Real Ghosts: this is the story of tracing the footsteps of an American uncle/soldier killed in World War 1, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of Sept-Nov 1918.
I’m tempted to call my recent visit to northeast France ‘a trip to bountiful’ because, like the 1985 movie, the journey involves gripping memories that hold close to me, a long ago death in a time long past.
Nearly a century ago, yes, but a time that was so traumatic and so well documented as to be unforgettable for descendants of the slaughtered soldiers who dropped in the mud in a hail of bullets and artillery shells. Reading and seeing images about that war in all its agony, distorted patriotism and tactical leadership blunders evokes a deep sense of pity and sadness at the loss of more than 26,000 American lives (and many more French, British and Germans). (photo left: memorial in Dun-sur-Meuse)
My connection to that holocaust is through my great uncle Private John Ammon of Newark, NJ (photo right) who was killed on October 16, 1918 when an artillery shell fired from behind the German front line exploded near enough to instantly kill him and the man next to him Private John Harper of Toledo, Ohio. John was 30 years old and the armistice that ended the war was signed three weeks later. In August 2010 I went to France to find the place where he fell.
Exploring the Meuse River and the Argonne Forest Region
My first night the Argonne (Champagne-Ardenne) region of France was in tiny Aubreville, one of many Argonne Forest–Meuse River district villages that dot the rolling hills here. The most noticeable sound is quietness. No guns, artillery, grenades or machine guns or cries for help. The buildings have been put back together, the cows let out to pasture, the hay rolled into round bales, the roads repaved, schools open and the mail is delivered every day (photo left). In this echo of silence it is hard to imagine the sounds of World War 1 nearly a hundred years ago and the harrowing and violent conditions that civilians and soldiers were forced to endure.
And given so much time ago it’s easy to forget or feel indifferent toward the huge effort to turn back the Germanic invasion from the east. It may have seemed like the second coming of Kublai Khan and his Mongol armies ravaging the land and people as they searched and destroyed whatever lay in their path. (What did farmers do with the animals and crops as the fighting swirled around them in the forests, pastures and local roads?) Poignant reminders are common here. The past is present in village greens with war memorial statues, along the winding roads with signs to historic battle places, in local cemeteries with 1914-18 graves and numerous grand sites and huge monuments of remembrance.
I did not take a pre-planed route through this area. From Aubreville I went to Varennes for some photos and a pastry at the Blue Boulangerie. Then to Charpentry, Apremont, Chatel-Chehery, Cornay, Fleville, Montagne-sous-Monfaucon, Sommerance, St George, St Juvin, Grandpre and Vouziers–all fatally located on the battlefields of the huge French-American Meuse-Argonne Offensive of September-November 1918 against the Germans. (see photo gallery)
Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery
The next day I drove to the sprawling Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon village (photo below right). All was quiet here as well, an almost a palpable silence, dense with collective memories for the 14,246 troops buried here. Uncle John was buried at least four times. First near the front where he was killed, then moved (as soon as it was safe) to the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery. The third and forth were relocations in the same cemetery as it was redesigned twice before the final current layout.
Finally his remains were shipped home in 1921 at his brother Francis’ (my grandfather) and his sister Mame’s request to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery in D.C. This final funeral was on October 6, 1921 with full military honors. It took that long to deal with the paperwork, shipping arrangements and the great number of coffins–over 12,000. We don’t know if Francis or Mame attended the funeral; it was not likely due to the distance and expense at that time.
At the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery administration office I met supervisor Joseph Rivers who had many stories to tell about the war, the cemetery and General John Pershing, the American commander. He said General Pershing’s apartment is still upstairs in the building which overlooks the entire cemetery. After the war Pershing was head of the American Battle Monuments Commission for years and returned many times for administrative purposes.
The awesome cemetery seems at first to be surreal, breathless. The stillness of death among the living. It’s immaculately kept. The rows of grave stones are lined up in precise order. Each cross or star is of white marble with a neatly carved name, rank, regiment, division and date of death. There are also 486 unknown soldiers’ graves. On the exterior walls of the chapel loggia on the hill are the names of 954 soldiers whose remains were never recovered or identified. On one of the panels along the wall are the names from the American Expedition to Northern Russia, a remote and nearly forgotten mission during the war.
The overall impression here is serenity, a hallowed and harrowing serenity, the opposite of war. The conditions in which these men lost their lives–in the flames of murderous hell–is very far from the tidy order today that visitors see. (see photo gallery)
In the cemetery I found several grave markers from uncle John’s regiment and division and one with the same death day as John. It was touching and sorrowful, beautiful and morbid. The grass is rye-grass and is kept trimmed, fertilized and bright green.
