MacArthur's reminiscences

Step by step we fought forward : La Croix Rouge Ferme, Beuvardes, Forest de Fere, Villers-sur Fere. Kilometer after kilometer we watered with our blood, a thousand men a day, until at last we reached the south bank of the Ourcq River. Across the river on the north bank was the enemy's main line of resistance. We forced a passage just before dawn on July 28 and took Meurcy Ferme in hand-to-hand fight. We stormed the village of Sergy, at the other end of the line, at the point of the bayonet but were thrown out almost immediately. Eleven times this position changed hands before we finally held its smoking ruins.

But the center at Seringes et Nesles still held. I formed our infantry on the south bank of the stream and rushed for it. Their artillery was concentrated; their machine guns east and west of the town raked us fare and aft; but nothing could stop the impetus of that mad charge. We forded the river; we ascended the slopes; we killed the garrison in the town to a man. At dusk on July 29 we were in sole possession. The division commander cited many men that day and I was among them - my third Silver Star.

Shortly after midnight, while reconnoitering in front of our outposts, I thought I heard unusual sounds from the German lines - explosions, the rumbling of many vehicles on the move. I became certain the enemy was withdrawing. I determined to move in on him at once. There was no time to consult headquarters. I had to rely upon my own judgment and assume all responsibility.

It was 3:30 in the morning when I started from our right at Sergy, moving with runners from each outpost to the next, by way of what had been no man's land.

Never will I forget that trip. The dead were so thick in spots we tumbled over them. There must have been at least 2,000 of those sprawled bodies. I identified the insignia of six German divisions, some of their best. The stench was carnal to the point of suffocation. The moans and cries of wounded men sounded everywhere. I could but think how wrong I had been one bright day at West Texas Military Academy when I had so glibly criticized Dante's description of Hell as too extreme.

A flare suddenly lit up the scene for a fraction of a minute and we hit the dirt hard. There just ahead of us stood three Germans - a lieutenant pointing with outstretched arm, a sergeant crouched over a machine gun, a corporal feeding a bandoleer of cartridges to the weapon. I held my breath waiting for the burst. But there was nothing. My guide shifted his poised grenade to the other hand and reached for his flashlight.

The Germans had not moved. They were never to move. They were dead, all dead - the lieutenant with shrapnel through his heart, the sergeant with its belly blown into his back, the corporal with his spine where his head should have been. We left them there, just as they were, gallant men dead in the service of their country.

I completed my reconnaissance and reached our flank regiment just before dawn. There I found its distinguished colonel, Frank McCoy, and its gallant chaplain, Father Duffy, just returned from burying the poet Sergeant Joyce Kilmer beside the stump of one of those trees he had immortalized.

I went at once to division headquarters. I was so exhausted I had to be helped to a stool. The corps commander, that fine old soldier, Major General Hunter Liggett, was there with General Menoher. I explained what I had done.

I had not slept for four days and nights and was so drowsy everything was beginning to black out. I heard General Liggett saying something about the artillery not attempting to cross the Ourcq River until the infantry had moved sufficiently forward. But I fell sound asleep. They told me afterward that General Liggett just looked down at me and said, "Well, I'll be damned ! Menoher, you better cite him." So I had my fourth Silver Star.

At this time I was assigned to the command of the 84th Infantry Brigade of the Rainbow. I left the division staff with a deep feeling of admiration and affection for it. The staff, nearly broke my heart when they presented me with a gold cigarette box with the inscription, "The bravest of the brave"

In the sanguinary Ourcq battles the division had lost nearly half of its effective combat personnel. When we arrived at a rest area we received thousands of replacements. All during August we built up depleted stores, physical and spiritual, and were in reasonably good condition when we received orders to move to the St. Mihiel front, southeast of Verdun.

The untold story of D. MacArthur by Frazier Hunt

It was time for Generalissime Foch to strike back. The fifth and last great German attack of the spring and summer of 1918 had failed, and the power of decision was now for the first time in almost four years in the hands of the Allies.

On the west side of the deep Marne bulge near the important railhead of Soissons, the 1st and 2nd American Divisions were hurriedly larded between French outfits, and on July 18 a desperate Allied offensive opened. It was never to cease until the signing of the Armistice on November 11

Two days after the offensive began, the 42nd was withdrawn from the Champagne defensive front and ordered to the Marne to fight under General Degoutte of the French Sixth Army. In the black, murky night Of July 25-26, the infantry regiments of the two brigades began to unload from buses and other carriers with orders to relieve at dawn the units of the exhausted 26th New Englanders. For almost a week the men of the U. S. 26th and the 3rd Divisions with a brigade of the 28th had driven the stubborn enemy from the north bank of the Marne toward the high hills across the tiny Ourcq river. To add to the general confusion and uncertainty, General Menoher, MacArthur's division commander, now received orders that the Germans, who were now pulling out, must be pursued and kept off-base at all cost. It was a frightening and bewildering front, and part of that first morning's fighting was with the bayonet alone under orders that no shots be fired. But the real surprise was the other way around; Rainbow men going forward through the mists suddenly heard the death song of German bullets from hidden machine guns ahead of them and on both flanks.

