ON THE 28TH OF JUNE, 1914, IN THE SHADOWS of the Lateiner Bridge in the tiny Bosnian town of Sarajevo, a tuberculous, blue-eyed youth of nineteen suddenly pulled forth a Browning pistol, and fired two shots at the occupants of an open motor car that was traveling slowly down the Appel Quay. One bullet struck the neck of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and killed him; the other bullet killed the Archduke's morganatic wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. The young assassin, Gavrilo Princip, was hustled off to prison. He died of pulmonary tuberculosis in Therestenstadt Fortress in April of 1918, incredulous when he was finally told that his pistol had loosed the most fearful conflagration in history.
When the echoes of Princip's pistol reports died away the generals and statesmen of Europe put their heads together. One month later, on the night of August 3-4, the soldiers of Alexander von Kluck's First German Army streamed across the border into Belgium, spreading terror and confusion as they advanced, inundating the fortified city of Liege and shooting, bayoneting or driving the citizens back into flaming houses to perish by fire. From Liege, which eventually surrendered to an obscure colonel named Erich Ludendorff, the Germans began to swarm due southward down the Meuse Valley and into Northern France, looting the deserted houses and murdering the populace as they went. In the province of Liege they shot, hanged or burned 1,061 souls; during the siege of Namur they massacred 250 more Belgians of the countryside; at Spontin they burned 130 of the 160 houses in the village and slaughtered 43 townspeople; at Zamines they marched some citizens to a field and mowed down 383 of them with machine guns, the wounded being finished off by stretcher-bearers of the German Red Cross; at Dinant on August 23 they methodically formed the villagers into groups and cut down 655 of them, including 75 women and 35 children; at Antwerp they killed 160; at Charleroi they killed 108.
For this was the traditional German military policy of Schrecklickeit (frightfulness). From Coblenz the enfeebled 66-year-old Helmuth von Moltke was blunderingly sending into operation the cherished plan for offensive battle drawn up years previously by Count Alfred von Schlieffen, for fifteen years chief of staff and mentor of Von Moltke. Paul von Hindenburg was 67 years old; he had retired in 1911 and was living quietly and at ease in Hanover. He had never met his great compatriot and wizard of strategy, Erich Ludendorff.
In brief, the Schlieffen Plan called for: (1) a minimum of German troops on the East, to fend off the poorly-rated Russians, (2) the German left flank to be held back in the West, troops in German-held Alsace to withdraw beyond the River Rhine and face French attack on the Metz-Strasbourg line, (3) the bulk of the vast German army to deploy on the right flank thus formed, and pivoting on the fortress of Metz, to drive downward and forward against the Verdun-Dunkirk line. By passing through weak Belgium, the Germans could skirt Northeastern France, which was immensely fortified, and their losses as a consequence could be expected to be lessened. Everyone in Germany, from Von Moltke down, confidently believed that German soldiers would march beneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris within 40 days after the outbreak of hostilities. But the French of those days were tough.
Old Von Moltke blundered; Von Kluck deviated from objectives outlined for his forces in the Schlieffen Plan; from Paris there rolled out 1,100 coughing, rickety taxicabs filled with chattering poilus under Galliéni, and the break-through to the French capital never came to pass. Even on April 22, 1915, when the Germans at Ypres spewed forth enough of a new and terrible thing called "chlorine gas" to leave a gap 4 miles long in the Allied line, with not one soldier alive to defend it, the coveted break-through was not achieved. The age-old Continental theories concerning maneuver and movement of troops in the open country slipped into desuetude as the soldiers of both sides "dug in" for the winter, and the horrors of trench warfare commenced and persisted until the coming of Pershing and his Americans in late 1917 and the spring and summer of 1918.
Von Moltke was ousted in December of 1914; his place was taken by Erich von Falkenhayn, who in a memorandum to the Kaiser in the following December wrote: "There was no sort of imprudence in risking the hostility of America. Because of the strong current of political opinion which is favorable to Germany, it is doubtful whether the United States could decide to take any active measures on the European continent. It is still more doubtful whether they would be able to intervene in time with sufficiently strong forces."
Such ebullience probably was the result of some wishful thinking. At any rate, Von Falkenhayn fell in August of 1916, his place being given to Paul von Hindenburg, who had been summoned precipitously from his tranquil retirement in far away Hanover to beat back the rising tide of Russian successes on the Eastern front. Meanwhile, in the United States, a fierce flame of resentment against Germany was being adroitly fanned by English and French masters of propaganda.
Under the dateline of February 3, 1917, Stevenson H. Evans, an American newspaperman, wrote to the New York Tribune: "War is now as near as one second is to another. Only a miracle can prevent the taking of the next step, which means the beginning of actual hostilities against the Germans."
The American newspaperman was a better prophet than the Prussian strategist had been, for on the next day (February 4), the headline of the New York Tribune was:
On April 2, 1917, a little less than one month later, it was President Wilson, speaking before a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives, who arraigned the Imperial German Government as exhibiting a "...reckless lack of compassion or of principle..." He spoke of a "war against all nations"; he said that "The challenge is to all mankind". He had words for "the rights and liberties of small nations", and his conclusion is now famous: "The world must be made safe for democracy". He finished a truly great oration by defining America's part in the mighty struggle, ending with the solemn words, "God helping her, she can do no other".
