"The Price of Our Heritage"


In memory of the

Heroic Dead of the

168th Infantry



Champagne Defense

Honor Roll, Those who Fell in Champagne



      When the regiment was relieved from the duty in Lorraine, we moved back to the land of the Moselle and entrained and started westward. After a twenty-four hour railroad journey, we arrived in the valley of the Marne, and our regimental headquarters were located at St. Amend.

      Here we rested for five days, played ball, had concerts and bathed in the river. What a relief it was, after the four tiresome months in the trenches to be free again, but our freedom was of short duration. On June 27 we were transferred to the Fourth Army, commanded by General Gouraud, one of the highest honored and best loved generals in the French Army, and at once were ordered to make a thirty-five kilometer march toward the front. Early the next morning we dragged into the little town of Courtsols where we rested until the night before the fourth of July.
       We were now in the famous Camp De Chalons country, on ground that has been made famous by past history. The Romans had made great highways through this country, and there were many camps and villages that bore the names that carried one back to the days when Attila and Saracens had battled here.  Here the French had conducted a great offensive in 1917 and this same country was taken by the Germans in 1914.  This country is vividly described by Colonel Walter Wolf in his story of the Rainbow Division. He says "It was into this sector we moved, the arid and outlandish part of Champagne, with not a vineyard, not a garden and not a field of wheat – known because of its meagerness as the 'lousy Champagne.' It was very white and very desolate, the scrubby trees were dwarfed and gnarled, and with their patchy foliage merely emphasized the blankness and glare of the scene. Heather bounded chalk was everywhere, chalk reflected the heat and kept the cool of the ground within, made the road firm and readily afforded deep dug-outs of great
strength and resisting power. The only touch of color upon the width of these plains was the thick poppy field, then full blown."
      It was amidst this weird scene, over these dreary roads, that we marched on July 4 into the battered town of Suippes, and from there into Camp 3-5 and 4-5 and into the wooded position. Here we became a part of General Gouraud's Army of Defense; two divisions of French and our own Rainbow Divisions made up the troops that were assigned to this position, in which we were informed the Germans would throw the full power of their strength. Against us there were massed nine divisions of the Boche, who were planning an offensive in which they expected to overwhelmingly defeat us, to drive through and capture the Marne River towns and force a quick conclusion of the war.

      When we moved into out camps all was quiet and still. Scarcely a gun was fired during the day and occasionally a lone airplane circled above our line; otherwise in the daytimes an observer would little have dreamed that a great battle was soon to be fought here. Our own boys who loafed during the day, as soon as the touch of darkness covered the land, worked with feverish haste digging trenches, swinging guns into position, bringing up ammunition, preparing for the greatest conflict in which it had ever been their privilege to play a part. From the night of July 8 until the night of the 14th, our boys were called to the alert postion shortly after midnight and stood thus until just before dawn in the morning. We were taking no chances of a German surprise attack.

       General Gouraud sent us the following order:

" To the French and American soldiers of the Fourth Army: We may be attacked at any moment. You all know that a defensive battle was never engaged under more favorable conditions. We are awake and on our guard. We are powerfully reinforced with infantry and artillery.  You will fight on a terrain, that you have transformed by your work and perseverance into a redoubtable fortress. This fortress will be invincible and all the entrances are well guarded.

    The bombardment will be terrible, You will support it without weakness. The assault will be fierce, in a cloud of smoke, dust and gas, but your position and your armament are formidable. In your breast beats the brave and strong hearts of free men.

     None shall glance to the rear, none shall yield a step. Each shall have but one thought, to kill many until they have had their fill.

     That is why your General says to you, "You will break this assault and it will be a happy day."    


        With the words of this brave general ringing in our ears, we waited for the attack to commence. Night after night in the clear moonlight with rifle by our side, we strengthened our positions and wondered if the attack would come before morning. Our division had never taken part in a great battle, and now we were to be suddenly thrown into a fight on which would hang the whole  history of civilization. The Germans had broken the British lines on the left in March and had driven through for thirty-five kilometers. In May, they broke the French line and drove through clear to the Marne river, and captured Chateau Thierry, forcing the French back forty-seven kilometers. Now, the enemy was to attempt an even greater attack and we were to have part in resisting his assault.  