Around the corner from the Cemetery is the wholly appropriate and daunting ’14-’18 Museum that is filled with real-life artifacts from the war. It is ghostly and personal compared to the Cemetery. See the photo gallery of this remarkable museum.
Surprisingly, or not, in this Meuse-Argonne area there are numerous German military cemeteries (photo left) scattered around the villages, also well kept but modest in scale–including two (that I saw) with Jewish German soldiers’ graves. Almost all these German grave markers designate two graves, side by side with both names on one marker cross. At the French National Cemetery, Ardennes, in the village of Chestres just outside Vouziers city, I saw the unusual placement of both French and German graves in one cemetery, although in separate sections. (see photo gallery)
Another day I drove through more villages in the Argonne region: Beffu, Champigneulle, Le Morthomme, Marq, and again to Grandpre, St Juvin, St George and over to Dun-sur-Meuse for the night.
In Dun-sur-Meuse I stayed at a B&B, Overnight in France, for the rest of my visit. Owned by a Dutch couple with hosts Yoost and Simone offering a room plus home-cooked meals. I went swimming in the nearby chilly but refreshing local Lac Vert (Green Lake) which really is quite green. The lake bed (everything has history here) was dug between the two wars by France using the excavated gravel to built the bunkers that became the Maginot Line–as a defense against more German aggression–an underground series of hundreds of subterranean military bunkers that used the cement equivalence of 10 Hoover Dams. (One observer said the defense would have worked if the Belgians had continued the Line north through their country, but they didn’t and the Germans entered France again 22 years later through Belgium.)
Dun-sur-Meuse means just that. The Meuse River–and two canals–cut through the center of town (photo right) but it’s not too wide at this point, perhaps 30′, and is also green. At the main crossing bridge there is a WWI monument–said to be one of the most artistic war memorials in France–that honors not just the sacrificed French soldiers but also the American Expeditionary Forces 5th Division that liberated Dun by crossing the Meuse, at a great cost of lives, to establish a crucial bridgehead here in late October 1918. On the bridge railings are large bronze plaques that also honor that heroic crossing. (see photo gallery)
Immediately next to the monument is another B&B, Two Wheel Moorings, this one owned by two Brits, Ian and Carol. Ian is a WWI buff and has a modest collection of daunting WW1 memorabilia that he has found or bought including hand grenades, guns, bullets, flares, cannon fuses, and large shell casings (some carved into vases). He gave me a spent American bullet as a token of my interest. (It now sits on my desk looking rather sinister.)
For anyone interested in the war there is too much to include in a week’s time given the museums, sites, cemeteries and individuals who are willing to share their knowledge.
Finding John’s ‘Place du Mort’
The main purpose for this trip was to find the place where uncle John was mortally wounded.
This sad event focuses on the road between two tiny villages, St Juvin and St George (about 30 miles north of Verdun) where the US 42nd, 82nd and 78th Divisions were arrayed along the road during an attack (part of the larger American Offensive) planned for October 15-16, 1918 in an bloody effort to push north against the resistant but weakening German lines. (photo left, road into St Juvin)
John was in Company I, 3rd Battalion, 327th Regiment, 164 Brigade, 82nd Division. The regiment was moved to the front on the night of Oct 15-16. According to the commander Duncan the 82nd Division was worn out, ragged, hungry, dirty, exhausted and low on ammunition. By this time, in mid-October (the Meuse Argonne Offensive started September 26) the number of casualties from poison gas and weapons had brought down the Division’s strength by two-thirds. The Offensive was to be the bloodiest period of fighting ever seen (before or since) by American forces, from September 26 to November 11. (see maps in this photo gallery)
According to history texts there was a lot of jockeying of regiments, battalions and companies on October 14-16 as they were positioned and re-positioned by the commanders to achieve some strategic gain over the Boche (a disparaging nickname for the Germans). The local attack on October 16 was called for 6AM. The fighting was intense and murderous with hundreds of dead and wounded. The weather was was cold and rainy.
