I remember it was one of those bleak days along the Hudson and the room was dim. His face fell into more shadow than his serious expression called for, as he turned with distended nostrils and spoke more slowly than usual.
"Chief, I don't want it generally known, but I've got to take care of myself and conserve my energy for the vital task of rebuilding West Point in the spirit of the old West Point. You see, my wounds . . ."
He stopped short and turned to the window, his lips pressed to a bulge.
I felt like a dud for having brought up the subject, and quickly said, "You must have had exceptional service over there, from all I've heard."
He tilted his face toward the ceiling and, in faraway tones, said, "Chief, God led me by the hand — led me by the hand. There were so many times I shouldn't have escaped."
His expression changed to reverie and he didn't pace.
"The Forty-second," he went on, "was stopped. We'd tried to take a hill in our front but the Boches had it so heavily fortified and armed, we were held up each time. The losses would be too costly. I felt we must get more information on the details of their position. I organized a night reconnaissance patrol. I accompanied it because I felt my presence would help morale and I could personally direct the movements so as to obtain specifically what we needed.
"We had not gone far in the darkness over no‑man's-land when the enemy opened up with everything he had. Automatically, we hit the dirt and dropped into shell holes. I lay there till things got quiet and the darkness was blackest. Then I called in muffled voice, 'Each one of you get up when I give the signal, take the hand of the man on his right. I will lead p144 off to get back to our lines!' I waited till the time was ripe and gave the command. No one stirred, and there wasn't a sound. I called again. No action or reply. I crawled along from shell hole to shell hole. I took hold of each man and shook him, thinking it not unlikely his extreme fatigue had caused him to sleep."
MacArthur came over close to me and bent down.
"Chief, they were all stone dead. I was the only one left there alone. I made my way back with God's help.
"But those tragic lives of the patrol hadn't been sacrificed in vain. In that one swift burst of fire which laid them low, I noted there was a stretch from which there was no shooting. It must be a gap in the lines. Consequently, when I returned I organized a penetration for the purpose of going through it. Even though it was really a gap, we had a tough fight. Our taking the Boches in flank finally let us win out. I sat down and wrote a message back to Chaumont: 'I have taken Hill X. I am going to sleep.' And I slept for sixteen hours.
"Another illustration of how God was with me. It was in those desperate days of attack after attack when we grew more and more fatigued, having had little sleep and no food. I was so tired that when I hit the ground at night I was asleep. On this occasion, I was lying with the troops behind a rise and was deep in slumberland when, for no reason at all, I awoke. It was when the day was just beginning to break, and I should have been sleeping my soundest. I drowsily looked toward the front as a matter of habit."
He bent toward me, his eyes staring.
"Do you know what I saw, Chief? A German regiment, polished to the gills and marching across our front as if they were on parade on the streets of Berlin. They were right there a couple of hundred yards away. I couldn't believe my eyes. In my overfatigue, I had had delusions — spots before my eyes and even a real vision of an old girl of mine in a rose garden. I couldn't trust my sight. I gently awakened the man next to me, and whispered as I pointed, 'Do you see what I see?'
"By his start of amazement, I knew I was not seeing things. p145 The German regiment had evidently not known we had advanced so far forward. I said to my buddy, 'Our men are sound asleep. You and I will go along the line, gently get them awake.' We did just that. I would pull a man by the arm or leg, point and whisper, 'German regiment! German regiment! They awoke without a move or a sound. I could have hugged them for the way they stuck to their training. They waited until I gave the command to fire. When I did, Chief, in a few minutes there was no German regiment — on its feet.
"It was a terrible fight. I saw youths jumping up and down with terror before our machine guns mowed them down. I shudder to think of it now. Another instance of how God led me by the hand, the way he did Joshua.
"There was another time when I wasn't in such a fortunate position. There was one battalion of the Forty-second I wasn't sure about. The major was anything but liked by his men. So when an attack was to come off, I went along its trenches. At the signal for the jump‑off, not a single man stirred. I couldn't believe my eyes. But something had to be done immediately. Otherwise the units on our right and left would have their flanks in the air, with the probability of serious losses and ultimate defeat. I told the major I'd personally take command.
