport could use it in two directions. This was the Regiment's first encounter with road-demolitions on a large scale. Within the next few months all companies had similar experiences, because a favorite practice of the enemy in retreat was to blow huge craters in the road for the purpose of hindering the advance of the Allied transport. Ordinarily the engineers succeeded in repairing the demolished roads long before the transport reached the spot. It was only during the phenomenally rapid advance from 1st of November to the Armistice that these demolitions were a serious hindrance to the 77th Division.

The aerial activity in this sector was great at this time, and it seemed that the Boches had the upper hand. No one who witnessed them can ever forget the daily spectacular feats of the German air-squadrons chasing Allied observation 'planes and burning American and French balloons.

When American troops reached the heights north of the Vesle and looked toward the south, they appreciated thoroughly the excellent opportunities which the elevation had afforded the enemy during the preceding month for obser-vation of the movements of American troops. No further explanation was needed for the uncanny accuracy of the Boche artillery.

Maj. F. A. Giesting was at this time (September, 1918) promoted to be acting Lieutenant Colonel, which rank he shortly received. Capt. F. S. Greene, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, was on 8th of September transferred to the command of the 2nd Battalion, and Capt. H. B. Perlee of Co. "A" was promoted to the command of the 1st Battalion, with the rank of Major. Major PerLee remained in command of this battalion during the remainder of the war.

On the 13th of September, the 77th Division was relieved by the 8th Italian Division. The Regiment moved back again to the woods near Mareuil en Dole, and spent a few days there resting and salvaging thousands of dollars worth of war material.

It was expected that the Division was now to be given a rest. Indeed, the activities of the preceding month had included many grueling experiences, having been spent mostly upon a stationary front, which had not been organized with cover. The tremendous losses of the infantry in the exposed valley of the Vesle tell a story which need no further elaboration.

Most of the 77th Division consider the Vesle Sector the worst that was encountered by the Division, but during this period of extreme danger and important missions successfully accomplished, the training of the troops was completed. They had been tested, and had not been found wanting. When the banks of the Vesle were forever left behind them, they had graduated into the ranks of the (then) few thoroughly trained Americans divisions.


(Courtesy of Colliers Weekly.)

WHEN the convoy crawls on a long white road,
Straight to the blazing line,
While the drivers nod as they guide their load
On where the star shells shine,
If a "two-ten" drops with a roaring crash,
The big trucks cease to roll,
And the C. 0. growls as he views the smash
And swears at the ten-foot hole!

"Job for the Engineers-
Bring up the wrecking crew,
Shovel and pick will do the trick,
Then we can go on through."
They're on the spot, you bet;
Soon, with a clash of gears,
We're on the way, for the road's 0. K.,
Fixed by the Engineers!

When the storm troops wait at the river banks,
And each stone bridge is blown,
And the stream's too deep for the fat old tanks,
And pontoons must be thrown
Where the water boils with the shell and shot,
It's "Engineers, 'toot sweet,'"
They will lose one-half of the men they've got,
But build that bridge, complete.

"Job for the Engineers-
Never you mind the loss.
Fritz has a hate, but the troops can't wait;
See that they get across,
You won't get no rewards,
Hear any shouts or cheers,
Bring up your mob, for here's a job-
Job for the Engineers."

Oh, they mend the wire where it guards the front;
They dig the dugouts deep,
And to tunnel mines is their steady stunt-
Like moles that get no sleep.
They take their chance where the gas clouds lurk,
And I'll say it appears
That darn small glory and beaucoup work
Comes to the Engineers.

"Job for the Engineers-
Something that 'can't be done,'
Nevertheless they'll do it, yes;
That's how they get their fun.
Armed with a kit of tools,
Careless of hopes or fears,
Big jobs or small, you simply call-
call for the Engineers.
Website by SchoolMessenger Presence. © 2022 Intrado Corporation. All rights reserved.