Britain's Sir Cecil Spring-Rice was in the tense audience, listening intently to each beautifully balanced phrase; Jules Jusserand, ambassador to the United States from the Republic of France, was a nervous auditor. Chief Justice Edward D. White of the United States Supreme Court leaned forward eagerly to catch every word of the address; he nodded vigorously when the President uttered some of his more emphatic declarations, and finally leaped to his feet with tears rolling from his eyes, at which every man in the audience likewise arose. Two eminently important figures were significantly in absentia: Dr. Constantine Dumba, ambassador to the United States from the Austrian Empire, and Count Johann von Bernstorff. Both had been recalled to their respective countries a short while before by request of President Wilson.
On April 4 the United States Senate voted 82 to 6 for war. Two days later the House of Representatives voted 373 to 50 for war. The bill was immediately signed by the President; as it happened, on Good Friday.
On the 7th of April, as I walked into the operating room of the Vancouver General Hospital in British Columbia, I was greeted with "Good morning, Ally", by the head surgical nurse. I had resided in Vancouver for more than a year, during which time my country of course had been neutral, whereas the Dominion of Canada had been at war with Germany for longer than two bitter years.
It was only natural that I should have been drawn into many heated arguments during my stay in Vancouver, concerning the burning question of why the United States had not entered the World War on the side of the Allies. Canadians, stimulated perhaps by the proximity of the country to the United States, could not understand why the war was not as much America's war as Canada's war; why Canada should be in the thick of battle while America was idle. To defend myself, I was sometimes forced into the position of justifying some of Germany's actions, a situation wholly unwelcomed by me. More than once I had been accused of being pro-German. It seemed very unfair to me. I certainly was pro-American, but not pro-German.
Yet there is an understanding of the Canadian attitude of those years. The nation suffered fearfully. I shall never forget the gloom that came over the city when the casualty lists were published. The first Canadian regiments to answer the call of the King were composed largely of volunteer soldiers. The Dominion did not adopt conscription until very late in the war. Thus, the finest flower of young Canadian manhood had been stamped out in a horrible welter of blood and destruction thousands of miles from the homeland. Rushed desperately into the front lines in France in an attempt to stem the tide of German assaults during the first years of the World War, these young Canadians, who had rushed to colors so enthusiastically, were slaughtered by the thousands. Casualties among the first units to go overseas were appalling. Canadians, knowing that America had suffered no losses at all, were understandingly critical.
In the summer of 1917 in Vancouver young men not in millitary uniform were very conspicuous on the streets. Large billboards carrying the picture of a big hand which pointed at the passerby were emblazoned with such words as, "Why aren't you in uniform?" Romantic interest was exploited by some of the billboards, which asked, "Girls, why aren't your escorts in uniform?" Many times a woman would accost me in the street and ask why I was not in uniform. I would have to explain, over and over, that I was an American citizen.
I had been graduated from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 1916, and was serving my internship at the Vancouver General Hospital. 1 continued my internship at that institution until November, 1917, but during the summer of that year I drilled once a week with a unit composed of Canadian medical volunteers. We were drilled by a grizzled old line sergeant, who of course used British maneuvers. In many ways they differed markedly from the American system of close order drill, with its familiar "Squads, right!" or "Squads, left!"
I came away from Vancouver with at least one memory of a comedy of errors in association with the war. Whether or not it was true I do not know, but it was plausible. The story had it that the Canadian Pacific Railway Company had a contract with the British government to transport large numbers Chinese, or more correctly, Annamese, coolies from the Orient to the theater of war in France. These coolies were to work on roads and to do similar heavy labor, and they were carried by steamship and rail at so much a head, as if they were cattle. They were shipped by steamer to Vancouver, and then carried by rail across Canada to an eastern port, where they were placed on board another steamer and taken to France.
Vancouver, like many cities situated on the Pacific Coast, had a rather large Chinese section, and when a Canadian Pacific vessel loaded with coolies came into port, hundreds of Chinese would go down to the dock to watch their brethren disembark for the railway trains. It was said that on one occasion the guards counted heads and found that the shipment lacked one coolie. Not at all dismayed, the ingenious guard who solved the dilemma merely strode over to a row of watching Chinese from the Vancouver Chinatown, seized one man by the scruff of the neck and flung him into the waiting railway car, thus making the tally in the train agree with the tally that had been taken when the coolies had been loaded on the steamship in Asia, despite all the gibberings and struggles of the victimized Chinaman and the outraged clamor of his comrades whom he left behind.
We saw many of these Annamese in the General Hospital. Falling ill on the trip across the Pacific, they would be sent to the hospital for such attention as we could give them, which was not much because we could not understand what they were chattering about, and they could not tell us what was the matter with them. None of them would stay in bed. Instead they would climb out and sit on their haunches next to a wall, motionless for hours. Some of them carried a rude sort of musical instrument which they had fashioned out of a stick of wood three or four feet long, to which was fashioned a wire stretched taut, like one string of a violin. They would sit for hours at a time twanging this single strand in a monotonous strumming which nearly drove the nurses to distraction. They harmed no one, and were not difficult to manage, but their conception of music was a thing hardly to endured by any sane Caucasian.