There were thousands of men involved in the overall Meuse-Argonne Offensive that stretched across several miles, from St George on the east flank to Grandpre on the left. Amid the carnage there were some advances. One report states two battalions (1st and 2nd of the 327th Regiment) fought their way forward as far as the small St George cemetery, an advance of about a quarter mile. By this action they became the first Americans to break through the powerful and infamous vonHindenburg defense line, also called the Kriemhilde Stellung. (photo right)
But the Germans fought back fiercely, from the north, and the Americans were beaten back by machine guns and powerful artillery cannons situated behind the Stellung. As well, there were miles of barbed wire to cut through, often unsuccessfully as men were poisoned with mustard gas and mowed down by Maxim machine guns (an American invention).
It was a virtual stand-off that day which ended with no real gains or losses for anyone except in lost lives on both sides. Yet over the course of the following week the Americans hammered their way north across the road through the dense wire and armed trenches as the Germans weakened and their will to fight began to dissolve. The armistice was less than 30 days away.
I had studied maps (see photo gallery) and books (see photo gallery) in preparation for this ‘moment’. In the texts of the history of John’s 327th Regiment they describe the day’s actions and . “On the right, the combined 1st and 2nd Battalions, 327th Infantry, attacked on the morning of October 16 and advanced to the cemetery on the St. Georges-St.Juvin road, about 400 meters southwest of St.Georges.” (See 82nd Division, Summary of Operations in World War 1, Part 2, October 16)
I was not sure of the exact location of this cemetery when I first read about it until I bought, in France, a large-scale modern map of the area. And there it was, the cemetery as described, just west-south-west of St Georges immediately on the road to St Juvin, on the north side of the road. And that’s where I went to look around.
Retreat Under Fire
John’s 3rd Battalion was apparently held back in reserve that morning unless needed. In their assault, the 1st and 2nd Battalions got ahead of the other troops in the adjacent 42nd Division, on their right, which was stalled and could not advance.
This left the salient created by the 1st and 2nd Battalions vulnerable to attack from the east side so support units (likely from John’s 3rd Battalion) had to move forward to guard that right flank and maintain contiguous contact with the 42nd. This flank action lasted for several hours, sometimes enemy forces were so close they could throw hand grenades. But eventually the 1st and 2nd were forced by an increasingly heavy fusillade back to their starting point along the road, away from the cemetery.
It would appear John’s company remained south of the road, facing east to protect the flank of the salient. Another text said the right flank support was one kilometer deep (extending along a north-south line) where it was “exposed to strong enfilade fire from the German east, in addition to the continuing resistance from the north.”
The enfilade from the east, from the other side of the entrenched Kriemhilde Stellung and was aimed at the 42nd front line as well as the 327th flank troops and the retreating Battalions 1 and 2. The Stellung trench turned sharply south at St George, so the Germans could shell the Americans from both east and north. The bombardment was terrifying and deafening as the Americans fell back.
Words From Hell
What was the experience of hell like?
Here are the words of one participant, sergeant Major James Block: “Under such fire, and in those surroundings, all the sensationalism, all the heroism is removed. The long fatiguing days and nights of patient suffering; the continual exposure to miserable weather such as is found nowhere else on earth; the horribleness of the whole scene, all tended to deaden one’s faculties. Men moved like we were machines. No man could rest in that cold and mud with gun fire for a lullaby. As one by one (sometimes two or threes at a time) we saw our pals ‘go west” (die), we resigned ourselves to fate, and patiently waited our turn. If the end would only come quickly when it did come. But no, we linger on, passively enduring what seemed certain death. But it was not the fear of death, so much as the fact that we were suffering the tortures of a living death…” (Quoted from: Edward Lengel: To Conquer Hell, p322)
Another combatant wrote later: “I was numb–no feeling left–petrified, and in a state of panic every moment. I had passed the point of being scared. I cringed and dodged each time a close shell would shriek by, but that was natural, almost involuntary reaction. I seemed to have lost all realization of the value of life. My comrades were dying all around me or receiving severe wounds, and they cried for help or cursed the damnable Boche as they were carried off the battlefield. This, too, had to become routine, or you would go mad. The nerves could take the incessant pounding of gunfire, but to become emotional over the loss of a friend, buddy, or comrade would be to lose complete control. You had to become a piece of wood, or you’d never make it.” This writer , Ernest Wrentmore from Ohio, was a thirteen year old boy at the time of this action; he had lied about his age to join the army. (Quoted from: Edward Lengel: To Conquer Hell, p334)
