Kansas History and Heritage Project-History of Co. M., 139th Inf., 35th Div.

History of Co. M., 139th Inf., 35th Div.
As told by W. R. Carpenter.




COMPANY M, 139th INFANTRY, 35th DIVISION, A. E. F.

The morning of May 19, 1917, Major Clad Hamilton (later Colonel Hamilton, commanding the 137th Infantry) Major Harvey (later Colonel Harvey), Colonel Joe Waters, J. S. Dean (later Colonel Dean), Ferd. J. Funk, W. H. Carpenter (later Captain Carpenter) and myself, met in Topeka to confer with Adjutant-General Martin regarding the organization of a company of infantry in Marion, The 3rd Kansas Infantry was already filled, but General Martin said we might try to organize a battery in the new artillery. Later, Major Hamilton decided the conditions were not favorable for this, but as one town had failed to organize its company of infantry we might have the last company in the 3rd Kansas. Mr. W. H. Carpenter made the final arrangements, and the recuiting office was opened in Marion May 31, 1917.

About forty Marion boys had joined Co. D, 2nd Kansas Infantry, at McPherson; some from Peabody were in Co. K, 3rd Kansas Infantry, at Newton; and others from Lincolnville, Lost Springs and the north part of the county entered Co. I, 3rd Kansas Infantry, at Herington. Nevertheless, despite rain, mud, and even a flood, by June 4th the requisite quota was obtained, and June 9th, 1917, we were mustered in by General Martin as the 3rd Kansas Infantry. Seventy-one signed the muster roll, with George L. Allison, of McPherson, Captain ; Edwin V. Burkholder, Marion, First Lieutenant ; Wm. R. Carpenter, Marion, Second Lieutenant.

The company drilled two nights a week the rest of the summer, and more men enlisted, until Co. M represented Marion, Peabody, Florence, Burns, Hillsboro, Lost Springs, Lincolnville, Ramona, Lehigh, Durham, Tampa, Aulne, Antelope, and the surrounding country. About twenty-five men from Cottonwood Falls and Bazaar, and a few from Utica and Larned, were assigned to Co. M. We were called into Federal service August 5, 1917, mobilized and bileted in the homes of Marion.

We left for Ft. Sill, Okla., September 25, 1917, arriving the next morning. October 1st we were consolidated with an older Missouri regiment, making the 139th U. S. Infantry. The Missouri officers outranking most of the Kansas officers. Captain C. E. Holt, Co. M, 4th Missouri Infantry, took command of Co. M, 139th Infantry, and Captain Allison was transferred to the Depot Brigade. The Lieutenants from both old companies were assigned to the new organization. The other Missouri officers in Co. M were First Lieutenant George Worthen and Second Lieu- tenant Walter Dickey. While at first it was hard to accustom ourselves to new surroundings, new conditions and officers, we soon found these boys from St. Joe were mighty fine chaps, and grew to like them as well as if they had come from Kansas.

Then followed seven months of intensive training in a semi-tropical camp, insufficiently equipped, with heat, cold, wind and sand making life almost unendurable. But hard as this was, with its monotonous drilling, its "squads right" and "squads left," with more trench digging than we had in France, I still believe it was one of the main things that hardened us and enabled us to stand so much in France without trouble.

We left Camp Doniphan, Ft. Sill, Okla., April 10th, 1918, on a special Pullman train, being among the first troops to cross the United States. We arrived at Camp Mills April 14th, and after ten days of sight-seeing in New York and vicinity, boarded the White Star Liner "Adriatic" (British), April 24th, 1918.

We were convoyed by twelve transports and two battleships. We took a zig-zag course, going north around Ireland to avoid a flotilla of submarines which were waiting for us near the Irish coast. The next to the last day of the journey we were suddenly attacked by a number of the "subs," but escaped without damage, and were credited with sinking two of them.