In November I returned to the United States. I had, finished seventeen months of duty as an intern, and I was eager to see my fiancée, whom I had not seen for almost two years I had also determined to join the United States Army. I was a relatively young man, had just completed my internship, and was influenced, no doubt, by the fact that it was easy in those exciting times to postpone the responsibilities of general medical and surgical practice. Moreover, I had heard that the war offered a great opportunity for the physician or surgeon to gain much experience in medicine and surgery, an illusion which was shortly to be summarily dissolved.
On return to this country I brought with me a patient who wished to go to The Mayo Clinic for treatment. The clinic at that time was situated in the red brick building that had been built in 1912 and is now known as the "Red Wing". It was my first visit to the institution with which I was much later to become associated. I noticed that many physicians were being trained for the Army Medical Corps at the clinic, and the city of Rochester, Minnesota, was humming with activity.
Both Dr. William J. Mayo and his younger brother, Dr. Charles H. Mayo, served the United States Army during the war. They were colonels in the Medical Corps, and one of them was in Washington throughout the hostilities, the two brothers alternating so that one could be at the capital while the other was in Rochester. When one brother came home from Washington, the other would depart for that city. Dr. William Mayo was awarded the Distinguished-Service Medal in 1919, and Dr. Charles Mayo received the same decoration a year later. The citation for the two brothers was identical:
"In addition to the manifold service to the Surgeon General by furnishing needed advice and counsel, he distinguished himself by exceptionally, meritorious service to the Government in his work in organization of surgical service and his invaluable assistance in the reorganization of the Medical Department on the scale demanded by the war".
I left Rochester and went to Fort Des Moines in Iowa, where on December 10, I was examined as a candidate for a commission in the Medical Corps of the National Army. I then returned to my home in Missouri to visit my father and mother and to await receipt of my commission. The month of December passed with not the slightest indication from official sources that I had ever presented myself for examination. New Year's Eve sped by; we entered the new year of 1918. Finally, on January 8, I was handed a telegram from the War Department which announced that my acceptance of the commission tendered me had not yet been received by the Adjutant-General. This was the first indication of any kind that I had been commissioned. I sent a telegram which no doubt was considered a belated acceptance, and anxiously waited for the reply.
The reply came on January 17. I was ordered to report to the commandant of a medical officers' training camp at Fort Riley, Kansas. On the same day I received the telegram; I left for Omaha to buy my officer's uniform. I also went to Atlantic, Iowa, to visit my fiancée and her mother and father. Two days later I returned to my home, where I walked about town in my new uniform and sat for the local photographer.
I will remember the words of the late Dr. Daniel Morton, who had been a colonel in the Medical Corps of the Missouri National Guard, when I called at his home to bid him good-by.
"How I envy you, Dr. Smith!" he said. "A young man, an officer in the American Army, with no responsibilities at home, going to war, to serve his country! Good-by, good luck and God bless you!"
I dreaded to say farewell to my father and mother, and especially to my mother, for it was harder for her to face the prospect of my going than it was for me to leave her, because all the blandishments of war in a foreign land called to me, whereas she had nothing but loneliness and worry before her. The parting would have been much more difficult for me had I known at the time that my mother would have to endure the ordeal twice more. My sister Angeline joined an Army nursing unit and went overseas with Base Hospital No. 53, and my brother Robert enlisted as a private in an Army transport corps that went to France. But I said good-bye without much ceremony, privately assuring myself that I would see my mother again-before I left for France.
On the evening of January 19, I boarded a train for Fort Riley, Kansas. Many soldiers were aboard, all traveling for the fort. I knew nothing about rank or military insignia, so I compromised by saluting nearly everyone I met. I probably saluted sergeants and corporals with as much solemnity as I used later in saluting colonels and general officers.
I reached Fort Riley on a dark January morning about 5 o'clock, and I had to walk for what seemed like miles before I reached the adjutant's office. On the way I met several medical officers. They greeted me with a standard wheeze, asking me if I had brought my obstetrical forceps with me. It was not long before I was asleep on a hard cot between two scratchy olive drab Army blankets, in the Army at last.
I WAS ASSIGNED TO MEDICAL OFFICERS Company No. 22, a new unit which by the time I joined it was almost completely organized. No preconceived plan had been followed at Fort Riley in the formation of these organizations; physicians were simply ordered to join certain groups of other physicians as soon as they reached camp. When enough physicians had been assembled in such a manner, a company was formed of them. When one company had been formed, incoming physicians would be segregated into a group which eventually would become another company. But these companies were formed for training purposes only.
We were, at least in the records of the War Department, officers; but we had none of the comforts which an officer at a modern military reservation would accept as the perquisites of his rank. We were quartered in large square field tents instead of in barracks. The fact that the temperature was below zero on the day of my arrival apparently made no difference to anyone.
Haste was the order of the day in that era. According to the Report of the Secretary of War to the President for 1917, it had been planned to build 16 camps under canvas in the South, and 16 semi-permanent cantonments in the North. Each camp or cantonment was to have a capacity of from 40,000 to 50,000 men. The field tents at Fort Riley, for instance, were temporary expedients, and were recognized as such. When some of the older physicians finally received their appointments to other organizations , we were allowed to move to more comfortable quarters.
