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THE LAST DAYS OF THE WAR
November 22, 1918.
Well! When I got back from Machine Gun school I found Captain Graef in command of the battalion, Major Smith having gone to hospital —. On my return, however, Captain Graef had me report back to the old company and I've been there ever since and I can't say I'm a bit sorry for the change, either. The work was very exciting for a while, but I had the satisfaction of assisting at the beginning of the last great American drive of the war and besides that, of being in at the finish of the same drive, for my platoon was supporting the advanced battalion of the old "fighting 69" (see STARS and STRIPES) when that organization was relieved by the French in front of Sedan on the morning of the 8th of November and my guns were relieved by the Machine Gun company of the 150th French Infantry—quite a coincidence. We had three days of "honest to God" hard work previous to that day, chasing Fritz as hard as we could push.
I was fortunate enough to be one of the first American officers in two of the villages we captured and I tell you none of the stuff the papers have to say about the people's joy at being delivered is a particle overdrawn.
August Arens is reading a long German article out loud which intimates that Fritz had a lot of trouble with sick horses a short time ago. We are in a barracks, built by the French and occupied by the Germans till recently. They sure left it dirty but 'tis far enough behind the former lines to be intact and that's a great relief after living in "Fox holes" and ruins for two weeks. I have a whole hide and don't think anyone can say I haven't always been where I was supposed to be at all times. Every one feels, that the Guerre est finis and I can't see how Fritz can possibly come back, crooked as he is.
I have a number of souvenirs, mostly papers, a Hun flag from the St. Mihiel salient, a couple of belt buckles, etc. Things are going nicely, clothing, food and equipment aplenty since we left the zone of combat. Nothing to worry about—not even subs on the way home.
Each of the last three days has been full of interest. On the 20th we got into that portion of France where there was absolutely no sign of war, no shell holes, no ruined buildings, only numerous marks of German occupancy —billeting marks on house doors, steel signs and filth. The church, a wonderful Gothic cathedral, built in the 14th century, had been used as a stable!
At 3 o'clock the people gave the officers of the battalion a reception in the Ecole. On our arrival a girl garbed in white with a tricolor sash over her shoulder, presented Captain Graef with a huge bouquet. Several of the other officers were also given bouquets. We went into the school where the mayor made a speech, Captain Graef responded, the Marsellaise and Marche Lorraine were sung and toasts drunk to Amerique and La Belle France. I can't describe the ceremony, so heartfelt and simple and so very moving. No young men, only grey beards, women, girls and children.
The next day, the 21st, we entered Belgium, were played in by one of the regimental bands. Every house in every town flew the tricolors of France and Belgium and the Stars and Stripes. I can't describe how touching it was to me to see the pitiful attempts of these war torn people to manufacture that beautiful flag. Some had the stripes vertical, some had no stars in the union, some only four or five round circles of white and now and Allan then appeared with one obviously hand made, yet perfect in every detail.
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