Kansas Collection Books
Contributed by Pam Rietsch and transcribed and produced by Connie Snyder



CHAPTER XXIX. (cont.)

THE STORY OF HEADQUARTERS COMPANY

(Page 221 Cont.)

THE PIONEERS-KNIGHTS OF THE PICK AND SHOVEL

   The most universal implement in modern warfare is the shovel. It had been impossible for the American soldier even in intensive training to realize this fact. He reasoned while digging the tough soil of Carpenter Hill and the stony slopes of the A. E. F. training areas:

   "I'd rather take my chances on putting the enemy out of business with my rifle than to put my confidence in a hole in the ground. Let's fight it out in the open. Let me at him."

   At first sight the doughboy scorned the theory back of all the digging that he saw in the battle areas "Over There." As soon, however, as the shell splinters began to fly around him, he made a frantic search for his shovel. If no shovel was available he used his mess-kit lid or his bayonet---anything to get below the surface. After his initial experience in battle, the doughboy and his shovel were inseparable friends, and of all the men who used the shovel, the Pioneers were the most persistent and proficient of the lot.

   In their own words these brawny knights of the pick and shovel were "jacks of all trades." They dug trenches for other people as


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well as themselves, built command posts, established kitchens in the danger zone, collected surplus property; in emergencies, they served as runners, stretcher bearers, gas guards, orderlies, and even as M. P.'s. Wherever and whenever there was a task to be done so long as there was a Pioneer available, that Pioneer was sure to be called.

   The very nature and variety of their duties kept them scattered over the entire regimental sector. They worked as individuals and details, never as a platoon. Usually they were upon their own resources for the necessities of life. Experience soon taught the Pioneers of the 353rd Infantry the art of "making arrangements" for themselves and their comrades. These conditions of life developed unbreakable bonds of friendship between the men of the platoon. They were a rough and ready lot, sharing together the dangers, hardships, and joys of a Pioneer soldier's life.

   Hardly had the regiment landed in the front line when calls from every corner of the sector came for the Pioneers. Within a week they camouflaged the Regimental P. C., constructed a shelter for "C" company's kitchen out on the front lines, and built a lookout post for the Second Battalion. In spite of the demands the Pioneers took time for recreation. In the very midst of these busy days, one of them produced a baseball and a game was on, but a quarter of a mile from the front lines. It was a success, but an observer who noted the sport remarked unofficially:

   "These Pioneers are a fine bunch of fellows but they are crazy as hell for playing baseball up here."

   In their service during the occupation of the Lucey Sector, the Pioneers had considerable experience as soldiers as well as construction men. When the Germans put over their raid on the morning of September 7th, the Pioneers grabbed their rifles, advanced to an old stone wall in the edge of Limey, and prepared to hold to the last man. Only the good work of "D" Company kept them out of military action. In the night following this raid, Sergeant Kiker took a detail into "No Man's Land" to mend the wire entanglements which had been cut by artillery fire. Four men handled the rolls of barbed wire while the others stood on guard. All was well until they were letting out the last roll when a flare went up from the enemy lines, followed by a shower of machine gun bullets. The Pioneers flattened themselves on the ground and escaped without loss. Whatever the emergency, the Pioneers lost no time in putting into effect the most practical solution.

   During the night of September 10th, the Pioneers pumped out some old dugouts to be used by Regimental Headquarters as a "jump-off" P. C. On the morning of the 12th, they went over the top in two sections. One section, armed with wire cutters, went along with the first wave to help the fighting men make their way through the entanglements. The second section accompanied the Regimental Headquarters. Some served as runners; others helped carry the


The Story of Headquarters Company      223

wounded to the dressing station and escort prisoners to the rear. Nightfall found them in Bouillonville, clearing away wreckage for a Regimental P. C. As soon as they had completed their task they took possession of a good billet with comfortable beds for themselves. Two days later engineer officers ranked them out of their "Palace." Their next adventure was with a flying flea in a hay loft. Some engineers again appeared on the scene. This time they noted some suspicious wires in the loft. Investigation revealed an alarm clock system connected up with two cases of high explosives under the floor. From that moment the Engineers were again reckoned as friends of the Pioneers. Every day held its peculiar excitement.

   After the Pioneers had reinforced the Regimental P. C. in Beney with sand bags, they assumed the responsibility of keeping men under cover in the town. In order to test the efficiency of these guards, General Wright, the division commander, disguised himself and started down the middle of the street. Pvt. George Johnson sighted him instantly.

   "Hi there, old man, get the hell out of that street," he yelled.

   "I want to go to Regimental Headquarters, how do I get there?" asked the General.

   "Beat it down along this wall, chase yourself across that opening and high-tail up to that building with the stone steps. Now be damned quick about it."

   The General told the story delightedly on himself.

   In the course of the Regimental move to the Meuse-Argonne front, the Pioneers arrived some time after midnight in the village of Brocourt. They fell to the ground and tried to sleep but in a few minutes Lieutenant Shepard, the platoon commander, aroused them with these words:

   "Boys, we have to get out and get busy and clean up the town to make it fit to live in."

   It was up to the Pioneers to help maintain the record of the 89th Division for police. In fact, the men of the Pioneer Platoon found life more livable at the front than they did in back areas. At any rate, inspections at the front were not so frequent and there was more room for originality there in the accomplishment of their mission.

