September 12, 1918 – Getting down to business

On this, the first day of their arrival at the front, the units of the 301st Engineers got to business right away.  The roads were a mess, full of shell holes, covered in mud and clay, without shoulders.  It was imperative the roads be repaired if the fighting on the front was to be successful.  Without an adequate route, the men at the front would be without food, ammunition, armaments, everything.  And the wounded and dying would have no way of retreating to get medical help.

The night of September 12 and 13….was one night in the lives of all never to be forgotten.  Men and officers worked as they had never worked before.  They were confronted with the task of building a new road over ground which had been completely shell-swept.  It was fortunate, in a way, that they were able to find the old road foundation and expose it by removing a foot of red clay that covered it from view.  It was unfortunate, in another way , that this foundation, under the most important section of the road from the beginning of the ascent to the crest of the hill, had been so badly shelled that it was necessary to make a detour to the left and build a new section of road.  In all, this could not have been more than 250 meters in length, but because of its position it presented the hardest kind of a road problem.  it crossed the enemy’s outpost system filled with maze upon maze of barbed-wire entanglements and shell-holes, the latter being the work of our own artillery in the preparation of the attack.

The men had to build a road with no prepared foundation and at the same time keep the traffic moving to the front and to the rear.  The material had to be found on the ground.  The French carts brought from Toul had not begun to function as yet.  The men combed the surface soil for rocks and gravel and, carrying it in shovels and bags, deposited it upon the proposed road.  It became slow, painstaking work, handicapped further by the assistance they had to render drivers whose vehicles could not make the hill.  The men labored under these conditions until darkness shut out all possibility of finding more road material.  After that, it simply became a question of applying man power to the wheels of those horse-drawn and motor vehicles and boosting them over the hill.  The men became so tired and exhausted, from lack of food and sleep, that the continual whine of enemy shells and the crack of your own, offered but little to divert their minds.  They had become machines of the offensive which mechanically obeyed and carried out the orders from higher authorities.  The one great thing that kept them alive to the situation was the sight of our own wounded troops continually passing to the rear, in ambulances and on foot.  They made sense of duty only too evident.  The order finally came to descend to the field ranges that had been set up in Flirey and fall in for mess.  It was an order that the men did not find difficult to obey.  About 10 o’clock that night they had their first meal since early morning, pitched their tents, and turned in for a few hours’ rest.  A 3 o’clock the next morning all were aroused from deep slumbers to resume work immediately on the hill.

–  The Three Hundred and First Engineers – A History 1917-1920

And you can bet Sergeant First Class Shetler and his cooks were working hard to have that food ready at ten o’clock.  This is where the months and months of training paid off.  Everyone knew what to do.  And no one had time for anything but work.

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