MoboReader > Literature > Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche


Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 25498

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

His jaw set firmly, his keen, fiery eyes roving over the group before him, the gray-haired colonel of infantry closed his remarks with these words:

"Gentlemen, the task set for the officers of the United States Army is to produce, with the least possible delay, the finest fighting army in the world. Our own personal task is to make this, the Ninety-ninth, the finest regiment of infantry in that army.

"You have heard, at some length, what is expected of you. Any officer present, of any grade, who does not feel equal to the requirements I have laid down will do well to seek a transfer to some other regiment or branch of the service, or to send in his resignation as a military officer."

Rising to their feet behind the long, uncovered pine board mess tables at which they had sat listening and taking notes, the eyes of the colonel's subordinate officers glistened with enthusiasm. Instead of showing any trace of dissent they greeted their commanding officer's words with a low murmur of approval that grew into a noisy demonstration, then turned into three rousing cheers.

"And a tiger!" shouted a young lieutenant, in a bull-like voice that was heard over the racket.

Colonel Cleaves, though he did not unbend much before the tumult, permitted a gleam of satisfaction to show itself in his fine, rugged features.

"Good!" he said quietly, in a firm voice. "I feel assured that we shall all pull together for the common weal and for the abiding glory of American arms."

Gathering up the papers that he had, during his speech, laid out on the table before him, the colonel stepped briskly down the central aisle of the mess-room. As it was a confidential meeting of regimental officers, and no enlisted man was present, one of the second lieutenants succeeded in being first to reach the door. Throwing it open, he came smartly to attention, saluting as the commanding officer passed through the doorway. Then the door closed.

"Good!" cried Captain Dick Prescott. "That was straight talk all the way through."

"Hit the mark or leave the regiment!" voiced Captain Greg Holmes enthusiastically.

"Be a one hundred per cent. officer, or get out of the service!" agreed another comrade.

The tumult had already died down. The officers, from Lieutenant-Colonel Graves down to the newest "shave-tail" or second lieutenant, acted as by common impulse when they pivoted slowly about on their heels, glancing at each other with earnest smiles.

"Gentlemen, our job has been cut out for us. We know the price of success, and we know what failure would mean for us, personally or collectively. Going over to quarters, Sands?"

Thrusting a hand through the arm of Major Sands, Lieutenant-Colonel Graves started down the aisle. Little groups followed, and the mess-room of that company barracks was speedily emptied.

Hard work, not age, had brought the gray frosting into the hair of Colonel Cleaves; he was forty-seven years old, and not many months before he had been only a major.

The time was early in September, in the year 1917. War had been declared against Germany on April 6th. In the middle of July the Ninety-o-ninth Infantry had been called into existence. Regiments were then being added to the Regular Army. Two or three hundred trained soldiers and several hundred recruits had made up the beginnings of the regiment. Prescott and Holmes had been among the latest of the captains sent to the regiment, arriving in August. And now Colonel Cleaves had just joined his command on orders from Washington.

With forty men in the headquarters company and some fifty in the machine-gun company, the rifle companies on this September day averaged about seventy men. Nor had a full complement of officers yet arrived.

Dick Prescott and Greg Holmes, lately first lieutenants, as readers of former volumes of this series are aware, had received their commissions as captains just before joining the Ninety-ninth.

"This regiment is scheduled to go over at an early date," Colonel Cleaves had informed his regimental officers, at the conference of which we have just witnessed the close. "Headquarters and machine-gun companies must be raised to their respective quotas of men, and each rifle company must be increased from seventy to two hundred and fifty men each. New recruits will arrive every week. These men must be whipped into shape. Gentlemen, I expect your tireless aid in making this the finest infantry regiment in the American line."

One or two glances at Colonel Cleaves, when he was talking earnestly, were enough to show the observer that this officer meant all he said. Shirkers, among either officers or men, would receive scant consideration in his regiment.

Camp Berry, at which the Ninety-ninth and the Hundredth were stationed, lay in one of the prettiest parts of Georgia. Needless to say the day was one of sweltering heat and the regimental officers, as they filed out of the company barracks that had been used for holding the conference, fanned themselves busily with their campaign hats. Each, however, as he struck the steps leading to the ground, placed his campaign hat squarely on his head.

"Some pace the K.O. has set for us," murmured Greg, as he and

Dick started to walk down the company street.

