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The War Diary Of Clarence Richmond

Episode 1

University of Tennessee Student Joins Marines
January - June, 1918

Leaving the University of Tennessee the latter part of January, 1918, I enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at Knoxville Tenn., on February 7th, being then sent to the recruiting office at Atlanta, before going to the training camp on Parris Island, S.C. Arrived in Atlanta shortly after three o’clock in the morning, Saturday morning, and went to my brother’s. After passing further physical examinations on Saturday morning, secured permission to remain over till Monday morning. I just did arrive at the station in time to catch the train Monday morning.

It took us all day to reach Parris Island, arriving in Port Royal after dark. We were met at the docks and carried in a large motor boat to the island. There was no reception committee to greet us, and we were briefly told what to do and what NOT to do. All applicants were received in what was known as Quarantine Barracks, and were kept in this place for three weeks. I passed all final examinations and was sworn in on Feb. 17th.

Having been sworn in, our training began in earnest. There were days and days and more days of drilling squads right and all around about, physical exercises, and hard work. We had to wash all of our clothes ourselves. The camp was well fixed with conveniencies of all kinds. After we finished our period of learning to be good soldiers, we spent three weeks on the rifle range. This was the most interesting part of our training, as I had always loved to handle a gun. I was sick the last week of practice on the range, but managed to shoot 255 out of 300, which qualified me as expert rifleman. I was third highest scorer in our company. We fired from 200, 300, 500, and 600 yard ranges. On the first two ranges we fired standing, kneeling, and prone, on the 500 yard we fired prone, and 'in the 600 yard we used a sand bag rest. Those who qualified as expert rifleman drew five dollars per month extra, sharpshooters got three dollars extra and those who just made marksman got two dollars. Our company finished training the middle of April, and the process of assigning us to permanent duty commenced. Some were assigned to duty on board ship, others to guard duty and a few as instructors on the rifle range. Myself and a few others were assigned to the training school for instructions in clerical work. Here I had lots of free time and really enjoyed myself. There was no way of getting off the Island without getting leave, and Buford and Savannah were the closest places to go. Port Royal was just an excuse for a town. The only time I was off the Island was one day when I helped bring the payroll from Port Royal.

About the first of May I asked for leave to come home, but instead of getting it, was unexpectedly assigned to a company awaiting assignment for overseas duty. This was quite a surprise to me, as I had expected to be assigned to come clerical work somewhere. Up until this time I had somehow failed to realize the possibilities or going overseas.

On May 9th after spending several days drawing extra equipment and clothing, a detachment of us boarded a train in Port Royal for Quantico Va., which was the camp where Marines were trained for overseas service. Before leaving I had written every one with whom I corresponded, that in all probability I was headed for France. We traveled all night and arrived in Quantico in the afternoon of May l0th, being pretty tired when we arrived. Quantico was a well-located camp, overlooking the Potomac river. We were assigned to some nice barracks. There was not much to do the few days we remained there, doing some drilling, but having most afternoons off. It was impossible to secure any information as to our destiny, but it was generally surmised that we would sail for France soon.

May 23rd, we were told to get everything ready to leave early the next morning. We were issued more equipment for active service, and there was no longer any doubt as to where we were going. We wrote post cards on which we were instructed to say that we had arrived safely in France. This seemed premature to me, but we were informed that the card would be held in Washington until we arrived or didn't arrive as the case might be. There was no information as to the port of our leaving, for of course all such information bad to be kept a secret. On the last afternoon of our stay in Quantico, we had a big farewell parade before Gen. Lejune who was going with us,

Before daylight on the morning of May 24th, (Friday) we were up and ready to board train for "somewhere." Some of the boys were all excited over the matter, others perfectly cool. Not knowing what the future might hold for me caused me to think seriously about the coming events, though I do not think I was very excited. Realizing the fact that we were going to France to do our share of the fighting, to spend sleepless nights in the mud and water of the trenches, to go maybe days without food, seemed not to worry me very much.

Our train reached New York in the afternoon and we were packed and jammed in a ferry boat conveyed to the U.S. Henderson. This ship was a Navy transport, an oil burner, and a pretty good sized ship. The Henderson was all camouflaged, and carried eight 5 inch guns. The ship was being loaded with supplies when we went aboard, the loading continued all that night, Saturday and Sunday. No one was allowed to go ashore. One of the fellows lived just a short distance from the docks, but was not allowed to go home. Such is war.

The loading of supplies continued and we remained on board ship until it was loaded. On the afternoon of the 25th (Sunday), we received orders to go below deck. We were crowded below, but as soon as every one got below the ship began to move. The port holes were supposed to be all closed, but we opened one and watched what was going on outside as much as possible. The harbor was full of craft, both large and small. Anchor was dropped just outside harbor. About midnight a barge was brought along side and a lot more supplies of some nature were loaded. Could not tell if it was ammunition or not. If it was, suppose it was for safety and sake. The morning was very foggy, and could not see any other ships. At 11 a.m. we weighed anchor and were on our way. Where? That remained to he seen. There were many unseen and unknown dangers ahead. The fog remained all day. The whistle blew a short blast every few minutes as long as the fog continued.

