WWI – from FC doughboy’s point of view
That’s in an exceedingly interesting letter written shortly after the Nov. 11, l918, Armistice which ended World War I by an American soldier who had fought in it. The letter was included in the memorabilia of the soldier’s sister, the late Florence Gerhardt of Falls City.
The letter writer was Edward F. Gerhardt, right at 20 years, who served in the “Fight’n 89th Division” and after the war ended was sitting around in Germany with time to compose his thoughts about the horror he had lucked through. Edward, obviously with a fine sense of humor, had a great way of putting his war-time experiences on paper. Read the letter on Page 16 and see if you don’t agree.
Edward, who died in 1967 after spending his post-war working days in New York City and is buried in Steele Cemetery, was Bill Nussbaum’s great uncle and the letter was handed down to him. You can guess that after 94 years it was pretty fragile. He gave it to Rex Jones for perusal of its military side and Rex made copies for preservation. The letter will wind up in the Richardson County Historical Society’s possession.
Mr. Gerhardt’s letter:
Dear “Shell-proof Mo”:
Apologizin’ to anyone is a brand of merchandise that I do not carry in stock, but realizing that you are an old “partner in crime,” I am willing to set aside an ironclad rule for this one time as I believe an apology is very much in order. As a matter of fact, since the Armistice was signed I have been utilizing all of my spare moments studying “Anatomy” in order to find out how many bones there are in the human body so that I can count mine over to see whether or not they are all still there.
You may have heard people say that “Barnum & Bailey’s Nostadonic Collection of freaks gathered from all point of the compass” was the most wonderful spectacle they had ever witnessed, but if they could have seen hell broken loose in a “three-ringed circus” and lived to tell about it as I have done, they would have to acknowledge that the “Eighth Wonder of the World” had been definitely established at last. All that I can say, now that the big show is over, I wouldn’t take $10,000 for my cancelled admission ticket , still all the gold in the world and that includes all the yellow stuff yet to be mined, would not constitute a bribe of sufficient size to make me purchase another.
The man who is responsible for the universally proverb, “All the World’s a Stage,” may be right in his assertion, but if I am to be one of the actors in the “Revue of l9l9” I would prefer that the stage be set along the banks of the old Missouri instead of “No Man’s Land” in the wilds of France. You surely missed out on something special when you did not take that little excursion across the “briney” with us from Hoboken to the Havrz, and I am willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that after you have finished reading this letter your eyes will bulge out of your head in such incredulous surprise that your associates at the Fairmont will think that you had your head in a hangman’s noose.
First of all we came over in boat which wouldn’t ever constitute a good-sized row boat in the “Irish Navy.” I was always of the opinion that I had a fairly good head for figures, but when I decided that our “Queen of the Seas” had an official capacity of 250 passengers, I made a grevious error for Uncle Sam decided there was ample room for 800 of us, allowing of course, for every square inch of floor space including the anchor. After a wild voyage frought with submarine scares, during which time our “Floating Palace” whose former voyages were used entirely to transporting cattle from one part of the globe to the other. During all this time she did everything but stand on her head and we were so busy engaging trying to maintain our equilibrium that we were all finished acrobats by the time we docked on the other side. After arriving in France we took “Pullman Palace Box Cars” to the flourishing hamlet of Chaliraissen, population 62, we were fed on raw meat for thirty days preparatory to tangling with the Huns and by the time we left for the front we were as wild ferocious as blood-drinking Bengal tigers.
General Pershing surely displayed wonderful judgment when he decided to start the big St. Wishial drive on my birthday. During these operations the 89th Division captured more prisoners and suffered less casualties than any other division engaged. From that time on we never let up for a single instant and the evening before the Armistice was signed, found us busy on the west bank of the Wause laying over machine gun barrages at intervals of every fifteen minutes upon a French town on the other side of the river. Think of it, 300 machine guns playing upon the Dutch, firing at the rate of 600 shots per minute (some barrage).
It is useless to try and describe how we drove the Boche out of the Argonne Forest advancing foot by foot in the face of withering machine gun fire—you would let your imagination run riot and still not be able to comprehend the blood that was spilt and hardships we suffered during the drive. It was horrible beyond description. Our whole third platoon composed of 36 men was practically wiped out when a shell dropped immediately among them. Our squad of eight men entered this big drive on Nov. lst and by the time we emerged on the other side of the woods on the morning of the 2nd we had but two men left, I being one of the two. Considering that I was the gunner of the squad and emerged I surely must have had a pocket of rabbit’s feet.
My corporal was wounded by a sniper, our medic was bored squarely between the eyes while attending him, falling directly upon the helpless corporal, his brains oozing out on the helpless man’s chest. Our gun was directly exposed to the sniper’s fire and in taking down the gun my No. 2 man was shot thru the arm while penetrating into his side and covering me with his blood. A bullet evidently intended for me hit the water jacket of the gun, glanced off and whizzed harmless by my ear. (More horse-shoes). But when we got them out in the open is when we accomplished what seemed like the impossible and made the enemy think the Americans were superhumans. Can you imagine machine gunners with heavy type guns used for defensive purposed only preceding the infantry which constituted the first wave in going over the top? Well that’s exactly what we did, neutralizing the fire of every machine gun nest while the infantry surrounded them and blew them to hell.
For 17 hours I carried a 50-pound tripod on my shoulders with my best friend, an entrenching shovel in the other hand, thru a heavy but futile barrage put up by the enemy, always advancing tho we were faint with hunger and ready to drop because of exhaustion. We were keyed up to such a pitch that flying shrapnel and singing bullets were absolutely disregarded. When any of our boys fell, they entreated us between their last gasps “to go get’em” and we did. I can’t understand to this day how we stood up under the strain, and I may be boasting when I say it but I honestly believe the American soldier is the best of any in the world. He jumped in the breach at Chateau Thierry and turned the tide of war in favor of the Allies, they straightened out the salient of St. Michael, they cleared out the Argonne Forest which threatened the annihilation of the entire German army, and at the time the Armistice was signed elaborate preparations had been made for taking the Matz Fortress, the impregnable.
After we got the Dutch on the run there was nothing more to it. We camped right on their coat-tails, stopping only upon the crest of each l2th hill to sit down on a dead mule to catch our breath, scratch a cootie or two and take a refreshing drink of green water extracted from a nearby shell hole. Our total losses were 88 men out of the original l32 men that left Camp Funston. This included killed, wounded and gassed.
The present day finds us at Bleialf, Germany, a village near the Belgium border. The people seem to be reconciled to our being here, are treating us courteously and the only time we have had to exercise our military authority in any way is when it became necessary to spank a few of the village cut-ups for offenses of (unreadable). As usual the Fight’n 89th is patrolling more German territory than any other division. Also here is only one division in Europe that took more territory than the 89th during the war and that was a regular army division that arrived here long before we did.
The prospects for us returning home soon does not look very rosy at present. I hardly expect to be home before next June, still, army movements are very uncertain and the order to “pack up” might come tomorrow.
Kindly give all of my friends my very best regards, let them know I am well and happy (just got over an attack of flu a day or two ago). Enclosing herewith a little trinket which I captured in a German depart store. I remain as ever the same old “Coca Cola Hound.”