“MY DUTY TO MY COUNTRY”
BY PVT. JACK KNEELAND, NO. 105, 43RD CO., 5TH
REGT., U. S. MARINES
WHEN the great World War was raging, and the United States were preparing for any trouble that might occur between her and the Teutonic Government, I was playing in vaudeville. April 6th we received word that our Government declared war on Germany. Immediately I decided to quit the show business and go into the service, but what branch I did not know as I was unfamiliar with the different outfits of Uncle Sam’s noble army and navy. As I was walking down the street I happened to notice different recruiting officers, appealing to the men to enlist in the several outfits we have, for the sake of our folks at home, and for democracy. I happened to think of the navy as a good chance, but as I wished to be in the thick of the battles and excitement I decided it was either the army or the United States Marines. While I was trying to fix my mind on what I should do, a marine sergeant came and started talking to me and asked me what I was going to do. I told him I was ready for the worst, and that I was anxious to go across the water and do my bit. He said that the United States Marines was the place for me, a boy with the spirit Americans wanted. Well, it did not take me long to make up my mind, and shortly I was being examined by the doctor for physical fitness. I was confident I would pass the rigid test that is given to the marines as I had never had an illness of any kind in my life. After the examination I was told I was 100 percent perfect, and sworn in as a private in the soldiers of the sea, as we call the marines. First to fight on land and sea. Three days later I was called to depart for Paris Island, S. C., where I was to get my training. I arrived the 15th of April and was immediately sent to a quarantine station where all preparations were given, such as clothes, finger prints taken, and then I was finally sworn in once more, on the 21st day of April. After all these proceedings were over, I was sent to the maneuvering ground where the greatest task lay. We drilled from morning until late in the evening, but I did not mind it as I knew that it was for a good purpose. Digging trenches, hand grenade practice, bayonet drills and rifle practice were our continual routine, for fully three months. I was then transferred to Marine Barracks, Philadelphia, for duty, where I was assigned to the 5th Regiment to be ready for overseas duty.
On the 21st day of August, we received word to get ready to sail. We were then given overseas equipment and boarded the transport Henderson. We went to New York, where we loaded supplies and stores for the trip, and started on our way to No Man’s Land at midnight the 22d. As the submarines were active at that time we were somewhat delayed in getting there. But we finally arrived without a scratch. We landed on the 7th day of September in St. Nazarre, France. There we were taken to the Rue Du Chateau, where we were assigned to barracks.
Here we received our severe training.It was drill morning, school in afternoon, drill in evening for two and a half months. After this we were ready for anything that might be needed of us.
On the 17th of November our commander received orders to take our men to the Flanders Front, where we were to hold the southeastern corner of the Marne with the Australian Anzacs. We immediately departed and arrived there on a very rainy day.
Now comes the first real encounter the Americans took part in. The Germans sent us a rapid shell fire from their position opposite to us. We immediately sent back an intense machine gun fire. The battle raged on for seventeen hours. I received a wound in the leg and was immediately sent to base hospital where I was at once treated. We were treated fine because the French now realized that we were with them in heart and soul. I remained in hospital twenty-three days, and then was sent back to the Front, this time to join the 43rd Regt, 2nd Division, who were holding a front in Belgium on the side. We advanced and took several little towns around Soissons and stopped at St. Quentin which was being shelled by the Austrians. We took position and immediately started offensive. We succeeded in capturing two thousand prisoners who were sent to one of the French prison camps. After this encounter we were sent to rest camps, where our clothes were replaced by new ones, and allowed to visit the neighboring towns for seventy-two hours. I, with a comrade who you will read about later, went to Paris and had a very good time.
The French people could think of nothing too good for us. After having a fine time, we reported back and occupied the second line, with the Canadians, and once more at Sartormai I was sent with a message to Major General Leonard Wood. It was a dispatch of fifty-three miles and I was to do this in an hour and ten minutes. I had a Harley Twin Six, and I started out. It was about 9.30, Paris time, when I was passing through a lonely village, a German sniper picked me off in the head. I regained consciousness and fired my Colt automatic and got my man. I succeeded in reaching my destination two minutes before time; but in an unconscious condition. I guess the good Lord was good to me and brought me to life again so that I could explain my mission. I was taken to Base Hospital No. 3, where my wound was treated with care and the lead extracted. For two weeks and a half I was practically senseless. My memory was impaired, caused by the shock of the bullet, and the intense speed I was going. In this hospital I met a German who had been captured and had been sent to the hospital to be treated for a scalp wound. He was a very well-educated boy, about nineteen years old and could speak English very well.
He told me about how, against his will, he was dragged in and made to fight for Prussianism when he always believed in democracy. It almost brought tears to my eyes to listen to his story about the people who were wishing that the Kaiser and the Teutonic power would be killed, instead of taking every young fellow against his will and making him fight. I soon recovered, bid this boy good-bye, and moved on to the second division, who were still occupying Flanders Front.
One day while wading through mud, a big shell exploded in front of us and we lost a great number of men, and I fell into the shell crater with nine other men. The crater must have been forty feet deep, with about three feet of mud at the surface. Here we did not eat for five days. We had to drink the green slime and mud so that we might not perish from thirst. Every time we wanted to sleep we would fall in this mud and wake up all caked with it. We were finally rescued by a French patrol party, and given plenty of food and nourishment to put us on our feet again. We were sent to a convalescent camp, and told to do nothing but rest. After resting for a month I was again placed in position with our snipers, with Private Al Barker as my companion. I at once took position in the limbs of a tree, so that I could notice any patrols that might pass. On our southern corner we saw a raiding party of ,Germans, fixing their machine guns to clean up town called St Forme. We immediately opened fire on these men, and succeeded in picking off a large majority of them. Suddenly my comrade received a wound in the knee and fell to the ground. I descended and, picking him up, carried him safely to our lines, receiving at the same time three bullet wounds.
We were sent to Base Hospital No. 16, where we were operated on. It seemed as though it was a year before we were well. Finally we were sent to the front at Belleau Woods. This place was approximately the turning point of the war. It is situated thirty-eight miles from Paris, and the Crown Prince’s army were trying to advance through it. Here for forty-eight hours we were continually on the alert, always watching the Germans. We did not eat for forty hours.
On the 18th of July at 12.03 A.M. we received the call to arms. We were ordered to advance to the Forest of Pere where a great number of Germans were operating. We traveled seven and a half miles on foot and placed ourselves on the southeastern part of Chateau- Thierry. We opened fire immediately, and this is where the bloodiest encounter of our service took place. We succeeded in starving our opponents and cut off all their ammunition. It was a big disaster to us as they outnumbered us four to one. After the British had been thrown back, the marines took the field and succeeded in annihilating the Crown Prince’s army.
Of our battalion, of one thousand men, only 147 survived, and practically all of these were wounded. The Germans, seeing that they were beaten, immediately sent over their fumes of deadly mustard gas and liquid fire. I happened to be one of the unlucky ones and received a big dose of it. It fairly burned the clothes from my back, blinding me instantly, and deafened me. I was taken to Base Hospital No. 23 where I remained forty-two days. After I had recovered a little I was sent to a convalescent camp to await my departure for the good old U. S. A. On September 24th I sailed from Brest and arrived safely in Hoboken, October 3, 1918.