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Friday, May 27, 2011

Day 5- Remembering World War I : Victory First

Every day as I read the stories written by Doyle of the daily life of our veterans in France in the fall and winter of 1918, I have to decide which story to use.  They are all so wonderful and serve to bring the old ways of fighting military to mind.

Our doughboys were terrific.  Hope you've been enjoying reading the articles printed almost 100 years ago....

Oct 20, 1918, page 24


Lieut. Lewis Describes a Bayonet Clash – Small Yank Kills Giant Hun.


Washington, Pa., Oct. 19. – Buried alive half an hour in a trench along the Marne River and alive to tell the tale is but one of the thrilling experiences of Lieut. James A. “Pud” Lewis, of Elizabeth, Pa., and former Washington and Jefferson college student, recently returned from the French battle front.

Lieut. Lewis left college in his senior year at the declaration of war in April, 1917, and enlisted as a private with Company H of the old Tenth Regiment, Pennsylvania National Guard. In his company he was promoted to corporal, sergeant and mess sergeant. He was then sent to the officers’ training school, won a second lieutenancy, and was assigned to Company B of the One Hundred and Ninth Infantry, a Philadelphia regiment, with which he has won high honor and promotion to first lieutenancy. He tells a story of a marvelous bayonet fight.

Lieut. Lewis wears the ribbon of the French Croix de Guerre, awarded for valor in action, but modestly declines to wear the medal itself. During the second battle of the Marne his company was sent to take and hold a difficult position. The company became divided in the battle and Lieut. Lewis found himself in command of 92 men, with whom he held the position for two days and two nights without food or water, until relief came. For this feat the French general in command awarded the cherished cross. He also has medals for services with the English and the French and the ribbon indicating participation in the second battle of the Marne when the Hun was thrown back in retreat to Germany.

We’re Fighting A Barbarous People

The 300-members of the Washington and Jefferson Student Army Training Corps assembled in the gymnasium last night to hear Lieut. Lewis drive home the meaning of and reason for military discipline. He told of the atrocities of the Huns which had come before his eyes, and by the valor of the American soldiers.

“We are not fighting merely the German government, we are fighting the German people,” declared Lieut. Lewis. “They are the same uncivilized race that sacked the City of Rome centuries ago and I cannot agree with some of the things I read in the press of this country after meeting them face to face. The race which has pillaged and burned unprotected French and Belgian towns, tortured and murdered innocent children in cold blood and carried young women into slavery with no military advantage accruing, is not to be dealt with as a member of this world’s civilization. And they are not. All these things I saw with my own eyes.”

Lieut. Lewis was in more or less constant touch with the One Hundred and Tenth Infantry, being in the same brigade. July 3 the brigade was billeted 13 miles behind the front line. The Allied high command anticipated a new German drive either July 4 of July 14, the French holiday. The German expected to find his enemy celebrating.

Discipline Prevents Mutiny

Of all this the junior officers were ignorant. The Pennsylvania boys had prepared baseball diamonds and tracks for a big field day on the Fourth. Lieut. Lewis describes what happened.

“About 3 o’clock in the morning, I wakened and heard some one climbing to the top floor of the French home in which Lieut. Warren, my company commander, and I were sleeping. A knock at the door and a voice said, ‘Lieut. Warren, I have orders for you.’

“Those orders were to go to the front immediately with the usual two-day iron rations. The brigade was formed, hiked to the front, skirmished for about three hours, and was ordered back over that same 13 miles. The boys wanted to stay there and fight, and I thought there would be a mutiny in camp. All were tired, restless and talking among themselves. Where was the discipline and obedience of the eight months of training at Camp Hancock.

“Lieut. Warren stepped in front of the company and called ‘Attention.’ Every man clicked his heels together and straightened his tired back. But two words were spoken to those men at that time and they went away quietly when dismissed. Lieut. Warren said ‘VICTORY FIRST.’ Such discipline is not to be found with ray recruits.”

Is Buried By a Shell

Washington boys have written home that July 4 would never be forgotten, but this is the first time the story has been told.

Only of his experiences in being buried alive would Lieut. Lewis speak of himself. His other stories are of his men. The expected German attack came July 14 and the Pennsylvania boys were there to meet it. From that time until August 11 when he was ordered to the United States as an instructor at Camp Logan, Tex., Lieut. Lewis said the Iron Division was under fire.

“I was sitting in a trench,” he related, “telling two of my sergeants of the attack we were about to make, when a shell it a bit too close and caved in the trench. I was bent over, but sufficient air space remained to keep me alive for the half hour it took the boys to dig me out.

“On another occasion I was sitting talking to Lieut. Tom Bridges of Washington, when we were unexpectedly ordered into the fight. Tom and I both had on trench boots and no time to change them. When we got to the firing line I was surprised to find a remarkable concentration of fire in my direction and caught a machine gun bullet in the leg. Then I discovered the boots, which indicated to Fritz I was an officer. I soon got them covered with the wrapped leggings of a man who had fallen. I believe Tom was wounded the same day and for the same reason.”

Sees a Brother Killed

“When the battle started July 14 the boche planes bombed us at will, for there was not an Allied plane to be seen. He would swoop down within 100 years of the ground, tip over and let go one of the ugly black bombs. Our machine guns were our only defense.

“My platoon was within a few hundred yards of the 110th headquarters building when it was bombed by a German plane. It was there that Leonard Whitehill of Washington was killed. I sent one squad of my men to move the men from the debris and learned later that 18 of the 60 in the building were killed. Little did I think at the time that a college fraternity brother had paid the price before my eyes. My platoon was ordered forward immediately.

“We started up a hill one day and not a shot was fired until he had passed the edge of a road which ran around the hill. Then the machine guns broke loose. The road was our only protection, and not much at that. We hung in behind it while other organizations cleaned up the woods at the top. That night there was not a mess pan in my whole platoon that would hold the good old army beef stew the cooks had for us. Those machine gun bullets had been grazing over the backs of my men and had filled their haversacks with holes. We got new mess kits. In fact, whenever we come out of the line we can get everything new from head to foot if we want it.

Beautiful Bayonet Fight

“The tiredest [sic] man I saw in France was ‘Pete’ Redinger, from Washington. I found him one day trudging along, 10 miles away from his company, which he had lost. He slept with me that night and started out bright and early to catch up with his company.

“The best story I can tell, and it must be about the last,” Lieut. Lewis continued, “is of a little hand-to-hand skirmish we had with Fritz and the clever work of the smallest man in my company. It was a bayonet fight and there the American soldier is supreme. My pistol was empty when I saw this powerful six-foot Dutchman making for our 130-pounder. It was David against Goliath. The boy stood in an easy position. His rifle was broken and there was no time to grab another. The German made his deadly bayonet lunge and our boy caught the bayonet with the outside edge of his right hand, throwing the blade past his shoulder. He grabbed the German’s rifle and gave it a couple of little clever twists we learned in camp. The German fell dead on his own bayonet. It was the gamest thing I ever saw.”

Lieut. Lewis said that while he did not see many of the Washington boys he heard always of their various fortunes and tried to keep in touch with them because he started his career with them. He knew nothing more about any of them than has already been learned here. He did not talk of peace, but of getting back to France, to be there to help put the finishing touches on the enemy. His company was composed entirely of Philadelphia men.

This article brings the efforts of my grandpa more to light as he was in the 110th and was wounded.  Was he in the building at the time of the bombing?  I don't know.

Ahh, genealogy.  Remembering our veterans is always in style- so take time to sit, reflect, and then pray for our brave warriors.

Special thanks to Lynn B for her gracious permission to have her transcriptions included here.

©2011 AS Eldredge

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