         Never shall I forget the night of that battle. The air was tense with the coming tragedy. At that moment darkness began, ammunition was rushed to the front, artillery teams came swinging up, quickly unloaded their shells and galloped back after further supplies. Messengers were dashing up on motorcycles in the dark and dashing quickly away again. Officers were feverishly writing messages, runners nervous and excited, were carrying these messages to every part of the line. By 10 o'clock all was in readiness and for two long hours we stood and waited for that battle to begin. The moon was shining softly, slipping from behind first one lazy cloud and then another. The breeze sighed softly among the scraggy pines as though moaning over over the tragedy that the rising sun would witness. Men talked in nervous tones, laughed over things that were not laughable and smoked furiously at their cigarettes.  Many a fellow gave a last message that night to the comrade at his side and told him to carry it back to some loved one waiting for him, for no man knew whether fate would be kind or unkind to him before morning and many a fellow, perhaps for the first time in his life, looked up at the stars that was shining so softly above him and thought of the Creator into whose presence he knew many of his buddies and possibly himself would enter in a few hours. Men do not often pray in battle but many of them prayed this night. They prayed to the Great Father to give them the courage to die as bravely as their comrades had died at Lorraine, to give them the strength to endure the long hours of bombardment and to conquer the fear that was tugging at their hearts. I cannot but believe that the Master, who went through Gethsemane understood those men, who were trying so bravely to follow in His footsteps.

     At twenty minutes to twelve our own guns opened with a roar that shook the earth about us. Four hundred and fifty guns were pouring a steady stream of shells into the enemy's lines and our boys lay there in the trenches and chuckled to themselves at what a nice surprise the enemy was receiving.

     Promptly at 12 o'clock or 12:10 the enemy's guns opened with a terrible roar and the roar of his screaming, bursting shells smothered the sound of our own guns. Never have I seen such a bombardment. Trees were torn up by the roots, dust and rocks were whirled in every direction, men's bodies were blown into atoms, horses were slaughtered by the thousands and many of them wounded, broke their halter ropes or dashed away from their drivers, screaming and neighing in their pain. Our camps were on fire, every road, trench, path of shelter of any kind was under a continuous and terrific fire. Airplanes by the hundreds were circling overhead, dropping bombs on our artillery and amidst all this the stretcher-bearers came down the road with white faces, but with jaws set, carrying their wounded comrades, placing them in ambulances which dashed quickly away with them to the temporary hospitals in the rear.

      Our own little aid station, under the command of Major Henry Bunch and Lieutenant Neil Van Meter had from fifty to one hundred wounded and dying men lying there under the open sky with no shelter of any kind. A battery of the One Hundred Fifty-first Field Artillery that was across the road was firing as rapidly as it could. Its little guns were barking viciously toward the approaching enemy and a large German gun was sending its huge shells, trying to put out of action these little cannon, which were causing him such terrible losses. Light had just begun to dawn in the cast as a boy was brought in and laid down by the side of the path and Lieutenant Neil Van Meter came to me and said, "Better speak to that lad, Chaplain, he is wounded pretty bad, won't last but a few minutes."

      I went over and knelt down by his side. A shell had crashed through his foot and cut away the ankle entirely. A piece of slug had done through his left leg above the knee and he had wrapped a wire about it and twisted a stick in it to stop the flow of blood. His left arm had been shattered at his side and he lay there so still and white, but with never a cry coming from between his lips.

      I said, "How are you coming, old chap?" and between his clenched teeth, cheerfully he said, "All right, I guess. I guess I'll make it." "Lad, you are wounded worse than you think, and you can't live, my boy, you will be dead in less than a half hour."