   When the Regiment reached the line in the Bantheville Woods, Lieutenant Shepard was transferred to a line company and Sergeant Traster took command of the Pioneer Platoon. The first duty in the new sector was to establish headquarters company kitchen. Three hundred men of this company besides casuals were scattered about over the Regimental sector. They must be fed. The Pioneers were now camouflage artists. Through their efforts along this line, the difficult task was accomplished.


224      Regimental History 353rd Infantry

   Even more dangerous duty awaited them in the construction of the Regimental jump-off P. C., in the northern edge of Bantheville Woods. Captain Turner, at that time in command of Headquarters Company, personally supervised the work. When Colonel Reeves and his party moved up on the night of October 31st, the P. C. was ready. The morning of the drive found the Pioneers going over the top with Regimental Headquarters.

   Until the night of November 10th, the Pioneers were busy in the new sector. They had forgotten themselves in their efforts to help others. Surely there would be opportunity now for rest; instead, orders came to advance to Laneuville. All sense of danger disappeared as they moved mechanically forward. When they arrived at two a. m. their tasks were waiting; some accompanied Lieutenant Hewitt on a detail to hunt boats; others helped the radio squads carry their equipment to the river; still others made arrangements for a kitchen; the remaining men in the platoon formed a burial detail. Eleven o'clock on November 11th saw the end of the war for the Regiment, but the nature of the Pioneer's service was such that he had to continue with almost equal intensity to his last day in the army--these knights of the pick and shovel.

Location of Headquarters Company Kitchen on Romagne Road


ONE-POUNDER PLATOON

   The One-Pounder or 37 mm. gun has often been termed "the Infantry's own artillery." Mobility and the small space required for ammunition allow it to follow the infantry in any phase of combat.


The Story of Headquarters Company      225

It is primarily designed to destroy by direct fire, machine guns, which can be definitely located. For this purpose, it is the most effective single weapon in the Infantry Regiment.

   Lieut. F. M. Wood gave the men their first training with the gun, but Lieutenant McCullum brought them into the sector on August 4th, where they were billeted with the rest of the Company in the old chateau in Manonville. A little later, Lieutenant Dahmke took command and in the latter part of August, two gun crews moved to the front line trenches, taking up positions to the right and left of Limey. Here they succeeded in knocking out three German outposts. Never more than three shots were required to hit the object fired at. Gunners boasted of using tomato cans for targets at 500 yards and handkerchiefs up to 1500 yards. But the flash of discharge invariably exposed the position of the guns, and within half an hour the spot would be shelled by German artillery. The crews themselves avoided casualties by quickly moving to a new location. Infantry commanders, who had to "sit tight" with their men, would never allow them to fire the gun from any position close to their troops.

Pounders -- Wright - Glover - Doy - Harding - Kimberlin

   In the St. Mihiel offensive, both guns were fired in the general barrage as the Infantry went over the top. After the doughboys had advanced for a short distance, the crews started forward carrying their guns, expecting to be overtaken by their transportation. One crew missed connections, and, laden with their heavy gun (barrel and trail each weigh about 90 pounds) were unable to keep up with the rapidly advancing infantrymen. The second crew, under Sergeant Underhill, found their mule and were able to keep up with the


226      Regimental History 353rd Infantry

advance. When the infantrymen were being held up by a machine gun located on an opposite hill, three shots from the One-Pounder brought the Boche out of their nest with their hands over their heads. Pounders always claimed this bunch as their own prisoners.

   The crew advanced with the Third Battalion to a point near Xammes. On the following day, they were exposed to severe shelling. By energetically "digging in," the men were able to avoid casualties, but they could find no protection for their faithful mule, Maud. The poor beast was completely demolished by a direct hit. Her loss was deeply mourned by the crew who now had to carry the cannon themselves.

   The Pounder Platoon arrived in the Bois de Bantheville on the 19th of October and assisted our First Battalion in mopping up the woods and advancing the lines two kilometers. On October 29th, a shell struck the Stokes mortar ammunition dump in these woods. As a result of the explosion, Sgt. Harry E. Bailey and Pvt. John L. Thompson were killed, and Pvt. Clay H. Hawkins mortally wounded. The activity of this sector was disastrous to the Pounder Platoon. Casualties totaled three killed and twelve wounded; the Platoon was now at only about one-third strength. It became necessary, therefore, to move back for re-organization and replacements in order to participate in the Offensive of November 1st. On October 30th, the platoon was filled up with replacements from the 314th Engineers.

   On the morning of November 1st both crews opened fire on pits and woods at the crest of the opposite hill while the infantry were advancing across the valley. Each gun fired about 150 rounds and did some very effective work at the "jump-off." Pulling their guns by hand (for they had lost other mules) the crews now started ahead. The doughboys moved steadily forward and the Pounders found it difficult to do more than keep up with them. Consequently, they were unable to fire any more on the first day.

   On the morning of November 2nd, the Pounders made ready to advance with the Infantry again. When troops of the Second Battalion were held up by machine gun fire from a stretch of woods, Mr. Pounder's barrage effectively silenced the fire. Fighting always found the Pounders on hand, and it must be said to their everlasting credit that they waded through more difficulties than any other troops to get into action.

   The cessation of hostilities on November 11th found the guns all placed for the impending drive to the east of the Meuse River. Upon reaching Stenay, the men from the 314th Engineers, who had proven themselves courageous and worthy comrades, were sent back to their organization. Only one squad of the thirty-eight original Pounders was left to tell the story of the platoon's part in the World War.




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