However, all hopes and expectations of an early departure for home were finally and forever blasted when, bright and early on the morning of November 17th, we took up the trail of the retreating enemy. There was no official information passed to our destination, but we needed none.
As we ascended the slope which led us away from Pouilly, we saw three abandoned field pieces, evidently just where the last shot had been fired. Their muzzles were elevated as if they had given up in despair.
We hiked through some very beautiful country during the day, that is it would have been beautiful to us had we been in a condition to enjoy the scenery. We did not hike very far the first day, stopping soon after noon in a little town named Fromy.
On the morning of November 18th, after partaking in a breakfast of beans, which at this time tasted like a dessert to us (all army history being to the contrary), we again took the road. Saving some of my beans, I kept them in my mess pan for a mid-day lunch(?) as we had nothing hot cooked for the noon meal. Our noon repast consisted of canned meat and tomatoes and bread.
During the morning of our second day's journey, we crossed the Belgian frontier. The small Belgian villages gave us a welcome beyond description. All the inhabitants, which consisted mostly of old men and women and children, turned out en-masse to greet us as we neared each village. Some met us with wreaths of flowers, some had erected arches bearing "Welcome to our Allies", or "Welcome to our Liberators".
Flags that had been hidden for four years flew from every window. Cries of "Vivi la Americains" we heard on all sides. Truly they were a happy people now, even though they had lost practically everything during the war. Many of the towns still showed the effects of the destruction wrought during 1914.
Many stories were told us of horrible crimes committed by the Germans during the early stages of the war, when not even women and children were spared. Some of the towns we passed through were Milandy, Villy, St. Vincent, Tintirny, Etoile, Vance. Some days we hiked nearly all day, others we would stop soon after noon. It was hard to hike very long on the food we were getting. Canned mean and tomatoes and coffee was our principle diet. The cooks would heat the corn beef or roast been, as the case might be, in water, and the result was not fit to eat. It was universally known as "slum".
Rather than endanger my digestive organs by eating this preparation, I often hiked all day on just bread and coffee, as I did not like canned tomatoes very well. Some days we had "gold fish" (Salmon).
The night of November 20th, we billeted in Arlon, Belgium. This was a pretty large place. As soon as we shed our packs, the majority of us made a break for the streets to see if there was anything to eat to be found. Prices jumped sky high in a few minutes. This was partially due to the fact that we did not want to wait for any change there might be coming to us after making a purchase. Three other fellows and myself stopped at a butcher shop first, which was already full of purchasing Yanks. We managed to get some fresh pork, and set out to find a cook. We found a home where they could speak just a little English. We had them fry our meat and also some potatoes. Eventually we had a pretty good feed.
We only spent one night in Arlon, leaving the next morning. Passing on into Luxembourg, we received almost as great a welcome as had been given us in Belgium. However, it was not as sincere.
We spent one night in Useldange, Nov. 21st, and Colmar, Nov. 22nd, both places being in Luxembourg. We were right on the heels of the retreating Germans. Sometimes we would enter a town an hour or two after the Germans had left. They were throwing away a lot of things along the road, that is, of their equipment. They were lightening their load , which a lot of the rest of us would have done if we could. As for myself, I was carrying several pounds of souvenirs, which I was now determined to keep, even if their extra weight made me fall by the wayside. However, several of the fellows who had been packing souvernirs, bid them farewell, and left them by the roadside.
We were now entering a rather mountainous section of country, and had some long hills to climb. Sometimes it took a lot of determination to stay in line till the top of the hill was reached. It wasn't intended that a person should climb mountains on bread and coffee.
In the afternoon of Nov 23rd, we passed thru Medernach, Luxembourg, but after waiting about an hour at the next village, which was not more than a mile beyond, we turned back and billeted in Medernach. This place turned out to be a resting place for us for the remainder of the month. The rest was badly needed, tho in reality there was not much rest for us, as we had to climb a long winding road to the top of the hill, where we did some squads right and otherwise put in the time.
