We got a rumor on July 2nd, that we were to be relieved during the night. As our present positions were very straining and nerve racking, this news was only too welcome. Trench warfare never appealed to the Yank. About eleven o'clock that night we received word to pack up as quietly as possible. We were not long in getting our possessions together. Our relief was not long in making its appearance, and we were on our way to the rear, going back the way we had come in. We marched single file, a few paces apart until we came to a very dense woods. It was so dark here that we had to hold to the man in front, to keep from getting lost. Unless you knew when the man in front of you was going to stop, you would run your face into his rifle or pack. By holding to the one in front, this could be avoided to a great extent. The guide got lost, and we rambled around through briars and underbrush for about an hour. We became disconnected time and again. When the line would get separated, word would be passed towards the front that "The line is broken". When this reached the head of the column, it would halt and wait till the ones who got behind caught up. We finally came out into a wheat field, and took a path back into the woods again. I do not know how we came to find the same place we had stopped the night before going into the line but we found ourselves at this identical spot. It was very dark, but I managed to find the same hole I had used before. This time I managed to sleep some before daylight. A fist fight took place early the next morning between a sergeant and a corporal.
The next morning, which was July 3rd, a detail of three men from each platoon was sent to Paris to participate in the celebration of July 4th. The three selected were among the first over and were named Bohmer, Fagan, and Kohlmorgan. Their clothes were rather tattered and torn, but history tells the profound impression these ragged marines and doughboys from the Second made on the streets of Paris, and of the cheers they brought forth as they marched at the head of the column. We had heard all kinds of rumors of all of us going to Paris, but these rumors failed to materialize, as did thousands of others later on. During the day I spent most of my time enlarging my dugout, making it safer and more comfortable. Several Allied planes seemed to be holding an exhibition overhead. Whether or not they realized it, their presence lent encouragement to us. There was a particular hum to one kind of motor, different from any I had heard before.
The Red Cross gave us some canned peaches and pears during the day. These had been brought up with the rations. There was only a bite a piece but that bite surely tasted delicious- The French issue of canned meat was put up in Argentina, and we called it "Monkey Meat." This was the only canned meat we had for a long time. A person had to be hungry to eat it.
Only a few shells fell anywhere near us, but one did fall pretty close. Everybody made a dive for a hole like so many Prairie dogs. It made no difference whether you were near your own hole or not, because it wasn't healthy to take time to hunt up your own abiding place. About midnight we slung packs and marched to the rear. We went back over part of the road we used coming up, but leaving it we took another route, and came some time later out on the main highway. We stopped in a woods near where I had spent my first night under the open skies. These woods were called Bois de Gros. We were far enough away from the front to have no fear of shells, though long range guns could have reached us. We slept till rather late in the morning. The day brought nothing to indicate that it was the Fourth of July. We all took advantage of the opportunity to wash and clean up a little, also to get rid of a good crop of whiskers. Got a good meal, which was pretty badly needed just at this time.
We had spent twelve days in the front lines, but I had no idea of the lay of the country, on account of the fact that we had to remain concealed during the day, and of course could not see anything at night. At dark we continued on toward the rear, traveling the Paris-Metz highway, the same way we had come to the front. Whoever led the column must have been in an automobile for we had to double time to keep up. We marched in column of platoons, about a hundred yards apart.
We soon began to pass part of the 26th division coming to relieve the Second. When we would tell them who we were, some of them praised us while others made some slight remarks. Many humorous questions are asked by passing troops. One fellow asked, "Any fighting going on up there, Buddy?" Someone just in front of me answered "Oh, yes, a fellow got shot up there the other day." This brought a laugh from even the fellows in the Twenty Sixth.
We fell out for the remainder of the night on a rather steep hill, and rolled up. If there ever was a time when beans tasted good, it was for breakfast the next morning, when we had all the beans we could eat. When a person eats a mess pan full and goes back for seconds, surely this is evidence enough that it was good. The supply sergeant had some new clothing for us, that is if ours was torn to pieces. There was not enough to go around so it was issued to the most needy. I got one suit of clean underwear, and appropriated another, even if it did not match in size. I had already learned that if you got anything in the army, you had to take it.
We were alongside the famous Marne. In the afternoon we took a swim in the "Bloody Marne." I almost froze, if it was July. Some of the fellows said they found some "Cooties," but I failed to discover any of the "varmints." I had not seen one yet, so did not know what they looked like.
We were expecting to go hack somewhere to a rest camp. Of course this was only a rumor, but some of us were always crazy enough to believe rumors. It seemed that we ought to have a rest just at this time. I for one wanted to see those famous rest camps I had read so much about. But if we could have known the days yet to come, before one of those rest camps would he ours to enjoy, I expect that our morale would have been different from what it was.
Everybody being pretty well tired and worn out, we rolled up rather early, that night. There was a German battery sending over some long range shells, landing them not far to our right. We could hear the report of the gun, which sounded far off, and after a few seconds the whine of the shell as it passed on over. We were safe from shells, because the hillside was so steep, that a shell clearing the top would have gone on over us. The battery was trying to hit a bridge a short distance down the river. I don't think they ever succeeded In hitting it, though.
It was well that we turned in early, for about one o'clock the next morning we were roused up, and assembled along the road preparing to move again. French artillery was passing along, going the same direction we were headed. This movement did not have the appearance of getting anywhere near a camp. There was some confusion as troops and artillery tried to use the road at the same time. We marched in single file, and got disconnected several times. We doubled timed quite a lot, and finally got ahead of the artillery. I had to carry one of the clip bags for the French automatic rifle, or "Sho-sho" as we called it. The rifle itself weighed fifteen pounds, and a loaded clip bag weighed around twenty. These clip bags were in addition to your regular load. When they began to get heavy on the fellow carrying them, he usually "cussed", everything that came along, and the Frenchmen along the road that night got their share, as well as the fellow who did not want to carry the bag when it came his turn.
We passed through several deserted villages along the road, which looked more dismal on account of no lights, and nothing but stone walls along the streets. One village was located on the side of a long sloping hill, and the main street was the winding road, which led out upon the top of the plateau. The moon was full and shining very brightly, enabling us to see for miles the beautiful valley of the Marne beneath us. It was a scene wonderful to behold, and striking contrast to the scenes of the front from which we had just come. Its grandeur increased as the dawn began to break, and the gray streaks of early morning began to make their appearance. It was hard to realize that such a war was going on so close to such a scene as lay in the valley below us. As it was not safe to march during daylight, we rolled up soon after dawn, and got some sleep, though I drew a watch the first thing.