Soliloquy to No Man’s Land
“No Man’s Land,” the area between the trenches, was a concentrated killing field that had to be crossed if any advance was going to take place. Sentries were often placed in this area at night to warn against enemy activity. One of these was Russell Diesem, from LaMoure, who occupied a sentry post north of Verdun.
On this date in 1918, in a letter home, he composed a Soliloquy to No Man’s Land, revealing the details of his lonely vigil and how awe struck he was with mankind’s ability to destroy. He wrote:
“The night of the first day, I was on duty in the lonesome outpost out in No Man’s Land—that interesting region so fraught with mystery, spectral death and tense possibilities. In the wee morning hours our artillery opened up a barrage, bringing an indescribable electric thrill as it heralded to both us and the enemy another grim excursion ‘over the top.’ Our barrage was wonderful. The horizon was lit with lurid flares of thrilling portent playing about the sky like continuous sheet lightning. The roar of the guns shook the earth, coming like successive—yes, overlapping—peals of thunder, or the unceasing roll of storm-driven surf. The air was vibrant with all the excitement of the great conflagration … and all heightened by the grim soul-stirring thought that this was MAN-MADE. … At such times the petty things of life become as nothing and human life itself becomes but an atom of accomplishment of that unceasing purpose which through the ages run.
To come back to earth from this rhetorical areo-planing, the Germans threw back a return barrage and I enjoyed the interesting novelty of being under real shell fire. Several shells fell within a few feet of my outpost, throwing dirt, stones and brimstone all over me. The Boches sent over some gas too... I had just received Leila’s fine letter and while waiting for the fateful zero hour for going over, I eagerly re-read (it) … not knowing for certain whether I should ever have an opportunity to do so again.”
Russell Diesem would survive to write more letters and would eventually return home to his job as editor of the LaMoure Chronicle. After experiencing heavy shelling and machine gun fire, he wondered how he survived. While men fell within a few feet all around him, he stated that he seemed to be like the hole in the doughnut and escaped unscathed.
Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis
LaMoure Chronicle, January 2, 1919