We reached the edge of the forest shortly before noon, and before us was open country, a wheat field laying adjacent to the woods. There were several farm houses near, but which were now practically nothing but ruins. One was being used as a dressing station, for wounded, which were plentiful at this time. Some were badly wounded, others not so badly. There were also a good number of dead lying around. As yet the American forces were poorly prepared to take care of the dead and wounded on the field. It was sometimes necessary for the wounded to remain uncared for longer than they should.
We made inquiry of a Major, and he directed us in a certain direction. In crossing the wheat field, we saw several dead Germans. There were several machine gun positions where they had made an effort to stem the advance of the Marines. We saw several captured field pieces with great piles of empty shells lying nearby. We satisfied our curiosity by examining them.
We ran across Corporal Herran, who was my corporal. He had gotten separated early the first morning of the attack. From him, we learned that Capt. Murray, our C.O., and our platoon sergeant had both been wounded. We came to an aviation field, containing several hangars. It had belonged to the French, but had been captured by the Germans in their drive towards Paris.
There was a good many German planes overhead, and they would turn their machine guns towards us on the ground quite often. Another officer directed us in a different direction from that given by the Major, so we were at a loss as to what to do. We spent some time looking around the hangars, and watching a battery of 75's firing away. The battery was right out in the open, and was firing as fast as they could load. About a mile away I saw another battery firing. In the distance, could see where the shells hit, throwing up a cloud of smoke and earth, yet not a soul could be seen where the shells were falling. No longer were masses of troops used in battle, for a few machine guns with well-directed fire would make short work of mass formations. We discussed the probability of our being able to find our outfit before they were relieved. Some were for going on, others for waiting until the units were relieved. The latter seemed the wisest course to pursue, as it was more or less dangerous to ramble around as we were doing.
The matter of getting something to eat was a pressing question just at this time. It had now been nearly seventy-two hours since I had had a prepared meal, and water was scarce also. Two other fellows from my platoon saw some kitchens some distance away, and we made our way to them, hoping that they might be ours, but they were not. We secured some coffee, but that was all we could get. It sure did help.
Leaving there, we started back through the woods in the general direction or our salvage dump. We realized that it was rather dangerous business, roving around through the woods without a definite mission. There was the chance of being suspected as a spy or a deserter. Really, I felt much like the latter. Running across some French Moroccans, who were cooking a meal, we told them we were Marines, and wanted to get something to eat. They had eaten most of what they had prepared, but gladly gave us such as they had.
It was about mid-afternoon, and we continued on back through the woods. This gave us a good opportunity to see something of the positions of the front lines on the morning of the attack. Words cannot accurately describe what we saw as we passed through the scene of the first fighting. Trees were utterly torn to splinters, by shells, shrapnel and machine gun fire. The dead still remained where they had fallen. In one trench would be a German machine gun, with great piles of empty cartridges beside the gun, and the operator also lying beside the gun, never more to feed the cartridge belt into the gun. One trench contained two Germans who had been killed with a hand grenade. The Germans had had plenty of machine guns, and from the empty cartridges, it seemed that they had used them, too. Only two of our boys did we see dead, but did not know either of them.
We ran into a field kitchen belonging to the 12th Field Artillery, where we were extended a warm welcome and given all we could eat which was a plenty. They had beans, and we ate enough to sow an acre. We felt much better after we had eaten all we could hold.
Sold one of my German guns for seventy-five francs and the other for fifty, making one hundred and twenty-five francs for the two. This was the first money I had had since leaving Brest, excepting a nickel which I was keeping for a souvenir.
We arrived at our salvage pile just a little while before dark. Some supplies had been left near, and we found some beef, from which we proceeded to fry some steak, without any salt. Water was scarce. What I had in my canteen had been taken from a shell hole. It was considered dangerous to drink water from a shell hole, but I had taken a chance. A person will drink most anything when thirsty. We pitched out pup tents and spent the night.
The next day, which was the 20th, was spent near the salvage dump, as it had been decided upon as being the best place to wait for our outfit. I caught a truck and rode quite a ways up the road, but could find out nothing, so came back. In the afternoon, part of the Ninth Infantry came along so we felt pretty sure that the Fifth would be relieved right away.
On the morning of the 21st, we got word that the whole Second division had now been relieved. We caught some trucks going towards the front, and just before we reached the edge of the forest, located the 43rd. In a few minutes we were back into the fold again, and to our great joy found our kitchen in the midst of feeding a hot meal of beans, bread, and coffee. I had to name our C.O. and platoon sergeant before they would feed me. I was not recognized, being so new in the company. Believe me those beans were just the thing to fill up the hollow place in my stomach, which was fast becoming annoying.