The 90-mile March
At the concentration point, Sviyagino, Colonel Morrow was busy preparing to move the troops to Ussuri. He was in command of the march which started on August 30, 1918.
The 90-mile trip north on foot proved to be one of the hardest experiences the men had while stationed in Siberia. From daylight to dark, with only two meals a day, they trudged on over hills, through sparse and deep woods, across marshes and swamps, and an interminable series of hills and dales. Tortuous walking was the pattern along with shoving and pushing mules and wagons most of the time. Before resting at night latrines had to be dug; the pup tents that had to be put up were so old that they leaked in the slightest rainfall. Often the men slept in slimy, muddy water. But before the rains fell, the sun had to be contended with. The day on which the march started it was wickedly hot.
The summer heat had left the road dry and dusty. The Americans had endured drills back in Manila where the sun often made breathing difficult. Their experience in Siberia was not too different. The beautiful harvest lands on either side of the road were dubbed the Manila rice paddies. Filipino songs were sung to keep spirits up.
The so-called roads consisted of ground between two ditches bridging the swamps. On many occasions straw from the wagons had to be used to fill in ruts. It was no simple matter to march, heave hay and push mules and wagons along while suffering from parched throats, dysentery and hunger. Canteens were emptied all too often.
The regiment had started out with baggage and ration wagons, ambulances and with native guides to show them the best route parallel to the railway. Unfortunately, when the guides found themselves lost they became frightened and simply disappeared. These strange new Americans with weird horses (mules) frightened the natives who feared punishment for getting lost. As the soldiers plowed on the sun climbed higher, aggravating their thirst, hunger and discouragement.
While there was beauty on either side of the road, the men were too exhausted to appreciate any of it.
In one area a strange, terribly nauseating odor assaulted the men and choked them beyond the heat alone. It was as though some awful gas engulfed them as they marched along. When a halt was finally called, the men dropped, inert against clumps of bushes by the side of the road. While “chow” looked good, some of the men decided to investigate the cause of the stench which seemed to emanate from beyond the bushes.
Suddenly the air was filled with oaths of profanity. There before them say heaps of dead bodies with mounds of cartridges everywhere. Later it was learned that a battle had taken place there between the Japanese and the Bolsheviks. The dreadful slaughter was the evidence.
Men stood stunned. Many regurgitated with abandon into the bushes, while unable to take their eyes off the sight. Unburied bodies with flesh burning in the hot midday sun were covered with swarms of large black flies. Other bodies, apparently killed more recently, still oozed blood. The sight sickened the very staunchest.
Most of the soldiers were already suffering from dysentery. The sight made their plight pitiable. Soon they turned their heads in an effort to avoid the sight and smell. They failed to notice the profusion of wild flowers amidst the carnage.
The Americans had been following on foot a Japanese armored train which was pursuing a trainload of Bolsheviks. The Japanese had thrown an artillery shell ahead of the Bolshevik train and had also torn up a bridge to trap it. The Bolsheviks were thus scattering across the countryside with the Japanese in hot pursuit. The latter had killed several hundred in one area and left the results that had so shocked the Americans.
As the doughboys wiped the sweat from their brows and from their hands they weakly made their way back; some hoped that what they had witnessed would somehow be obliterated from their memories. That was most unlikely to be the case.
Hungry as they had been, those who had not eaten could not do so; those who had lost everything with one great and awful spasm.
Most of the raw recruits came from sheltered American homes. They had been brought up to respect life and to love their neighbors; they had also been trained to observe good sportsmanship. Yet they did know that war was a dreadful thing and during war man murdered man, something the so-called lower animals never stoop to – kill their own kind in group battle. Nevertheless, to come upon that battlefield so unexpectedly in a field of God’s good earth with oats, wheat and flowers was too much. Some men wept openly.
One genteel young soldier from Georgia was literally shocked into insensibility. He was removed to an ambulance at once and eventually had to be sent back to the States.[i]
When men had regained some semblance of composure, their voices came in whispers. In that mangled pile of bloated corpses, lying in a mush of bone and flesh, men felt that what they had come to regard as civilization must have died there. There had been dead men on top of horses, dead horses on top of men, and flies thick and black everywhere.
“I can still smell the stench and see the sight when I think of it today over half a century later. It was appalling, dreadful and unbelievable.”[ii]
Eager to march again to get away from that battle field, the men fell into position. Many thoughts, however, dwelt on that spot.
