IAGenWeb.org Iowa in the Great War

Heroism of the 168th

~transcribed for Iowa in the Great War by Sharyl Ferrall


Bedford Free Press
Bedford, Taylor co. Iowa
Wednesday, June 24, 1919
Pages 1 & 8

Heroism of the 168th
by Winfred E. Robb, chaplain of the 168th Infantry

In the latter days of September the Forty-second division was relieved from the St. Mihiel front and after two days rest our regiment proceeded westward to the locality of Verdun. We marched to the vicinity of Apremont where, on October 1, we loaded into camions and moved to the towns near Souilly, about ten miles below Verdun. Here we were placed as reserves of the First American Army.

We remained there but a short time. On October 4, we started north, winding our way over those white roads, thru badly ruined towns, until we came to the vicinity of Montfaucon. Here we moved into the woods of Montfaucon and stayed for five days. We lay there in shell holes, the men sleeping in dugouts or under their pup tents in muddy, shell-shattered woods. Here in this desolate battle ground the first news came to us of the talk of the armistice, and each day we were filled with the hope that it might be possible that the battle would come to an end, the victory be won without it being necessary to send any more of our Iowa boys into battle.

Here we entered into our Gethsemane and I, for one, prayed as He prayed, that it might not be necessary for the Iowa boys to go into battle again. They had fought so heroically and done their duty so well that we hoped that it might not be necessary for any more to go to their death so far from home. Nevertheless, I feel that every man in his heart was willing and glad to go it the victory could not be won in any other way.
Letters From Home.
You people of Iowa will never know how hard it was for the officers at an hour like this, when victory seemed so short a distance away, to send men forward into a desperate fight. What made it the harder for us was that we received a lot of mail while here, and these letters from those we loved in the homeland, breathing for us hope and love and pride, filled our minds with longing for home and for loved ones waiting there.

We had been away from home a year and a month now and it had seemed like many years. We knew the end was not far off and every fellow felt that if he was lucky the next two weeks he would be spared to return to his home. But for many it was not to be.
Ordered to Front.
On October 11, we received hurried orders to proceed to Exermont and relieve the First division. We put our letters in our pockets, turned our backs on dreams of home, shouldered our packs and started into another great battle. That night as we marched thru the overcrowded shell-torn roads, two big shells from the great gun of the boche lit in the columns as we were passing a crossroad, killing four and wounding thirty-six of Company B.

There is nothing more terrible. I think, than to be standing in line and to hear a sudden roar and see ahead of you in the glare of an exploding shell, men go down in the dust as tho mowed by a scythe, to hear in the darkness of the night, the cry of the wounded and the moans of the dying.
Reformed, and Forward.
We quickly reformed our column, however and started on leaving only a small squad to bury the dead by the side of the road. Before morning we camped in a large draw back of the First division, and the next day we relieved them. We were now under the command of General Summerali of the Fifth American army corps.

We were placed on the extreme left of this front. We found ourselves in a hilly rough, wooded country. It had been raining for many days and it was almost impossible to walk over the thrills and next to impossible to drive a team with a wagon, so much of the food and most of our supplies had to be carried on the backs of our tired men for a distance of several kilometers.

Our men had summer underwear on, no overcoats and only one blanket, and in the cold of that damp fall weather, they suffered almost as much from the rain and mud and cold, as they did from the shells.
No Ambulance Service.
The condition of the roads made it all but impossible for any kind of an ambulance to be brought forward and so the wounded had to be carried for many miles, which added to our losses. We found the hills, slopes and woods covered with dead of the enemy. Lying among them were many Americans of the First division, testifying to the bitterness of the struggle there.

The First division chaplains moved away and left their dead lying unburied upon the battlefield, and those that they did bury were very poorly buried, and it fell to the lot of Chaplain Hatch, Chaplain Strickand and I to bury nearly a hundred of their men.
The Battle Order.
We moved up behind Hills 263 and 288, found the best shelter possible, dug our little fox holes and waited for the orders to go forward. We had not long to wait. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of the Eighty-fourth brigade called our two colonels together (Alabama and Iowa regiments) and gave them the orders that had been given him. The orders were to go forward on the morning of October 14 and to take Hills 288 and 242, the La Tuilerie farm and Cote de Chatillon, or furnish him a list of 6,000 casualties in our brigade -- in other words, meant that we were to take this position at all costs, even if it cost every man we had in the brigade.

