Harold Herman in WWI

Harold Herman

Corporal, US Army 32nd Division 126th Infantry

Excerpts from unpublished, “Chronological Events in the life of Louis T. Herman”

By Harold’s father, Louis T Herman~1933

In honor of all of those who have served and their families

Note: Original spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure has been retained. All underlines are from the original.

Within ten days after war was declared against Germany, Harold came into the office one day and said; “Dad, I enlisted in the National Guards. I’m a soldier.” I replied, “I’m proud of you, the finest thing you ever did.”  That summer he went to Grayling to drill. I visited him there one Sunday. From there his company went to Waco, Texas, for training.

In the Winter of 1918, while Harold was at Waco, he wrote us regularly every week. Then for three weeks we heard nothing except a receipt of a box of stuff he had shipped, so I figured they had sailed for France. Getting up one morning I glanced at the Herald and in big headlines I saw; “Lusitania Sunk, Michigan, Wisconsin Troops on Board.” Just then the telephone rang and the voice said; “Telegram” What a suspense until she read; “Just got out of quarantine, can you come to Camp Merritt, N.J. Sunday.”

Doris (1) and I made the trip to N. J. where we met Harold, went out to camp and met the boys I knew. Shortly after they sailed for France.

Talk about premonition: Harold declared he was coming back. Arthur DeVries (2) said: “I’m never coming back.” He was blown all to pieces July 2ndon their second day’s drive beyond Chatteau Thierry.

When the Marines went into action at Chatteau Thierry, Donald W. (3) couldn’t be held any longer. He enlisted with the “Detroit Devil Dogs” and went to Paris Island for training, passed his examinations, won a marksman’s badge. Arrived at Quantico, Va., ready to sail, when Armistice was signed.

When I wrote Harold in France that Don had enlisted, he replied: “I’m so proud of the kid. I was afraid he would wait for the draft and you know Did, (sic) we don’t want any draft birds in our family.” Of course, he never gave a thought that I, being 44, had to register under the draft.

Harold’s war record shows that after training in France, his company (he was a Corporal) went into battle at Chatteau Thierry and for 8 days drove the Germans as far as the River Theme. They then rested ten days and went into action north of Soissens. Then rested. Then in the Argonne drive. Harold received a flesh wound in the leg on October 14, 1918. Went to the hospital where the shrapnel was removed. He was in that hospital when the Armistice was signed. He came home as a casual (sic) in February, 1919 and was honorably discharged at Camp Custer. His papers are on file in Court House, G.R. So are Don’s who also received an honorable discharge.

Harold having died and was buried at Holy Corners, January 19, 1933, I desire to preserve here some war incidents related to us on just one occasion shortly after his return. He consenting (sic) to give us the following facts on our promise to never ask him again. From that recital I recall the following:

When first in France Harold was runner for Major Stewart. Later he became runner for Colonel Westridge (sic) (4).

An amusing thing happened when they were marching up to the lines the first time. They weren’t even up to the big guns. They were marching four a breast at night. A command was given to load guns. Some were so nervous their guns went off, others yelled, “hold your guns up in the air.” Suddenly some one said, “The Germans are coming” to the rear and he said we all started back. Then the command was given “to halt”. Then another command “Shoot the first person who retreats.” That settles it, Harold said, he could understand the retreat at the Battle of Bull Run in the Civil War. Also had the boys thought about it for a minute they would have known that the officers would have thrown them out in skirmish formation and not have them slaughtered four a breast.

The above was their first real scare. Harold related that the onetime he was most frightened there was no danger at all, but he did not know it at that time. A part of one company had got lost and he was a runner and was to go to a patch of woods to see if they were there. The day previous German machine gun nest were in that woods and he didn’t know if they were still there. To get to that woods he had to cross an open field expecting every minute that machine guns would open on him. He could stand the big shells, the rifle shots, but the rat to tat of the Machine guns unnerved him.

Their first step on their way to the front lines was just before daylight. They rested and when daylight came here and there lay dead horses and Germans dead and bloated. On carrying a message to the laisson (sic) next to his Company, he came across a man seemingly sitting against a tree, with his head completely off and nowhere to be seen.

He had already lost his pal Compton (5). He said, if he ever went to war again it would be as an officer and with strangers. It was too much to see your high school friends drop to the right and to the left of you. Often you couldn’t even stop to help them.

In the infantry it was a case of shooting you in time after time and each time you said to yourself, what’s the verdict, wounded or death?