I must admit that the first few weeks of life at Fort Riley were decidedly unpleasant. All of us had been used to the quiet routine of civil practice, which ordinarily has but few restraints and abrogations of personal liberty. But as we gradually learned to adjust ourselves to the new environment, rigid discipline and curtailed activity seemed to take on aspects that were not unattractive. Moreover, no soldier was ever allowed such leisure that he could brood over what problems or grievances he might think he had.
One of the most important parts of the war plans of those years was a schedule which occupied nearly every hour of the soldier's day. It provided for both work and recreation. Sixteen weeks of preliminary training were planned. The soldier's working week, as governed by the schedule, consisted of 40 hours. During the first week he studied such subjects as "the school of the soldier" and "the school of the squad". He put new suppleness into his muscles by performing what no doubt seemed to be interminable setting-up exercises. He listened to scores of lectures on military discipline and courtesy. Officers drilled the elements of personal hygiene into his head and provided him with valuable instruction on the care of his feet --seemingly a trivial matter, but actually one of the most troublesome problems a soldier is called upon to solve, particularly when he is in active service at the front.
During the soldier's second week at training camp he learned how to aim his Springfield caliber .30 rifle and how to lunge and rip at an opponent with a bayonet attached to his piece. He learned more and more about his rifle during the third week of training, and he probably went to lectures to hear both civilian and military speakers discuss such subjects as "Why We Are At War". During the fourth week the recruit tried to master the fundamentals of chemical warfare, chiefly those subjects which would help in protecting himself against poison gas. He learned to pull the trigger-pin from a hand grenade, count to himself and then heave the pineapple-shaped missile with a great sweep of his arm that called on the musculature of the right side of his body from fingertips to toes. At the end of the sixteenth week the soldier was still "green", but he was almost as good a fighting man as anyone could be without the resolution and initiative which actual combat provides.
Our schedule at Fort Riley was somewhat modified because we were physicians and not infantrymen. Even so, we led a much more strenuous life than any of us had been accustomed to, and when 9 o'clock in the evening came, most of us were very willing to go to bed. The younger men, in particular, seemed to do well under a routine such as the one we had at Fort Riley. In a few weeks' time their health in general was much improved; men who had been overweight lost pounds regularly and safely; men who had been underweight gained pounds with much satisfaction. Red color appeared in sallow cheeks and muscles seemed to become hard again. Endurance was increased and in some instances it appeared that minds became keener. It was a veritable wonder what plain food and exercise in the open air did for so many men at military camps in those days. Many of them did not hesitate to credit the Army with greatly enhancing their physical condition.
The War Department very astutely set up a Commission on Training Camp Activities which endeavored to provide, as nearly as possible, the relationships and amusements of normal life to which the soldier had been accustomed in his own town or city. It was an attempt at rationalization of the bewildering environment into which any raw recruit is plunged when he reaches a military cantonment. Almost every ramification of a soldier's recreation was studied, and the work this commission accomplished was remarkable. It built 34 so-called Liberty Theaters in as many camps, each theater having a capacity of from 2,000 to 10,000 men. It arranged that current motion pictures be shown in these theaters every night. It saw to it that various plays were presented, and that vaudeville performers and actors of the legitimate stage appeared in these theaters throughout the land. It supplied dramatic managers for amateur theatrical productions at home and abroad, and it appointed 44 athletic directors, 30 boxing instructors and 53 song-leaders to guide and stimulate the interests of the soldiers in the activities indicated..
Yet the work of the Commission on Training Camp Activities seemed insignificant as compared to that of the various semi-private groups which volunteered their resources and assistance. The Red Cross, the Young Men's Christian Association, the Knights of Columbus, the Jewish Welfare Board, the Salvation Army and others all contributed to the entertainment and comfort of the soldier in wartime. These organizations built and paid for recreation centers which in some instances were most elaborate, boasting of fireplaces, reading and writing rooms, pianos, phonographs, motion picture projectors, athletic equipment of all kinds, current magazines, and even newspapers from the home town of the recruit.
Actors, singers and entertainers of all kinds were equally generous. The names of William Farnum, Mary Miles Minter, William S. Hart, Elsie Janis, Harry Lauder, the late Douglas Fairbanks, and Eddie Canter, are only a few of the names that were known on the stage of nearly every theater in the training camps of those days. I well remember the evening that Ernestine Schumann-Heink sang at Fort Riley, on which she also led the soldiers in mass singing, and explained to us her feelings, since she had sons in both the German and American armies.
It has been said, and no doubt with truth, that George M. Cohan's famous song, "Over There", was the greatest song ever written. Certainly it served its purpose well, and even today it is a stirring march when played briskly by a good brass band. But for the purposes of mass singing, which in those days meant singing by the men themselves, I noticed that "Goodbye Broadway, Hello France", "Dearest, My Heart is Dreaming", "On the Banks of the Wabash", "Little Grey Home in the West" and "Dear Old Pal of Mine" seemed to be the most popular of the current tunes. Major General Leonard Wood has been quoted as saying that "It is just as essential that a soldier know how to sing, and to sing, as it is that he should carry a rifle and know how to shoot". Whether or not the quotation is correct, it is true that singing is of great assistance in maintaining a soldier's morale, and that fact was fully realized by the: military authorities during the World War.