Medernach was set on the side of the hill, and the two or three streets of the town were not all together level to say the least. The road to the top of the mountain got to be pretty steep before we left, due to the fact that we had to climb it nearly every day to drill. Don't suppose that it ever occurred to the proper authorities that a little rest would have done us more good than a little drill. Of course there was the possibility that we would forget how to soldier.
We drew a fairly good barn for a billet, having plenty of straw to sleep on. Our kitchen was located about fifty yards away. In as much as we were still living on scant rations, the most of us scouted around to see what could be gotten on the side. We found one woman whom we succeeded in getting to make some waffles for us. She also roasted a small pig for us, on one occasion. Her house was smell, with a narrow hall In the center, a kitchen on one side and a cow stable just across on the other side. Every thing tasted just as good as if it had been a mile away.
One day we hiked several kilometers, and had our colors decorated with the French Croix de Guerre, also several of the fellows were decorated. Was glad to see them get it.
Shortly after arriving at Medernach, the censorship was lifted, excepting that we were not allowed to put any criticism in our letters. I took advantage of this, and sent some the folks at home a fairly good account of what I had been thru.
As Thanksgiving drew near, the papers carried considerable news about all the " boys" in France going to get turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. As we were not in France, I suppose was the reason we were not allowed to have ours, as our "Turkey" grew on a cows shoulder, and an old one at that. The cooks did the best they could, and tried to give us steak and gravy. A couple of other fellows and myself bargained for a hen for Thanksgiving supper. When we arrived to partake of the feast, we found another party also waiting for a fowl supper. When we prepared to eat, we found that only one hen had been slaughtered, instead of two. After parleying around for a while we agreed to divide the one dead hen. The other party ate theirs and skipped without paying their bill. The old man and woman wanted us to pay the whole bill, but we paid only our share, and considered ourselves cheated at that, for if toughness was an indication of age, then the hen that was served us must have originated in the days of Noah.
And thus we spent the time until very early on the morning of December 1st. I tried to feel different on November 30th, which was my birthday, but the day was only like all other days for me. However about eleven o'clock that night, I drew a pair of shoes, size #9. Ordinarily I wore 7 1/2, but took the size 9, for want of a smaller number. That was my only birthday present. It was nearly twelve o'clock before vie had a chance to get any sleep, and reveille blew at two-thirty the next morning, December 1st.
We were on the road before daylight on the morning of December 1st, and crossed the German frontier about 7:30 that morning, at Wallendorf. Stopping for only an hour at noon for hot coffee and bread, we hiked steadily till 7:30 that night, a distance of 45 kilometers or around twenty eight miles. I was so tired that I did not wait for anything to eat, but rolled up immediately and went to sleep. The sleep was of greater benefit than what the kitchens would have put out for supper.
The next morning, I prepared to make the day's hike on coffee and bread. The noon meal on the march in to Germany always consisted of corned beef, bread, and canned tomatoes or salmon. Our distance was considerably shortened the second day. We hiked only about ten kilometers, stopping at a little town called Dauscheid.
The third day, December 3rd, we hiked about 25 kilometers, passing thru Prum about noon, stopping for the night at Willwerath. The country we passed thru was very beautiful. There were large hillsides either covered with forests or vineyards. Steep hills, that we at home would not think of trying to cultivate, were terraced and covered with vineyards.
By this time time Germans were leaving a god many dead horses along side the road. It seemed at times that they were lying at regular intervals. The horses were very poor, and were unable to make the trip back to the "Fatherland". Frequently. we saw piles of entrails along the road, indicating that the Germans might be eating horse meat.
Some times we would rest for a day, and then continue. After hiking about 14 kilometers on the 4th, we spent the night in Steffeln, and also the next day. The rest was badly needed. On the 6th, we stopped, after a 12 kilometer hike, at Wiesbaum. The German folk all along seemed to view us with more or less curious look than any thing else.
