"At The Earliest Possible Date"--Work Of Detroit's Own Welfare Association--"Getting The Troops Out Of Russia"--We Assemble At Economia--Delousers And Ball Games--War Mascots--War Brides--Remarkable Memorial Day Service In American Military Cemetery In Archangel--Tribute To Our Comrades Who Could Not Go Home--Our Honored Dead.
"At the earliest possible moment" was the date set by the War Department for the withdrawal of the troops from Russia. This was the promise made the American people during the ice-bound winter, the promise made more particularly to appease vigorous protests of "The Detroit's Own Welfare Association," which under the leadership of Mr. D. P. Stafford, had been untiring in its efforts to move the hand of the War Department. Congressmen Doremus and Nichols and Townsend had also been very active in "getting the Americans out of North Russia."
To us wearied veterans of that strange war, the nine months of guerrilla war, always strenuous and at times taking on large proportions,--to us the "earliest possible moment" could not arrive a minute too soon. We had fought a grim fight against terrible odds, we had toiled to make the defenses more and more impregnable so that those who relieved us might not be handicapped as we had been. We hated to be thought of as quitters, we suffered under the reproachful eyes of newly arriving veteran Scots and Tommies who had been mendaciously deceived into thinking we were quitters. We suffered from the thought that the distortion, exaggeration and partisan outcry at home was making use of half-statements of returned comrades or half-statements from uncensored letters, in such a way as to make us appear cry-babies and quitters. But down in our hearts we were conscious that our record, our morale, our patriotism were sound. We believed we were entitled to a speedy getaway for home. We accepted the promise with pleasure. We felt friendly toward the Detroit's Own Welfare Association for its efforts and the efforts of others. We could have wished that there had not been so much excitement of needless fears and incitement of useless outcry. It cost us hard earned money to cable home assurances to our loved ones that we were well and safe, so that they need not believe the wild tales that we were sleeping in water forty below zero, or thawing out the cows before we milked them, or simply starving to death. We could have wished that returned comrades who tried to tell the real facts and allay needless fears--the actual facts were damnable enough--might not have been treated as shamefully as some were by a populace fooled by a mixed propaganda that was a strange combination, as it appears to us now, of earnest, sympathetic attempts to do something for "Detroit's Own," of bitter partisan invective, and of insidious pro-bolshevism.
For the cordial welcome home which was given to the Polar Bear veterans in July, our heartfelt appreciation is due. Veterans who marched behind Major J. Brooks Nichols between solid crowds of cheering home-folks on July 4th at Belle Isle could not help feeling that the city of Detroit was proud of the record of the men who had weathered that awful campaign. It was a greeting that we had not dreamed of those days away up there in the northland when we were watching the snow and ice melt and waiting news of the approach of troopships.
At Economia we assembled for the purpose of preparing for our voyage home. To the silt-sawdust island doughboys came from the various fronts. By rail from Obozerskaya and Bolsheozerki, by barge from Beresnik and Kholmogori and Onega, came the veterans of this late side show of the great world war. With them they had their mascots and their War Brides, their trophies and curios, their hopeful good humor and healthy play spirit.
Who will not recall with pleasure the white canvass camp we made on the "policed-up" sawdust field. Did soldiers ever police quite so willingly as they did there on the improvised baseball diamond, where "M" Company won the championship and the duffle-bagful of roubles when the first detachment of the 339th was delousing and turning over Russian equipment, and "F" Company won the port belt and roubles in the series played while the remainder of the Polar Bears were getting ready to sail.
Who will forget the day that the Cruiser "Des Moines" steamed in from the Arctic? Every doughboy on the island rushed to the Dvina's edge. They stood in great silent throat-aching groups, looking with blurred eyes at the colors that grandly flew to the breeze. And then as the jackies gave them a cheer those olive drab boys answered till their throats were hoarse. That night they sat long in their tents--it was not dusk even at midnight, and talked of home. A day or so later they spied from the fire-house tower vessels that seemed to be jammed in a polar ice floe which a north wind crowded into the throat of the White Sea. Then to our joy a day or two later came the three transports, the long deferred hope of a homeward voyage.
Everyone was merry those days. Even the daily practice march with full-pack ordered by Colonel Stewart, five miles round and round on the rough board walks of the sawdust port, was taken with good humor. Preparations for departure included arrangements for carrying away our brides and mascots.
Here and there in the Economia embarkation camp those days and nightless nights in early June many a secret conclave of doughboys was held to devise ways and means of getting their Russian mascots aboard ship. Of these boys and youths they had become fond. They wanted to see them in "civvies" in America and the mascots were anxiously waiting the outcome at the gangplank.