It fell to the lot of the First battalion, under Maj. Lloyd D. Ross, to lead in this battle supported by the Second battalion with the Third battalion in reserve. I don't believe any officer of the regiment ever had a harder task than did Major Ross in this drive.
A Difficult Terrain.
We had a most difficult country to fight in, with three giant hills, thickly wooded and steeply sloped, to capture. The boche had every advantage in this fight and took it. His machine guns were hidden everywhere and poured forth a steady, deadly fire against our advancing troops, but, nevertheless, our men were equal to the task. Wiggling their way on their stomachs oftentimes, or crawling forward thru the brush, they made slow but steady progress up the steep sides of Hill 288, and soon had taken it, and with the advantage of this hill they made short work of the smaller one, Hill 242.

Two companies of the Second battalion were sent forward to aid in the attack here. So skillfully were these six companies commanded, and so cleverly did they fight, that they surrounded a large number of boche, captured 250 of them -- 116 in a single dugout.
Two Days of Work.
At the close of the second day of fighting all of Hills 288 and 242 were in our hands, and while many American boys lay silent and still on the wooded slopes of these hills, testifying to the bitterness of the struggle, their comrades went on with the grim work.

At dark that night, they dashed across the open space between the Bois de Romagne and the Bois de Cote de Chatillon. They seized La Tuilerie farm, and from the advantage of this position before daylight the next morning, without stopping for rest, they swept forward and thru the woods of Cote de Chatillon, threw back a counter attack, killing and capturing most of them. At 2 o'clock p.m. on the 15th day of October, attained our objective.

At sundown that night the tired and war-weary First battalion was relieved by the Third battalion, stayed in line for three or four days consolidating the new positions and getting ready to continue the attack in case we were ordered forward.
The Hardest Fighting.
The desperate fighting in which we had engaged here was perhaps the worst of the entire war and too much praise cannot be given to Maj. Lloyd D. Ross of Red Oak for the clever manner in which he commanded his battalion in taking these difficult positions with so small a loss of life. Capt. Glenn C. Haynes, who was then in command of the second battalion, deserves no less praise for his courageous and skilful work in this attack. Many a boy had the privilege of returning home again at the close of the war because of the skillful and courageous work of these two officers.

The Eighty-fourth infantry brigade received perhaps the highest praise from its commander that we received during the war, for our work at this time. But it had cost us heavily.

The One-hundred-sixty-eighth infantry alone lost many officers and about one hundred soldiers killed, seriously wounded or seriously sick through exposure and cold, with less of sleep, entailed by this drive. We gathered together our dead from the hillsides and buried them in two graves. Of their heroic deaths I will now attempt to tell.
Capt. Oscar B. Nelson.
We lost one captain, Capt. Oscar B. Nelson, Company H. He had been promoted from first lieutenant Company G, to captain and placed in command of Company H. He had been wounded during the Chateau Thierry operation, but he refused to be taken to the hospital and had remained in command of his company (Company G) until the close of that battle. He was recommended for the distinguished service cross for this act of courage.

During the Argonne engagement, Captain Nelson was ordered to the hospital on account of severe illness, but he refused to leave his company.

As he was advancing he was hit by two or three machine gun bullets, one going thru his stomach and breaking his back. As he lay on the field under heavy fire, his men came to carry him back. He tried to make them leave him there saying: "Don't expose yourselves boys, I am going to die and can die as well here as anywhere." He begged them to leave him, but in spite of his plea they started back with him. He died before he reached the aid station, but his men weary and tired as they were, carried him nearly three kilometers back to our rear grave yard, that his body might be buried where it would not be disturbed by shells.
1st Lieutenant Harold R. Pouch.
Company B lost First Lieut. Harold R. Pouch. Lieutenant Pouch, after leading his platoon over the most difficult ground and thru desperate fighting, had aided in the capture of Hill 288. He was advancing to attack Cote de Chatillon when he was mortally wounded in the side by a machine gun bullet. He suffered great pain and when he arrived at the aid station he still held his pistol tightly gripped in his hand. He was quickly taken to the hospital, but died the following day.
George Vaughan.
Company E had George Wheaton Carr Vaughan seriously wounded in this battle and according to a letter from Lieutenant Reed, he died while in the hospital.
2nd Lieutenant Henry Gillespie.
Company H had one second lieutenant killed, Henry T. Gillespie. In the attack on Hill 288 at the beginning of the Argonne battle, Lieutenant Gillespie was leading his platoon against this hill when hit and killed.
Seven Sergeants Lost.
We lost seven sergeants in this engagement. The sanitary detachment lost John Burke of Des Moines. Sergeant Burke had done most efficient and heroic work during the entire summer. He had aided by his skillful work many of our wounded men to positions of safety. While in an advanced aid station he was wounded on October 16. He was severely wounded by high explosive, but was getting along splendidly in the hospital when pneumonia set in with pleurisy and he died on November 9.

