The shelling eased up a little, and we cleared the crest of the hill in front of us. Quite a few shrapnel shells burst just in front of us, the shrapnel raking the ground all around us. No one had yet been wounded near me, so had no one to carry back. We still held a support position, and started to dig in soon after noon. The ground was not very favorable for digging and before we had finished, received orders to change our position.
A gap existed on our left and our battalion was ordered to fill it. Our objective was the crest of a portion of Blanc Mont ridge. As soon as the Germans saw what we were attempting to do, they met us with heavy machine gun fire and trench mortars. I think they had every conceivable kind of trench mortar. Some of the shells sounded like they were lopsided as they hit all around us, many of them exploding in the air before hitting the ground. Machine gun fire became murderously heavy as we ascended the slope of the hill.
Private Hamilton of our platoon fell with a machine gun bullet through his chest. Hamilton carried a French automatic rifle. Just before coming to the front he had been given a summary for something he had done. Getting him on a stretcher, we headed for the rear to find a first aid station. We had not gone more than a hundred yards when a trench mortar hit about twenty feet from us and wounded one of the fellows. Stopping a few minutes, I bound up his wound and we proceeded. Hamilton died before we reached the dressing station. Not wishing to leave him on the field, we buried him in a shell hole, putting up a little improvised cross and fastening one of his identification tags to the cross.
It was dark when we got back to the company. The battalion had taken the crest of the ridge, but was still under heavy fire. If it had not been for the trenches that run along the crest of the ridge, do not believe we could have held our gains. Machine gun fire was extremely fierce right on top of the ridge. I had some difficulty in getting to where the 43rd was. Company P.C. was located in an excavation previously made for a large gun, though the gun had never been put in place. It was unsafe to stand upright, as quite often some machine gunner turned the muzzle of his machine and raked the top of our "big hole". However as long as they did not come over the top down on us, we were reasonably safe.
Anything to eat, other than emergency rations was out of the question. However I was not to go hungry, as I had brought two cans of milk with me from Courtesols. A can of milk and some hard tack was a dish the others envied. Having lost out on the breakfast that morning, and nothing at noon, milk and hard tack was something not to be rejected with contempt. It help fill a vacant place.
The fire became less and less as the night passed. About three o'clock In the morning we moved from our position out into the open. Firing had almost ceased by this time, A deserter came over to our company and was immediately taken in charge. We laid out in the open for about an hour and a half, finally, just before day light, took up a position along a road right on the crest of the ridge. Here we formed attacking waves and waited for good daylight. The Germans located us, and began to drop shells along the road, killing and wounding several.
With absolutely no artillery support, we were off when it got light enough to see. We could see where the Germans had hastily dug in during the night. They had dug only very shallow holes. Several field pieces were captured at the very beginning. We crossed a narrow gauged railroad track, and saw several dugouts. We met strong resistance, mostly machine gun fire. We still had no artillery support. Enemy planes hovered close over head and kept their guns turned down on us nearly all morning. Our own planes were not so numerous during the early morning, though they showed up in great numbers later on.
We soon detected that were being fired on from almost the rear on our left, indication that no advance had been made by whoever was on our left flank. There became about as much danger of being shot from the rear as front the front. We were pursuing a course almost parallel with a main highway, and as a consequence were under direct observation. As we cleared the crest of a rise, the machine gun and artillery fire became so fierce we were unable to continue our advance. The October sun was warm and as we would rest a few minutes now and then, I would lie flat on the ground and almost fall asleep due to being sleepy and from the effect of the sun's rays, even though machine gun bullets clipped the ground here and there all around me. Finding we could not safely advance beyond the crest of the hill, we fell back a ways and dug in. Artillery fire was point blank.
Then my work began. All morning I had not seen a single one of the other stretcher bearers. I had been carrying a stretcher alone, and had not yet used it.