The men noted that the boots of many corpses had been removed. “It must have
been dreadful to move amongst that slaughter to get much needed boots,” Nick Hochee commented. “I guess they must have needed those boots pretty bad to have been able to creep out there on that field with those horrible bodies and parts of bodies, and empty shells all about, to pull boots from those terrible inert legs.”
As the march proceeded, more and m ore men began to fall out. The older men found the grind the hardest. The ambulances were making their way back to Sviyangino with the dropouts.
The officers marched with the men and gained great respect for this. They permitted a few of the weaker to ride on the advanced ambulances for short lengths in order to give them a chance to regain their strength. Some were permitted to put heavy packs on the wagons which the mules were supposed to be hauling but which, oftener than not, were pulled by other men.
The soldiers marched in a column of twos. They covered a remarkable number of tortured miles by the time the heat forced them to rest again. Flesh had become puffy over shoe tops. It was a distinct effort simply to erect flimsy canopy tents that evening.
On the route the men sweated it out in throbbing discomfort, mouths agape revealing enlarged, dust-covered tongues. When pebbles were found, such were placed in the mouth the stimulate the flow of saliva. While the doughboys were slowly becoming veterans, their morale was at a low ebb; because of weakness, they found it difficult even to remain erect. And this was but the first day of many before they would reach Ussuri.
Some of the Americans envisioned the cool ponds and murmuring brooks of “home”. Some thought of the water they had wasted in their short lives. No one realized that such thoughts had filled the minds of soldiers for ages past — and ages yet to come.
Cliff Strohm, a mechanic with A Company, had joined the army when he became hungry back in California. He was born and raised in Cleveland. At the age of thirteen he began to work part time in a print shop. He liked it so well that lithography became his profession for life. However, in July 1916 he decided to see the west and made his way to California. He rode freight trains and stopped off whenever funds were needed. He worked on farms and in restaurants for a few dollars which would carry him to the next stopping point.
In San Francisco there were no jobs available. Strohm was in a quandary; he decided to enlist in the army in order to have steady room and board. Subsequently he saw service in the Philippines from whence he left for Siberia. As a company mechanic he was soft for he had been excused from all drills and hikes in the Philippines in order to perform his mechanical chores. He had been kept busy repairing rifles and equipment and in assisting the supply sergeant in making, painting and loading shipping cases for the next move.
Strohm remarked: “Can you imagine excusing a soldier from drills and marches and then sending him on that terrible hike to Ussuri?”
In addition to being unfamiliar with hiking, Strohm had to carry an awkward range finder which bruised his legs and body. His equipment weighed 90 pounds!
On the first day of the hike to Ussuri he dreamed of a soft cot at eventide and of soft green grass. But, he stated that when they stopped he was chosen for latrine detail and was put to work digging trenches and making cover.[iii]
This sort of duty had to be performed on every day of the hike, rain or shine. When the pup tents were pitched the men would peel off their shoes, bate their feet if there was water available and bandage blisters. Foot inspection had become a nightly ritual. For some of the men, the light shoes had lasted for only a part of the first day. It was difficult to say whether the marchers wanted most to sleep, eat or drink. In any case, they were happy when the old corned beef, hardtack and coffee was doled out at night.[iv]
On the first night Asa Williams found himself on guard duty. The cook had forgotten him after feeding the other men. “That was one of the real sad experiences of my whole life — to miss supper that first day,” the soldier recalled.
Williams also recalled that he had drunk rain water from cow tracks. At the time, the Japanese had been drinking from cattle tracks so he decided to do the same thing. If it didn’t hurt them, why should it hurt him? Then Williams learned that the Japanese also ate dogs. He and three or four other doughboys thought that dog meat might be pretty good eating “so the other guys and I tried some but I didn’t like the taste as I didn’t eat much, although I was awfully hungry.”
Williams reported that he had been sick most of the time but kept going for to stop might have been disastrous. Some of the other men wondered if his water-drinking habits might not have caused his illness. Lawrence Nygard recalled an occasion on which Williams lay down in desperation on the road and again drank forbidden water. An officer who had spotted him, to get up at once. “Don’t you know that that water could be polluted and could kill you?”
“But sir, if I don’t drink it that’s going to kill me too.” Williams replied meekly. The officer shrugged and walked off.