"And we must keep that pace if we hope to last in Colonel Cleaves's regiment," Dick declared, with conviction. "Time was when an officer in the Regular Army could look forward to remaining an officer as long as he was physically fit and did not disgrace himself. But in this war any officer, regular or otherwise, will find himself laid on the shelf whenever he fails to produce his full share of usefulness."

"Do you think it's really as bad as that, Prescott?" demanded

Captain Cartwright, who was walking just behind them.

"Worse!" Dick replied dryly and briefly.

Cartwright sighed, then took a tighter grip on the swagger stick that he carried jauntily in his right hand. Cartwright was a smart, soldierly looking chap, but was well known as an officer who was not addicted to hard work.

Past three or four barrack buildings on the street the chums walked,

Cartwright still keeping just behind them.

"Look at the work of Sergeant Mock, will you?" demanded Greg, halting short as they came to the edge of one of the drill grounds.

Mock belonged to Greg's own company. At this moment the sergeant was busy, or should have been, drilling what was supposed to be a platoon, though to-day it consisted of only two corporals' squads, or sixteen men in all.

Greg Holmes's eyes opened wide with disgust as he watched the drilling, unseen by the sergeant.

The platoon had just wheeled and marched off by fours. The cadence was too slow, the men looked slouchy and showed no signs whatever of spirit.

"Perhaps the sergeant isn't feeling well," remarked Dick, with a smile.

"He won't be feeling well after he has talked with me," Greg uttered between his teeth.

To the further limit of the drill ground the sergeant marched his platoon, then wheeled them and brought them back again. As he came about the sergeant caught sight of his company commander. In an undertone he gave an order that brought his men along at greater speed than they had gone.

"Halt!" ordered the sergeant, and brought up his hand in salute to the officers.

"Sergeant Mock," called Holmes, in a low, even voice, "turn the men over to a corporal and come here."

Hastily, and flushing, Sergeant Mock came forward.

"How are the men feeling?" Greg inquired, after signaling the corporal now in charge to continue the drilling.

"Tired, sir," replied Mock, with a shamefaced look.

"And how is the sergeant feeling?" Greg went on, as the corporal led the men across the drill ground, this time at a sharper pace and correcting any fault in soldierly bearing that he observed.

"All right, sir," replied the sergeant.

"Then, if you're feeling all right, Sergeant Mock," Greg continued in as even a voice as before, "explain to me why you were marching the platoon at a cadence of about ninety, instead of the regulation hundred and twenty steps per minute. Tell me why the alignment of the fours was poor, and why the men were allowed to march without paying the slightest heed to their bearing."

Though there was nothing at all sharp in the company commander's voice, Mock knew that he was being "called," and, in fact, was perilously close to being "cussed out."

"The--the day is hot, sir, and--and I knew the men were about played out," stammered Mock.

"How long have you been in the Army, sergeant?" Greg continued.

"About two years and a half, sir."

"In all that time did you ever know officers or enlisted men to be excused from full performance of ordered duty on account of the weather?"

"N-n-no, sir."

"Then why did you start a new system on your own authority?" Greg asked quietly.

Mock tried to answer, opened his mouth, in fact, and uttered a few incoherent sounds, which quickly died in his throat.

"Sergeant Mock," said Greg, "we have just heard from our commanding officer. He demands the utmost from every officer, non-com and private. Are you prepared, and resolved, from this moment, to give the utmost that is in you at all times?"

"Yes, sir!" replied Mock with great emphasis.

"You mean what you are saying, Sergeant?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very good, then," continued the young captain. "I am going to take your word for it this time. But if I ever find you slacking or shirking again, I am going to go to the colonel immediately and ask him to 'break' you back to the ranks."

"Yes, sir," assented Mock, saluting.

"Are you fully familiar with all your drill work?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then remember that our enemies, the German soldiers, are men who are drilled and drilled until they are perfect in their work, and that their discipline is amazing. Keep the fact in mind that we can hardly hope to whip our enemies unless we are at least as good soldiers as they. That is all. Go back to your men, Sergeant."

Standing stiffly erect, Sergeant Mock brought up his right hand in a crisp salute, then wheeled and walked briskly back to join his men. Greg turned as if to say that he did not feel the need of remaining to watch the rebuked sergeant.