While the others were digging in, I got some other fellows to help me, and commenced to carry wounded back along the highway. Ambulances came up within a half mile of where the battalion dug in. The road, being under direct observation, was subject to heavy shelling. There were so many wounded that we were not able to evacuate near all of them. There were calls everywhere for stretcher bearers. Some were only slightly wounded, while others were pretty badly shot up. Some bore their pain in grim silence, while others, even though only slightly wounded, acted as though they were nearly killed. One fellow, who seemed to be pretty badly wounded, said: "Never mind the pain, boys, go right on". This was in contrast to those who begged to be carried easier, when we were carrying them as easy as was possible under the circumstances. Continued to carry wounded till darkness called a halt to our work. When night came, I, for one, was pretty tired. One of the ambulances received a direct hit, during the afternoon, and was burned up. Never learned if the driver was killed or not.
An ammunition dump blew up close to one of our sergeants during the afternoon. He became very near shell shocked.
During the night we were not shelled very much, though a few large shells fell near us on our left. We could hear them coming several seconds before they landed, and when they did hit, the earth fairly trembled. A counter attack was reported on our exposed left flank just at dark, but it was repulsed by battalion headquarters and medical men.
The next day, October 5th, the French connected up with our left, and we were not bothered any more from that direction. I continued to carry wounded the second day were in this position. One fellow who had an artery severed in his leg by a piece of shrapnel, I bandaged with a tourniquet just above the wound, and rushed him back to the dressing station. Saw that he had immediate attention, as the tourniquet had to be loosened quite often. Another fellow had his whole heel shot off. Another had his head severed from his body as clean as if had been done with a knife.
During the afternoon of the 5th, the Sixth Regiment leap-frogged us and took up the attack. Also our artillery began to give us support early on the 5th. From then on we had plenty of artillery support. Our dressing station was moved up closer, but received a direct hit, killing and wounding again several in the station at the time. The enemy kept up a lively fire just over our heads. Machine gun bullets and "whiz bangs" just cleared our parapets. It was a "close shave" sometimes.
Rations came up to us during the night of the 6th. I helped carry them to the company, and was surprised to note that we got some canned pork and beans. This item was up to this time a "scarce article" with us. I celebrated by keeping two cans for myself and a "buddy". Coffee was sent up in a water cart, and were told to carry our canteens back and fill them. Gathering up about eight canteens, I went back to where the water carts were, one for each company, and filled them with cold coffee, for it was cold by the time it reached us. Just as I started back, a battery of our heavy guns began dropping shells within our lines. The first round fell about a hundred yards in rear of me. I could hear the guns when they were fired and could also hear the shells before they hit. Doing some double-time, I could tell by the sound of the second round that the shells were coming closer. A few seconds before they hit, I fell flat on the ground, and, as soon as the air was clear of flying shell fragments, did some more double-time, only this time faster. In spite of my speed the shells kept hitting closer each time. By this time signal rockets were being sent up, indicating to the battery that the range was short. Just as I thought the next ones would get me, the battery ceased firing. If they had not ceased firing when they did, there would have been one less Marine that night. The next day I saw where shells had hit, and torn up the earth. After a while the battery started firing again, but the range was still short. They soon got It adjusted and the shells fell on the Germans instead of us. I didn't go after any more coffee that night.
During the morning and afternoon of October 6th, I lay in our positions, and watched everything going on, as if there was no war. It was interesting to watch our planes in the air, for they were numerous by this time. Squadron after squadron of bombing planes came over, and after dropping their "load" on the Germans, flew back. Each Squadron would be accompanied by several fighting planes. Sometimes the German planes would drop out of the clouds above and there would be a battle royal in the air. One time a German plane flew pretty low right over us. Again, a large French plane came up to the front alone, just before dark. Several German planes dropped from above and attacked it. The big plane spiraled towards the earth, and when near the ground, leveled out back towards the rear, but before it was lost to view, I saw that it was on fire. Do not know if it was able to land before burning up or not.