It pleases a few men of the other fourteen companies in the Regiment to call the Supply Company the "S. O. S." troops. In the A. E. F. the letters "S. O. S." stand for "Service of Supply." In rendering service and keeping supplies moving to the front, despite seemingly insurmountable difficulties, the Supply Company modestly acknowledges that it has been very much on the job, but if the "S. O. S." title is meant to imply that this company functioned in "Safety or Security" then the mule-skinners, the ration details, the truck details, simply smile to themselves. They know differently.
The supply company was never fully equipped to do business until after reaching Germany. No one was to blame unless it was Ludendorf who insisted on pulling off his 1918 offensive so rapidly that American divisions had to be thrown into the line as soon as they were in any kind of shape to perform. And American men had to pay the price of national unpreparedness in the emergency, with which the nation found itself confronted. They were expected to function with such equipment as was available. Instead of American escort wagons we got French Fourgons hastily made from green wood. In place of good draft horses, we got what the French couldn't use, poor, weak, gaunted animals. Chauchats were issued instead of Browning automatic rifles and so on down the line. But with typical Yankee ingenuity, we proceeded to do the best we could with what we had at hand.
Though short on equipment, the Supply Company was long on everything else. Capt. William P. Piatt, better known as Capt. "Bill" Piatt, organized the company for service. No regiment ever boasted a finer bunch of mule-skinners. Their only regret was that the "gaunted" French horses were not "Missouri canaries." To them, a shelled road was only an invitation to show Fritz that he couldn't stop a Kansas skinner from "getting there." In charge of Transportation was Lieut. H. A. "Hood Farm" Brown, who loved his nondescript draft animals with a love second only to his Jersey cows back home. Next in order was Lieut. H. F. (Light) Brown. He was the man who covered all tracks of the Supply Company and stuck to the last man through thick and thin down to the last minute of its existence as a company. Then there was Lieutenant Farris, he of the perfect 36 figure, who could talk a man out of his last month's pay and did talk the quartermaster out of many a truck load of supplies, to which we had only a potential title. He did wonderful work in getting up the "chow." He did not eat much himself but he had heard that others liked to eat so he kept it coming. The three Battalion supply officers, Lieutenants Smith, Dunn and Davis, rustled stuff by day for their battalions and convoyed the trains to the front by night. Finally, commanding
the company "over there" was Captain Keim, the original "go-getter."
The supply company's first real experience as a mobile unit came in the St. Mihiel Offensive. Their orders were to remain at Minorville until they received word from G-1 to move. So far as is known that word has not yet arrived. At noon, September 12th, unwilling to remain back any longer, the whole outfit set sail to find the boys up ahead and take them the necessary rations and ammunitions. We said the whole outfit, we should have said all except Wagoner Landel, who was missing. Later investigation brought out that the thrill of the moment had been too much for him and, instead of bringing his water cart to join the train, he had tied his mule to a tree and gone over the top. The train got through Limey all right and out on the reconstructed road across "No Man's Land," toward Euvezin and then things happened. The combat section at the head got through but in the darkness the rest of the train became hopelessly involved in a traffic jam. The combination of an almost impassable road and tired, balky animals limited progress to a snail's pace until toward midnight when all vehicles were ordered off the road by the corps commander to make way for ammunition. Some spent the night under wagons while others explored the German trenches and dugouts.
Dawn showed a pitiful spectacle. Wagons of every description were scattered along the roadside, in the ditches or tangled up in the barbed wire wherever they had been forced off the road. The leading part of the train was allowed to proceed; the rest of it was turned back by way of the Metz Road through Thiacourt. It was while moving towards Thiacourt that a Major was asked if he knew where the 353rd Infantry could be found.
"Hell, no," was his reply, "We can't keep up with them. You had better start your train toward Metz. You will probably find them there."
The train was assembled in Bouillonville and with this town as a base, the supply company got into its war-time stride. Hot "chow" was taken up every night to the boys holding the lines, even though Lieutenant Davis had to take his train out into "No Man's Land" and back through the lines to reach the Third Battalion. Showers and delousers were put into operation and clean clothes issued. In many respects, the regiment had to be re-equipped. Most of the packs and surplus kits, left behind when the boys went over the top, had been stolen. Even the light packs with slickers and reserve rations had in most cases been abandoned in the excitement of the chase. As soon as a Chauchat jammed, it was left behind for the pioneers to salvage. Clothing had been torn and ruined. When the line had stabilized again and the men were "dug in" about Xammes, a rough inventory showed that there was much work ahead for the supply company to get the regiment re-equipped. The Division Quartermaster responded generously and truck loads of clothing were sent up for distribution while equip-
ment of all kinds was drawn from the quartermaster and ordnance officers.