A few yards beyond, the men found three dead Russian bodies by the side of the road. The water the Americans had been drinking was flowing past the cadavers. Williams stared; he felt sick at the sight and was sure that he would die there in that rutted road in Siberia.
On the march that first day the men had had plenty of time to digest the rumors that had arisen. When had the Japanese gone ahead in boxcars and left them to walk?
When the Americans had received word that the bridges ahead were out and that they would have to continue on foot they never foresaw what lay ahead. At that time the rest of the Japanese troops had been ordered to remain at Sviyagino until the damaged bridges were repaired. The curses that arose regarding the Japanese were halted when the Americans had to be reminded that these were our allies. A few horselaughs ensued.
“Allies, eh,” remarked a doughboy, “I’ll bet they will give us more trouble than the Russians before we are through.” His words were prophetic of events to come.[v]
At the time it was enough to know that the Japanese intended to wait at the siding for repairs and that the American ammunition and official cars had been taken over by the Japanese while the doughboys had to march in the blazing sun or the rain. Rage was felt by the Americans; they determined to beat the Japanese to their destination. In the spirit of competition, the men faced the challenge, not knowing that August 30, 1918 was to be just a beginning.
The doughboys soon felt thirst and dehydration as the day wore on. Adding to their misery, it was found that many of the men found themselves unable to urinate and, if at all, to find great pain and difficulty doing so.
The official report of the first day’s march stated that the roads were “excellent”.[vi]
The doughboys had a different version.
The troops reached Nikitovka at 3:30 pm. They had covered but 13 miles, yet to many the march had become unendurable. Blister, infections and thin shoes used in the tropics had taken their toll. Sore muscles, dysentery and numerous bodily ailments were part of the misery.
Although the Yanks were glad to reach any site that indicated the possible end of the day’s journey, it was not long before they were ordered to the Monastery, another six miles to the east. Fortunately, the road was now good and a campsite awaited them supplied with water and wood.
The camp was made close to a small creek. However, the parched soldiers were forbidden to drink there until the water had been boiled and cooled. They watched with envy as the mules were permitted to drink from the creek.
By reveille on August 31, 1918, it was raining heavily. This overjoyed the men; but the rain was to last for three days and cause more agonies for all.
Breakfast of leftover hash, hardtack and coffee was eaten in the cold rain at Nikitovka. At 7 am the men were placed in a column of ours to continue.
As they marched along, the odor of the dead followed them. In one creek they saw a dead man and a dead horse. At another point a good deal of excitement resulted when it was found that a corporal was missing. After a search, the man was finally located.
In some locations the soldiers had to construct a corduroy road; then a bridge had to be strengthened to allow passage of the wagons and mules.
By the second day the Americans realized that the light two-wheeled carts of the Japanese were superior in this country to the heavy wagons of the A.E.F.[vii]
As the march progressed, the pace began to slow up. Many began to limp; some dropped out from sheer exhaustion. As the combat wagons were already overloaded, only a few lucky ones were able to hitch a ride. This practice was soon halted.
As the men became numbly accustomed to exhaustion, the stench of decaying bodies also did not disturb them as at first. They were learning the lessons. A mounted officer of the Japanese infantry had an orderly he needed run alongside on foot.
The Americans also learned much about the significance of rain. No one could climb in the muck that resulted. The unbearable dust clouds had turned to a sea of mud. In the marshy areas the wagons became so mired that the animals were no longer able to move in them. With the aid of manpower, supplies were finally jettisoned. The entire 27th carried hay, gathered on the way, to be used to build roads through the swamps.
Don Pequignot recalled that he could not but smile when he had seen the poor mules in those swamps. The animals had flaps placed over them. “They kicked so much mud over the flaps and over the whole rear clear to the waist that we couldn’t have got a gun out if it had been necessary. We had to wash both the mules and the guns.”
At each small village the officers had hoped to get food. They had arranged a system. As the Americans noted a few houses in a wide spot in the road, a Russian-speaking soldier would go ahead and start to talk loudly. In every case the village would seem deserted. In a loud, clear voice he would state: “We are Americans who have come from the other side of the world to help you. But now we are hungry. We will buy black break or cabbages or whatever you may have.” Over and over he would repeat his call. At one place a man came out timidly and said “You couldn’t come from the other side of the world, you would fall off.” The Americans had the good grace not to laugh. Instead, the man was told how they had travelled on a huge boat over great waters that separated their countries. They asked him the help them as friends.
