In 1946, World War I veteran Gerald Howell finished a memoir of the experiences of his squad from the 39th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, but never published it. Jeffrey Patrick discovered the memoir and edited it for publication, providing an introduction and annotations.Yesterday There Was Glory is an unpretentious account of men at war, from training camp to the occupation of Germany. It includes graphic descriptions of the battlefield, of shell fire, gas attacks, and lice. “Between the attacks the men would lay in their wet holes and pray for relief. But no relief came,” Howell remembers. He recalls much more than the horrors of combat, however, chronicling the diverse collection of heroes, professional warriors, shirkers, and braggarts that made up the American Expeditionary Forces. Howell’s account preserves the flavor of army life with conversations and banter in soldier language, including the uncensored doughboy profanity often heard but seldom recorded.
About the Author
JEFFREY L. PATRICK is the librarian at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield in Republic, Missouri. He holds a master’s degree in history from Purdue University and is the editor of Guarding the Border: The Memoirs of Ward Schrantz, U.S. Army, 1912–1917.
Read an Excerpt
A Doughboy Speaks
Now that most of the generals and pseudo captains have written their memoirs telling us how they won the war by making themselves comfortable in ancient chateaus, attending dinner parties, riding back and forth to Paris and Chaumont in high priced limousines, playing polo, inspecting recruits and ordering out military bands to salute them whenever they appeared in public and otherwise catering to their egos, but never mentioning their mistakes, I think now is the opportune time to take up the subject of the down-trodden doughboy. He never believed a general was necessary to him, no sir, but he well knew he was necessary to the general, whether 'his Grace' would admit it or not. For, without the lowly, uneducated, unrefined, dumb, foul mouthed, crap shoot-in doughboy, the generals could never have succeeded in a single battle or bring an arrogant militarocracy to its knees, nor have made the world safe for the international bankers.
The above paragraph and those to follow were written before the United States entered the great global war of 1941–1945, fighting two wars at the same time, east of the Atlantic and west of the Pacific. Yet, as you read these words and the subsequent narrative of episode and experience, you will be aware of a strange parallel existing therein. According to Ernie Pyle both world wars were alike but in World War II, "only the holes were bigger."
You could remove the names of World War I leaders from this narrative, Wilson, Clemenceau, Pershing, Lloyd George, Petain, Von Gallowitz, Von Bulow, Von Hindenburg, Von Tirpitz, etc., and substitute Roosevelt, Churchill, Montgomery, Eisenhower, DeGaulle, Patton, Goering, Von Bock, Von Rundstedt, Doenitz, etc., change the doughboy to G.I., Y.M.C.A. & K.C. to U.S.O., Argonne, to Battle of the Bulge and you would have essentially the same old story all over again, with the same purpose of destruction and annihilation, if not the exact situations. The slogan instead of being "to Hell with the Kaiser" would be "To Hell with Hitler."
Thousands of unknowns fought in both wars. The G.I. of the Great Global War was in many cases the son of the doughboy of World War I. Doughboy or G.I., the wars were never fought without US. And by US, I mean not only those glorious regiments whose names are now clothed in legend, but also those whose record has never been noticed, because no one ever saw fit to eulogize them. Unknowns of the rank and file will always remain unknown, but they plodded steadily along through every danger and hardship doing their bit, a little dumbly perhaps but cheerfully and to the best of their ability. The spotlight of glory is never turned on them directly. They look for no emolument. In words following, I propose to tell the war story of four such glorious regiments of the 7 and 8 Infantry Brigades, World War I, who constituted the "Forgotten Fourth Division, A.E.F." 1918.
Any kind of a general could have won the war without me. That I will admit. I was just so much expense to Uncle Sam. The doughboys did not win the war all alone, like the generals. Neither were all the wars won by the United States Marines or the Army Air Force, no matter how spectacular their individual performance may have been in several well broadcasted engagements. Our entry in the First World War was a mistake, perhaps, but in the Second World War it was a necessity. But if you had inquired of the soldier as to his preference in the matter of war, he would have told you that he much preferred to stay home in Ashtabula or Hoboken as the case might be. But since he must go, he was ready for it and nothing else but.
