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Texas | Columns | Lone Star Diary

The War to End All Wars

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery
World War I was known as: “The war to end all wars.” As with any war, it was a horrible experience for all those involved. Memories of death and mutilation stay with an individual for a lifetime; something they never forget.

A Gonzales County boy, Courtney C. Buchanan, served with the 36th Infantry Division in World War I and some of the letters that he wrote home to his family and friends were published in The Gonzales Inquirer.

According to his letters, Buchanan was involved in the deadly trench warfare against the Germans in France. Coming out of the trenches to assault the enemy was known as: “Going over the top.” This often meant facing a hail of machine gun and sniper fire in the beginning—only to have it end in bloody hand-to-hand combat.

Mr. Buchanan’s letter touched me personally because my Dad served with the 36th Infantry Division from 1940 to 1941 before he was reassigned to other units until the end of World War II. I was in the Texas Army National Guard assigned to the “36th” at Angleton, Texas, from 1960 to 1965.

The following letter appeared in The Gonzales Inquirer in January of 1919.


The Gonzales Inquirer - January 23, 1919

Bernou, France, Nov. 30, 1918. To: Mr. and Mrs. E.B. Buchanan — Dear Bro. and Sister: For the first time, I can tell you where we are located. We have been here two days after making a sixteen days hike across the country directly from the front.

We went over the top the morning of Oct. 8, a time that will long be remembered and the beginning of the reputation that was made by the 36th Division. We relieved the 2nd Marines and were asked if we had ever been under shell fire and where, we told them we had not. They laughed at us and said we could do nothing as it was the hardest front at that time.

Well, you know that wasn’t very good news to a bunch of men their first time over, but it only took a few minutes to show what we could do.

They [2nd Marines] started over the top with us to get us started and when they went to the rear, they said the 36th Division had more grit and less sense than any that had gone over. We went into our positions the night of Oct. 7th with Boche snipers and sharpshooters all about us and hard to locate because we were fighting in the Argonne forest and they would camouflage themselves in trees.

As we followed the infantry we saw many dead and wounded. In a number of places I stepped from one dead to another who had crossed a sniper’s path. I have seen many killed—from a rifle ball just through the head to an artillery shell that would leave only small pieces and sometime it was impossible to even find the identification tag.

You cannot imagine the feeling that came to my heart when you spoke of mother, thinking of her boy in far-away France, battling with the treacherous Hun. I know she is worrying and can’t help it, for she is like all mothers though she is more lucky than most, she has her son alive and the war over. There is many a mother who will never see her precious son again.

In going over the top I have seen many sights. I have seen the ground covered with mother’s boys of all flags and different colored uniforms, khaki, blue, green and gray, boys who never knew what hit them and who died in pain and agony.

Just imagine yourself going down a hill into a valley swept by enemy machine guns and rifle fire, snipers firing from every direction and artillery shells of all sizes from three to sixteen inch bursting all around you (believe me when a 16 inch hits it leaves some trace).

I will be able to tell you lots of things that have happened when I see you. I think I shall be back very soon if nothing happens. Well, it is late so I must close. So bye-bye.

Your brother, Pvt. Courtney C. Buchanan


© Murray Montgomery April 7, 2012 column
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