Peace Talk Fails to Stir Artillerymen at Front

Damon Runyon

Washington Herald/October 19, 1918

‘Birds Opposite’ Don’t Know About It, Officer Remarks—Rain Makes Poor Fighting Weather in the Argonne.

Figuring that the advanced positions would be interested in the news of the day, the headquarters of a heavy artillery outfit telephoned such details of the peace negotiations as had trickled up yesterday to the bunch with the light guns away up at the front.

Telephone Service Good

The telephone service on the American front is very good. It is not quite as easy to give a man in a front-line dugout a ring as it is to call up “Spring 1300” in New York, but all things considered the service is good.

The “heavies” got Capt. Milt Brown, of Tennessee, on the wire. Brown was in charge of the “lights.” He is a brother of Innes Brown, of New York, the newspaper man. Capt. Milt listened intently to what the heavies had to say. When he had heard all the news he answered dryly:

“Well, I reckon nobody’s told these birds opposite us yet. They’re shelling hell out of us.”

The news was telephoned on to a French outfit still further ahead. The commander was quite excited about it, but his answer was in line with Brown’s remark:

“So the Boche, he don’t know it?” he said, “He still fighting here.”

Football Coach with the Guns

From another light battery position a voice that had a familiar sound to the listener in the “heavies” dugout came rasping along the wire.

“Hey, who is that?” demanded the listener. “This is Frank Canaugh,” said the voice. “Who are you?”

The old Dartmouth coach was well up amid the fighting with the light guns. He said Minot, the great Harvard back, was with his outfit. For a few minutes football was the topic of the conversation, with the shellfire making more racket at each end of the wire than the rooting section at the Yale-Harvard game.

This day produced mighty dreary weather. It rained. It was cold. A gray haze hung over the world. Out of the grayness moved that everlasting parade of dripping infantrymen, trucks, wagons and artillery sloshing to the front as the echoes of the thundering guns came drifting back.

If the men could choose the days for battle no man would ever choose such a day as this. The horses gave off steam as they strained against the tugs. The men went along kicking blobs of mud from their shoes with every step.

The rain seeped through one’s very soul.

Tanks in the Mud.

Tanks were used in the fighting this morning. It was the first time in this particular attack. Mud makes no difference to the tanks. They lumber out of the haze like big mud turtles and move against the enemy lines.

The “heavies” and “lights” were pasting “Jerry’s” line with dreary monotony. The heavy artillery man has a prosaic job in this particular drive. He works on the Germans from a couple of miles away. Often he is shooting from behind hills. Big shells were drifting their way out of the distant horizon. The “lights” sometimes go forward on the heels of the infantry. They are occasionally used to “pot” machine guns. However, back with the big guns life is precarious, even if it is largely routine. A whole flock of shells may fall into a battery without doing any damage, like a futile shot into a covey of quail. Then, along will come one loose chunk of metal and cause all kinds of trouble.

Killed by Shell Splinter

The other day two heavy artillery men heard a shell wheezing in their direction. Both flung themselves on the ground. Close together. The shell burst sixty yards from them. One man got up wholly unhurt, but the other man lay quite still. He was dead.

A splinter from a shell had flipped along the ground and penetrated his neck.

Arthur Richardson, of Schroon, N. Y., came out of the fight today. He talks in a slow, drawling voice. He was in a dugout this morning with two other men when a shell landed among them. Richardson’s companions were killed.

If any psychologist is interested in what the soldiers are going to do after the war, he might talk to Jars Motlock, a colored gentleman who proclaims himself an engineer. Jars has been hanging around the fringes in much of the recent fighting, patching roads and what-not.

“Ah come from Clarksville, Red Rivuh County, Texas, yas sah,” said he today. “Ah suttinly wish Ah was back in old Clarksville. Dere’s no place like Clarksville, no sah. Ah got me one of these heah boche guns to take back to Clarksville to show the folks. Dey’s goin’ to be mighty s’prised when Ah tell dem all Ah see. Ah suttinly wish Ah was back in Clarksville.”

(Source: Chronicling America,