A third soldier, Corporal Donald Kyle was seventeen when he experienced hell. “…the emotions of life or death were sort of blocked out. It seemed to me then as though the dead were luckier than I was. I could see no end to the war, and did not expect to survive it. It did ot seem probable at the time. I was tired physically and mentally. I had seen mercey killings, both of our hopelessly wounded, as those of the enemy. I had seen the murder of prisoners of war, singly and as many as several at one time. I seen men rob the dead of money and valuables, and had seen men cut off the fingers of corpses to get rings. Those things I had seen, but they did not efffect me much. I was too numb. To me, corpses were nothing but carrion. I had the determination to go on performing as I had been trianed to–to be a good soldier.” Quoted from: Edward Lengel: To Conquer Hell, p327)
Two Markers and John’s Death
The texts and map of the battle reveal two ‘markers’ to gauge John’s location during the action of October 16: first, on the north-south boundary line between the 82nd and 42nd Divisions about 2/10 of a mile west of the cemetery (divisions had specific boundaries they stayed within; see map) and, second, the east-west St Georges-St Juvin road (see enlarged map in photo gallery) just south of which John’s unit appears to have held their east-facing flank position as long as possible, finally withdrawing as Battalions 1 and 2 pulled back. (see maps in this photo gallery, images 38-41)
I think it was during this action, either protecting the right flank or, more likely, retreating south under the increased enfilade that John was hit directly or near enough to kill him and his buddy Private John Harper of Toledo, Ohio. It is likely they never knew what hit them–although we can’t be sure. Artillery shells produce a powerful explosion on impact destroying anything within twenty feet. John’s last letter home ended with the words “Sherman was right,” referring to the Civil War General who famously said “war is hell.” And hell is filled with luck every minute, good and bad.
The text (from the Official History of AEF, 82nd) reports, “enemy artillery continued to harass our troops throughout the day (16th). A detachment from the 328th Infantry, then in reserve (behind the 327th), was ordered forward and used to reinforce the refused (side facing) flank…the physical condition of our men (327th) was at its lowest ebb on this day…” and it was raining off and on all night and day.
After retreating back to safer territory in the afternoon or evening on October 16, “all the units were then consolidated for the night along line extending from its east junction with the stalled 42nd Division just southwest of point 206 to point 216 (see my sketch of the military map) on the St Georges-St Juvin road, thence southwest along the road for about 600 meters, where contact was maintained with the 325th Infantry (to the west) in the vicinity of a small wood.”
Looking at the lay of the land today, it rises uphill north, south and west form the cemetery. It is open land. (See the cemetery and landscape in this photo gallery.) There was nothing to protect the American troops–no forest or ravines–other than shell craters of which there were plenty that day. But these were not sufficient to protect all the Doughboys. There was little gallantry in the mud, filth, rain-soaked uniforms, fatigue, hunger, shell-shock numbness, stark fear, bleeding wounded and dead bodies.
Meanwhile on the Front
Further west from the 327th, in the afternoon, there were attempts by other Regiments of John’s 82nd Division to advance north and consolidate a new front line from the cemetery to the head of a nearby ravine (Ravin aux Pierres) a few hundred meters west and north of the cemetery. However, by the end of the day those efforts were also beaten back. It was no doubt a demoralizing and bloody day of setbacks for them. Troops were shot, gassed and shelled. Most bore the day’s noise and carnage with exhausted zombie-like courage. (See this report from October 31 about the use of gas and flame throwers along the St Juvin-St Georges road and beyond during one of the final assaults of the war that brought about the armistice on November 11.)
This takes us to the end of John’s story. The horrors of Meuse-Argonne continued until November 11 when the Boche leaders signed the armistice and the Kaiser abdicated and fled into exile in Holland. I haven’t traced John’s unit back to the beginning of the Meuse-Argonne battle on September 26. It’s enough for this week to find as close as possible his location on Oct 16, 1918: a day the sun did not shine.
In the 82nd Division alone there were 8,300 casualties (dead and wounded) virtually all in the Meruse-Argonne Offensive of 1918, of which 169 were taken prisoners of war; 34 Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded. In one of John’s letters from France he had written “no heroics for me. I do what I can.”
(1) On October 16th First Army Commanding General John Pershing gave over his command to General Hunter Liggett who had previously assessed the wretched condition of the 3rd, 5th and 82nd Divisions; they were down to about 1/4 of their authorized size. His first action was to give the troops a rest. He suggested two weeks which appears confirmed by the map where the front lines along the St George-St Juvin road were held from Oct 16 -30th.