The supply company conducted open house in Bouillonville and fed all comers, no matter what hour of the day or night they arrived. Mess Sergeant Dundon and Cooks Weaver, Koons, Holcombe, and Heatherington met the situation to the satisfaction and admiration of all. The big soup kitchen captured from the Boche came in handy during the emergency. A "chow" line of three or four hundred was nothing unusual. Regardless of shells, they kept on turning out the "chow" day and night.
The regiment moved to the Beney sector and the company suffered its first casualties. Three wagoners were wounded while driving through Beney. On these drives, the wagoners showed their fine esprit de corps. There was an especially bad stretch of road, almost constantly under shell-fire, just before the road dipped over the hill and curved down to Bouillonville. Each night after the wagoners had passed this bad stretch, they would stop around the bend till all had safely passed before they would start for home.
Meanwhile, life in Bouillonville was not exciting except that 10 inch shells from the Metz forts kept coming nearer and nearer down the valley from Thiacourt and the "G. I. cans" from the artillery behind the German lines were almost bounding off the edge of the bluff and somebody was always taking the joy out of life each night with two or three fake gas-alarms. In the night of September 25th, General Winn ordered the train to Euvezin as the Argonne offensive was to start that night and heavy counter battery fire was expected. For a few days the company operated from the hills outside Euvezin and when the regiment took over the St. Benoit
sector the supply company moved into the Nonsard Woods in rear. The men found quarters here, fitted up like a summer resort. The Germans vacated so hastily that they had not had time to destroy the buildings. Comfortable barracks, commodious stables, plenty of stoves and "beausoup" coal were a welcome change after fox-holes on the side of a hill. Here the company had the honor of entertaining Mrs. Fitzgerald and Miss Hermance, the gamest wearers of the Y. M. C. A. triangle in the A. E. F.
On October 7th, the 89th Division was relieved by the 37th Division and the supply company with the rest of the Regiment withdrew to the rear, concentrating around Corneiville. This move was made on one of the darkest nights ever known. The only way in which the road through the woods could be distinguished was the slight break in the trees ahead.
From Corneiville the Regiment was transported by truck train to its new sector on the Argonne front while the supply train covered the distance in three long night marches. On the road from 5 p. m. till 5 a. m. and traveling over all kinds of roads--these were the longest nights the members of the supply company can remember. Incidents were plentiful which though humorous when viewed in retrospect were very trying at the time. While passing a long truck convoy, the train was held up for a couple of hours. Everyone assumed that one of the trucks had broken down and blocked the road but it was later discovered that a "frog" driver had suddenly decided to call it a day and parked his truck in such a way as to block all passage on the road. He had retired to the hillside to take a little slumber. What happened to his truck is a supply company secret. Later in the same night, Private Howe's mules, while climbing a rise in the ground, suddenly turned off at right angles and, forgetting all their military discipline, went A. W. O. L. over the side of the bank, depositing wagon and all in the turnip patch at the bottom. Miraculously, the wagon landed right side up. Private Howe still insists that he was not asleep. Be that as it may, Wag. Wright came to the rescue with the old reliable "Dewey" and "Kate" and soon had the wagon snaked back to the road. After a day and night near Brocourt, the train advanced with the Regiment to its position in reserve at Ecles-Fontaine.
Ecles Fontaine, a typical bleak hillside of northern France, was used by the company as a base of operations till the night before the final drive. In most places the mud was not over a foot deep and that, combined with the fact that the sun was almost as much of a stranger as a fighting American aviator, led certain facetious ones to name it "Sunny France." The chief recreation was betting how long an American observation balloon would remain up before it was shot down by a Boche aviator. The man who allowed it more than a couple of hours usually lost money. On several occasions the famous Richthofen Circus was seen in operation and everyone had to hand it to the Boche on his work in the air.
Here again the equipment of the Regiment was checked and the shortages filled. The great difficulty was with shoes. Complaint seemed to be general on this score throughout the entire A. E. F. But the tireless work of Mechanic Dawson and his squad of cobblers solved this problem for the 353rd Infantry. At Manonville, at Bouillonville, at Nonsard, as soon as the regimental dump was established, they would gather up all the salvaged shoes they could find, repair them, and soak them well with dubbin. And each time the dump was moved, there were sacks or shoes ready for issue. When the chance came at Ecles Fontaine to re-equip the men, many a one owed his sound, water-proof pair to the splendid work of the regimental cobblers.