May 28th and the second day on our journey. The fog was not quite so thick as the day before, but we could not see any other ships, though their whistle could be heard. The sea was not very rough, but some were beginning to get sea sick. Occasionally one would stroll, or sometimes run to the railing and feed the fish.

The third day out found me feeling just a little queer down below my chest, and slightly dizzy. The fresh air on deck soon drove this feeling away; and I soon felt all right. It was well that I was not sick, for about all the available space along side the railings was taken up by those bent upon feeding the fish. While the sea was not very rough, the boat had a habit of falling right out from under your feet. In riding the waves the ship seemed to go down faster than one’s feet, leaving you feeling as though you were falling thru space.

The convoy was now all assembled. Eleven transports, one cruiser, and one torpedo boat. It did not seem to me to he a very formidable guard for so many transports. However the danger on this side of the Atlantic was not so great. The transports were all camouflaged in every considerable color and design, and so was the destroyer.

By May 31st the weather cleared up and it was very nice. The sea sickness had about all abated. The ship saved supplies during the first few days, for there wan no desire to eat while sick. I kept my appetite but the trouble was that the food was not very good. The eats were pretty bum. We spent most of the day and far into the night on deck, the weather being very nice. No one was allowed to make a light on deck at night, not even smoke a cigarette. All port holes were closed at night, so that not a light shown from any of the ships. The ships would all be in their respective places the next morning. The only other transport known to me was the Von Stuben, a converted German liner. I never learned the names of the others in our convoy.

On the morning of June 1st, the convoy had separated, only the Henderson and one other could be seen on the horizon. At first the ship crew let but a target on a line behind our ship and fired at it. The shots all looked good to me. Then they fired at a target towed behind the other transport. When those five inch guns went off, we had to stop up our ears. I did not see how a person can stand it around the big guns on battleships when they are fired. We spent two days at target practice, and we felt pretty secure from the record the crew made at the targets. Whether they could do as good as a submarine remained to be seen. We seemed to be traveling in every direction; part of the time we were going north, part of the time south, and at one time were going towards home. Suppose it all was a part of the war.

By June 5th the weather had become ideal. The ocean was calm and peaceable. My turn had come to stand watch, and was doing one hour on and seven off. My station was up near the bridge beside a searchlight. We were supposed to report every object seen on the surface of the water, whether it was suspicious or not. I was certainly thankful I did not have to stay up in the "crow's nest." That was too high to suit me. About the only thing I had to report was a whale, which could be seen spouting water quite a distance away.

Suddenly, from nowhere it seemed, fourteen destroyers met us on June 6th. The night before they were not with us, and the next morning they were speeding along with us as though they had been along all the time. They sure did make me feel good, and apparently had the same effect on the other fellows, from the comments heard. One was scouting almost out of sight in front, three were just a short distance ahead, and the balance were scattered among us, zig-zagging here and there, never traveling in a straight line. They reminded me of dogs on the hunt. They were hunting too, hunting for any possible danger to the ships in the convoy. We were now in the danger zone and the watches were increased, and every one was required to be constantly on the alert. Life belts were required to be worn constantly, even when asleep. Abandon ship drills were held frequently, sometimes at three or four o'clock in the morning. Every company had a certain part of the deck assigned to them when assembling. It was necessary to sleep with all clothing on, even shoes. During all this tenseness someone stole my hat and there I was without any thing to wear on my head. Before leaving the ship I found one, which turned out to a size 6 7/8. I had to tie a string on the hat to hold it on my head. Did not get another one for several days.

On the morning of June 7th, when I went on deck, the sea had become almost perfectly calm, and had a milky appearance, with hardly a ripple to he seen. The surface was perfectly smooth and glossy. As the morning advanced, a slight breeze arose, causing ripples on the surface. But there were no waves like there had been. It was evident that we were nearing land once more. Every one was up on deck. It was so pleasant to sit or lie around in the sunshine on deck.

During the afternoon, the convoy separated, half going towards the south to another port from the one we were to land at. On the morning of June 5th, we were all on deck by daylight looking for land, and we were not disappointed, for we could see the shore. Oh, but the sight of land surely did make us feel good, for surely, we thought, a sub would not bother us now. Of course there was danger still, but we thought there was none. Shortly after daylight, a dirigible came out to meet us, and escorted us on into the harbor. Later several planes also flew out to meet us. We found that we were entering the harbor of Brest, France. Great cliffs and jagged rocks appeared on both sides, and which reminded me of pictures I had seen of the coast of France and Spain. The mouth of the harbor was heavily fortified as we could see several gun emplacements.

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The War Diary of Clarence Richmond
Posted April 16, 1997 by Robin Richmond