Company K of Yesterday was published in 1969 by Archibald Hart, a member of Company K and the 142 Infantry. This company was part of the 36th Division formed from the Texas and Oklahoma National Guards.
In the front of the book is a hand written note to Mrs. Nina Birkhead, the wife of Cecil Birkhead of Company K of the 142 Infantry;
“To Nina Birkhead in memory of one of the finest men ever to wear an American uniform—I present this Testimonial.” signed Archibald Hart, Sept. 10th, 1969.
The Birkheads lived in Lawrence, KS, and Mrs. Birkhead taught school in Reno, KS, where she was also the principal of the school district. This would have been in the 1960’s until the school closed due to consolidation.
There were two officers from Kansas in the 36th Division: Major (later Lt. Col) Edmund Andrews of Kansas City, KS, who was the 36th Division HQ -Division Signal Officer – a high ranking post; and 2nd Lt. Walter C Hornaday with HQ Company 133rd Field Artillery, no hometown listed just Kansas. There may be more enlisted men from Kansas, but those names are unknown today because the Texas National Guard does not have addresses of the enlisted men.
The book can be divided into 3 sections. The first section involves basic training. The second part involves traveling to France and more training (the only training Company K had received was training in trench warfare. By the time they reached France, they learned that by that time in the war, trench warfare was not as important as other tactics. The Third section involves the battles that Company K fought. But this book does not seem to dwell on the actual battle, but what happened in the camps before and after the battles.
In the basic training period of this book several interesting points were discussed. When Company K was formed in Camp Bowie in North Ft. Worth, the men did not have any military clothes. They trained in their own clothes, and especially their own shoes which could not withstand the marching stress.
General Greble recognized the foot problem, and a few days later an ammunition wagon pulled in to Company K’s area with military shoes and the foot problems went away.
As the season’s temperature became colder, army blankets were issued in October Although that winter was not considered a particularly cold one, it seemed colder than the military expected. Other blankets, quilts, etc. were obtained from home when they were available.
It was soon discovered that the military was going to do away with the colorful names describing each Division. Such names as the Rainbow Division, The All American Divison, the Yankee Division, etc. were to be named with a number. In this case the new name for this division would be the 36th Division, made up of Oklahoma and Texas units. This change was not well received by the American people and it was decided to keep the colorful names and their insignia, but the official name would be a number. The 36th Division was the official name, but the colorful name would be the “Arrowhead Division.”
The insignia was an arrowhead pointing down with a “T” in the middle of the arrowhead. E Company was made up entirely of Osage and Choctaw Indians. The Native Americans refused to wear this insignia because the arrow pointing downward represented defeat.
The military recognized the significance of the Indians in this Division. When there was a special parade, Chief Baconrind and his family had a special place of honor for viewing the program. The significance of the Native Americans, especially the Choctaw, was later recognized in battle. Communication was a problem. The problem was not damage from bombs and shells to the communication lines, but the problem was that the Germans were tapping into the lines to gather information about Allied plans. This problem was solved by utilizing the Choctaw Indians and their numerous Choctaw dialects which the Germans could not understand.
The “Spanish flu” was a problem. Even though there were several in Company K ill with the flu, the company did not lose a person. It was an entirely different story for the Division, which lost quite a few men to the illness. It was reported that after 4 months of sickness, the hospital had its first night with no deaths reported.
Military training involved weapons. The rifle became a comfortable piece of equipment. However, the Browning Automatic Rifle known as the BAR, presented an early problem. It had to be fired from the hip. If fired from the shoulder it would knock a person off balance and backward. The problem was not the firing of a single round, but the rapid firing of many rounds. Soon even the macho men learned this lesson.
One time during a demonstration of mortar firepower there was an accident which killed several men and wounded even more. The demo at first was just normal firing rate with a normal dropping rate of the mortar shell into the tube. When the end of this demonstration was getting close it was decided to do some rapid firing. An explosion occurred within the tube with dire result.
And then there was the southern drill sergeant who couldn’t say “march” without making the word two syllables. The old General who heard this had him relieved immediately and sent him to North Carolina where other “Misfits” were sent. This particular drill sergeant was well respected, and the men were very surprised when this happened.
In July the Division began traveling to France, by train to Long Island, New York, and then by an older train to Hoboken, New Jersey. They boarded the Lenape, an older ship, that was smaller than expected. Two things stood out during this trip:
In Alabama, people were standing on the side of the railroad track to wave as the soldiers went by. One well dressed young black youth stood out in the crowd because of his clothes. He was dressed with white shirt and his “Sunday Best” clothes. He waved and smiled. From inside the train three soldiers threw a large amount of dirty water on the youth. The author says, “The white onlookers were politely dismayed, and the negro youth reacted as did the many that I had seen before in like cases: bullied with the odds 50 to 1 against him, grin and pretend it was a joke.”
Sgt. Smart came through the doors and confronted the three men who had dumped the water on the black lad. He cussed them up and down and the author enjoyed seeing the three men cower in response to Sgt. Smart’s actions.
Most of the men had never seen the ocean before, and generally most were seasick for a couple of days. One person was sick the entire trip. After he went to “sick bay” no one from his company ever saw him again. They wondered if he was sent back to the U.S. or some where else.
