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David L. Hardee's Fifteen Days in the Meuse-Argonne, Part 3

Author: 
1st Lt. David L. Hardee
retyped and edited by Dr. Frank Blazich, Jr.

Editorial note: Dr. Frank Blazich Jr. has worked for years on preserving, research, and writing about the life and military service of American and North Carolina hero Col. David L. Hardee. Hardee is best remembered as a survivor of the infamous Bataan Death March in the Philippines in World War II, chronicled in a memoir by Hardee that was edited and published by Dr. Blazich as Bataan Survivor: A POW’s Account of Japanese Captivity in World War II.

 

Before he served in WWII, Hardee served in World War I. He was a 2nd Lieutenant serving in the 3rd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, U.S. Army. During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive from the end of September-November 1918 in France, Hardee would earn his first Silver Star for gallantry, and later promoted to 1st Lieutenant. Hardee would later after WWI type history of his service in the Meuse-Argonne entitled "Fifteen Days in the Meuse-Argonne: Extracts from Letters to the Home Folks," which has never been published. The piece documents the role of the 3rd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, U.S. Army, in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. As part of a four-part blog post series commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and North Carolinians' roles in it, we are going to publish a transcribed and edited copy of this history for the first time ever, completed by Dr. Blazich, along with his brief biography of Col. Hardee.

 

Dr. Blazich found this WWI account of Hardee's fighting in the Meuse-Argonne while working with Hardee's late daughter researching about his life. The Hardee family then donated it on her behalf to the State Archives of North Carolina. To learn more about David Hardee's life and military career, check out the first blog post of this four part series.

 

You can read the third part of this blog series on Hardee's Meuse-Argonne Offensive service as "David L. Hardee's Fifteen Days in the Meuse-Argonne, Part 3," through this link for the last of Hardee's 10-page reminiscence of the offensive in October 1918.

 

Fifteen Days in the Meuse-Argonne: Extracts from Letters to the Home Folks (Pages 9-10)

 

The next morning the official communiqués gave us credit for seizing the hill heights east of Sedan. We had gotten four or five kilos behind where we were relieved, slept in the mud by the roadside and by ten o’clock made a couple more kilos and where at our kitchen again where the colonel approached the battalion staff.”

           

“How many losses yesterday? That was noble work, couldn’t be better,” he said.

 

Three more kilometers measured our hike for the day, where we fell out for one night’s sleep near Le Besace, where we were held in reserve. Then another night found us on the grounds of the Chateau de Belvil, to wait and see what developed and to spend the Saturday and Sunday in policing up. Rumors began to come about the German courier who had left allied headquarters for Spa, and talk that it was about time for his return. As near as we were on the eve of the Armistice there were few rumors because we had been cut off from the news of the world for nearly a couple of weeks, and what little reached us came more as hearsay from what had come over radio to division or army headquarters. Everyone felt that we were on the edge of something big, we didn’t know what, whether it was peace or whether it was war and more war. We were held in reserve to force our way across the Meuse and follow the fleeing Hun into his own backyard, and there was an uncertainty as to whether or not we were traveling towards another training and rest area. Everyone just lived the hours as they came and thought or cared little of what the future would bring.

Another batch of officers reached us here with stories of how they had trailed after the division for almost endless days and nights, and this two days stop had enabled them to catch up. Some of them were veterans of other fights and were returning from the hospitals, others were from replacement divisions just from the States.

           

Ten o’clock Monday morning found the middle of the column struggling up a long muddle hill, the “Mule Skinners” urging their teams and the men giving them a push. The head of the column was resting on a fork road waiting for another unit of the division to pass. As the column passed a lieutenant came down the line shouting frantically to his men that the war was over and the Armistice would go into effect at eleven A.M. The adjutant turned to the Colonel.

          

“It may be all stuff,” the Colonel said, “there are so many rumors afloat we had better keep quiet for a while.” It did seem like all stuff for the column trudged on in the mud, the big guns kept booming and booming.

           

Thirty minutes later the Colonel came back to the head of the leading battalion. “That was the right dope look here,” and he produced a small slip as evidence.  It read:

           

“Effective Nov. 11 at 11 A.M. hostilities on all fronts will cease. After this time the allied line will hold fast and not make advances.” (Signed) Foch

           

The adjutant went back through the battalion and announced it to each platoon as it passed and passed the message on back to the next in line. There was not a movement in the hard poker faces of the men as the announcement was made. There were no shouts of joy, no outbursts of enthusiasm, but occasionally someone would say that it was the same old stuff, and then there would be an argument as to whether or not they were being kidded. When the message reached the battalion in rear they were halted, which gave time for a confidence winning word before the announcement was read, and it was followed by an outburst of joy.

           

As the adjutant rode back up the column, of those weary muddy war worn veterans, a miracle seemed to have wrought itself on the faces of the command. The old hard war face was gone, and in its place some of the men smiled in spite of the hardships of the march, others seemed to move with light step, and all seemed to realize again that they were real human beings, and all they had to do to get out of the war was to live and keep on hiking and hiking.

           

Eleven o’clock came and just as the big guns stopped the horse the colonel was riding and had been a regimental pet for some time, suddenly dropped dead.  Then even the doubting Thomases believed something was happening out of the usual. Night found us on the big hill opposite Bantheville, a little village that had been reduced to where nothing but the road crossing and a few piles of stones were left. The men had had a few hours rest as the hike that day has been short. Chow was up too and everyone had a couple of good meals. Someone lit a fire, another and another fire was kindled. Then someone in a jesting manner in a deep heavy voice would command:

           

“Put that light out, before I shoot it out,” and someone would reply “Don’t let it worry you there ain’t no more Boche planes overhead to rain down on us.” The dirty rascals, and some more talk about them.

           

Things were all changed. How strange it seemed to see a thousand fires on the hills, without the feeling that hell was going to break loose any minute. Some man in one of the companies had camouflaged a grenade in his pocket, struck it while cutting wood, and was laid to rest. There was a great wave of sympathy for the poor fellow who had endured the hardships and been killed on the day it was beginning to be over.

           

Another short day’s hike on the other side of Bantheville and the men began to feel like celebrating. Camp fires were lit at dark, and some men had found a Boche ammunition dump in which there were Beacoup flares. The horizon was lit up with them for hours with all the varieties and colors of the rainbow in the sky at once. Then news came that we were to prepare to march on the Coblentz Bridgehead in a couple of days. The details getting ready to police up some battlefield areas were called in, and things set on foot for the next big move.  Soon the outfit was on its way swinging down the road with a steady step and a long smile, ready and willing to be part of the Army of Occupation, and curious to see the land of “squareheadism” of which every doughboy had heard so much.

 

Resources

 

David L. Hardee Papers, Miscellaneous Military Papers, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, N.C.