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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 —?"

2nd Engineer Art 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.
 
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