      He was rather startled by this, and said, "Am I going to die, Chaplain?" I said, "Yes, lad." And then I asked "Is there anything I can do for you?" He said, "Yes, will you write and tell my mother, Chaplain, all about it?" I said I would and he seemed content. He asked me to play a few francs to a comrade of his, and I said, "Isn't there anything else lad, that you want to say for yourself before you go?"  He said, "I guess not, but will you give me a cigarette?" I lighted it and gave it to him and he lay there and smoked drawing the smoke into his lungs and blew it out through his nose. He seemed to take great comfort in it. He looked up at me, blew out another puff of smoke and smiled so coolly up into my face. I turned away to hide my tears and after working with some others a few moments, I came back. His cigarette was still burning between his fingers, but he was lying there, his pale set face so boyish, was cold in death. And thus he died without a cry coming from between his lips.

       This is only one example that I can give of all those glorious men, both French and American, who died in this greatest battle of modern times.

        Of this battle, a writer in the French paper, Illustration of July 27, 1918, gives a vivid account and I will quote from it:


"On the Champagne Battle Field,"
     "The Victorious Defense of Chalons."


       "On July 15, just a week ago, the Germans launched the offensive which we had been
expecting for several weeks.
      It was developed with the usual fury, was meticulously prepared as always, against two of our armies, on a front of more than eighty kilometers, between Chateau Thierry on the West and the famous Main de Massiges on the East. This time it was the Group of Armies of the Imperial Crown Prince – the armies of Von Boehn, Von Mudra and Von Einem – which made the attack."  It is then to the heir of the Hohenzollerns that this abrupt check to the fifth attack of the year must be charged.

     From the first day the enemy's failure was certain. Only on his right wing did he gain any appreciable advantage; crossing the Marne at several points between Fossoy and Oeuilly, and on both sides of Dormans. However, he found himself, at the bottom of this loop in a strip of the valley between the river and a line of heights solidly held by our soldiers, in a very precarious condition as following events proved for , in the night of July 19-20, he was forced to cross back to the north bank.

     At the center, in front of Rheims, the offensive was limited to a demonstration. In reality he attempted to reduce the Montagne de Rheims and capture the unhappy city.

     But to the East on his left wing where the Germans attacked the army of General Gourard, the affair showed for us the light of a magnificent, victorious  defensive, one of the most characteristic, as well as one of the most successful defensive of battles -- as will be seen in the future -- of this formidable war.

     Moreover, it was there, I think, that he intended to make a powerful effort. The stake was no less than Chalons-sur-Marne, the Catalonic plains where Aetius had already saved the Latin world its freedom and its civilization."

     On what was based this tranquil serenity of the chief on the day before an attack, which was sure to prove so formidable, which had been prepared with that rigorous care of which we were already well aware and for which the most powerful means available would be used. On an absolute confidence in the valor of his soldiers and on the excellence of the plan of defense.

     It consisted in leaving on the advanced line, exposed to the preparatory bombardments, to the hot deluge from minewerfer, only slight forces, small groups of lost children, under the command of resolute indefatigable officers charged first and above all with warning the rear of the precise moment of the attack when the assault waves would be thrown forward. The men to whom were confided these posts of honor were sacrificed beforehand and knew it. It remained for them but to die a glorious death. It shall be seen that they did not fail at any point. Some of their number, moved by a great spirit, preformed prodigies of valor. On that day the Aces were numbered by hundreds. What more can I say? The blazing trail of rockets shooting to the ealy morning sky did not even call for help. They signalled to their brothers, to the avengers, the danger: "Here comes the enemy."

     Behind the advanced line, separated from it by an open space, was another undulating line on the plain; it was this line which was to break if built, were like the pebbles of the strand, around which breaks the foaming, mounting tide. Cut at first, and it was cut two or three times at some points, it accomplished its role in retarding the forward march of the enemy. It stopped the enemy three hours -- three hours of bloody hectacombs for him. It was the cause of his disaster. The victory was decided there on that line of redoubts of the advance elements, in front even of the real line of defense.