The man listened intently. He asked more and more questions. Soon a few more people ventured forth and the soldier managed to buy a few staples. They again heard that the Japanese had preceded them and had taken all they could find.
“We are afraid of strangers,” the natives said. “The Japanese pretended to by our friends but they and the Bolsheviks took what they wanted and left nothing in return. Some of the raped and killed our women.”
As confidences grew, the villagers offered some food and took candy bars and other items in exchange. American money was of no use to the Russians.
As the men continued splashing through the rain, keeping their heads bowed to offset the sweeping gusts, they dwelled on their plight. And they had only just landed in this strange land. They had become plastered with mud; their feet had become grotesquely enlarged by the cloying stuff. Sometimes the ooze showed traces of blood.
Jesse Sheppard had been among the fortunate few who had not seen the battlefield the previous day. He reported: “On the evening of the second night I saw my first dead soldier killed in a skirmish. We had arrived in some little town and had managed to get some water to wash up with.
“It was there we met a British soldier from a Middlesex regiment who told us of the skirmish. He also spoke of the huge mosquitoes. I know he was not exaggerating as we had the same experience with the monsters. That night we were given a speech about not being taken prisoner. We fixed our bayonets to do some fighting but it didn’t come. The soldier I saw who was killed was a Russian. He had been felled by a skirmish party a short distance ahead and was left there all alone. I don’t even know if they ever buried him.”
When darkness descended, the woods took on the usual ominous appearance. No one knew where Bolsheviks might be lurking. It was a time for rumors in the ranks; and, as always, rumors were based upon ignorance of what lay ahead. The doughboys knew that a Bolshevik might be concealed in any house, haystack or tree. The wolf cries at night did not help to ease cases of taut nerves.
Accurate maps were not available. But then the men did not care too much about locations; they looked forward to reaching the next stop for rest. However, in spite of swollen feet, fatigue and dysentery, the hike continued.
Only eight miles were covered on the second day, chiefly through swampy terrain. Along the way logs and brush had been used to get the wagons over ruts and swamps. It was 7 pm when the column reached a passable camp site. It was 10 pm before chow was over. It had taken twelve long hours to make a mere eight miles. There had been no lunch. Again, foot ailments were most prevalent.
As the night wore on, pools of water formed everywhere. Men huddled in groups to keep as warm and dry as possible. They were exhausted and certainly looked a very sad army. The old pup tents leaked and mud oozed up to meet the drips from the canvas. The doughboys realized that after daylight they would again have to go on – over the apparently endless hills, woods and swamps. They knew that they were getting the best that could be offered under the circumstances. One man who was weakened by dysentery managed to get to the front rank amid the cheers of his buddies.
After a 6 am breakfast of sodden hardtack and rain-diluted coffee, the men prepared for the third day. As the troops were about to leave, an old Russian appeared, and, with a big grin, offered the men a large pan of tomatoes. He asked for no pay. Colonel Morrow uttered some profanity and kicked the pan out of the old man’s hands. He believed the tomatoes to be poisoned or they would not have been offered so freely.
It was 7:15 am on September 1st when the Americans left Renovka that third day of march.
Crossing a marsh some three miles wide, wagons again became mired. They were pulled along by means of ropes and manpower.
“Wonder if we will get out of these stinking marshes when we reach those hills,” mused one doughboy. Another replied disconsolately: “Maybe the climbing will be worse.”
As the men marched on, their shoes squished mud with weird, gurgling sounds. One soldier after shaking a mass of muddy slime from his feet, laughed sardonically. “When I think how I used to cuss a dry spell down on the farm. . .” Some of his buddies understood.
The ten-minute rest period during each hour was eagerly awaited. The doughboys would sit in a ditch with their packs against the berm of the roadside, wipe their filthy, unshaven faces and swat at the huge swamp mosquitoes. Tired, hungry and disgruntled, they cussed the world in general and Russia in particular.
The wagons streamed with water; mules and men dripped and stank. Besides, man and beast shivered in the cold wind blowing with cold rain. There were two thoughts paramount; the march would end and no matter how hot it might get, the sun would surely shine again.
Making headway was a slow process always. Trees had to be cut to build the ever necessary corduroy roads to carry the field pieces and the combat wagons. Much equipment was damaged or broken; much was simply left behind to lighten the loads. A supply company had its wagons and a hospital company and an ambulance. Each company had its own company equipment. The men had to carry their own personal effects.