During his first eight days of battle driving the Germans to the River Fiemes (6), he had only three warm meals and two of those stole as he was runner from Major Stewart to the Captains of the Companies. On one of these trips a big shell came over, he dropped against one curb of the road and Henry Brewer the other. The shell tore a big hole in the center of the road, but outside of trembling from head to foot he was not hurt. After Harold’s return to show how nervous he was, I recall two incidents: A sky rocket unexpectedly brought him forward flat. Another time near Lansing a big Cadillac whisked by unexpectedly at great speed. Harold was on the floor of the car. Both these reminded him of the big shells of the war. Harold was used to guns owning a double barrle (sic) shot-gun when he was 12.

On a beautiful morning ten days after their first battle Harold’s company tried to take German nests who were intrenched (sic) behind a railroad north of Soisson’s. The Germans had machine guns and the first boys fell dead. The followers got wise and when near a certain spot would stand up and run. If they were hit, they got it in the legs. After some 18 hours they were relieved. At roll call the next morning but 45 able bodied men answered the roll, Harold among them.

They then received replacements, mostly from Oklahoma and Texas. Their next drive was in the Argonne. Harold now was transferred to headquarters Company, runner for Col. Joe Westridge of Kalamazoo, who died in France after the war. Harold said Col. Joe often shaved with Harold’s razor and to show what a soldier Col. Joe was, Harold related that the first time they were under shell fire and everyone was frantically digging in including all of the other officers, Col. Joe was standing facing the enemy as much as to say, “I dare you hit me.”

The shelling was terrific and you were helpless. It was nerve racking and when a call was made for a runner, Harold jumped up and carried the messages—sooner be on the go than merely lying there.

The day before their advance in the Argonne, Harold was selected to pick the route to lead the Company the following night. It was of course dark and the route was hard to follow, but they arrived at the place about 2 A.M. Col. Joe and the officers went into the dugout. Harold and the rest of the runners were so tired they all flopped against a bank facing the Germans with another bank just behind them. As was Harold’s custom, he slept with face part down. About 5 A.M. a German shell came over, hit the bank behind them then exploded and the pieces scattered taking all runners. Harold said it felt as though someone hit him with a plank. He arose and noticed the others’ wounds. Just then some one noticed a hole in his pants. He thrust his hand in there and found it all blood. He went back with others to the First Aid Station. All this time shells were coming over and at each explosion was shooting pain through his leg. After receiving first aid, he hopped on the rear of a truck load of wounded, put his overcoat under his legs, rode all that day with his legs dangling from the rear end of that truck. By night they came to a hospital, but as it was filled they all boarded a train and rode all that night and next day and finally arrived at a hospital that evening. When he tried to get off that train his leg was stiff and they had to carry him off. When he got to the hospital they examined him. After which they made a cross and he new (sic) it meant an operation. There were so many wounded worse than he was that he new (sic) it would be some time before he would be operated on so he called for soup, not having eaten for about 48 hours. The nurse said you will be sick after taking ether. He said bring me two bowls of soup. She did. It was exactly 48 hours after being wounded before he was operated on by an excellent surgeon from John Hopkins University. A piece of schrapnel (sic) taken from Harold’s leg, he preserved is about 1/8 in. jagged and weighs about the same as a silver dollar. Had that schrapnel (sic) gone ½ in. further, Harold was informed he likely would have bled to death.

The wound was kept open for 8 days, dressed each day and not a particle of infection set in.

He sent us a post-card saying he was wounded, nothing serious, only a flesh wound. We received the post-card long before the wire from the war department informing us of his being wounded.

He was soon transferred from one hospital to another. While we were writing him regularly, he never received one word from us from Oct. 14, 1918, until he landed in N. Y. in the spring of 1919. Later all his letters were returned to us from one of the boys of his company, then stationed in Germany as part of the Army of Occupation; saying he was returning the letters as he did not know what became of Harold.

 

Notes:

  1. Doris Angell who married Harold after the war.
  2. Arthur David DeVries (http://www.32nd-division.org/history/ww1/honor_roll_wwi/32ww1_honor_roll(D-Er).html)
  3. Donald Ward Herman, Harold’s younger brother.
  4. Colonel Joseph B. Westnedge. Westnedge Avenue in Kalamazoo is named after him. (http://www.kpl.gov/local-history/biographies/joseph-westnedge.aspx)
  5. John N. Compton (http://www.32nd-division.org/history/ww1/honor_roll_wwi/32ww1_honor_roll(C).html)
  6. Spelling unclear in original—perhaps he meant to the river at the town of Fismes.

 

Harold suffered from what we now call PTSD and died 19 years before I was born. I wish I could have met him.

Prepared by J. S. Kline, one of Harold’s Grandchildren.

Photographer unknown

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