"By Jove!" uttered Captain Cartwright. "I do wish, Holmes, you'd come over and dress down some of my non-coms. I've been trying for three days to put 'pep' into some of them, and the K.O. frowned at me this morning."

"Non-com" is the Army abbreviation for "non-commissioned officers"--corporals and sergeants--while "K.O." is Army slang for commanding officer.

Arrived at an unpainted wooden barracks, in size and appearance just like those of the enlisted men, the three captains entered and walked up a flight of stairs to the floor above. Here they passed through a narrow corridor with doors on both sides that bore the cards of the officers who slept behind the respective doors. Cartwright went to his own room, while Greg followed Dick into the latter's quarters.

Plain enough was the room, seven and a half feet wide and ten feet in length, with a single sliding window at the front. Walls and ceiling, like the floor, were of pine boards. There were shelves around two sides of the room, with clothing hooks underneath. Under the window was a desk, with a cot to one side; the rest of the furniture consisted of two folding camp chairs.

Entering, Dick hung up his campaign hat on one of the hooks, Greg doing the same. On account of the heat of the day neither young captain wore a tunic. Each unbuttoned the top button of his olive drab Army shirt before he dropped into a chair.

"What do you think of the new K.O.?" Dick asked, as he picked a newspaper up from the desk and started to fan himself.

"He means business," Greg returned. "I am glad he does," Dick went on. "This is no time for slack soldiering. Greg, I'll feel consoled for working eighteen hours a day if it results in making the Ninety-ninth the best infantry regiment of the line."

"Can it be done?" Greg inquired.


"But I've a hunch that every other regiment is striving for the same honor," Captain Holmes continued. "Ours isn't the only K.O. who covets the honor of commanding the best regiment of 'em all."

"It can be done," Dick insisted, "and I say it must be done."

"Yet other regiments would be so close to us in excellence that it would be hard to name the one that is really best."

"In that case we wouldn't have won the honor," Dick smilingly insisted.

"Then consider that fellow Cartwright," Greg added, lowering his voice a bit. "He's a born shirker, and one weak company would make a regiment th

at much poorer."

"If Cartwright shirks, then mark my word that he'll be dropped," Dick rejoined quickly. "But Greg, man, this is war-time, and the biggest and most serious war in which we were ever engaged. There must be no doubts--no ifs or buts. We must have a regiment one hundred per cent. perfect. I'm going to do my share with a company one hundred percent. good, even if I don't find time for any sleep."

Up the corridor there sounded a knock at a door. Something was said in a low voice. Then the knock was repeated on Prescott's door.

"Come in!" called Dick.

An orderly entered saluting.

"Orders from the adjutant, sir," said the soldier, handing Prescott a folded paper. He handed one like it to Greg, then saluted and left the room, knocking at the next door.

"Company drill from one to two-thirty," summarized Prescott, glancing through the typewritten words on the unfolded sheet. "Practice march by battalions from two-forty-five to three-forty-five. Squad drill from four o'clock until retreat. That looks brisk, Greg."

"Doesn't it?" asked Holmes, without too plain signs of enthusiasm. "Company drill and the hike call for our presence, preferably, and yet I've paper work enough to keep me busy until evening mess."

"Paper work," so-called, is the bane of life for the company commander. It consists of keeping, making and signing records, of the keeping and inspection of accounts; it deals with requisitions for supplies and an endless number of reports.

"I have a barrelful of paper work, too," Dick admitted. "But I'm going to see everything going well on the drill ground before I go near company office."

"All good things must end," grunted Greg, rising to his feet, "even this rest. Mess will be on in eight minutes."

The instant that the door had closed Dick drew off his olive drab shirt, drew out a lidded box from under the bed and deposited the shirt therein, next restoring the box to place bring out a basin from under the bed and placing it on a chair, he found towel and soap and busied himself with washing up. His toilet completed, he took a clean shirt from a bundle on one of the neatly arranged shelves and donned the garment. A few more touches, and, spick-and-span, clean and very soldierly looking, he descended to the ground floor. A glance into the mess-room showed him that the noon meal was not yet ready, so be sauntered to the doorway, remaining just inside out of the sun's rays.

Other officers gathered quickly. A waiter from mess appeared at the inner doorway, speaking a quiet word that caused the regiment's officers, except the colonel and his staff, to file inside.

