On Hill 142 from Fix Bayonets!
... Later in the day the lieutenant was
back on the pine-crested hill, now identified as Hill 142.
Captain Hamilton was there, one or two other officers, and
a handful of the 49th and 67th Companies; a semblance of
a line was organized. "Nothing
on the right or left; all right, we'll just stay here — " Some
people from the 8th Company had a Hotchkiss gun, and some
Boche Maxims were put in position. It was said that Blake,
of the 17th, had been up, and was bringing the company in.
The Boche indulged himself in violent shelling and raked
the hill savagely with all the machine-guns in the world.
From the direction of Torcy a counter-attack developed; the
Boche was filtering cleverly forward and forming somewhere
on the Torcy road, in cover. The Marines were prone, slings
adjusted, killing him. "It's
a quarter-point right windage —" "Naw! not a breath
of air! Use zero —" A file of sweating soldiers, burdened
with picks and shovels in addition to bandoleers and combat
gear, came trotting from the right. A second lieutenant,
a reddish, rough-looking youngster, clumped up and saluted. "You
in charge here?" he said to the Marine officer. "I'm
Lieutenant Wythe of the 2d Engineers, with a detachment.
I'm to report to you for orders." "Well — captain's
right up yonder — how many men you got?" "Twenty-two,
sir — " "Fine!
That makes thirty-six of us, includin' me — just flop right
here, and we'll hold this line. Orders are to dig in here
— but that can wait — see yonder —?"
Those Engineers, their packs went one
way and their tools another, and they cast themselves down happily. "What
range, buddy? — usin' any windage —?" A hairy non-com got
into his sling and laid out a little pile of clips. . . . There
was always good feeling between the Marines of the 2d Division
and the Regular Army units that formed it, but the Marines and
the 2d Engineers — "Say, if I ever got a drink, a 2d Engineer
can have half of it!" — Boy, they dig trenches and mend roads all
night, and they fight all day! An' when us guys get all killed
off, they just come up an' take over the war! They's no better
folks anywhere than the Engineers ...."
The Boche wanted Hill 142; he came,
and the rifles broke him, and he came again. All his batteries
were in action, and always his machine-guns scourged the place,
but he could not make head against the rifles. Guns he could understand;
he knew all about bombs and auto-rifles and machine-guns and trench-mortars,
but aimed, sustained rifle-fire, that comes from nowhere in particular
and picks off men — it brought the war home to the individual
and demoralized him.
And trained Americans fight best with rifles.
Men get tired of carrying grenades and chaut-chaut clips; the guns
cannot, even under most favorable conditions, keep pace with
the advancing infantry. Machine-gun crews have a way of
getting killed at the start; trench-mortars and one-pounders
are not always possible. But the rifle and bayonet goes
anywhere a man can go, and the rifle and the bayonet win battles.
Toward mid-day, this 6th of June, 1918, the condition around
Hill 142 stabilized. A small action, fought by battalions
over a limited area of no special importance, it gave the Boche
something new to think about, and it may be that people who write histories will date an era from it.
Between attacks the stretcher-bearers
and the Red Cross men on both sides did their utmost for the
wounded who were scattered through the wheat around the hill,
and who now, under the
torture of stiffening wounds and the hot sun, began to cry out.
As the afternoon advanced, you heard pitiful voices! little and
thin across the fields: "Ach, Himmel, hilf, hilf ! Brandighe!
... Liebe Gott, brandighe !" ... "First-aid — this way, First-aid, for the love of God!" . . . From most
wounds men do not appear to suffer greatly at first. There is the
hot impulse of the attack, and perhaps a certain shock from the
missile, so that the nerves are numb. One has gone forward with
the tide at the highest; life is a light thing to lay down, death
a light thing to venture; yonder is the enemy; one has come a long
way to meet him, and now the affair can be taken up personally.
Then something hits — the wheat cuts off all the world. An infernal
racket goes on somewhere — Springfields and Mausers, Maxim
guns and Hotchkiss — sometimes closer, sometimes receding. Bullets
zip and drone around. There may be shells, shrapnel, and H. E.,
searching the ground, one can hear them coming. "Is it gonna
hit me — is it gonna hit me, 0 Lawd-Christ! that was close!" Presently
pain, in recurring waves. Pride may lock a man's lips awhile ...
left long enough, most men break, and no blame to them. A hundred
brave dead, lying where the guns cut them down, are not so pitiful
as one poor wailing fellow in a dressing-station. . .
Forward of the hill, German stretcher-bearers moved
openly, unmolested, at first. The Marines watched them curiously.
The enemy, his works are always interesting. A sergeant said: "Hi! Look at those
Fritzies yonder, right off the road, there —" A lieutenant
got his glass on them; two big men, one with a yellow beard, wearing
Red Cross brassards. They carried a loaded stretcher; it looked like
a man lying with his knees drawn up, under a blanket. "Humph!
Got him well covered — officer, probably." One stumbled, or
the wind blew, and an end of the blanket flapped back, disclosing
unmistakably the blunt snout of a heavy Maxim. — "So that's
it, eh? Slover — Jennings — Heald — got a rifle, Cannon?
Range 350 — let 'em have it we can play that game, too —" Thereafter
it was hard on Red Cross men and wounded; hard, in fact, on everybody.
Like reasonable people, the Americans were willing to learn from
the Boche, from anybody who could teach them; and if the Boche played
the game that way — they could meet him at it. "Schrechlichkeit
— if he wants frightfulness, we can give it to him —" Later
there was a letter, taken from a dead feldwebel in the Bois de Belleau
— "The Americans are savages; They kill everything that moves.
. . ."
|Thomason, J. W. (1927). Fix Bayonets! New York, London: C. Scribner's Sons.