We landed at Liverpool, England, May 7th, Companies K, L and M on the "Adriatic," the remainder of the regiment on the "Corona." We arrived at Winchester that night, and were marched out to Camp Wimbledon, an English rest camp. May 10th we sailed from Southampton, crossing the English Channel to Le Havre, France. Here we were placed in a British rest camp, given British equipment and British officers. This was a dark day for us; we felt as though we were not only far from home, but had been indeed disinherited by our country.

We left Le Havre May 14th, expecting to go immediately into the lines, as we were told we were badly needed. We boarded a French train (the famous "Hommes 40, Chevreaux 8" box carsi and were among the first Americans to enter Mellville, where we excited no little curiosity among the natives. Mellville was a typical little French village whose inhabitants were all farmers, but only the old men and women were left. In the center of the village stood a large Catholic church surrounded by its graveyard. The houses and the barns were built under the same red tile roof, and in the court at the rear could always be found a pool of stagnant water. Indeed sanitation was unknown by these villagers. It was here we first met the "cootie," soon to become our bosom friend.

This was the blackest period of the war. The Germans were advancing against Amiens and the Channel ports. We were placed in reserve for the British Army in case they should break through. We could hear the big guns every day and see the signal lights and flares by night. Occasionally a Boche plane would come over. The morale of the English was badly shaken ; they told us we had come too late nothing could stop the Germans now, and they would be glad when it was over.

It was here Lieutenant-Colonel Ristine took command of our battalion. I doubt if any one can forget the Colonel Ristine of Mellville days. He exacted the most rigid discipline, especially insisting that every one should be present at reveille and saluting should be carried out to the letter. However, after the Argonne the doughboy said of him, "He may be hard-boiled, but he is no coward."

We cannot leave Mellville without mentioning our British rations. Every man in the company won the S. O. B. R. citation (Survivor of British Rations). The "Tommie" was satisfied with his tea, but we could not get used to it. All that could be cooked on the British rolling kitchen was stew, or "army slum"; and the three weeks there seemed like three months, for we were always hungry.

We were ordered by General Pershing to the American sector, and June 6th started on a three days' forced march to Morgeny. We had full equipment, with an extra amount of English clothing, which made our packs heavy, and the hike very hard.

We entrained the 9th and passed within sight of Paris, arriving at Harold three days ahead of our rations, and had nothing but what we could buy or steal from the French peasants. We reached Jarmenil the next evening. Here we had a different company commander almost every day for two weeks never the same for more than three days until Major Stepp, our former battalion commander, returned.

We moved again June 28th, stopping two days at Pauxeaux, crossing the mountains to La Bresse July 2nd. We were now in the heart of the Vosges Mountains in the manufacturing regions. The towns were built up and down the valleys, and were much cleaner, and the mills are operated by water power from the mountain streams. Here Colonel Ristine again bore down upon us, and it soon seemed as bad as the Mellville days.

Twice in July we were ordered to Chateau Thierry, but the orders were countermanded and we entered the trenches instead. After the long months of tiresome training this was really a rest, and was perhaps the most pleasant period of our service. We occupied a part of the destroyed village of Metezeral, the Germans the other part. This sector, though quiet when we arrived, soon resembled a Fourth of July night in the States. We were relieved in a month by the 6th Division, and arrived in Kruth about August 17th, where we stayed until September 1st, when we marched all night through rain and mud to the St. Mihiel sector.

Our Division went into reserve near Liverdun for the St. Mihiel drive. September 17th we left in trucks, which meant we were badly needed somewhere. The entire First Army was moving into position that night. The roads were blocked with big guns, supply trains, ambulances, trucks, wagons and troops. The whole country seemed alive and foretelling the gigantic events of the coming week. But we were soon located in the edge of the Argonne Forest, remaining until the night of September 25th, resting and preparing our equipment.