Plain pine tables, without cloths, long pine benches nailed to the floor--officers' mess was exactly like that of the enlisted men, save that officers' mess was provided with heavy crockery, while in the company mess-rooms the men ate from aluminum mess-kits.

Most of the food was already in place on the table. The meal began with a lively hum of conversation. Occasionally some merry officer called out jokingly to some officer at another table; there was no special effort at dignified silence.

"The K.O. has our number!" exclaimed an irrepressible lieutenant.

"How so?" demanded Noll Terry, Prescott's first lieutenant.

"He knows us for a bunch of shirkers, and so he gave us the 'pep' talk this morning."

"Is the 'pep' going to work with you?" asked Noll laughingly.

"Surely! I wouldn't dare be slow, even in drawing my breath, after hearing the K.O. talk in that fashion."

"Same here," Noll nodded.

"I've been working sixteen hours a day ever since I hit camp," chimed in another lieutenant. "What's the new system going to be? Eighteen hours a day?"

"Twenty, perhaps," said Greg's first lieutenant cheerfully.

The meal had been under way for fifteen minutes when Captain Cartwright entered leisurely.

"I suppose you fellows have eaten all the best stuff," he called, as he looked about and found a vacant seat, though he paused as if in no great haste to occupy it.

"Same old Cartwright," observed Greg, in an undertone to Dick.

"He's late, even at mess formation."

But Cartwright heard, and wheeled about, looking half-angrily at young Captain Holmes.

"Say, Holmes, you're as free as ever with your tongue."

"Yes," Greg answered unconcernedly. "Using it to taste my food, and I've been finding the taste uncommonly pleasant."

"You use your tongue in more ways than that," snapped Captain Cartwright. "I happened to hear what you said about me in Prescott's room a few minutes ago."

"Eavesdropping?" queried Greg calmly.

"What's that?" snapped Cartwright, and his flush deepened. "See here, Holmes, I don't want any trouble with you."

"That shows a lively sense of discretion," smiled Greg, turning to face the other.

"But I want you to stop picking on me. Talk about somebody else for a change!"

"With pleasure," nodded Greg, as he shrugged his shoulders and

turned to drop a spoonful of sugar in his second cup of coffee.

"There are lots of agreeable subjects for conversation in Camp


"Meaning--?" demanded Cartwright, still standing, and scowling, for, out of the corners of his eyes, he saw that several of his brother officers were smiling.

"Meaning almost anything that you wish," continued Captain Holmes, serenely, as he stirred his coffee.

"Sit down, Cartwright," urged a low voice. "This is a gentleman's outfit," declared another voice, perhaps not intended to reach Cartwright's ears. But he heard the words and his mounting rage caused him to take a step nearer to Greg, at the same time clenching his fists.

Greg, though he realized what was taking place, did not bother to turn, but coolly raised his cup to his lips.

"Sit down," called another voice. "You're rocking the boat."

But Cartwright took a second step. It is impossible to say what would have happened, but Dick Prescott, half turning in his seat, caught the angry captain's nearer wrist in a grip of steel and fairly swang Cartwright into a vacant seat at his left. Greg was sitting at his right.

"Don't be foolish, Cartwright, and don't let the day's heat go to your head," Prescott advised. "Don't do anything you'd regret."

Though Captain Cartwright's blood was boiling there was a sense of quiet mastery in Prescott's manner and voice, combined with a quality of leadership that restrained the angry man for the next few seconds, during which Dick turned to a waiter to say:

"This meat is cold. Bring some hot meat for Captain Cartwright, and more vegetables. Try some of this salad, Cartwright--it's good."

Instantly the officers, looking eagerly on, turned their glances away and began general conversation again, for they were quick to see that Dick's usual tact was at least postponing a quarrel.

"It will be a hot afternoon for drill, won't it?" Dick asked, in the next breath, and in a low tone.

"Maybe," grunted Cartwright. "But perhaps I shall find still hotter work before the drill-call sounds."

"Nonsense!" said Dick quickly. "After the K.O.'s talk this morning, don't start anything that will take our mind off our work."

"I've got to have a bit more than an explanation from Holmes," the sulky captain continued, though in a low voice.

"Cartwright," said Dick, in an authoritative undertone, "I don't want you to start anything in that direction until you've had a good talk with me!"

There the matter ended for the moment. Dick joined in the general conversation. Presently Cartwright tried to, but the officers to whom he addressed his remarks replied either so briefly or so coolly that the captain realized that he was not popular at the present time.