It had become accepted that the march would be a dawn-to-dusk assignment. Shoes had so disintegrated that progress had been seriously hampered. For many men it was an effort to keep up; to be left behind might prove disastrous.
Frequently the mules had to be unhitched and their places taken by the exhausted soldiers who had to pull the wagons out of the mud. Finally, the troops had to abandon the “road” to set out for terrain that would lead them to a railway.
The soldiers marched on with haunting memories of that first stench-laden battlefield. Most little villages were ghost towns, silent, empty, dead. As a village was encountered, the men would call out hopefully. Always now, silence.
Morale of the troops was not of the highest. Two mules literally walked themselves to death. Men continued to grow weaker and increasingly discouraged. When the sun had blazed down on the first day the men had bitched. Now in the rain, the picture had changed, and for the worse. Many a man recalled his raincoat hanging on the kitchen door at home; then there was the old fireplace where he could warm himself after his work outdoors.
The “road” showed the ravages of war. Left and right lay the bodies of fallen soldiers. Often at night the Americans were forced to bury bodies to find an area to pitch their tents. It was not a pleasant task for men who had spent a day hiking on that terrible terrain.
The machine gun company had nearly reached the limit of its tolerance. One man stumbled into a bee hive. As the swarm assailed him a few laughs were heard. Another good target for the bees was Tony Klepatska, the Russian interpreter. Stumbling and waving his arms, he struck out in all directions. When he attempted to cast off his pack he became entangled and became a helpless victim. Elmer Moe and another man went to help him. For their consideration, the received the attention of the bees too. Tony was finally extricated. The bees were undaunted. They began to attack the mules who kicked and bellowed and sought relief in flight. Some of the mules were loaded with kitchen equipment. Moe told it this way: “The mules started down the road, kicking in every direction. The men opened up a line of each side with almost precision force to make way; if they had not they would have been trampled upon. The mules forged on clanking the equipment and strewing it as they went everywhere. It was a sight I shall never forget.”
There was further excitement when a German sympathizer started to sound off. Although he was now a soldier in the United States Army, he could not resist expressing his thoughts. Eventually he was court-martialed and sentenced to hard labor. but perhaps this was better than marching through Russian swamps!
When it came time to line up the pup tents the doughboys found that, even with the use of bayonets, the terrain prevented maintaining any alignment. Not to be defeated, they scooped out shallow trenches around the perimeters of the tents. This improved the drainage.
Once the tents were pitched, chores done and chow over, the men felt better. Since there was no means of relieving tensions, the men lay down and attempted to sleep on the deeply scored ground. The city men suffered most.
“We had marched along like wet dish rags,” said Don Pequignot. “We rolled blankets tight on our backs and trudged on. I cut my shoe on a broken glass bottle. That night I found a pair of shoes in the potatoes. They belonged to Colonel Miller. Although they fit me perfectly I figured I should return them to the Colonel. I nearly fainted when he told me to keep them.”
The men used twigs and branches in an attempt to make a fire; this was not a success at all. By 10 pm there was the usual drizzle and the leaking tents.
At 2:20 pm that third day the Americans had reached their next stopping point, Uspanka. They had covered but ten miles. In spite of the early hour, a halt had been called much to the relief of the men. They considered the site “a hell of a place for a camp” but were glad that the day’s tramping was over. Event he brief official report termed the roads “very poor (swamps).”
That night some of the soldiers began pacing back and forth; they felt like trapped animals with unfilled stomachs and wet bodies.
As the doughboys arose to reveille at 6 am on September 2, 1918, a light rain was still falling at Uspenka. They had the usual breakfast before they headed out due west for the railroad. They broke camp at 7:15 am and marched toward a town called Ordejevka. During the day they passed through wild grass and some buckwheat fields. The rain had let up for which there was much gratefulness.
According to some reports the Americans reached Ordejevka at 11:30 am; others stated that it was at 1:30 pm. They had marched another ten miles. The spot was a good mile or two from any wood or water.