At Chamova one winter night a little twelve-year old Russian boy wandered into the "B" Company cook's quarters where he was fed and given a blanket to sleep on. Welz, the cook, mothered him and taught him to open bully cans and speak Amerikanski. This incident had its counterpart everywhere. At Obozerskaya "M" Company picked up a boy whose father and mother had been carried off by the Bolsheviks. He and his pony and water-barrel cart became part of the company. At Pinega the "G" Company boys adopted a former Russian Army youth who for weeks was the only man who could handle their single Colt machine gun. In trying to get him on board the "Von Stenben" in Brest--it had been simple in Economia--they got their commanding officer into trouble. Lt. Birkett was arrested, compelled to remain at Brest but later released and permitted to bring the youth to America with him where he lives in Wisconsin. And out on a ranch in Wyoming a Russian boy who unofficially enlisted with the American doughboys to fight for his Archangel state is now learning to ride the American range with Lt. Smith. Major Donoghue's "little sergeant" is in America too and goes to school and his Massachusetts school teacher calls him Michael Donoghue. And others came too.
In marked contrast to these passengers who came with the veterans from North Russia via Brest, which they remember for its Bokoo Eats and its lightning equipment-exchange mill, is the story of one of the fifty general prisoners whom they guarded on the "Von Steuben." One of them was a bad man, since become notorious. He was missing as the ship dropped anchor that night in the dark harbor. It was feared by the "second looie" and worried old sergeant that the man was trying to make an escape. When they found him feigning slumber under a life boat on a forbidden deck they chose opposite sides of the life boat and kicked him fervently, first from one side then the other till he was submissive. The name of the man at that time meant little to them--it was Lt. Smith. But a few days afterward they could have kicked themselves for letting Smith off so easy, for the press was full of the stories of the brutalities of "Hardboiled" Smith. Lt. Wright and Sergeant Gray are not yearning to do many events of the Russian campaign over but they would like to have that little event of the homeward bound voyage to do over so they could give complete justice to "Hardboiled" Smith.
In contrast with the stories of brutal prison camps of the World War we like to think of our buddies making their best of hardships and trials in North Russia. We have asked two well-known members of the expedition to contribute reminiscences printed below.
"As ithers see us" is here shown by extract from a letter by a Red Cross man who saw doughboys as even our Colonel commanding did not see. This Red Cross officer, Major Williams, of Baltimore, saw doughboys on every front and sector of the far-extended battle and blockhouse line. He may speak with ample knowledge of conditions. In part he writes:
"Americans, as a rule, are more popular in Russia than any other nationality. The American soldier in North Russia by his sympathetic treatment of the villagers, his ability to mix and mingle in a homey fashion with the Russian peasants in their family life and daily toil, and particularly the American soldier's love of the little Russian children, and the astonishing affection displayed by Russian children toward the Americans furnishes one of the most illuminating examples of what was and may be accomplished through measures of peaceful intercourse. The American soldier demonstrated in North Russia that he is a born mixer.
"I could write a book, giving concrete examples coming under my observation, from voluminous notes in my possession. As I dictate this, there is a vision of an American soldier who stopped by my sled, at some remote village in a trackless forest, and urged me to visit with him a starving family. This soldier, from his own rations, was helping to feed thirteen Russians, and his joy was as great as theirs when the Red Cross came to their relief."
The next contribution is from the pen of a man who, born in Kiev, Russia, had in youth seen the Czar's old army, who had served years in the U. S. army after coming to America, who was one of the finest soldiers and best known men in the North Russian expedition.
"It is almost an axiom with the regular army of our own country and those of foreign nations, that soldier and discipline are synonymous. Meaning thereby the blind discipline of the Prussian type.
"That such an axiom is entirely wrong has been shown us by the National Army. No one will affirm that the new-born army was a model to pass inspection even before our own High Moguls of the regular army. And yet, what splendid success has that sneered at, 'undisciplined,' army achieved.
"And where is the cause of its success? The 'Uneducatedness' in the sense of the regular army. The American citizen in a soldier uniform acted like a free human being, possessing initiative, self-reliance, and confidence, which qualities are entirely subdued by the so called education of a soldier. It is not the proper salute or clicking of the heels that makes the good soldier, but the spirit of the man and his character. And these latter qualities has possessed our national army. Fresh from civilian life with all the liberty-loving tendencies, our boys have thrown themselves into the fight on their own accord, once they realized the necessity of it. The whip of discipline could never accomplish so much as the conscience of necessity. And that is what the national army possessed. And that is the cause of its success. And therefore I love it.
"So long as the United States remains a free country, there is no danger for the American people. That spirit which has manifested itself in the National Army is capable to accomplish everything. It is the free institutions of the country that brought us victory, not the so called 'education' gotten in the barracks.