"Holmes will make trouble for any one who doesn't toady to him," thought Captain Cartwright moodily. "I can see that I've got to make it my business to take the conceit and arrogance out of him."

At almost the same moment, over in a company barracks, Sergeant

Mock, as he chewed his food gloomily, was reflecting:

"So Captain Holmes will call me down before a lot of officers, will he? He'll order me to show more 'pep,' will he, the slave-driver? And if I don't he'll break me, eh?"

"Breaking" a non-commissioned officer is securing his reduction to the grade of private.

"The captain is so lazy himself that he doesn't know a good man when he sees one," Mock told himself angrily.

Then he added, threateningly to himself:

"He'd better not try it. If he does, he'll sure wish he hadn't.

Since this war began even the officers are only on probation, and

I've brains enough to find a way to put him in bad with the

regimental K.O."

"What's the matter, Mock, don't you like your food?" asked the sergeant seated at his left. "You're scowling something fierce."

"It isn't the chow," Sergeant Mock retorted gruffly.

"Must be the heat, then--or a call-down," observed his brother sergeant.

"Never you mind!" retorted Mock. "And I'm not talking much now;

I want to think."

"Must have been a real 'cussing-out' that you got," grinned the other sergeant unconcernedly.

Bending over a passing soldier murmured to Mock:

"Top wants to see you in the company office when you're through eating."

The first sergeant of a company is also known, in Army parlance, as the "top sergeant" or the "top cutter."

Though he dawdled with his meal Mock did not eat much more. Finally he rose, stalking sulkily from the mess-room and across the central corridor. Thrusting out a hand he turned the knob of the door of the company office and almost flung the door open, stepping haughtily inside.

"Mock," said First Sergeant Lund, looking up, "you're too old in the service to enter in that fashion. You know, as well as I do, that there is a 'knock' sign painted on the door, and that only an officer is privileged to enter without knocking. Suppose the captain had been in here when you flung in in that fashion?"

"He's no better than any one else!" retorted Mock.

Facing about in his chair Sergeant Lund briefly rested one hand on his desk, then sprang to his feet.

"Attention!" he commanded sharply.

Mock obeyed, throwing his head up, his chest out and squaring his shoulders as he dropped his hands straight along either trousers seam, though he sneered:

"Putting on officer's airs, are you, Lund?"

"No; I appear to be talking to a rookie (recruit) who happens to be wearing a sergeant chevrons," retorted the top sternly. "Sergeant Mock, in this office, or anywhere in my presence, you will refrain from making disrespectful remarks about your officers And I'd advise you to adopt that as your standard at all times and in all places. Do you get that?"

"I hear you," Mock rejoined, standing at ease again. "You wanted to see me?"

"Yes. Shortly before recall sounded I looked out of the window and noticed that you were handling the second platoon in anything but a soldierly manner. I was about to come out and speak to you when I observed the captain call you to him. He corrected your method of handling the platoon, didn't he?"

"He thought he did," Sergeant Mock responded, his lips quivering "But the tone he took, or rather the words he said to me, aren't the kind that make better soldiers of non-coms."

"So?" demanded Sergeant Lund, looking sharply into his subordinate's eyes.

"No!" Mock snapped sullenly. "When an officer wants me to do my best be's got to treat me like the gentleman that he's supposed to be."

For twenty seconds Sergeant Lund continued his staring at Mock.

Then he rested a hand heavily on the other's shoulder as he said:

"Sergeant Mock, this is a man's army, training to do a nation's share in the biggest war in history. None but a man can do a man's work, and nothing but an army of real men can do the nation's work. If you fit yourself into your place, work hard enough and forget all about yourself except your oath to serve the Flag and obey your officers, I believe that you can do a real man's work. If you do anything different from that I'll knock your block off without a second word on the subject."

A hotly angry reply leaped to Sergeant Mock's lips, but he was wise enough to choke it back. For Sergeant Lund, a real man, a real soldier and a loyal American, stood before him regarding him with a look in which there was no faltering nor any doubt as to his intentions.

"That's all, Sergeant Mock," said the top, an instant later. "I'm going to keep an eye on you, and I want to be able to say a word of praise to you this evening."

"Two of a kind--the top and the company commander," Mock growled under his breath as he went up the stairs to a squad room above.

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