At this time Morrow wired Headquarters at Vladivostok that the march was proceeding according to schedule. He expected to reach Ussuri at 10 am on September 4th. Rations were getting scanty. The Yanks hated the hardtack which was full of weevils by now. Perhaps they had forgotten the stories of their grandfathers who fought in the Civil War. Emory Todd had this comment to make: “We would knock the hardtack until almost all of the weevils were out and then dump the hardtack in the coffee quick. It was the only way some men could take it or they would starve.” Todd also recalled: “Our feet were inspected by the medic as there was no doctor. Blisters were taped up. I was one of the lucky few who didn’t get blisters. However, my feet were suffering something dreadful. I had a lot of dysentery too but managed to be in the front rank when we finished the hike. The older men suffered the most. We carried our rifle and bayonet and each of us had 100 rounds of ammunition and an emergency pack of hardtack, bacon and coffee.”
Lawrence Nygard related one of his experiences on the hike. He had enlisted in 1915 and served in Texas City before he was sent to Vladivostok and found himself on the unforgettable 90-mile march.
One day on the march, to lighten his load, he placed some gear on a wagon. As he was hungry, he looked about and spied a pack of emergency rations. “I swiped it,” he related, “and devoured the entire contents in a few gulps — hardtack and bacon. When I think of it today, I still get indigestion.”
By nighttime Nygard was again hungry so he went for his own rations. They were gone! “I guess someone else got hungry too. Anyway, God punished me. I got nothing but coffee that night.”
Sometimes appetites were forgotten. Nick Hochee told of the time they stopped to eat. Again another heap of bodies was discovered. This time the corpses were piled like cordwood upon a new battlefield.
The state of the roads, the weather, the food and other incidentals seemed to have become blurred in the memories of many of the men who were on that hike. There was some recollection that near the end of the hike the Americans were able to buy some chickens, field corn and potatoes. This was an unforgettable event. One morning oat mush and sugar, without mile, seemed like a banquet.
The men who were most unprepared for the hike, and so fearful of being left behind, came marching in a sort of coma. During the last leg of the march they passed yet another battlefield. Here were trenches with dead Russians who had been killed by the Japanese. The fact that the bodies for some reason had been stacked more neatly, made the sight no less revolting.
One doughboy observed that, while the natives along he route were suspicious of the Americans, their attitude changed after they found the soldiers most friendly. “When the Americans first arrived the natives threw up their hands. ‘This is the end,’ they said. ‘Now we will have nothing left.’ But an officer approached a farmer regarding some newly mowed hay for the men to make their beds on. He produced a roll of money from his money belt to pay for it. The farmer was stunned. It was soon learned that, although the money could not buy them anything, the Americans were willing to purchase or trade. At least they were not taking everything from the people. . .”[viii]
One report indicated that camp was made at a spot two miles beyond a monastery but said nothing about a river. Another mentioned that they camped at the bank of the Ussuri, on open ground, and were glad to have left the marshlands behind. The wild grass was knee-deep and the terrain had become hilly en route. Everyone seemed happy and, as the weather was warm, most of the men went swimming. This was not only a good form of recreation but offered a means of removing the accumulated muck of the march.
Some men had been sent ahead to forage for food. Food was waiting for the troops at their destination. The quantity was not great, but the fare consisted of beef, potatoes and cabbage. The mule teams had very little to eat.
Reports indicated that small bridges had been repaired, trestles were in order and all trains were now running.
Along the route, when the men managed to speak through an interpreter to the least fearful of the Russian natives, the Americans were astonished to learn that much of the natives’ fears of the Americans arose from the fact that they were white skinned and had light hair. A negro American, who had lived in Siberia had spread the rumor that all the Americans were dark skinned as he was. The natives began to wonder where the white men really came from.
At times in the evenings when fires were built, a few natives would wander in and gather around to hear the doughboys sing American songs. These Russians listened and laughed in their subdued, grave manner.
The Americans were always happy to find people in a village. Often they had heard that the Japanese had shelled village churches and frightened the natives away. One monastery had been shelled to ruins because the Japanese thought that it might be an observation point.
As the Yanks neared Ussuri, they were happy to be out of the wilderness. They were dirty, tired and hungry as they arrived at Ussuri at 3:30 pm on September 4th after making nearly 14 long miles from Tikamanavo. Before arriving, however, a most unusual event occurred. Dragging themselves along …( ?????? check the books original text. unreadable)
….uld be coming along any minute, the band sent out its greetings to its buddies!
