Last week in my Memory Lane article, I wrote about Lowell Madsen’s uncle, Andrew Madsen, arriving in America and his experiences adjusting to a different country. This article is about Andrew’s experiences in World War I.
Andrew Madsen reported for military duty on Sept. 21, 1917. In the spring of 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. All men over 18 years of age had registered for service in the military. Andrew was one of the first men to be called to serve in the army. He recalled his experience:
“I reported at Fairmont, Minnesota, and the National Guard escorted us to the train. There were speeches and good luck wishes from everybody, then we went to Camp Dodge, Iowa. On Sept. 23, we started getting shots for all kinds of diseases as we were standing in line waiting for the doctor to jab that big needle into our arms. Some young fellows fainted just from thinking about how that was going to feel the next day. We had received our uniforms and hobnails (shoes) and some close order drill.
“One day out on the drill field, I didn’t feel good and the officer in charge thought I was goofing off, so he gave me drill in front of the company but I just couldn’t make it, so he finally gave up and told me to sit down and wait till the company was going back to quarters. In the meantime a Mmajor came along and asked me why I was sitting there. I told why, and he called an ambulance and went to the hospital and found out I had pneumonia. The hospital was poorly staffed and many a young man was sent home in a box.
“We left Camp Dodge the last part of October, 1917, to Camp Cody, New Mexico. I was placed in Company I, 36 Infantry 34th Division. The life of the company consisted of a long row of tents and 250 men and officers. In May, 1918, we received orders to in-train for overseas. We were on our way and had orders to stay below (on troop ship going to Europe) for the first day. We wondered why. I guess there were a few spies around that would like to send a report to the Germans about how many of us were coming. They had u boats scouting around on top and below the big drink, but we were lucky and arrived in Liverpool, England, on July 14, 1918. We stopped one night in England then crossed into France at Le Havre. We were now on our way to the fighting front. We traveled all over France in our De Lux Cars (boxcars 40 and 8, meaning 40 men or 8 horses) for nearly a week and finally arrived at a large camp called La Mont.
“We were picked for different branches of service, and I was placed in the 123 Field Artillery. (Probably because I was a farmer and could handle horse-pulled the cannons.) This was heavy artillery, and we traveled again in our De Lux box cars and arrived at our destination at Camp Du Valdahon. I was placed in Headquarters Company. There was artillery drilling, and soon we were sent to ‘the front’ on Aug. 22, 1918.
“We had plenty of trouble getting the guns and horses loaded in boxcars and other equipment. We unloaded near a town called Toul which was close to the front. We were close to enemy lines, so we unloaded in the dark and rested in a town named Foug along the banks of the Calanthe. The next night we moved again in marching order towards the front, and now we could see the gun flashes and signal light. Many a young fellow had his own thoughts. I guess this was called Boabe Wood, and again we moved up to the Forest De La Reineshere.
“We put up picket lines and took care of our horses and equipment and got the big guns placed. Everything was under camouflage, mud up to your knees. Our guns were placed at the edges of Bouconville and Beaumont in the rear of the first line of trenches. It was raining most of the time, and the mud was terrible and stumbling around in the dark of night was no fun. (I was thinking it would be real nice to be home on the farm milking cows) Sept. 12, 1918, at 1 a.m. the bombardment started on St. Mihiel and what a noise! The gas alarm was banging away. We had gas masks for ourselves and also for the horses and believe me the horses didn’t like them. The gas sure was some mean stuff; real deadly and hard to tell when it was coming. It made no noise; some of it you couldn’t smell and there was plenty of it used in World War I.
“After driving the Germans out of St. Mineil, we were moved again to the Vanquois sector, west of Verdun and to the right of the woods. This was a hurry-march all night on the double. We sat and rested in the day time; undercover wherever you could find it. Us boys who had horses to take care of - there was no rest for us. We had to put up picket lines, feed, curry and find water for the horses. By the time we had this all done, it was time to be on the move again but we made it to the new ‘front’ in the Argonne Woods. On this move we celebrated our victory. We moved again and we received tractors and trucks…in other words, we were motorized.
“We were all ready to move to the Metch and Verdun Front when we received the news that the Armistice was signed.”
Andrew was looking for souvenirs when he fell through the ceiling of one of the barracks (German) smashing his feet and breaking one of his ankles. They spent Christmas in France then moved to Luxembourg on Jan. 7, 1919. He was in the occupation troops.
“I finally started to the USA on the ship USS America and got out of the army on June 8, 1919. My folks were sure surprised when I came home in the evening of June 10. Everyone was sure glad to see me after being gone nearly two years. It took some time to get back to being a civilian.”