    This disposition would be good only on condition that all was in its place at the moment of the commencement of the attack. It implied a rigorous surveillance at all times of the movements of the enemy. No one knew whether the German, skilled in camouflaging, would be able to hide his preparations. That explains the aggressive activity shown at all times by the Gourard army and which was still more increased during the last weeks while they waited with growing impatience each day for the great event. There was always a raid going on at some point or other.  This was the triumph of astute vigilance.

    Since the beginning of June an offensive on a grand scale was expected on the front of the army. As time passed many indications announced the imminence of the attack, -- indications that were noted. It is known that the front opposite of the Eleventh Army, and no doubt the whole front, was equipped for a sudden attack for several months. Little by little one saw the increase in circulation on the railroads; the munition dumps growing, the aviation fields being prepared. The front, however, remained quiet and the artillery showed little activity. But one observed, as was the case before the offensive of May 27th and that of Jun 9th, for example, the fire by high bursts, -- discreet procedure for the regulation of the artillery.

     The, suddenly, on the 13th, behind the apparent immobility of the front, one perceived a more intense movement on the narrow gauge railroads, from the Suippe toward Epoye; one scented the movement of troops. The roads north of Suippes showed little more animation also; wagons and individuals were on the march from north to south. The morning of the 14th wagons in greater number, but moving singly and not in convoys, went back from the zone of the batteries; it could be guessed that they had been obtained from the almost daily raids to which, above, I have made allusion. The soldiers knew the necessity of them. They took part in them with enthusiasm. Their operations were fruitful during the whole first fortnight. The communiqués made note of some of them.

     On July 6th came the first precise information, a simple intimation that the attack was imminent on the Champagne front. On what extent of the front was still a mystery at that date.

     On July 8th certain indications revealed to us aggressive plans without as yet our being able to say exactly what they were. The following day the General would give out his order; of that there was not a showdown of a doubt.

     By July 10 the date of the attack was better established by our information service; it would take place July 14 or 15. The zone involved would be the zone of the Fourth Army as far as Mont Teton on the East. We have at last the details of the preparations.
     July 11, 12, and 13 gave confirmation of everything. Finally, on the 14th, a detachment led by a lieutenant, fighting like a whirlwind, carried out the best of all the raids and the one which gave the best results obtained in several weeks. It was then learned that the attack was merely a question of hours: the artillery preparation would commence at ten minutes past midnight. At 4:15 A.M. the infantry would leave the trenches under cover of a rolling barrage.

     It seems that such precautions astonished -- and even left a little bit skeptical -- the staff of the fine and valiant American Division which that day fought with us. A little later they declared themselves delighted that the event had proved they had been mistaken.


      Whatever might happen the Army was ready. Kept informed from day to day of the situation Generals Foch and Petain had approved the dispositions taken and had given the command of the Fourth Army troops necessary to assure the execution of the same. In war it is always necessary to reckon with the unexpected, fate, luck, call it what you will, but as everything had been done to meet it they could count upon an infallible success. The order of the day of the 7th reflects this semi-certitude.

      On July 14th at 11:00 P. M. General Gourard gave the order to begin the counter-offensive preparation. It was launched a half hour later foretelling the German bombardment.

      At the hour mentioned, at ten minutes past midnight, this bombardment was launched with a terrible roar. It surprised no one. In this period of expectation, where every day the attack was felt to be more imminent, the commander of the army had been able to visit even the posts of the Colonels and enable them to share his firm confidence.

      Everybody was in place. The "position in readiness" so minutely studied out was taken up.

      The violence of our counter offensive fire surprised the enemy. Batteries silent up to that time, and which had not been located, suddenly revealed themselves, producing the infallible effect of surprise.

      At 4:15 A. M. the rockets of the vigilant look-out men of the line of observation ascended in the breaking dawn; the waves of assault rushed forward. Then our own barrage descended like a whirlwind on our first positions, where the enemy was arriving and which the German guns of all calibers and the minewerfer had already hammered. The battle was going to be enacted according to schedule. Luck was with us. Not a hitch.

       In the same way that the observation detachments had done their duty, the advance elements of the first line battalions were carrying on, fulfilling the mission which had been entrusted to them, "to hold back and disintegrate the enemy"; each man remained where duty commanded him to hold.