"K-K-K-Katy", "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag", "Good-morning, Mr. Zip, Zip, Zip", "Keep your Head Down, Fritzie Boy!", "There's a Long, Long Trail A-Winding", "It's a Long Way to Tipperary", were other songs that were sung in the various training camps of America in 1917 and 1918.
One night, after I had been studying for the approaching examinations of the National Board of Medical Examiners, Lieutenant B. A. Baid, now dead, suggested that the two of us take a walk. As we were sauntering about in the darkness we suddenly encountered Major Clarence E. van Epps, who had been one of my instructors at the University of Iowa College of Medicine. He was enthusiastic about a motion picture he had just seen at the camp theater. It was a Western thriller with the redoubtable William S. Hart as the chief character, and Major van Epps evidently had greatly enjoyed it. He is now a well-known neurologist, and is professor of neurology in the University of Iowa College of Medicine at Iowa, City. Bill Hart apparently could thrill the hearts of physicians as easily as he could stir the feeling of supposedly less sober soldiers.
Bickering and grumbling were everyday diversions at our medical camp as well as in every other department of the Army. No one grumbles and protests more than the seasoned private soldier of many years' service, yet no one would leave the Army with more genuine reluctance than such a fellow. He curses and grouses at everything, from the orders of the day to the flies on the windowpane. It is his vital pastime and he exploits it to the utmost.
Our colleagues at Fort Riley soon learned. They grumbled at the long drill sessions, at the tents or barracks, at the weather, at the officers instructing them, and sometimes, I almost believe, at the moon. Several physicians were heard to complain: "I gave up my lucrative surgical practice to get some wider experience in the Army, and look what I got!" Or: "What's the big idea of frittering away our time down here in Kansas?" Hardly a man who would not confess that he a highly skilled surgeon of great versatility; hardly a man would admit that he was merely a competent physician or surgeon of modest attainments. We were all great surgeons; great men who were being slowly stifled by obtuse and unimaginative Authority. It was a cantonment full of prima donnas---at least for a while.
Each physician, when he reported to the camp, was required to fill out cards which were designed to record the. physician's experience in the various fields of medicine and surgery. I had considerable experience in anesthesia, and in time I was called upon to assist at operations in the base hospital at Fort Riley. We seemed to have a large number of operations for mastoiditis, and I remember them vividly because it would often require from 3 to 5 hours to complete them. Gas was the anesthetic agent used for this operation in 1918.
The picture thus far presented is not wholly accurate, for in spite of the cold and discomfort and complaining, scores of picaresque situations arose every week. There was a variegated assortment of men at Fort Riley. For one thing, our ages ranged from about 26 to more than 50. There were men from nearly every section of the United States. There were rural practitioners of ancient schooling and unimpressive experience, and there were well-trained specialists as brilliant as any within the profession. The idiosyncrasies of those men and the old quirks which geographic or provincial folkways had stamped into their personalities did much to add a comic note to the sobrieties of military routine of a nation at war.
Tragicomic accidents which never would have happened to the grizzled regular soldier, a man's wholly unexpected reaction to an ordinary stimulus, or the clash of the physician's training as it collided with the inflexible regulations of the military reservation, all served to provoke gusty laughter again and again.
I remember one morning that was so cold that we seemed to feel it in our bones. Our anguish was further deepened by the blasts of a stinging north wind. We had fallen in for rollcall, shivering violently in the dim grey light. Conversation is not permitted during this particular formation, but one fellow from the hills of Tennessee, quaking from head to foot, turned his head and observed to his neighbor: "I shore wish't I had a quart of ole corn likker, right now!" From what I later learned about the prowess of this Tennesseean, I came to understand that a quart would not have been too much for him.
Another man, a huge good-natured fellow about 50 years old who soon became notorious for his laxity in matters of personal appearance and grooming, early was chosen to be the butt of many pranks. A fat man seems universally to be admirable suited to the prankster's jibes, more especially if he happens to resign himself placidly to his destiny, as this physician did. There were some duties of the soldier which the physician simply could not perform. There were tasks he could not finish on time. There were regulations he could not bring himself to obey, although his intentions were of the finest. The truth is that he never was intended for Army life. He could not make up his mind to go to bed, hence, he rarely was at rest before 10 o'clock at night, and we usually found him in a funk about being caught by a sentry. No one could beat him at rummy, but his physical agility in no manner matched his quickness at cards.
Many times this big physician would come lumbering into our barracks long after the lights had been extinguished, trying desperately to make his way quietly through the calm of the night, but floundering against every object near him like a bull elephant in a field of ten pins.
This ponderous Falstaff of a man had the habit of getting up for micturition once or twice each night. We shout have had no objection had he been willing to go to the latrine but he hated the chill air and refused to venture outside. Instead, he used a tin can for a urinal. Our outraged curses beating into his ears in the darkness, never dismayed him. Remonstrance moved him not a whit. We tried several stratagems to no avail, when, after much careful planning, the bottom of his tin can was perforated with a hammer and nail.
