St Clair Cemetery, Mt Lebanon, Allegheny Co, PA

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Remembering WWI- Thru the Eyes and Words of 1918 Warriors - Part 2

What men of valor our grandpas were!

The following is the second in the installment of remembering World War I through the words of Charles J Doyle, Special Gazette Times Correspondent in France.

Nov. 3, 1918

Charles J. Doyle
Special Correspondent of The Gazette Times in France

Pick and Shovel as Well as Bayonet and Gun Help Pennsylvania Boys Win

With the American Expeditionary Forces in France. Nov. 1 – The Western Pennsylvanians of the Twenty-eighth and Eightieth Divisions are winning renown over the entire Allied front by charging the Boche with pick and shovel as well as with bayonet and gun. Skirmish after skirmish and drive after drive they have won literally with these tools as well as with their weapons. The history of their two-fold prowess at Argonne (in the wood and in the four days’ fighting beyond) has already become a classic of the war. Since July they have gone forward 20 times, and the records show that each time they have achieved their own objective.

That is 100 per cent fighting efficiency.

It is the more remarkable because these men were thrust “green” into the very heart of the most violent fighting Yankee soldiers have done in this war.

I saw 500 fellows from Pittsburgh and Allegheny county make one of those famous self-supporting drives at (name deleted by censor) near the Meuse today.

Three hundred of them carried shovels strapped to their backs. The Boche met them with a murderous machine gun fire and then, as they dashed on in spite of it, he split his front, so that half his force ran to the right and half to the left as the Pennsylvanians approached. Straight on to the knoll where his machine guns had been ran the Americans, firing right and left; then as they reached it the riflemen formed a great square about the knoll, and while they poured a merciless hail of bullets and their own machine fire into the Huns at either side, the others unlimbered that battery of picks and shovels and in one-half hour’s time the entire American raiding force had dug itself into the newly won position and was waiting for orders for another forward drive.

A French colonel, standing beside us as we watched, said simply: “That is the way to win war, M’sieu. Valor, the gun and the shovel – the three together – they are invincible.”

Incidentally the military experts have by no means left the Pennsylvanians’ achievements out of their review of the work of the First American Army. Paraphrased that review says: “In a month’s activities the long Argonne siege developed the most violent fighting the Americans have yet seen in France. And in this great drive the Pennsylvania soldiers of the Twenty-eighth and Eightieth won particular renown for their valor and initiative.”

Again in the most recent smash, continues the review, the Eightieth Division machine gunners, composed largely of Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia soldiers, fought magnificently through the dense woods in spite of the most unusually effective Hun defense.

Col. B. M. Gordon, a former Mercer (Pa.) boy with the Three Hundred and Twentieth Regiment, told me that he did not believe it lay in any many to fight with more heroism, intelligence and determination than did the lads of Mercer and Allegheny counties. “They were marvelously effective, especially with the machine guns,” he said. “In the fights where they beat off the counter-attacks of the desperate Germans their work passed beyond all praise.”

The Eighteenth has been especially commended for taking dugouts that were said to be insuperable. Some of them had been held by the Huns four years when the Pennsylvanians routed them out.


Private Ernest Roeck of St. Clair Borough, a member of the Three Hundred and Nineteenth Regiment, discovered his cousin, Karl Potrafke, among the prisoners captured at the end of the third day’s drive out of Argonne. Private Roeck, who had been one of the first over the top and who had made several prisoners on his own account, was detailed at the end of the day to search and take back to the rear some 50 Heinies who had surrendered. Going through the pockets of one of them he came upon some papers that referred to a town in Germany where he knew he had relatives. Questioning disclosed the cousin’s identity. He belonged to the Thirty-second German Division. His captor gave him the first square meal he said he had had in two months.

It may now be said that the Pennsylvanians in the Eightieth Division first went to the front near the famous Dead Man’s Hill.

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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