World War I was not won by the "fighting Marines" in Belleau Wood, nor the "Lost Battalion" in the Argonne, which constitutes the average citizens knowledge and comprehension of American exploits in that war. They represent episodes only that show the character and invincible qualities of the U.S. soldier. The chief battle of that war was not fought at Château Thierry either. Men who saw action at those places were real heroes, of course, and should ever be regarded as such, but they were not the only heroes. Their spirit and tenacity of purpose drove them on to victory. Albeit, they carried out strict Army orders, but always at a great sacrifice. And when they were successful, the generals held another dinner party and did a lot of back slapping.
Stories and news carefully dispensed to our home newspapers in war time by our official correspondents and propagandists and most carefully censored and edited by the U.S. Intelligence Service, have made some of the engagements and episodes of both wars outshadow all others in a way that is all out of proportion to their real military importance. And of course they become part of the patriotic legend of our great nation. They were outstanding successes, surely, but there were others that contributed as well to the successful outcome and final victory. Numerous unknown battalions and brigades did some fighting too, besides those mentioned. Some were of the regular army, some were of the draft army. Their exploits go largely unsung, their stories never having been considered spectacular or out of the ordinary. Nor would these obscure soldiers have it otherwise. They have grown accustomed to silence and therefore forgotten is their individual reputation in the Great Adventure of 1918. The same could apply to 1942–1945. They have long since found out that a soldier is looked upon as a hero in wartime and little or nothing in times of peace. Ergo, his worth is soon forgotten as the world moves on to greater and deadlier forms of destruction, until he is needed again. However, armies will always need infantry in spite of this great mechanized age of warfare and atomic energy. The plodding foot soldier will still have to be depended on in the final phase of any future conflict to seize, occupy or defend as the case may be.
This narrative, therefore, will contain little except the simple war experience of ordinary U.S. doughboys or foot soldiers as told by one of them, an eye witness to their hardships, their joys and struggles, who trudged along with them in the 39 U.S. Infantry Regiment, 4 Combat Division, Regular Army in France and Germany World War I. And what an experience it was! They wore no "lilies of renown" these boys. None of you ever heard of this particular outfit, I'll wager, yet they were the first U.S. troops to reach the Rhine in Germany, less than a month after the armistice was signed. Looking back over twenty-five years, names of individual outfits often mean nothing. Only what was accomplished as a whole remains of average interest. Can any of you tell the names and numbers of the military outfits that fought at Bunker Hill, the Battle of Gettysburg, or Richmond? A strange analogy exists, however, in the fact that the 4 U.S. Reg. Divis[ion] first on the Rhine in 1918 was also among the first in the invasions of France and the crossing of the Rhine in 1945, during the Second World War.
Our home folks never appreciated the part played by the old A.E.F. in the greatest battle ever fought by U.S. troops in this or any other war the United States was ever engaged in up to this time — the Meuse Argonne. Some will think only of St. Mihiel because it was more publicized. We have appreciated our greatest battle so little because its importance was not thoroughly advertised to us at the time of its occurrence, because of rigid censorship. Also because it was overshadowed by fast moving world events in other lines such as the collapse of Austria and the Kaiser's abdication.
Some of our soldiers too, after returning home, more readily related their pleasurable experiences in the great "Battle of Paris" (wine, women, song) rather than recite the grim details of the Argonne Woods, Grandpré, Heights of Montfaucon, Cunel and Romagne, La Tuilerie Farm, etc., all on the road to Sedan, the final U.S. objective. This attitude has given rise at home to the idea that any soldier who got across to France, did little except have a grand good time for himself, marching around and showing off. What nonsense. It was true for a few but not for the majority.
How about me? Well, I was just a "buck private in the rear rank." I never wore a lieutenant's uniform, so therefore, I never had an opportunity to fight the "Battle of Paris" or "Vin Blanc Ridge" as it should be fought. Being just a dumb doughboy, I was given other things to do. Most of my leisure moments when not hiking along in mud and drizzling rain, crawling around shell holes, or carrying a heavy pack with rifle and ammunition, were spent in cleaning out cowbarns for billets, sleeping on the ground in water or equally damp cellars, groping through gas filled woods and ruined villages at night, or squatting in shell holes, fox holes and vermin infested dugouts along with the rest of my squad.