That night "Fat" arose as usual and staggered about sleepily as he sought his urinal. The barracks were pitch-black but the atmosphere took on a decided blue tint as his first dark mutterings and astonished grunts turned into profane rage. He had to be quiet because he knew that a sentry was pacing up and down out side the barracks, and we, in turn, had to stifle our glee under our olive drab wool blankets. For all the very real fear we had of a court-martial, our cots shook as we gloated over the fat man's profound discomfiture. We had succeeded in breaking him of his objectionable nocturnal quests for vesical relief
On January 28, 1918, Secretary of War Newton Diehl Baker appeared before the Military Affairs Committee of the United States and said: "We will have 500,000 men in France very soon and a million more ready to go, a total of 1,500,000 American soldiers in France before the end of 1918".
To us the time seemed to drag. We remained in training at Fort Riley while some of the most important events of the year occurred. On the 22nd of March the last great offensive of the Germans began; Haig was attacked with incredible ferocity on a 50 mile front and the French farther to the East suffered a series of powerful blows. The German offensive was designed to split the French and the British; to separate them at their liaison point so that a succession of great hammer blows could be launched at the Allies before American troops would have time to reach France.
British naval Forces, aided by French destroyers, raided both Ostend and Zeebrugge on the 23rd of April, blocking the Bruges canal by sinking three old British cruisers filled with cement. The following day the first real engagement of the American Expeditionary Forces took place at Seichoprey, one engagement (the 16th Infantry) being commanded by Colonel John L. Hines, who later became commander not only of the 4th Division but an Army Corps as well.
Most of my time between April 8 and 25 was spent in taking the examinations of the National Board of Medical Examiners. I did this for two reasons; I knew it would be valuable to me later to be a diplomat of that body, and I wanted to be excused from drill. Physicians who stood for the examinations were not required to drill. I am not sure which was the more important reason at the time.
I believe that our training period produced certain benefits. The physical condition of every man at camp was improved. Every man was subjected to discipline, so that he I had to adjust his life to the dictates of military rule. I think it was a good thing. But most of the lectures we heard were wasted energy. Scarcely anyone told us anything that would help us when we reached France. An outstanding exception was an address by Major General William Crawford Gorgas, surgeon-general of the Army and one of the nation's genuinely great men. He spoke to us on the history and purpose of the Army Medical Corps, and there was not a man among us who did not treasure the opportunity to see and hear this self effacing titan, whom I was to meet in person later, in France.
One commentator, Major-General Robert Alexander, who was commander of the 77th Division in France, went so far as to write that much of the instruction given to the men in American training camps was downright useless. In a book which he published in 1931, General Alexander condemned the wartime practice of teaching trench warfare to the men, and he intimated that the chief-of-staff of the Army at the time America entered the war had not initiated methods of training recruits which would fit the men for the open combat tactics which Pershing was to use at St. Mihiel and in the Meuse-Argonne campaign.
Occasionally, we would be called to the office of the commandant of the post, Colonel William N. Bispham, M. C., for personal interviews. A man was especially likely to be called for an interview if he were about to be assigned permanently to some unit, because at a base hospital there was available the training and intensive experience which every man earnestly desired. A base hospital, moreover, always would be situated far behind the danger zones, and a surgeon could work in comparative quiet and comfort in such a place, with the assurance that he would have opportunity to gain some experience in medicine and surgery. We knew enough at this time to realize that a battalion surgeon's work was most undesirable; he had to go where the infantrymen went and was exposed to fully as much danger, and for all his work at first hand on the field of battle, he only rarely if ever was in a position to do the sort of surgical operations in which we were chiefly interested. He had to render first aid and prepare the men for evacuation to the various hospitals; his task was to reach the wounded man and minister to him so that he could be transported to the rear in safety and as much comfort as immediate medical attention could give him. Assignment to an ambulance company was viewed with almost as much distaste as assignment as a ,battalion surgeon. We of course had no choice, but the hope that he would be detailed to a base hospital was ever present.
Once the Tennesseean who had yearned for his corn whiskey at roll call was told that he was to accompany a regiment of infantrymen. Colonel Bispham asked him what he thought of his new assignment.
"Well, Colonel," he said, "if I had my ruthers, I'd ruther not go."
From that time on he was known as "Ruthers".
It was but natural that great physicians and scientific investigators of all nations should do their utmost to aid their nation during the World War. Sir William Osler was perhaps the most famous of all English physicians who volunteered to serve the Crown, but he had passed the zenith of his great career and was content to stimulate confidence and support of the government by appearing and speaking at mass meetings and other gatherings. Leonard Hill and Ernest Henry Starling studied the effects of gas and asphyxiation. The great London neurologist, Sir Frederick Walker Mott, attacked the problem of what is called "shell-shock", and another famous English neurologist, Henry Head, investigated the physiologic aspects of the nervous system on the basis of phenomena engendered by wounds. Sir Thomas Lewis, everywhere respected as an outstanding authority on diseases of the heart, devoted himself to research on the neuro-cardiac syndrome defined by DaCosta.