MacArthur walked the deadly woods and studied the fields of slaughter. He realized the terrible mistake : the Germans were no longer rapidly retreating with only a small rear guard left to cover their withdrawal. Instead, substantial Boche forces had settled down here on these slopes and in these bits of protecting woods, and behind stout stone walls and farm buildings they had planted their heavy machine guns and mortars in a determined defense. No American advances were possible unless made over cleared fields swept by enemy fire. Yet there were orders from higher up that demanded that they cross the river and take the slopes beyond, regardless of the complete lack of artillery preparation to silence the German positions.

No words can describe the terror and death that lay in wait along these poppy-covered hillsides and in the woods and wall-enclosed farms of the green countryside. Doughboys from New York and Ohio, from Iowa and Alabama and special units from a dozen other states stalked the spitting machine-gun nests, only to be cut to shreds by deadly streams spurted at them from some unsuspected direction.

Finally they learned how to crawl forward in twos and threes, Indian fashion, and when some unconquerable little group had reached a nest of stubborn enemy guns, they would throw their hand grenades and then spring on the enemy. It was not strange that few prisoners were taken.

The succeeding five days and nights were full of anguish for MacArthur. He had nothing to do but follow the orders sent down from Corps and Army. Sergy, Meurcy Farm, Nesles, Forêt de Fère, Hill 212 - these were names and memories that would forever live in his mind. He vowed that he would never be guilty of ordering a brutal frontal attack without full reconnaissance, sure information and adequate bombardment preparation.

It seemed the end would never come. Stubbornly held points would be taken, and then came deadly enemy fire and counterattacks. The same stone farms and bits of woods change hands a half-dozen times. There was neither rest nor hope.

Shortly after midnight on August 1 Captain Wolf, inspecting the battalion and company posts of command, noted unusual activity out front in the German lines. He reported back to MacArthur's command post. Then runners whom Wolf had left behind came in with the word that there was a sudden end to all Boche activity.

MacArthur needed no more proof. He was certain now that the Germans were withdrawing. At 3:30 that morning he walked along the entire division front, calling at each battalion C.P.. He ordered the various units to move ahead immediately. They must dog the steps of the retreating Germans.

There was no time to seek the approval of his own division commander or of the corps headquarters. MacArthur alone must assume the grave responsibility for ordering the dawn advance. If he was wrong, he might have to pay for his brash courage with his military career. But he knew he could not be wrong.

That day the 4th Division of Regulars passed through the battered 42nd to harass the enemy retreating to the high southern slopes of the Vesle. The Rainbow was to be denied the privilege of hot pursuit, but MacArthur, who had always insisted that combat engineers could serve as first-class infantrymen, saw to it that the Rainbow's 117th Engineers took part in at least the first half of the great follow-up.

The weary Rainbow now buried its dead and carried off its wounded. Quietly it slipped back into the warm, sunny valley of the Marne.

Here the men bathed in the pleasant stream and reveled in clean, fresh clothing and new equipment and in a great influx of replacements. For the Rainbow had paid a frightful cost for the few kilometers it had gained on the Ourcq and for the glory it had won. In the five days it had suffered casualties in killed and wounded of 5,529, mostly in its four regiments of infantry.

MacArthur, lonely in his heartache and distressed by the mistake that had been made by the high command, now wore a single star on each shoulder. Shortly after the division had left the Lorraine front, word had come to him that he had been nominated as a brigadier general. Later came the devastating news that he was to be sent home to command and train a brigade of the newly organized 11th Regular Division to be formed at Camp Meade, Maryland.

The Rainbow's commander, Major General Menoher, registered his violent protest. Captain Wolf hurried to Chaumont with the plea that MacArthur could not be spared at the very moment when the division was about to bear a goodly part in the coming Champagne offensive. Nevertheless, there were repeated orders for him to leave his beloved outfit. Finally, however, be was permitted to stay on.

The killing and the sleepless rigor of hard battle on the Ourcq had been a little too much for the fatherly Brigadier General Brown of the 84th Infantry Brigade. It called for the stamina and endurance of a younger man. MacArthur would now take over the two regiments of the 84th Brigade, the stout men from Alabama and Iowa. Rebel and Yank, they fought joyously among themselves, but when they faced the enemy, they battled side by side almost as a single unit.

No longer would MacArthur have to worry over the countless details of supply, equipment, transport, training and battle plans for a great square division. He would now have for his own two magnificent regiments with their supporting troops and machine-gun battalions - and always he would insist on a full brigade of artillery to support his attacks.

He could now break with his telephone and his division headquarters. He could fight his brigade on his own feet, try out his own theories of command and leadership. He was 38 and ready for the test.





Front on November 11th 1918, and the 42nd Division