Company A lost Sergt. George W. Wilkinson of Winterset. He had been seriously wounded at the Oureq river July 28, but six weeks later tho his wound still bothered him, he rejoined his company and took an active part in the St. Mihiel drive. During the operations on Octoer 14, he led his platoon with great dash and spirit up the steep fortified slope of Hill 288. Unfalteringly he charged with his platoon and captured three machine gun nests which had reduced his platoon by half its number. Twice he reassembled and organized his command under terrific fire. Then seizing the advantage he had gained, he charged with a number of his men and captured a fourth machine gun nest. He captured this position and saved his company great loss, but lost his own life by his courageous act. He was recommended for the medal of honor by his commanding officer, Captain Wood, for this heroic conduct.

Company B lost one sergeant, Donald J. Marsh of Carlisle. He was a member of the Second platoon and was in the raid of March 5. His platoon was cited in orders by the French One-hundred-twenty-eight division for the bravery displayed in the raid of March 5. He was leading his platoon in a daring dash across the open ground in front of the Hill Cote de Chatillon when he was struck by a machine gun bullet and killed.

Company D lost Sergt. Glenn H. Gray of Amana, Ia. While leading his platoon in this advance in the Argonne, he was hit by many machine gun bullets and killed. Corporal Dais, thinking him still alive, went out and tried to drag him out of the range of fire, but was wounded and failed in the attempt.

Company E lost Sergt. Albert T. Walton in this battle. "Swede" Walton, as he was known, was one of our best soldiers.

Company K lost Claude Swisher of Washington, Ia., who died in the hospital at this time. He had been wounded in the attack at St. Mihiel.

Company L lost Thomas E. Langan. Langan was chief of the scouts of the Third battalion and performed his tasks in such a remarkable manner and with such heroism that he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. He was to have been commissioned an officer, but died a few days before he was to take the oath of office.

Theodore H. Loetz was another sergeant from this (Co. L) company who died on October 9 of pneumonia.
Ten Corporals Lost.
We lost ten corporals during the Argonne battle. Headquarters company lost Earl T. Connelly of Tabor, Ia. He was a member of the Stokes mortar platoon and on the 14th of October was back of the front lines waiting for orders to move forward. He was talking with a group of men when a shell burst nearby, killing him.

The machine gun company lost two corporals, Corp. Leland P. Scott of Morning Sun was killed in the attempt to set up a machine gun in a clearing of the little hedge between Boiss de Romagne and Cote de Chatillon. He was at work with his squad when he was hit by many machine gun bullets and almost cut in two. He died almost instantly.

Corp. Francis H. Webster of Central City was one of the most popular and efficient corporals in the regiment. Corporal Webster was in action with his squad and was advancing on Hill 288 when he was hit in the chest by a piece of high explosive shell which went entirely thru his body. His comrades rushed to his aid and got him on a stretcher to carry him back to the aid post. He was suffering great pain but regained consciousness as they were carrying him back. The boys told him that they were taking him back and he would be sent home and they asked him if that was all right. He tried to smile at this and nodded his head. He sank into unconsciousness again and they had gone but a little way down the path when he died. They laid him beside the road and went back for other wounded, and that is where I found him. Corporal Webster had drawn many cartoons of instances in trench warfare and a number of them were printed in The Capital. He was buried very near the spot where he fell.

Company A lost two corporals, Corp Lin Crawford of Chapin had been wounded in the Champagne battle. He died in the hospital.

Corporal Tosom of Winterset had been in every engagement and battle. In taking Hill 288 he, with his men had captured several machine guns and a number of prisoners, and after the battle was over he was helping with the salvage detail when he was instantly killed by a piece of flying shrapnel.

Company B lost three corporals. Corp. William May of Indianola was killed on October 16 while advancing with his squad at Cote de Chatillon. Corporal May had served as a sniper and as an observer in the intelligence department.

Corp. Charles Polton of Company B was one of the men that was killed on the march the night of October 11 as we were going into this action.

Corp. Lawrence J. Sattler of Aridote [?], Iowa, was advancing the wire in the attach on the Cote de Chatillon and was killed by machine gun bullets.