Alexis Carrel, well known to the American public by his work with Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh and also by his several books for the layman, used a gas contained in a liquid invented by the American, Dr. Henry D. Dakin, for the treatment of open wounds. In France, the eminent parasitologist, Blanchard, conceived the idea of transporting wounded men from the front to base hospitals in airplanes. Pierre Marie enlarged on the study of injuries of the peripheral nerves. The Paris surgeon, Marie Théodore Tuffier, known to all surgeons through a certain surgical procedure which bears his name, was probably the most influential medical personality in France. He managed the administration of front-line surgery entirely in his civilian clothes, and he was accustomed to give his various orders by means of a telephone system which extended for many miles along the zone of fighting.
The Germans certainly had no lack of distinguished physicians and scientific investigators in their army. Emil Fischer, the well-known chemist, lent his brilliance to the formulation of new explosives, and to the development of substitutes for animal fats and to the search for new means of producing nitrogen. The entomologist, Albrecht Haase, studied lice and various trench vermin that plagued the soldiers in the field. Alfred E. Toepfer, the Berlin physician, whose method of analysis of gastric contents is widely used today, worked at Kovel during the war on several important problems. Karl Friedrich Wenckebach, a distinguished Viennese specialist in internal medicine, studied the military aspects of diseases of the heart in that Austrian city, while the hematologist, Victor Schilling, worked with German troops at Aleppo in Turkey. Ludwig Aschoff, known to every medical student for his outstanding researches in pathologic anatomy, served in a sanitary corps of the German army. Others, no less brilliant, abandoned private practice to serve the fatherland as best they could.
It was recognized that the soil of Europe was particularly ideal for the growth of organisms of all kinds, and that wounded men who lay on this soil would be likely to suffer infection very readily. For centuries the peasants had heaped manure on their land and plowed it under, producing a medium in which germs throve in unimaginable profusion. Dr. Sidney Rowland, a British worker, produced gas gangrene in a guinea-pig simply by innoculating it with muddy water from this germ-laden soil of France. The animal died in 18 hours of infection caused by the Bacillus welchii; the organism discovered by and named after Dr. William H. Welch of John Hopkins University.
In the United States, the distinguished Cleveland surgeon, Dr. George W. Crile, Dr. Francis Gilman Glake, now of Yale University, and the late Dr. Harvey Cushing, did splendid work in research in both medicine and surgery. Dr. Crile and Dr. Walter B. Cannon made excellent studies in the pathologic aspects, prevention and treatment of traumatic shock. The work of the two Mayo brothers has already been mentioned.
Bursting shells were the most destructive of all implements of warfare employed by either side in war. They caused 46 per cent of all wounds, whereas poison gas was responsible for 31 per cent of wounds. Bullets from pistols and rifles, together with bursting hand grenades, caused only 20 per cent of the total number of wounds, a percentage which certainly is in conflict with the popular conception of the deadliness of small arms.
It is true, as many observers have stated, that wounds inflicted by bullets and shells at the front became infected more often and ultimately caused more deaths than would be true of similar wounds suffered by civilians in the United States. One reason for this is the unfavorable conditions for prompt and effective medical and surgical care which arise in any war. Another reason is the murderous effect of a bullet or shell when it strikes living tissue.
The jacketed military bullet of high velocity, with its wide effective range and its great penetrating power at long range, literally pulverizes bone at short range. Such a bullet makes 2,500 revolutions at the muzzle; it reduces the soft tissues of the body to a devitalized pulp which undergoes necrosis and provides an almost perfect pathogenic field. The effects of a bursting shell on the human body are too fearful to delineate herein. If by great good fortune a soldier could escape every fragment of a shell which exploded near him, there would still remain the monstrous effects of concussion, which conceivably could rend him limb from limb.
In considering the work of American physicians in the World War, it is interesting to note that the medical units moved into action in France with as much speed as most services of the Army, and with more speed than some. Six fully equipped base hospitals reached French soil between May 8 and May 25, 1917, only a short time after America's declaration of war. They were staffed by volunteer physicians from New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, Boston and St. Louis, and they were sent to the aid of the British Expeditionary Forces because of the scarcity of physicians and hospitals in that Allied army. In all, no less than 50 United States Army base hospitals had been established in France by June 18, 1918. The larger ones were situated at Allerey, Dazoilles, Toul, Mesves, Mars and Savenay.
On the 22nd of April, 1918, I was ordered to report to the director of ambulance companies for duty as an officer. I was assigned to Ambulance Company No. 21, attached to the 4th Division. I never left the 4th Division, from the time I entered it to the day I was discharged from the Army.
Ambulance Company 21, with Ambulance Companies 19, 28 and 33 and field hospitals bearing the same numbers, constituted the sanitary train of the 4th Division. Our company had been organized on July 8, 1917. Captain Milne was our first commanding officer, but he was relieved on September 20, 1917, and Lieutenant Thomas Dobbins, a very efficient officer, now a practicing physician in Evansville, Indiana, was appointed in his place. We were equipped at Fort Riley with 12 General Motors ambulances, one service automobile, 3 trucks and 4 motorcycles. The company had 5 officers and 122 enlisted men, but it should be pointed out that most of our enlisted men were volunteers; that is, they had joined the Army of their own volition before the Selective Service Act of May 18, 1917, became law. Our men were probably better than those of units made up of drafted men in that they exhibited the desire to serve in the Army. it was natural that their state of mind would contribute to making good soldiers of them, although many drafted men later made enviable records in the war. When we finally left Fort Riley we had only 8 conscripted men in the company.