Submarines were on the soldiers minds, but most let the Navy worry about the subs. No submarine boats were seen on this trip.
After the soldiers arrived in Brest, France, they went into training provided by the French. This lasted about 6 weeks. It isn’t clear from this book, but other sources point out that the 36th training in Texas was involved with trench warfare and only trench warfare. The training now received did not involve trench warfare.
During the time Company K was in battle, very little information is given by the author in describing what the unit actually did. We do know that the 36th Division was involved in some intensive battles. We know this because throughout various parts of this book we learn about some of the battlefield results.
The author provides some evidence of other battles in this book. For example he discusses some of the battle fields as being barren of trees and vegetation. There seemed to be no evidence of anything green left on these battle fields. He notes that on one battle field the shell holes were three to five feet deep and so close together that vehicles could not travel this area. Shell holes were round and land mine holes were rectangular. Company K was marched over part of the area which had been slightly smoothed so they could get to their place of battle.
Twice Company K used guides to get the soldiers to the correct battle position. The first time a guide was used, the guide got lost and they were so tired from marching so many hours that their Colonel refused to have them go into battle. They rested one day. The second time the guide was several hours late.
Company K was involved with the battle of St. Etienne. The Second Division, the only Division to have both Army and Marines regiments, had been fighting for some time in this area. The 36th Division fought there also and they relieved some of the 2nd Division. The people in Company K were impressed with the confidence and pride the Marines exhibited. Although the marines had won the battle, they also suffered numerous casualties, which didn’t seem to bother them. The marines just talked about winning the battles and not their casualties.
The officers of the 142 Regiment were quite upset with the Marines. The Marines did not give to the Regiment any maps of the battle location. The result was the 142 Regiment was handicapped and somewhat confused as to what the maps would have provided. Speculation by Company K was that the Marines believed they would have to go right back in the area, because the National Guard was not really battle tested.
The men in Company K noticed that marine cooks were preparing rice with raisins. Company K men were jealous of this fact. They rarely got rice. In general most of the food received by Company K was canned corn beef hash and sometimes canned salmon. Giant loaves of bread would be included.
The marines had special bracelets on their wrists with their name and home address, plus they had a totally different uniform. All this impressed the author.
Other than bullets and shells, water was the real problem. They carried a canteen and at least one time they went from Friday to Tuesday with just one canteen of water. Nothing was ever noted in this book about using chlorine tablets to purify this water. And a few times they had to hunt for a water supply so they could have a drink.
At least two times, Archibald Hart disagreed with the official record of the battles. The disagreements usually involved the time that a unit was relieved or what shape the company was in after the battle.
The book contains quite a bit of subtle humor. One such case involves a dispute of the official record, which stated that Company K was relieved by the French. This is one of the times that Archibald Hart disagreed with the official report. The French did not relieve them. Company K left the battle area after waiting several hours for French relief. The author suggests that they were not relieved by the French, but they were relieved by a lone German Soldier, lying on his back with a bullet hole in his head. This German soldier story involves a German Sniper who had killed one of Company K’s men. The German was immediately shot by a Company K man, but he was found wounded and semi unconscious. The bullet had penetrated his helmet, became misshaped and took a piece of the German’s skull about the size of a cigarette. The Grey matter was left. Company K carried the wounded German around for a few days, but we are not told what the end result was with this prisoner.
The author on page 128 discusses managing prisoners and being rewarded for that action. He says, “The means whereby some superman, alone, achieve the fantastic feat of accepting 150 prisoners can easily be explained by any policeman….who single handedly disarmed them…..the prisoners would hardly elect to run…..because the prisoner would be easily shot. At one time the regiment had 150 prisoners with no special award.”
Although the author does not write much about the actual battle field action, throughout this book we learn that Company K was involved in some serious battles. For one thing, the author notes that Company. K had captured 40 prisoners.
We learn that 4 men were involved in a so called, “Close Call” Club. The four had evidence of bullets and shrapnel close to their body; like in their back pack or a dented helmet. The author was one member because he had shrapnel in his back pack from two different actions, which had caused him some small injury. Also, he had been one of four men who were blown into the air when a land mine exploded.
After the battle of St. Etienne, three regiments of the 36th division had so many casualties that they had been reduced to almost one regiment. More evidence that Company K did fight in some serious battles.
At one time Archibald Hart was observing a “Dog Fight” with 11 airplanes. They were quite a distance away, but he could see them. Every so often a bullet would come close to him and land in the grass. He at first thought these bullet was from a sniper, until he realized these bullets were strays from the airplanes. He then moved to cover. He remarked that he thought airplanes were a waste of money, and they probably wouldn’t be used in any other war. They were too costly compared to the cost of preparing a foot soldier.
The author sums up his military career with a humorous sentence suggesting that he never killed anybody in WW1. “Yes, son, at St. Etienne one day I leveled down on a German. He was another two-stripe corporal, by name, I believe, Schickelgruber. But obviously I missed him.” I can’t recall the author ever stating that he fired his rifle in this book. Although this sentence might seem to be true, it was not likely that anyone shooting the enemy would know the name of the person being shot, particularly if the shot missed the mark. And Maria Anna Schicklgruber is the paternal grandmother of Adolf Hitler.