I became as experienced, I'll admit, as any of my fellow soldats in the art of souvenir hunting and similar occupations. On special occasions too, I saw the mademoiselles of Armentieres and elsewhere. Also I never missed a handout from the Red Cross or Y.M.C.A., Jewish Welfare Board or Salvation Army if I could help it. But no matter how I tried, I was never quite successful in my efforts to get back to Paris or the rear to join the S.O.S. (Service of Supply) where I am told they had it very soft.
And what about the officers? After the manner of soldaten of all the armies of all types and degree since time began, I both admired and equally disliked some of the officers, all according to how I was currently treated. Some of the "brass hats" were a little too brassy at times. Some were ring tailed, self-important egoists as far as their contact with mere doughboy soldiery was concerned. Il est esprit de armees ancien.
The U.S. Regular Army from the start, did not seem to have a sufficient supply of experienced regular officers to fill the demand on such an extensive wartime basis but they did what they could. They made lieutenants out of sergeants and corporals; colonels and brigadiers out of second lieutenants and so on. I have noticed also that a large number of officers, lieutenants especially but even captains, majors and colonels from the National Army (draft) were brought over to France on ninety days approval, as it were, from Sears & Roebuck or some other cheap, mass production system for supplying emergency officers in quantity. The main point is that they were supplied and delivered F.O.B. France when needed, or the A.E.F. would have been handicapped in completing organization. Some of these officers turned out 100% plus. Others were good bond salesmen or military clothes models and little else. And boy! Did they look good on a parade ground! I'm for telling you they did, with their shiny new boots and glittering spurs. Anyway, the women liked them. But when they arrived at the scene of war they promptly lost most of the shine. Their chief duty as platoon leaders seemed to be that of keeping the army of doughboys entertained with work details, or should I say disciplined, when howitzers, trench mortars, minenwerfers, machine guns and crap-shootin' failed. In moments of relaxation, or when they could wrangle a pass from the colonel, these officers became ranking commanders in that ever raging, ever enjoyable "Battle of Paris," the mention of which is always passé when putting on the "hero act" before ladies and children. But don't get the idea that all the officers were like this. They were not. The former were inevitable.
It has been said that the A.E.F. of both wars has sent home some of the grandest liars that ever existed. Whoever said that is more than half right. Some of our greatest self-styled "fighters" never heard a shot fired during the whole war, except a cap pistol fired around some estaminet far back in the rear areas. They never even threw a stone at the Germans. This was the class of "fighter" who brought or sent home most all of the souvenirs that the real fighting doughboy had collected at the front and then exchanged for red wine or chocolate. In this way the souvenirs got back to the hospital canteens, Y.M.C.A.'s and base camps of the S.O.S. far to the rear. Thus from here all sorts of souvenirs eventually came to the U.S. with an appropriate "tall story" to match in which the sender in the S.O.S. army made himself out to be the leading heroic figure. No real doughboy of the combat service could ever carry his souvenirs for very long as they were too bulky. If he was fortunate, he might reach a place where he could mail them home but this seldom happened. After a couple of days he was usually quite willing to part with his treasure for most anything of value in the line of eats or drink. And so it was.
While I have made an effort to stick to the truth as far as possible and as I know it, still, someone with a long, pointed nose may find gross inaccuracy due to misinformation and the meagre notes I made at the time. No one man could tell all as the show was too big. If this effort therefore, chances to fall in other and more critical hands, I trust they will be tolerant. May it also prove a revelation to those readers, young or old, who have believed war to be just one grand display of infantry, artillery, tanks, aeroplanes and sabered cavalry on parade for the fickle applause of voluptuous foreign mademoiselles.