On the eve of the attack Major Stepp called an officers' meeting and read our orders, ending: "The zero hour will be 5 A. M. tomorrow morning and the jumping off line will extend from the English Channel to the Swiss border." We also learned the 35th Division had been given the place of honor the point where the hardest fighting would probably occur. This knowledge put new life and fight into every one, for we kncAf this attack meant the beginning of the end.

The order of attack put the 69th Brigade, composed of the 137th and 138th Infantries, in the lead; to be followed two thousand meters distant by the 70th Brigade, consisting of the 139th and 140th Infantries. At the zero hour we advanced, the 137th and 139th on the left flank of Vauquois Hill, the 138th and 140th on the right, thus flanking it from both sides. The 2nd Battalion of our regiment, under Major Jas. Rieger, acted as the "mopping up" battalion. Vauquois Hill was one of the great German strongholds, where the French lost forty thousand men. They told us that with the greatest artillery concentration possible it could not be taken in less than three days; we took it in less than one hour.

It had not been intended that our regiment should take over the firing line until the second day, but about nine o'clock the morning of the first day we found we constituted the front line on the east bank of the Aire River, about a half mile from Varennes, and we remained in the front line until relieved. We recognized some of the Marion boys in Co. D to our right, but found this was "no place to talk over old times." We soon located the chief machine gun nests, and with the aid of a tank Co. L and Co. M captured them by flanking. We then forded the creek and took the east side of Varennes, passing on through the town and taking the Hill. We thought it must be nearly night, but found it was only 10 A. M.

That afternoon we advanced to the line in the front of the Argonne Forest proper. Here a runner was sent by Captain Roberts, in command of Co. M, to Major Stepp, asking for orders, but he returned with the information that Major Stepp had just been killed, and that Captain Roberts should take command of the battalion. About three o'clock next morning we found General Traub and his aide, lost, in front of our line. I took him to Colonel Hamilton, with the 137th in our immediate rear, and sent my other officer with a message from him to Colonel Ristine.

Next morning Co. M was ordered to carry ammunition for the rest of the firing lines, hard pressed and out of ammunition. The second night we captured Baulny and Charpentry, and on the next morning, advancing on Apremont, we were caught between the German machine gun fire and a rolling barrage by the 28th Division. We suffered heavy losses, and for awhile it seemed the entire company would be wiped out. We managed to get out of the barrage and checked the German counter attack, but found ourselves almost surrounded and receiving a murderous fire on the left flank. We felt encouraged when we saw a couple of Second American Cavalry troops trying to break through on our left, but they were forced back. We finally got out of this dangerous position, but our company be. came badly scattered. That night we cared for our wounded. Next day we reorganized, and with Co. L advanced, but were soon ordered back to Baulny, then to Charpentry and again to the lines in front of Baulny, where we were relieved by the 1st Division October 1st.

We entered action with two hundred twenty men and four officers and came out with one hundred twenty men and one officer. Among those killed were Lieutenant John Cosgrove, Corporal Jay Miesse of Marion, Corporal Russell Blackman of Cottonwood Falls, and Corporals Suess and Siefert of St. Joseph. Sergeant Newcombe died of face wounds later in France.

The regiment had suffered 65 per cent casualties. Our battalion had gone in with eighteen officers and had six left, a First Lieutenant in command. The Major and most of the battalion headquarters officers had been killed in the first day's fighting. It looked as if there were not enough men ever to form a division again. But we had accomplished our mission. We had broken the Hindenburg Line at one of its strongest points, advanced more than 12 kilometers, captured Vauquois Hill, the towns of Vauquois, Varennes, Cheppy, Charpentry and Baulny, taken over a thousand prisoners and a larger number of guns and field pieces. The division lost over one thousand killed, six thousand eight hundred ninety-four wounded, and one hundred sixty-nine captured.