On the 7th, we hiked about 20 kilos and put up at Hoffeld. On the 8th, we staged another long hike of about 40 kilos, reaching Ahrweiler some time after dark. Ahrweiler was a pretty good-sized place, but being to tired to sight-see, I rolled up as soon as possible. We left early the next morning, and took a pig trail across a mountain. It was a hard climb, and taxed all our fast failing strength to make the top of the mountain. Our distance for the 9th was about 20 kilos. We rested in Waldorf, for we remained at Waldorf until the morning of December 13th.
A general order came out that we had to carry our rifle all the time, when out of our billet. While at chow one night, some one politely walked off with nine, and left me one all rusted. I reported the matter and got my rifle back.
While we were resting at Waldorf, I received the first authentic information that I had been awarded a D.S.C. I had never been told officially that I had even been recommended. Smith, the company clerk, had mentioned a few times that I had been, but I had never believed him, as he did not seem to be very earnest about the matter.
On the morning of December 13th, we left Waldorf, and approached the Rhine. Just before we reached the river, we saw a number of German trucks parked along the highway. It was noted that all the tires were steel, and not rubber, that is, most of them were. At noon, we crossed the famous Rhine river at Remagen. There was no demonstration by any of our bunch. It was, outwardly, just like crossing any other river. However, inwardly, I felt a little grim satisfaction in the realization that we were now right in a vital spot of Germany. Also, the fact that none made any outward demonstrations may have been due to the fact that we had been hiking all morning in a light rain. We were soaked to the skin. When night came we billeted in a place called Honnigen. Having no change of dry clothing, and having to sleep in wet blankets, gave me a cold, from which I never fully recovered till spring, the severest cold I ever had in my life.
We remained in Honnigen until December 16th, on which date we moved on to our final destination, Segendorf, Germany, just a short distance from the river, and near Niewied. The 43rd, 51st, and 55th companies being billeted in Segendorf, and the 18th company in Rodenbach, just a short distance away.
The new "Watch on the Rhine" had now officially begun. We had hiked a distance of nearly 150 miles, with but little to eat most of the way. Physically I was but skin and bones. But despite the fact that we needed food and rest, we immediately began the old, old, squads "right and all around about" once more.
On Jan. 4, 1919, Major Gen. LeJeune, our division Commander, paid us a visit, at Segendorf, and pinned a few medals on several of us, one of which he pinned on me, a distinguished Service Cross. The citation read: "For extraordinary heroism beyond the call of duty." In a few days I was sent to the field hospital at Coblenz, with the flu. Though I had a temperature, they came around and asked me if I wanted a regular meal or a soft diet. I was so hungry for some good food, I kept asking for a regular meal, and of course, kept running a temperature. I also was afraid that maybe the division would be sent home without me. This turned out to be an unnecessary worry. On Jan, 16, I was dismissed and rejoined my outfit in Segendorf. In May, got a week's leave and went to Aix-les-Bains in Southern France. This resort was surrounded by high mountains, and I took a cog railroad car to the top of one of them. The snow was 6 feet deep. On June 6, 1919, Gen. LeJeune brought me a French Croix de Guerre. During the Spring, we had several military reviews, by high ranking military men, such as Gen. Pershing, and Admiral Simms.
In mid June, I was notified that I was to be sent home. The night before I was to leave, the outfit got a "call to arms" and we had to assemble immediately. It turned out to be a false alarm. After several days being processed through France, went aboard ship for hone. Nearly everybody on the ship got seasick, including myself. Arrived in New York on July 3rd. And the Statue of Liberty sure looked good. Spent the weekend with one of the fellows in our detachment, and visited Coney Island. Was sent to Quantico, Va. to be mustered out. While there got two leaves to visit Washington D.C. Finally arrived home in early August, 1919.
Soon after setting home was given the Good Conduct Medal. On Nov. 12th 1921 received the Navy Cross from the Navy.
Finally as closing item of this story, soon after getting home, I met a young lady who later became the Mother of our wonderful children.