It was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the transportation, upon which everything was so dependent. There were only enough animals to equip a few of the vehicles with 4-line teams. Rapid advance, the heavy wagons, the terrible roads, and the shortage and irregularity of forage made the maintenance of animals a tremendous problem. Shell-fire, too, caused severe losses. Rarely a night but what some animal would come back wounded. The "skinners" gave their best in time and attention to their teams. Once when forage was scarce, the men were all formed up in "chow" line when the hay came in. Without a murmur, every "skinner" gave up his place in the line and hurried to feed his team before he got his own "chow." That was the spirit that kept the 353rd Infantry train always functioning when it seemed that it could not be done. And no matter what hour of the day or night the rations came in, the ration detail would immediately get busy with unloading, distribution, and reloading so that the front line might be kept supplied with the sinews of war.
In the night of October 31st, the entire train and company moved up to the Romagne Woods around the Regimental P. C. in order to be in the lead as soon as the roads were thrown open. The combat train moved on to Remonville at noon of November 1st, and the balance of the train followed the next morning.
The night of November 2nd will never be forgotten by anyone in the supply company. Camped about an old spring house just south of Remonville (while the rest of the trains in the division were back around Gesnes), the night had just fallen and everyone was burrowing in his fox-hole trying to find a safe and comfortable position for sleep when the storm descended. A battery of 210's later discovered at Les Tuilleres Farm had registered on the spring house and proceeded to send over their supply of shells before they retreated. For a few minutes, shells were exploding on all sides and in the air above. During a lull Lieutenants Smith and Davis precipitately abandoned the spring house which they had selected as a boudoir. They did not wait to find such unnecessary articles as shoes. Meanwhile Sergeant Burns was proving himself a wonderful cross-country runner. Hedges, ditches, shell holes, and hills failed to check his wonderful burst of speed, but try as he would, he could not shake off Sergeant Shurtz who was just a stride behind him. Sergeant Edwards
had always claimed that he could not see in the dark, but on this occasion he saw his way clear to leave the spring house area well behind him. A shell exploded close to the hole occupied by Lichty and Kuchem. Its fumes entering the dugout convinced the occupants that they were about to be gassed; but they spurned their gas masks, pulled the blankets over their heads, and prepared for the worst. Horseshoers Westfall, Coop, and Belch remain convinced that they are the special favorites of Providence. A shell burrowed right under their hole but it was a dud. When the party was over, it was found that despite Fritz's extravagant expenditure of ammunition not a man had been touched and only one horse was wounded, though some of the wagons were riddled by shell fragments.
The next day (November 3rd) the train moved on to Les Tuilleres Farm in two sections in order to give every wagon a four-line team. The road was bad, especially north of Andevanne. No repairs had been made on a part of this road which had been both mined and shelled. But the "skinners," nothing daunted, turned engineers and built enough road to get their wagons past. The second section, however, coming over the road at night in a severe rain storm, had extreme difficulty on this stretch of road. Private Ufford's team pulled a little aside; before he knew it, wagon, team, and all were in a big shell hole full of water. Driver and horses narrowly escaped drowning. A cheerless night was spent at Les Tuilleres Farm and the following day (November 4th) advance was made to Tailly. For two days, the company camped just outside the chateau, which was used as Division Headquarters. On November 6th the company moved up into the woods near the cross-roads on the Beauclair-Laneuville road, and remained here under constant shell-fire until the company was ordered by the brigade commander to withdraw behind the Beauclair-Nouart line. The camp near the junction of the Beauclair-Tailly and Beauclair-Nouart roads continued to be the base of operations until November 11th, when the armistice brought hostilities to a close.
Since the opening of the final phase of the offensive on November 1st, the company had maintained its name under very heavy difficulties. The roads were in a terrible condition, congestion was acute, and, on account of the rapid advance, the bases of supply were constantly changing. But in spite of labor and loss of sleep involved, the supply company of the 353rd Jufantry kept a steady supply of "chow" moving up to the lines.
The work of the supply company was not spectacular. From its very nature it never could be so. But the doughboys all recognize the "skinner" as his "buddie" because he nightly risked his life on roads raked by enemy artillery and often drenched with gas, roads so torn up that only a master hand could guide a wagon over it in daylight, let alone in pitchy blackness with shells bursting all around. He did this that the doughboy might not go hungry and that he might be always supplied with ammunition. No gamer bunch of men wore the O. D. than the "skinners" of the 353rd Infantry.
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