       Many of these must have fallen into the hands of the Germans. News was received from some of them however. Thus, the Army Corps which was fighting at the left of the front proudly recorded the heroic attitude of a half section which, encircled, submerged by the wave which overwhelmed it, sent at 6:30 A.M. a carrier pigeon to announce that it was still holding. Another group resisted until 10:00 A.M.

      On the line of redoubts, the Germans were stopped three full hours at least. Even when certain of their elements had slipped between, many little fortresses besieged, continued furiously to resist.

      For example, the garrison of Mont san Non belonging to the same regiment at this half section of which I have just spoken, to the same therefore, which had made the twenty-seven prisoners some hours before -- Heavens! how we should like to give more credit to these heroes, telling more clearly who they are -- the garrison under the orders of the Captain remained besiege until 6:00 P.M., but always in liaison with the rear especially by wireless telephone, so well had the dispositions been taken. And it kept the command in touch with the course of the fight. The Battalion Commander himself was surrounded not far from there in his command post with a part of his men. All of them made the same stubborn resistance to the assaults of the enemy, and it was only when the authorization had been given for the same, and after they had exhausted all their munitions and accomplished the destruction provided for, that the Major, the Captain, and their two small garrisons retired, forcing a passage by bayonet and bringing back prisoners. A Lieutenant of the Chasseurs a Pied accomplished a similar exploit.  How many others also! A regiment in the center which repulsed eleven successive attacks was cited.

      But from the first minutes of the attack, so to speak, they saw clearly that it was a failure for the enemy.

      The initial resistance which he was not expecting had disconcerted him. The minute clock work of this too precise machine was suddenly thrown out of gear.

       While the attacking troops had arrived before the line of redoubts, all the machinery behind them was continuing to function according to the schedule based on the hypothesis of a victorious progress.  The barrage rolled rhythmically far in advance of the furious waves breaking against the dyke which was resisting them, and the furious divisions of the second line, fully convinced that the first were pursuing their regular advanced like the hands of a clock, had advanced behind them at the appointed hour; then motor convoys, supply wagons, horse drawn batteries, in columns on the roads -- into all that our artillerymen fired with open sights, pounding, grinding, unceasingly, the men, the heavy trucks and the horses. Never has any one seen such fine hecatombs. At the source of the Ain, on that little hillock which General Merchand used to love and which he called "Place de l'Opera," seventy corpses were lying in one heap. But it was perhaps in the region of the "Monts" which he had just abandoned during the night in conformance with the plans of the command, that the carnage was the finest. They were seen to appear on the crests, at present denuded, where no cover masked them from view, and then to plunge down the slope. Magnificent targets!  "We were firing into the mass!" the gunners say.

       At a certain moment in this region of the Monts, an artillery observer reported that the Germans were in the act of forming an artillery park under our noses. "It's a scandal." cried the captain of the battery.  And in a few shots the park was tended to. In their case the facility with which they had crossed the line of alert, so thinly occupied, had given them the illusion of a successful advance. It is thus what a captain in command of a tank section who was captured on the hillof Tabure at the moment when he had just written and preparing to send the following message:

"Tabure Hill, July 15th, 7:00 A.M.

  The five tanks have all crossed the first enemy line and are continuing to advance toward the Wardberk where the enemy possesses numerous machine gun nests. I am going to Somme-Suippes, continuing the pursuit of the enemy and will return afterwards."


      They did lead him to Somme-Suippes to the command post of the General and there they said to him: "Well, you've reached it." But the jest was not to his taste.

       Here was the situation at 7:00 A.M. At the right our advance elements were holding well on all the line of redoubts; in the center the enemy was in contact with our intermediate position; at the left the pressure was intense between the Ferme des Marquises and the Maison du Garde; the enemy reached the Roman road and the woods southeast of Prunay.

      At noon, according to the expression of one of the Army Corps Commanders, "Their legs were broken." Their offensive was smashed. Victory was ours.