(2) Also on the 16th, to the west of the 82nd about five miles the 78th Division was preparing the assault on the town of Grandpre starting on the 16th. I walked around Grandpre and it has a fortified citadel/palace on the hill overlooking the town (photo left). It’a quite a massive structure, originally started in the 15th century. It is composed of three connected residential buildings where people now actually live. It’s not a museum but I peeked in the windows anyway. The east side is protected by a sheer rocky cliff, on the right by massive brick and stone walls. The Germans had the citadel armed to the teeth–another story of deadly artillery, machine guns, hand grenades, street fighting, thousands wounded, hundreds of prisoners (some mudrered) and eventual Allied capture of the Grandpre.
(3) Three other things that Meuse-Argonne Cemetery Superintendent William Rivers mentioned:
First, the British tendency to try and sweeten the horrors of war with heroic overlays of battle actions by brave and honorable men when in reality there was little heroism in the the fatigue, hunger, shell-shock numbness, stark fear, stinking horse corpses and incompetent officers. Tens of thousands of soldiers died in WW1 due to officer stupidity.
Second, the 316th Regimental Monument on Grand Montagne hill overlooking the valley and village of Sivry-sur-Meuse, on the Meuse River (photo right). Pershing did not want any monuments for groups any smaller than divisions lest there be, so he claimed, a plethora of seemingly self-aggrandizing American memorials across the French landscape. Nevertheless, a wealthy infantryman, after the war, wanted to honor his 316th Regiment so he privately paid for the monument to be built on private land belonging to the Verdun hospital. He gave the hospital a large donation to gain their permission then paid for the monument out of his own pocket. Pershing was upset and the story is that he ordered personnel from the cemetery to deface the monument, which they did. (Pershing found out about the monument through the research done by Dwight Eisenhower, a young assistant.) After the war Pershing was head of the American Battle Monuments Commission so he had authority over all such military memorials. Eventually the monument was restored by the Regiment’s patron.
Third, the 14,246 fallen soldiers in the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery were buried and re-buried at least three times, as mentioned above; he was the source of this information. The cemetery was redesigned twice after it was started in 1918. Uncle John was first buried in a local grave near St George where he fell, Then taken later to Romagne for reburial at and finally in 1922 reburied in Arlington in DC–four burials that can be accounted for.
(4) After a final slow drive-through past the neat marble crosses and David stars in the elegant Cemetery I went to the near-by private ’14-’18 Museum in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon village to see Bridget and Jean-Paul DeVries the owners. The museum is the size of a large barn and is filled with thousands of artifacts they have found with a 5 km radius of the village. Many farmers have found over the years countless objects after the war as they were plowing their fields. They gave or sold the items to Jean-Paul who has been collecting for 30 years so everyone knows where to take their findings. There are too many objects to describe here–a picture is certainly worth a thousand words on this particular matter. (See photo gallery)
The most powerful souvenirs on display are the steel helmets of French, German and American soldiers penetrated with bullet holes. The impact of the war becomes visceral and disturbing looking at these. It’s not hard to imagine the stories told by these hats. Worse to imagine is that there were far more injured soldiers than killed in the battle of Meuse-Argonne, over 26,000 killed and over 85,000 wounded. Not every soldier shot through his helmet was killed but rather sustained a hit that in many cases left the man changed for the rest of his life. Same as today.
Bridget was very interested in my research for John, bringing out her own maps and folders to compare with the several texts I had that described the particular events of October 16 and the 327th Regiment in the area of St George cemetery. I showed her the book I borrowed from the American Cemetery library with its huge detailed military map showing the front lines from Oct 14-30. Red lines indicated the forward and back front-line actions of the 82nd Division during the final hours of John’s life. (See photo gallery)
(5) After a sandwich from the ’14-’18 Museum cafe I left the village and drove north to Dun sur Meuse. It is a delight to drive though the countless charming villages in this area, all tidy, rebuilt with flower gardens and window boxes. The scent of cow manure permeates some villages since this is big dairy country. No sheep, few horses. And literally every village center has a memorial to the ‘glorious dead’ of the war. Some are simple engraved obelisks while other larger towns have bigger-than-life bronze sculptures on engraved pedestals. Dun has a dramatic monument of a soldier charging forward with fixed bayonet. In Sivry-sur-Meuse a soldier figure is in a down position apparently wounded with an expression of agony on his face.
