The men of the 353rd Infantry fully expected orders to move to the front at the close of the intensive training period in early August, 1918. They had worked hard and felt they "had it comm'." Moreover, the situation at the front seemed to indicate that this was a good time to get into the game. Victory in the second battle of the Marne brought the initiative to the allied forces; for the first time in many days Fritz was yielding ground. The big task of crushing out the salient at Chateau Thierry was fast developing into a great military success. Americans were playing a worthy part but there was still much to be done.There could be no peace without complete victory. So the men of the 353rd Infantry looked back upon their training with satisfaction and forward to duty at the front with confidence.
Just what part of the line would be taken over no one seemed to know. Rumors were abroad that it would be in the Toul Sector. At any rate, it would be a "quiet" sector for a while; all else was "secret."
The final task in the training area, as the first had been, was police. The barracks were stripped of all equipment, details scrubbed the floors and nailed the doors shut. Another detail buried the cans around the kitchen and swept the yards. A third picked up the paper on the drill field and leveled the trenches. An inspector was to appear at the moment of departure to pass on the result.
At the hour of starting, the trucks were waiting and the men were ready. No inspector came so the order to load was given. Civilians turned out en masse to bid the men farewell. They had heard much of the achievements of Americans already in the war and they expected great things of these strange but likeable men. A move is always welcome to a soldier and it was in a happy frame of mind that the men of the First Battalion left their farewell assurances to the people of Manios. " Bonswa," shouted some; "Boche partee toot sweet," others added as the trucks slowly began to move down the road. There was loud cheering and waving of arms on both sides until the little town was lost in the distance.
A drizzling rain set in at night and increased the difficulties of keeping the truck train together. The drivers crouched down over their wheels, said nothing, looked into the darkness and pushed ahead. The doughboys admitted to a man that these truck drivers had their nerve. Smoking was prohibited; in fact, there was not even the comfort of sufficient room. Thirty-five men to a truck with all their equipment made more than a load. At Toul the train halted to give straggling trucks a chance to catch up. At daybreak Menilla-Tour was in sight on the right. Flashes of fire lit up the fading
darkness ahead; and the roar of big guns broke the stillness of the morning. The hum of areoplanes could be heard overhead. Surely the front was not far away, and yet the trucks continued to move forward. At Francheville breakfast was prepared; already the journey had lasted nearly eighteen hours. Later in the day the Battalion marched through Royamieux to Domevre-en-Haye.
This little town seemed to be almost intact. Civilians moved about freely, but there were no children among them. The buildings appeared somewhat the worse for wear, but they were very satisfactory as billets. On the outskirts of the village peasants were busy gathering the harvest. Although this place seemed to be farther away from the front that Menil-la-Tour, reconnaissance patrols went ahead on August 5th from Domevre-en-Haye, and at dark Companies "A" and "C" followed to take over the support positions of the out-guard line. On the next evening "B" and "D" moved forward to the front line in the vicinity of Limey.
The approach was now made with great care. All movement took place at night. Companies marched in half platoon sections, each section in column of two's with its files on either side of the road. Commands were given in low tones and passed on from group to group. "Forward" was repeated a dozen times before it reached the end of the column, but with such rapidity did the word travel that all moved off together. When all were ready orders suddenly changed the relief to the following night. The enemy had occupied this country in the early days of the war. Doubtless he had left a few sympathizers to notify him of such occasions. All risk of shelling during a relief must be avoided. These precautions were perhaps a bit over emphasized at this time, but this was a good oppority to impress lessons of safety, for the men were in a receptive frame of mind.
Scarcity of maps and compasses made orientation difficult. This section of the front was called the Lucey Sector and was located on the southern leg of the St. Mihiel salient. St. Mihiel was estimated to be fifteen miles due west; Verdun thirty miles to the northwest, and Metz eighteen miles to the northeast. These facts were tremenduously interesting to the officers and men. But they were soon given to understand that their chief concern was with the locations of the platoons on the right and left and with the different company headquarters rather than with the general front.
Troops of the 82nd Division in co-operation with the 32nd French Corps occupied the sector. The 82nd had relieved a French division. "Nothing much doing," they assured, "There's nobody over there." Just then a shaft of light shot up from beyond No Man's land--one, two, three, four stars dropped out in succession. "Where do those lights come from if there's nobody over there?" anxiously inquired one of the relieving party. "They say that the Germans have left a wooden-legged man to send up those rockets every so often, but we never could find him," was the answer received. These efforts to steady the nerves of the new men were only partially suc-
cessful. The sector had been very quiet, but when the 354th Infantry made their relief on the left flank of the division sector August 6th and 7th, they were caught in a severe gas attack and suffered many casualties, among them Lieut. Col. Levi G. Brown whom all the officers of the 353rd Infantry remembered as their old training camp commander. So the men of the First Battalion took up their new duties in dead earnest.
There was much to be learned immediately upon arrival in the sector. The following orders give some indication of the details of position warfare:
No sooner was the relief completed than staff officers and inspectors appeared to see that all of these orders were obeyed. Even on the way they had found a man with his blouse off who didn't know what outfit was on the right! Is "stand-to to observe at daylight and dawn?" "Have arrangements been made to serve hot soup or coffee between midnight and 4 a. m.?" These were questions based on G. H. Q. trench orders. When the investigation was complete the visitors inquired the way to the next company P. C. and the men and officers "carried on."
Nervousness soon wore off and the new situation became intensely interesting. Aerial battles always drew good crowds of spectators. The sector itself was covered with wire entanglements, dugouts and trenches. The men, moved by sheer curiosity, would go wandering forth, entirely oblivious of danger. Fritz put over a few extra shells and the following memorandum came out immediately.
But opportunity for wandering about the sector did not last long. The engineers were busy laying out trenches and locating dugouts for the doughboys to dig. Fifty per cent of the men in the support positions were kept on work details.
At this time a communication trench had to be completed up to the Metz road. Lieutenant Chalmers was in command of the detail. Lieutenant Kellogg, who was in command of Company "D" in this position, led the way out to a place where the trench became a mere trace. The detail lined along the course and began to dig. An occasional shell whirred overhead and exploded in the distance. Lights and rockets appeared unceasingly. The enemy was over beyond Metz road; but "D" Company men were stationed in outposts along the road, so everybody felt fairly safe. Suddenly machine guns over to the left rear begun to clatter and bullets whistled overhead. Every man dropped down into the trench where he had been digging. Another burst of fire from the right and all again became quiet. Hardly had the men resumed digging when the machine gunners opened up again with increased volume. Lieutenant Kellogg was making an investigation. The machine gunners insisted that they had seen a red rocket, the signal for indirect fire. No one knew who had sent up the signal. The men in the detail were sore. They expected Fritz to shoot at them but they didn't want their own machine gunners to turn on them from the rear. The conclusion was finally reached that Fritz was at the bottom of the disturbance. It was one of his tricky methods of getting information.
These many experiences were fast developing the men into effective soldiers. They continued to work on the positions and advanced a little farther each succeeding night with their patrol in No Man's Land. At the end of eight days the First Battalion was relieved by the Second. No casualties had been suffered. But on the return trip a hostile aviator attempted to do what his comrades in the line had failed to accomplish. On the way back to Manonville Company "C" caught the peculiar hum of the German machine overhead. The hum came closer and closer, and soon a bright light appeared. It flickered for an instant and then an air bomb lit near the road. Without command each man took cover in the ditches at the side of the road. "Not yet, Jerry," they shouted, "and remember we'll be back up to the front in a few days."
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