"I admired the national army man in fight, because I loved him as a citizen. And unless he changes as a citizen, he will not change as a fighter. To me the citizen and soldier are synonymous. A good citizen makes a good soldier, and vice versa. Let the American citizen remain as free-loving and self-reliant as he is now, and he will make one of the best soldiers in the world. Let him lose that freedom loving spirit, and he will have to be Prussianized.
"I have my greatest respect for the national army man, because I have seen him at his best. In the moments of gravest danger he has exhibited that courage which is only inborn in a free man. And when I saw that courage, I said, He does not need any 'education.' Let him remain a free man, and God help those who will try to take away his freedom." SGT. J. KANT, Co. "M" 339th Inf.
From distant Morjagorskaya, hundreds of versts, walked a bright-eyed Slavic village school teacher to say goodbye to her doughboy friend who was soon to sail for home. But to her great joy and reward, Nina Rozova found that her lover, George Geren, of Detroit, had found a way to make her his wife at once. One certain sympathetic American Consul, Mr. Shelby Strother, had told George he would help him get his bride to America if he wanted to marry the pretty teacher.
Blessings on that warm-hearted Consul. He helped eight of the boys to bring away their brides. In this volume is a picture of a doughboy-barishna wedding party, Joe Chinzi and Elena Farizy. On a boat from Brest to Hoboken, among one hundred sixty-seven war brides from France, Belgium, England and Russia, Elena was voted third highest in the judges' beauty list. And John Karouch saw his Russian bride, Alexandra Kadrina, take the first beauty prize. The writer well remembers the beautiful young Russian woman of Archangel who wore mourning for an American corporal and went to see her former lover's comrades go away on the tug for the last time. They had been to the cemetery and they looked respectfully and affectionately at her for they knew it was her hand that had made the corporal's grave there in the American cemetery in Archangel the one most marked by evidences of loving care.
One of the last duties of the veterans of this campaign was the paying of honors to their dead comrades in the American cemetery which Ambassador Francis had purchased for our dead. This was without doubt the most remarkable Memorial Day service in American history. From The American Sentinel is taken the following account:
"American Memorial Day was celebrated at Archangel yesterday. Headed by the American Band, a company of American troops, and detachments of the U. S. Navy, Russian troops, Russian Navy, British troops, British Navy, French troops, French Navy, Italian and Polish troops, formed in parade at Sabornaya at ten o'clock in the morning and marched to the cemetery.
"Here a short memorial service was held. Brief addresses were delivered by General Richardson, General Miller, Charge D'Affaires Poole, and General Ironside.
"In his introductory address General Richardson said:
"'Fellow Soldiers of America and Allied Nations: We are assembled here on the soil of a great Ally and a traditional friend of our country, to do what honor we may to the memory of America's dead here buried, who responded to their country's call in the time of her need and have laid down their lives in her defense. Throughout the world wherever may be found American soldiers or civilians, are gathered others today for the fulfillment of this sacred and loving duty. I ask you to permit your thought to dwell at this time with deep reverence upon the fact that no higher honor can come to a soldier than belongs to those who have made this supreme sacrifice, and whose bodies lie here before us, but whose spirits, we trust, are with us.'
"Before introducing General Miller, General Richardson thanked the Allied representatives for their participation in the celebration of Memorial Day.
"Mr. Poole said:
"'This day was first instituted in memory of those who fell in the American Civil War. It became the custom to place flowers on the graves of soldiers and strew flowers on the water in memory of the sailor dead, marking in this way one day in each year when the survivors of the war might join with a later generation to revere the memory of those who had made for the common good the supreme sacrifice of life. For Americans it is an impressive thought that we are renewing this consecration today in Russia, in the midst of a civic struggle which recalls the deep trials of our own past and which is, moreover, inextricably bound up with the World War which has been our common burden.
"'This war, which was begun to put down imperial aggression upon the political liberties, of certain peoples, has evolved into a profound social upheaval, touching the most remote countries. We cannot yet see definitely what the results of its later developments will be, but already there lies before forward looking men the bright prospect of peace and justice and liberty throughout the world such as we recently dared hope for only within the narrow confines of particular countries. To the soldiers of the great war--inspired from the outset by a dim foresight of this stupendous result--we now pay honor; and in particular, to the dead whose graves are before us.