Who won the war then? Well, nobody in particular, unless it was the doughboy. It was never thoroughly decided. Time will tell who wins the peace. The U.S. turned the tide in favor of the Allies in 1918 by bringing up fresh U.S. divisions into line when the British were recuperating from a bad smash at Cambrai and the French had no reserves left after their retreat from the Chemindes Dames. History again repeated itself in World War II so your Uncle Sam has twice been a good Samaritan to the above governments and still plays the role of Santa Claus, so it seems. But do we as a nation get any credit for this help, or any help. No, very little. This help is demanded and expected. In the first war we did it of our own free will to end war. In the second war we did it to save ourselves. Whatever the motive, we were more than generous. They called for help, so we gave men and treasure. As a supreme gift desired by some of our European contemporaries and the international bankers, we may yet end by absorbing all the war debts of both allies and enemy. Twenty-five years after the "war to end war" there was in progress another and greater war to save civilization, and the coming of the atomic age. There are greater although probably shorter wars in prospect which some claim will outlaw or make obsolete what we know as armies. Do you think the doughboy or G.I. will become extinct? He will be there when the crash comes, as usual.
Anyway, I've probably told a number of things that doughboys should keep quiet about as it may disillusion some of the flag wavers. I have tried to describe places and events as I found them and not as they are supposed to be, when one reads school histories or fiction.
My impression and experience is that warfare, other than to drive an invader off your native doorstep is useless folly that brings no lasting benefit to any combatant, win or lose. Misunderstandings, or the vanity and ambitions of leaders whose feet are of clay, usually causes war. Those who can least afford to carry the burden must do the fighting and then go back home and pay for it afterwards in taxes, maladjustments, blasted careers, etc. But the inciters thereof and the profiteers, are always safe behind mahogany desks somewhere in air-conditioned offices telling everyone who will listen how patriotic they are. They direct the great armament race with billions of government money and the corporations grow richer. But the doughboy or G.I. is lucky if he gets back to Main St., U.S.A. in fair condition to start all over again.
Hatred and oppression, greed, jealousy and ambition for power have always been causes of war. It is the story of the human race since Adam. Suspicion and fear also have been rampant in most European countries. They seem to be born with it. Therefore do you believe that diplomatic bunk and bombast, notes, dickerings or formule [?] of flying diplomats and idealistic pacifists will ever end war? Not until soldiers refuse to go to war and fight. Leagues, treaties, diplomatic protest, sanctions, etc., all have seemed to be useless to stop bloodshed and will continue to be so as long as leaders and big business, greedy for gold and power continue to exploit peoples and fail to exercise the principles of the Golden Rule. This last war, however, put a heavier strain than originally anticipated on our resources and increased the national debt by many billions. Each time the expenditure of men and resources grows greater. The average individual eventually loses in war's aftermath but the corporations become richer.
Do you think our nation then, could get along without arms? The answer is NO, not as long as human nature remains as it is and probably always will be until the end of time. Therefore, I believe our nation should be adequately prepared at all times to defend itself in the air, on land or sea, including attacks from those enemies always boring from within, foreign spies and saboteurs.
Excerpted from "Yesterday There Was Glory"
Copyright © 2017 Jeffrey L. Patrick.
Excerpted by permission of University of North Texas Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations,
Gerald Andrew Howell,
The American Expeditionary Forces in World War I,
The 39th U.S. Infantry Regiment and the "Ivy" 4th Division,
Chapter 1 A Doughboy Speaks,
Chapter 2 Soldiers a La Carte,
Chapter 3 En Voyage,
Chapter 4 Arrival in France and Movements,
Chapter 5 Behind the Front,
Chapter 6 Aisne-Marne Defensive,
Chapter 7 What Happened in Fère-En-Tardenois Wood,
Chapter 8 Aisne Marne Offensive,
Chapter 9 Formation of the First American Army,
Chapter 10 St. Mihiel Offensive,
Chapter 11 Meuse-Argonne Offensive,
Chapter 12 On Furlough in Southern France,
Chapter 13 Formation of 2d U.S. Army (Fini La Guerre),
Chapter 14 Advance of the 3d American Army (Army of Occupation),
Advancing through Luxembourg,
En Route to Germany (First U.S. Troops on the Rhine),
Chapter 15 The Army of Occupation at Coblenz-Au-Rhine,
Chapter 16 Along the Rhine,
Back to Coblenz,
Chapter 17 Back to the U.S. Via France (Demobilization),
Appendix A Fourth Combat Division A.E.F. Who Were They?,
Appendix B The 39th Infantry Regiment. Who Were They?,
Appendix C World War Americana,
Mademoiselle from Armentieres,
Oh! how I hate to get up (In the morning),
Appendix D Station List of Company B, 39th Infantry, May–December 1918,