"Before I dared contemplate my action, I crawled up over the top and called, 'Follow me!" I walked forward not looking back, with utter silence behind me. Chief, I never felt so alone and naked in my life. The enemy was opening up, and I was a solitary human being against nests of machine guns. But way down I felt my men, who had previously shown devotion to me, would not see me sacrifice myself. I must have taken only a few steps, which seemed to me like a hundred, when I heard them scramble up with a little cheer."
He rubbed his chin.
"We won that day, but if ever God led me by the hand, it was then."
I kept quiet and didn't make a move, fearful he'd break in on his mood and halt his narrative.
"I remember another occasion," he went on, "where I p146 should probably have been court-martialed. We were on the eve of an offensive which we had worked out with great pains. The night before the jump‑off, an order came down from GHQ relieving my entire staff, sending them elsewhere and replacing them with officers totally unfamiliar with the situation. I was aghast that such a foolhardy thing could come about. I was enraged. I jumped in my car with blood in my eye. I didn't care what they'd do to me. When I got to GHQ, I rushed in past sentries, past members of the staff, right into Pershing's office. I pounded the desk and yelled, 'I can fight the Boches, but I can't fight Chaumont.'
"The General looked up with shock that plainly told he thought I'd lost my mind. 'Why, Douglas,' he asked, 'what's the matter?'
"I explained what had happened, and it was his turn to blow up. He told me to pay no attention to the order, and he'd see how such a thing could take place. As he rang for someone, I made my escape back to my staff, which stayed with me."
His face lit up as he began to pace.
"There were some funny times, too. I was out watching the action through field glasses. Shells were bursting pretty thick around my aide and myself. He was a fine, conscientious lad who had read in some manual that, if his general exposed himself to danger unduly, the aide must be firm with him, even to using physical force. Suddenly, I felt his arms around my neck. As he pulled me backward, he said, 'General, you dare not jeopardize your life this way. You must come back out of this shelling.'
"He had a pretty good hold, but I managed to break it. When I had freed myself, I said to him, 'Son, I appreciate your attitude, but just get this straight once and for all. The finest thing that could happen to the morale of the AEF would be to have a general officer bumped off.' "
He spoke as if he were uttering a commonplace, something most anyone in like position would say. It was far from his usual dramatic manner, which gave not the slightest indication he was uttering something heroic.
p147 Then he suddenly snapped around, as if he were coming out of a trance, rubbed his eyes, half-grinned and said, "Chief, what on earth have I been doing? Drooling like an old fool." He caught me by the shoulder. "This is an order," he went on. "If you catch me reminiscing, find the stoutest club you can lay your hands on, come up behind me and put me out of my misery."
That was the first and last time he reminisced with me, except to illustrate a point.
His vivid description of the war inspired in me two contrary sensations: admiration for his valor and wonder at the seeming contradictions in his personality. "The finest thing that could happen to the morale of the AEF would be to have a general officer bumped off." It seemed impossible that a man geared to personal ambition could utter such a statement of self-abnegation for the good of the whole. Yet there was no gainsaying his sincerity, for his very actions proved it. He had been voluntarily out under the shell fire, and had meant to stay for the greater chance of victory despite efforts to take him to safety.
There was no doubt about the truth and accuracy of his recital, for he had really been talking to himself. He had been seeing visions of the past as his precise mind recalled them. And, certainly, he had had no reason to impress me. Great guns, he knew I was already impressed!
And as I watched him in his suppressed passion, there were other contradictions. His whole appearance belied the rough drudgery of a plodding soldier. His slender, artistic fingers were more suited to pressing the neck of a violin than pulling the pin of a hand grenade, his pale esthetic face more appropriate under a top hat than under a metal helmet, and his almost wraithlike stature more adapted to an impressive office than a lice-infested dugout. It was hard for me to conceive of this sensitive, high-strung personage slogging in the mud, enduring filth, living in stinking clothing and crawling over jagged soil under crisscrosses of barbed wire to have a bloody clash with a bestial enemy.
p148 I was glad I didn't need to conceive of it, that he wasn't out there but right here at West Point, trying to serve an old institution that had come near to being dispatched. Could he do it?
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