‘We Heard the Darndest Racket’

A young American writes homeabout the end of World War I

Before Veteran’s Day was established, Nov. 11 was Armistice Day — marking the end of World War I, the “war to end all wars.” The armistice took effect at 11 am Nov. 11, 1918 — the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, a hundred years ago next week.

Eugene resident Paula Staight’s grandfather was a young sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps fighting in France when the war ended. Here’s the text of a letter that Eylar Staight sent to his mother in Lynden, Wash., a few days after the guns fell silent. It was published in The Lynden Tribune in March 1919.

We jumped off on our last attack of the war Nov. 1, just north of the Argonne Forest. We broke through the Krimhelda lines (which formed the last of the old Hindenberg system) without much trouble and headed straight for Sedan on the Belgian frontier 40 kilometers away — we went eight of them the first day, taking lots of provisions and guns. From then on, we were up against rear guard action only, composed mostly of machine guns and sacrifice artillery. Nov. 10 found us east of Buzancy on the west side of the Meuse, held up by a well organized line on the right bank.

Our engineers worked all night throwing a pontoon bridge across. Our orders were to cross on the pontoons and attack the hills on the east bank. The night was one of the darkest I’ve ever seen, and to make it worse it was raining.

Our bridges consisted of a foot plank laid on floating ties. We had three of these. Under the conditions naturally we were as quiet as possible, and everything was lovely till some recruit hit the muzzle of his piece against his helmet.

Almost instantly we heard a German sentry shouting something in Dutch and we knew in a short time it would be anything but pleasant in that vicinity.

The head of our column had barely reached the opposite bank when their machine guns turned loose, and in a few minutes their artillery had also spotted us, and about the third seabag hit one of our pontoons amidships — I could also tell the machine guns were doing their bit by the constant splashes of bodies in the river.

Some of the fellows who would receive only a small blighty would get excited and fall overboard. We were greatly encumbered by our heavy marching order rolls and two bandoliers of ammunition; with this added weight a man stood a very poor chance in twenty feet of ice cold water.

By daylight our 1st and 2nd Battalions had effected a crossing and dug in, and there we were — the only Americans on that side of the river, with the Kaiser’s army in front of us. It was impossible for anybody to cross the river in daylight. A blind man could have picked us off at that distance (400 yards). We spent the morning doubled up like a jack-knife in our holes, and sniping back at the Heinies.

Their machine guns kept us pretty well down, but they didn’t have the nerve to come down and get us.

It’s hard telling what the outcome would have been, but about eleven a.m. we heard the darndest racket, and looking up the hill we could see the Jerries dancing and throwing helmets in the air. We all stood by thinking it was a counter attack till a German officer was seen approaching our lines waving a white flag, and we knew the armistice had gone into effect.

The German officer spoke good English, and about the first thing he wanted to know was how the devil we got over here?

Then noticing our emblems he said, “So you’re Marines? Well, that accounts for it.”

A few of us walked up to their lines, swapped a few souvenirs then came back and turned in for the first peaceful sleep in eighteen months. That night the Heinies celebrated by throwing up red, white and blue flares, while we sang “It’s a Long Way from Berlin to Broadway.”

We are billeted in private houses with German families now along the Rhine. We get along very well — it is impossible to buy a single article to eat in this country except potatoes. Can you imagine the U.S. in that condition? ν

Eylar Staight fought in five major battles of the war, including Belleau Wood, where he later wrote he was one of four men who survived out of his platoon of 60. He was wounded twice and gassed once, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French government for heroism. He died in 1982 in Baker City at the age of 87.

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