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Artillery

This is Dakota Datebook for June 15th; North Dakota remembers World War I.

By the middle of June in 1918, American troops, now numbering at over eight hundred thousand, were taking the offensive on their own and occupying sectors of the front in the Alsace area of France.  Since entering the war, American casualties were slightly over eight thousand killed, wounded or missing. The unprecedented and unceasing use of artillery created most of the carnage.

Wesley Johnson of Sykeston, served with the American Expeditionary Force in the battle of the Bailleul Woods.  Surviving his first major battle, he expressed his thoughts on fighting in the trenches, saying:  “Gas and prospects of being attacked worried us practically none at all, but artillery was Hell on earth.  At first when a shell came along we would poke up our heads to see where it lighted; it was, in our opinion, a disgrace to duck.  When one of our officers fell flat when (a shell) came over, it was great sport.”

But as the casualties grew, Johnson said the attitude changed, saying: “Toward the last we would crowd the bottom of the trench to the limit; not a piece of paper could have separated any of us from the ground. As to how we felt, I don’t believe there is anything I have yet experienced more terrible.” 

Peter Nelson, a lad from Buchanan, North Dakota, wrote of the gas attacks in a letter home: “Dearest Mother, Father and all… Am making an effort at last to get a few words to you. I shouldn't be doing this now, because everything is a blur before my eyes… It is a week ago since we all got into the glorious mix-up… The Huns bombarded us for four hours with all they had… and in the course of events I took a small quantity of gas. It sure is terrible stuff for it blinded me for four days and I don't know when (my eyes) will be as they were before.”

Noting the death of his friend, Corporal Ernest Robertson, he reflected: “…but to look at the matter from a different standpoint, I consider myself lucky because I suffered very little from body burns and gas in my lungs … poor Squeak has given his life to the cause for which we are fighting… killed instantly by a shell. Mother, I can imagine the sorrow it will cause.”

The North Dakota boys had behaved bravely as they ended their first major offensive.  The timely introduction of American forces had helped stem the massive German advance.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis

Sources:

Jamestown Weekly Alert, July 18, 1918

Foster County Independent August 8, 1918

In the World War, 1917-1918-1919, Cass County, North Dakota, 1919. Buckbee-Mears Co, St Paul, MN

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