(6) The most dramatic and largest Montfaucon American Monument (photo right) is near the Meuse-Argonne cemetery, about three miles away on a hill overlooking the gently rolling hills of the Meuse River valley. It’s a stone column 200 feet high with a statued of liberty on top. The surrounding hills are smooth and covered with forests, corn crops and wheat fields. No shell craters or trenches are visible since they were filled in long ago. Behind the monument are the ruins of the Montfaucon-d’Argonne village church that was decimated by artillery fire. The ruins, and the adjacent old cemetery, have been left unrestored as a haunting memorial. (See photo gallery)
(7) The only remaining cratered landscapes now are near museums and battlefield memorials, many around Verdun. I visited three places and was disturbed at the ragged terrain that exploding shells created leaving no level ground. Crater after crater like the surface of a giant golf ball. I tried to imagine the human beings trying to hide or protect themselves from such artillery enfilades that sometime lasted for hours and days. The noise was deafening and the screams of the wounded were everywhere. It seems, to me, there was nowhere to go but death. See this photo gallery for other large war memorials and monuments in the area.
(8) A return third visit to St George-St Juvin road and the little cemetery (photo left). It’s not large (40×100?) with most of the grave markers in shiny marble for recently deceased, within the past 25 years. Strange, none from the 30’s to the to the 70’s (destroyed in WW2?) Except for four old worn and broken grave stones partially covered with moss and lichen located at the back of the cemetery. These were certainly here in ’14-’18. (see photo gallery)
The other old ones are not evident; they’re gone. The middle of the cemetery is empty on the surface–not surprising since the cemetery was in the middle of a wide battle zone and was probably shelled by artillerymen who couldn’t see their targets. When the American 327th advanced to this place artillery soon followed. Blood flowed on the land and underground it was not empty. Coffins were blasted out of their resting places. The new dead mixed with the old dead.
(9) I was told troops on both side made efforts not to disturb cemeteries but this was not always possible, especially here. St George cemetery was very close to the Kriemhilde Stellung (part of the famous vonHindenburg Line), mentioned in the story, was a highly fortified and inhabited ‘trench city’ with slightly comfortable bunkers with bunk beds and electricity (photo right, repeated).
It was fed by supply routes (tunnels and smaller trenches) to keep the soldiers fed and supplied with ammo. It was armed to the hilt with machine guns, gas grenades, grenade launchers, flamethrowers and masses of barbed wire on the front side of the trench. It was a highly fortified demarkation between the warring enemies.
It also served as a launch site from which the Germans planned to move further west into France. The Stellung (actually there were numerous branch Stellungs) stretched for miles along an east-west axis from near Reims to near Verdun, and the German’s liked to think it was impregnable. It was for the first years of the war as long as only the French were on the other side.
But when the Americans arrived with their tens of thousands of soldiers and suppliers the forces (with reckless sacrifice of lives) could not be stopped by a mere ditch. About November 1 a huge assault finally smashed through the Stellung once and for all as the German defenses and government crumbled.
Above the St George cemetery on a low hill, I found, I believe, a remnant of a Stellung trenche under a grove of trees (photo left). It was about 12 feet deep, V-shaped and went in a shaded straight line north where the view disappeared, suggesting this might have been a supply or communication vein. As I walked along in the trench there was some modern trash but a little further on I came across a several large coils of barbed wire rusted and covered with vines. To me it looked old enough to be original in the war but it would take an historian to verify it. Like viewing the bullet-ridden helmets in the museum, the ugly rusted wire (photo right) evoked a sense of revulsion and dismay as I thought of soldiers’ bodies caught tangled in these cruel wires.
The wooded trench suddenly felt haunted as I retraced my steps back to the road and my car. If I had dug a little below the surface of the ground with a shovel I would likely have found more war remnants but that idea felt too daunting and it was technically illegal in this area. There were scattered reports of souvenir hunters being killed or injured by buried unexploded ordnance. Millions of grenades and shells fell upon this land in the four-year contest for the soul of Europe. It was enough to have my souvenir gift bullet handed safely to me.
Richard Ammon’s personal visit to Argonne-Meuse, August 8-14, 2010
Erich Maria Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929)
(photo right, cover from first English edition of 1930 translated by Arthur Wesley Wheen )
Edward Lengel: To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne, 1918
Edward Lengel: America’s Bloodiest Battle
John Pershing”s account of the M-A battle
Robert H. Ferrell: America’s Deadliest Battle
Official History of American Expeitionary Forces, “All American” 82nd Division 1917-1919
Maps of M-A area showing US Division sectors
Maps of the M-A area showing plans of attack
Sergeant York in the Meuse-Argonne Offense
82nd Division, Summary of Operations in World War 1, Part 2, October 16
War sites to see around Romagne-sous-Montfaucon
Overview of the M-A Offense
German experience in M-A