When relieved by the 1st Division we were two days' march from our kitchens and blankets. Food was brought to us and we cooked our own share as best we could. We slept without blankets, raincoats or fires. In a few days we reached Luppy la Petite, where we rested two days, then, receiving fifty replacements, began drilling. In ten days we went to the Sommedieu sector and then into the lines near Verdun until November 5th. The 81st Division relieved us here, and we were in position for the drive on Metz when the armistice was signed, and we were sent to Vignot near Commercy. Here we were billeted in open barns without sufficient clothing and fuel. Here, also, we received the never to be forgotten officers from the front lines of the S. O. S., who came to tell us how to be real soldiers, and who spent most of their time making every one uncomfortable. All the usual rumors were heard, but when General Pershing and the Prince of Wales came to review us we knew we were going home.

March 10th we left for the Le Mans area, traveling in American box cars, which was luxury for us. At St. Celerin we organized a ball team and defeated every company in the regiment save the headquarters, to which we lost one, defeating them in return. We reached St. Nazaire as the 91st Division was leaving. Here we were inspected, "decootieized," exchanged our francs for American money, and on the 13th of April boarded the U. S. S. Matsonia for home. We were a very orderly "bunch" indeed, for we had been told that any one who yelled "Who won the war?" or expressed too strongly his love for the "Frogs" would not be permitted to sail. There was a large crowd on the wharf, among them many elderly French, who lifted their hats in farewell while their eyes filled with tears.

We were delayed by storm, but made the trip in twelve days. Some of us stayed up all night the last night before landing, while others were up very early, all longing for the first glimpse of the homeland. I do not know how the gates of heaven look, but I do know they can never look better to us than did the shores of the United States as we sailed up Chesapeake Bay that bright, sunshiny April morning. We landed April 24th, 1919, just one year from the day we embarked on the "Adriatic."

In France there were arguments as to who won the war. So far as the American Army is concerned it was the doughboy. The Navy and all other branches had their share, but the war could not be won without a fight and some one to fight, and that some one was the man with the rifle, who knew but one order, "Go ahead and keep going!" and who did not stop even when all officers were lost and there was no one to command. I have seen them without water or food for days, and when the order came to attack, arise as one man and advance in the face of the most withering fire the enemy could give. And this same doughboy, when not fighting, was drilling eight or ten hours daily, hiking not riding and doing fatigue work for himself and special units as well, and always under the strictest discipline a new experience for the average American.

Every man in Co. M was that kind of a doughboy. All exhibited the greatest courage, and proved absolutely dependable. A few men were cited; many others deserved to be. Co. M was awarded more Distinguished Service Crosses than any other company in the regiment, and all the men have the satisfaction of knowing in their hearts that they did their full duty.

We were at Camp Stuart five days and were "fed up" on pie and ice cream. We were inspected, issued new clothing, and the replacements sent to their respective camps. The company now consisted of the old men from Kansas and Missouri, and we were happy indeed when we boarded the Pullman for home. At St. Joseph we had a wonderful reception, and Co. M led the parade. Another splendid reception in Topeka, and then we came to Funston, where we were amazed by the accommodations and luxuries. When we saw electric lights, spring beds, baths, and other com- forts, with theaters, restaurants, banks, stores, etc., near at hand, we could not realize it could be an army camp.

Then May 8, 1919, we were discharged and home once more. And who of us can ever forget our reception here? Not its noise or its splendor, but the fact that you took us in your arms and gave us a real welcome home shall keep it in our hearts forever.

And now that our army life with its good and its bad is ended, we should not forget the lessons learned. And we know we shall never forget the comrades who remain in France, sleeping beneath the white crosses. To them we give thanks; their sacrifice made victory possible and enabled us to reap the benefits of the prosperity, happiness and peace of today.

EXPLANATION

In the above account I have merely endeavored to relate a few of the main experiences and travels of Company M in the late war. There are many deeds of valor and many names that should be mentioned in a complete history of M Company, which I regret would make this account too long for this book, and for that reason this history deals only with the company as a whole.

W. R. CARPENTER.








This website created May 15, 2011 by Sheryl McClure.
2011 Kansas History and Heritage Project