      "A great personage," said one of the first prisoners, "is observing this from up there." In fact the German emperor, as formerly from the top of the Grand Couronne he watched for the moment to rush upon Nancy, was waiting on Mount Blano, in Ludendorff's house, for the hour to enter Chalons. Thus he was able to see another of his dreams fade.




      At two points only had the attack penetrated our intermediate line; to the north of Prosnes and at Perthnes-le-Hurlus, carried for a moment and then retaken by us. These modest gains were only momentary for the enemy.
       On the 16th, however, he resumed the charge. He had not renounced the hope of getting a foothold on our position of resistance.

       Between the Vesle and the Suippe he attacked the first time at 10:00 A.M.  and again at 1:15 P.M. He was repulsed on both occasions and left numerous bodies on the ground.

      East of Suippe he attacked three times. He was always repulsed in disorder.

      In the morning, after a strong artillery preparations, he charged forward with strong forces south of the Maison Chamagne. He did not succeed in gaining even the principal parallel of our intermediate position.

      In the night of the 16th-17th he made a new attack in the region of Auberive, but with as little success. In return, we on our side, regained some terrain in the sector of Balcon, at Beausejour and retook a redoubt which he had abandoned.

      A great artillery activity reigned during the entire day of the 17th on our side. It was a destructive fire on the enemy's batteries, harassing and interdiction fire, and even fire on moving targets. Thus at the Trou-Bricott, of famous memory, groups occupied in trying to release two tanks in distress, were taken under our fire and obliged -- those who could get away -- to leave their task.

      Our infantrymen were none the less impetuous. To the east, the days of the 17th and 18th they had reoccupied, despite a bitter resistance, all the line of the redoubts of the first position, and on the entire front re-conquered certain points necessary to the security of our position of resistance.

       And that was the end of the battle. In reality the decisive phase had lasted about four hours.

       (A little farther in his article the writer again pays tribute to our Division.)

       They had in their midst in the most perfect fraternity of arms, an American division. It esteemed it an honor to rival them in courage and nerve. Its men went under fire as into a football game, in shirtsleeves, with their sleeves rolled up over nervous biceps. In a trench where they were operating in concert with our Chasseurs, sixty corpses were counted on a field of two hundred and fifty meters. Ah! the Germans who saw them at work can no longer doubt that they are there and indeed, as our troopers say, "certainly there."

       This was a fine tribute paid to our troops by their brave French comrades and doubly appreciated because it was our first great battle. The next day, the 19th, General Naulin, commander of the Twenty-first French Army Corp, issued the following order:


"21st Army Corps,


3d Bureau,

No. 2.595-3

Headquarters, July 19, 1918



      At the moment when the Forty-second American Division is on the point of leaving the Twenty-first Army Corps, I desire to express my keen satisfaction and my sincere thanks for the services which it has rendered under all conditions.

      By its valor, ardor and its spirit, it has very particularly distinguished itself on July 15th and 16th in the course of the great battle where the Fourth Army broke the German offensive on the Champagne front.

      I am proud to have had it under my orders during this period; my prayers accompany it in the great struggle engaged in for the liberty of the World.


Commanding the 21st Army Corps.

(signed) Naulin.


        This order filled our hearts with pride for we had done that which we craved to do, we had won the admiration and love of the brave French troops, which we so much admired. That night when the orders came, we marched away to new scenes, into new battles, but as we passed over the hill we glanced back to where our comrades had fought so gloriously and died to gamely. The roar of battle was hushed and the still and quiet of the evening had settled down over their couch where we laid them to rest. There beside the Sommes Suippes road the traveler-by of the future will pause and remember as he sees the little crosses standing, that there the American soldiers, five thousand miles from home, fought and died to save France and the world. And it is in true appreciation that I record here the names , faces and gallant deeds of our heroic dead. May the reader, as he looks into their boyish countenances, appreciate the sacrifice which they made.  



~ reference: "THE PRICE OF OUR HERITAGE", W. E. Robb,  1919 American Lithography and Printing Company, Des Moines, Iowa

~ contributed by Cay Merryman for Iowa in the Great War Special Project