Since ancient days, no soldier was not inspired by music. The transformation that took place in the ranks hiking into Ussuri was heartfelt. When the band struck up “The Stars and Stripes Forever” the dispirited men held their hands a little higher, and their step was suddenly animated. More than one man could be seen with glistening tears upon his cheeks. Here was music from home!
The British, who had already arrived at Ussuri after fighting the battle of Kraevski, also helped to welcome the Americans. The British band struck up with “God Save the King.” The Americans were most pleased and surprised; the local inhabitants were somewhat stunned. Perhaps they had never heard the British and American anthems.
At any rate, the musical reception spurred on the weary heroes. They approached Ussuri with lighter hearts than they had known for some time.
– At Ussuri –
The Americans were exuberant with the spirit of good fellowship which had overwhelmed them when they were met by the welcoming sounds of the 31st Infantry band and the greeting from the British contingent. In spite of the hardships they had endured, everything suddenly seemed right. When the rain ceased at noontime and the stillness of the atmosphere seemed to hush the possibility of further frustrations, the men of the 27th felt relaxed for the first time in many days.
Soon the marchers learned that the rumors which they had heard about the Japanese were basically true. The Japanese officers had indeed waited at Sviagino until the tracks were repaired in order that their own troops could travel to Ussuri in comparative comfort while the Americans had trudged for days through the muck and mire of that long hike. The joy of arrival was soon tempered by a great surge of angry indignation.
The Americans reached the Ussuri River at about 3 pm and established a campsite on open ground on the south bank of the river. As soon as the camp site was set there was a mad rush to jump into the river for bathing and washing clothing. Firstly, there was much water consumed by the dehydrated soldiers.
The final leg of the hike had been one of the cruelest ordeals. The men knew that their destination was close at hand and yet it took all their energies to reach it. This poem expressed how the men felt.
(With apologies to Kipling)
The shoes of most of the men were in a deplorable state. The thought of a swim was delighted, especially to relieve aching feet. “Of course we were cautioned not to drink the water but it is funny how the river went down after we all went in swimming.”[xi]
At 6 pm, less than three hours after the troops arrived, orders were received from General Oi that the Americans were to remain at Ussuri until further orders. Apparently, the 27th Infantry had successfully completed an almost impossible mission much sooner than the Japanese had anticipated.
The troops were laid over for about a week. The mules as well as the men were in poor condition and needed attention. The doughboys had cleared the ground quite thoroughly. They had even buried dead bodies which strewed the site. In spite of everything, the new campsite was heaven compared to what the doughboys had endured during the previous week. The men began to sing, play games. They were thankful not to be pushing and pulling mules and wagons out of the Siberian mud. One day there was much excitement in camp when one of the men bought a small barrel from a farmer. He assumed that it was full of vodka. Soon he was surrounded by his buddies who were prepared to have a drinking spree. To their chagrin the barrel proved to be full of honey! The men subdued their disappointment by spreading their hardtack with the sweet, sticky contents.
The outwardly imperturbable spirit of the American doughboy on the first day seemed to astound The Russians, Japanese, British, Czecho-Slovaks and Chinese. All were amazed and puzzled that the Americans had been able to endure so much and still keep going. For weary as they were, the doughboys fought hunger and exhaustion and showed only relief to be out of the wilderness. More than one Wolfhound recalled this prayer, especially when they lay their weary heads down at Ussuri:
In spite of fervent prayers, all requests were not answered. The men still slept in leaky pup tents. Candles were doled out; some retarded the drips in the tents by holding a lighted candle over wet spots. They found that the heat dried the canvas and helped to stop the drips. But water still seeped under the tents and men often slept in puddles. Raincoats were used as flaps for the tents. However, the men were so tired that they slept through everything. There were times when they awoke to find that the water below them had frozen. They were literally obliged to rip themselves out of their iced blankets.
Both British and American soldiers recalled meeting each other on the banks of the Ussuri and fraternizing amiably. Some of the Americans remembered that while they were eating their slum, the British were frying ham and brewing tea.
The doughboys were relieved to know that they would stay in one place, at least for a few days. It was good not to be out on the ‘road’ and in the rain. Rations were increased and improved. The soldiers were given many chores to keep them active. One of their duties was to bury a mule.
Via the grapevine the Americans had heard that more troops had landed in Vladivostok and that General Graves was now in Siberia.
Many a Yank felt that it was high time for this arrival.
The Commander-in-Chief had indeed landed at Vladivostok on Labor Day, September 2, 1918.