Soon I had to train men myself and to lecture to the personnel of the company. Fortunately, the men had been well-trained in infantry drill before they came under my sway, for I certainly was no master of the close order system of drill. Embarrassing moments are the chief memories I have of that period. Often I would get the men into weird formations from which I could not extricate them. Either I could not think of the correct order to issue or I had not had enough experience with the maneuver which I wished the men to execute. The men soon sensed my lack of adequate training in infantry movements, and I doubt if they ever considered me a good drillmaster. But we got on.
At some time while we were at Fort Riley we acquired "Sergeant Pat", a 40-pound pit bull terrier who crossed the Atlantic Ocean with us, went through the battles of Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne campaign, was wounded in action and decorated by the men for his bravery, and finally crossed the Atlantic again to return to America in good health and temper. The methods by means of which the dog was acquired probably would not bear investigation, but the dog enjoyed our company and was very happy while he was with us. He was the boon companion of Sergeant P. L. Kenny and Sergeant V. M. Johnson, who groomed him, fed him and watched his condition as they would that of a boy. "Sergeant Pat" gave us many hours of amusement as we lay in reserve behind the battle areas in France, and later the much-traveled animal established his superiority over French and German dogs on several occasions. No doubt he felt that he had to maintain the fine traditions of the United States Army, for he never was defeated in combat.
On April 28, 1918, 1 was granted a leave of absence of 10 days. I decided to spend part of the leave at my home at St. Joseph, Missouri, and part at the home of my fiancée and her mother at Atlantic, Iowa. Three days before my leave would have expired I received a telegram which ordered me to report at once to Fort Riley.
I returned to the camp on May 8 to find the place in a furor. Officers and men were in such a state of excitement that at first I could learn nothing. Finally, someone told me that our sailing orders had arrived.
On Sunday, May 12, which happened to be Mother's Day, we left Fort Riley in a train composed of old-fashioned wood coaches and reached Camp Merritt, New Jersey, on May 16. There was plenty of spirit among the men as we rolled across the country to the camp which was situated near Hoboken. It reminded me of the excitement and high spirits that pervade a college campus when the football team leaves town to play an important game. For all these men knew, they might never return again, but that melancholy thought seemed never to have been entertained. Temperament and morale of the men on that troop train were exceptionally good.
While I was at Fort Riley I had purchased a little daybook or diary published by Thomas Y. Crowell & Company of New York. It had an amazing variety of information between its covers, such as how to utilize old buildings to ward off shells and gunfire of the enemy, how to do certain tricks with cards, how to converse in a few standard phrases of French, and nearly everything a soldier in France would ever need to know. To the card tricks I added a few of my own that I had learned on the trip to France or at Fort Riley, and I used this diary to the day I left Germany. Only on those days or nights in which we were actually under the most murderous fire from the Germans did I neglect to make an entry or two in the little book with the brown cloth cover.
We spent eleven days at Camp Merritt, which was an embarkation camp. The men rested, and all equipment was inspected and re-inspected. One dark morning we marched silently on board the British transport S. S. Scotian at about 1 o'clock, and at 5 o'clock of the same morning, May 27, we sailed from Hoboken, New Jersey.
"Sergeant Pat", the stocky pit-bull terrier that we had acquired by devious means at Fort Riley, at first seemed to be a problem in the matter of getting him aboard, for there were stringent general orders that no mascots could be taken to France. Hence, the dog was smuggled on board the Scotian. The men enlisted the aid of one of the stewards of the ship, who was more than willing to assist at the prospect of a good-sized tip. "Sergeant Pat" was hauled up the side of the big boat with a long rope, and once he was on deck we had no further difficulty in concealing or caring for the dog until we disembarked at Liverpool.
Most of the other units of the 4th Division had either sailed or were en route to France by the time we steamed out of Hoboken. Two nights before we sailed we were startled by the shrill cries of newsboys, who scuttled through the camp shouting the news that the S. S. Moldavia, which had been carrying men of Companies A and B of the 58th Infantry of the 4th Division, to France, had been torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine. The Moldavia sank slowly, and most of the crew and soldiers were taken off easily but 56 men lost their lives in the tragedy.
This news did not brighten the spirit of any of us. I think we must have fallen prey to what today would be called "the jitters" the moment we lost sight of the American mainland, but we took some comfort in the fact that fourteen other ships of varying sizes were accompanying the Scotian. We knew that the British navy was the largest and most efficient of any in the world, and we realized that a formidable-looking auxiliary cruiser was guarding us part of the way across the Atlantic, but I think the mind of every man on board occasionally must have turned to the thought of a small, grey, wicked-looking periscope thrusting its malign eye above the murky waves, and of the horrible carnage that could be unleashed by only one swift and unseen projectile speeding lightning-like through the water to the hull of the S. S. Scotian.
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