"'These men, like their comrades elsewhere in the most endless line of battle, have struck their blow against the common enemy. They have had the added privilege of assisting in the most tragic, and at the same time the most hopeful, upheaval for which the war has been the occasion. Autocracy in Russia is gone. A new democracy is in the struggle of its birth. The graves before us are tangible evidence of the deep and sympathetic concern of the older democracies. These men have given their lives to help Russia. They have labored in an enterprise which is a forecast of a new order in the world's affairs and have made of it a prophecy of success. Here within this restricted northern area there has been an acid test of the practicability of co-operation among nations for the attainment of common ends. Nowhere could material and moral conditions have been more difficult than we have seen them these past months; under no circumstances could differences in national temperament or the frailties and shortcomings of individuals be brought into stronger relief. Yet the winter of our initial difficulties is given way to a summer of maturing success. Co-operation begun in the most haphazard fashion has developed after a few months of mutual adjustment into concerted and harmonious action. It seems to me that herein lies striking proof of the generous spirit of modern international intercourse and proof of the most practical kind that, as nations succeed to doing away with war, they will be able to apply the energies thus released to common action in the beneficent field of world wide social and political betterment. If this ideal is to be measurably attained, as I believe it is, these men have indeed made their sacrifice to a great cause. They have given their lives to the progress of civilization and their memory shall be cherished as long as civilization lasts.'
"The Northern Morning, a Russian daily of Archangel, reported on the Memorial Day Exercises as follows:
"'In memory of the fallen during the Civil War in America, on the initiative of President Lincoln, the 30th of May was fixed as a day to remember the fallen heroes. In this year our American friends have to pass this day far from their country, America, in our cold northland, between the graves of those who are dear not only to our friends, Allies, but also to us Russians; the sacred graves beneath which are concealed those who, far from their own country, gave away their lives to save us. These are now sacred and dear places, and the day of the thirtieth of May as a day of memorial to them will always be to us a day of mourning. This day will not be forgotten in the Russian soul. It has to be kept in memory as long as the name of Russian manhood exists.
"'After the speeches a military salute was fired. A heart-breaking call of the trumpet over the graves of the fallen sounded the mourning notes. Those who attended the meeting will never forget this moment of the bugle call. The signal as it broke forth filled the air with sorrowness and grief, as if it called the whole world to bow before those who, loving their neighbors, without hesitation gave their lives away for the sacred cause of humanity.'
"Honor be to the fallen: blessings and eternal rest to those protectors of humanity who gave their lives away for the achievement of justice and right. Sleep quietly now, sons of liberty and light. You won before the world never-fading honor and eternal glory."
And so at last came the day to sail. We were going out. No Americans were coming to take our place. We were going to leave the "show" in the hands of the British--who themselves were to give it up before fall. The derided Bolshevik bands of brigands whom we had set out to chase to Vologda and Kotlas, had developed into a well-disciplined, well-equipped fighting organization that responded to the will of Leon Trotsky. Although we had seen an Archangel State military force also develop behind our lines and come on to the active fighting sectors, we knew that Archangel was in desperate danger from the Bolshevik Northern Army of Red soldiers. They were out there just beyond the fringe of the forest only waiting, perhaps, for us to start home.
We must admit that when we thought of those wound-chevroned Scots who had remained on the lines with the new Archangel troops of uncertain morale and recalled the looks in their eyes, we sensed a trace of bitter in our cup of joy. Why if the job had been worth doing at all had it not been worth while for our country to do it wholeheartedly with adequate force and with determination to see it through to the desired end. We thought of the many officers and men who had given their lives in this now abandoned cause. And again arose the old question persistent, demanding an answer: Why had we come at all? Was it just one of those blunders military-political that are bound to happen in every great war? The thought troubled us even as we embarked for home.
That night scene with the lowering sun near midnight gleaming gold upon the forest-shaded stretches of the Dvina River and casting its mellow, melancholy light upon the wrecked church of a village, is an ineffaceable picture of North Russia. For this is our Russia--a church; a little cluster of log houses, encompassed by unending forests of moaning spruce and pine; low brooding, sorrowful skies; and over all oppressive stillness, sad, profound, mysterious, yet strangely lovable to our memory.
Near the shell-gashed and mutilated church are two rows of unadorned wooden crosses, simple memorials of a soldier burial ground. Come vividly back into the scene the winter funerals in that yard of our buddies, brave men who, loving life, had been laid away there, having died soldier-like for a cause they had only dimly understood. And the crosses now rise up, mute, eloquent testimony to the cost of this strange, inexplicable war of North Russia.
We cast off from the dirty quay and steamed out to sea. On the deck was many a reminiscent one who looked back bare-headed on the paling shores, in his heart a tribute to those who, in the battle field's burial spot or in the little Russian churchyards stayed behind while we departed homeward bound.
This closes our narrative. It is imperfectly told. We could wish we had time to add another volume of anecdotes and stories of heroic deeds. For errors and omissions we beg the indulgence of our comrades. We trust that the main facts have been clearly told. Here by way of further dedication of this book to our honored dead, whose names appear at the head of our lengthy casualty list of five hundred sixty-three, let us add a few simple verses of sentiment, the first two of which were written by "Dad" Hillman and the others added on by one of the writers.*****
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