Section Sixty-Eight (SSU 68)
- Published in History
SECTION SIXTY-EIGHT left Paris on July 27, going to La Ferté-Milon, and thence to the Parc Levecque. On July 6 it arrived at the H.O.E. at Bouleuse, where it was engaged in service to Épernay. This evacuation work it continued until September 13, when enlistment began in the U.S. Army. A little later it became Section Six-Twenty-One.
'The Ambulance Sections', History of the American Field Service in France, "Friends of France" 1914-1917, Told by Its Members, Volume II (Boston and New York: Houghton and Mifflin Company, 1920)
Gloire à la France au ciel joyeux,
Si douce au coeur, si belle aux yeux,
Soit béni de la Providence! gloire à la France!
On the morning of June 27, 1917, a call was made at the Field Service Headquarters for men to drive gear-shift cars. It happened that there were some forty-two men there who would have risked anything to get somewhere else. These forty-two raised at least forty-two hands when the call was made. Of this number perhaps a half knew the difference between a gear-shift car and a Ford. The other half had but the courage of their convictions. By nightfall all belongings had been packed, the useful things naturally enough being left in storage and the useless things made ready to take along.
About noon of the 28th the train which was carrying these forty-two men and their belongings sighed its way into the station at La Ferté-Milon and the future Section Sixty-Eight dragged itself from the cars. A convoy of camions was waiting there for them, into which they piled with much anticipation of a pleasant ride to somewhere; but at the end of the first mile every one was taking his punishment standing, in vain attempt to keep his various inner organs from being joggled into a hopeless mess. After twenty-five kilometres of this, the convoy rolled into Parc Levecque, one of the automobile repair parcs near the Soissons-Reims front.
It was here at Parc Levecque that the Section received its official number, its French Lieutenant, Chef, Sous-Chef, and various other decorative and worthy objects. It was here also that the foundation was laid for that collection of briquets, canes, and vases which accumulated with the Section's travels. But our stay there was short, as it seemed that the French ambulances which the Section was to have were at a near-by village. So we moved and established ourselves in an aviation camp outside of this village, whence on the morning of July 6, after a week of red tape and of acquiring the manner in which to coax the Fiats to perform, the Section left in convoy for an unknown destination.
There is no need to tell of the ride in convoy, twenty cars following one behind the other, and every driver from the second car to the last damning the one in front for raising so much dust. Most of the things usual to gasoline cars happened, but at six-thirty that night the H.O.E. at Bouleuse --the evacuation hospital behind the Aisne front, where we were destined to pass our whole existence while members of the American Field Service --- saw twenty ambulances pull into the hospital grounds and forty-two dusty individuals crawl stiffly forth. Inside of five minutes every blessé able to walk, crawl, or to be assisted, was on hand to welcome the "américains" and to sell briquets.
In a few days the Section was in barracks and taking up the work of evacuation from Bouleuse to Épernay.
This kind of work was not quite the sort that the Section had expected, but the first month got by without much being said. During the second month, however, this means of helping "make the world safe for democracy" began to weary us, and signs of unrest became evident.
Some relieved their feelings by strolling out to take a bath, and returning with photographs of Reims Cathedral and bits of the rose window. Others climbed a hill overlooking the city, and by means of binoculars and considerable imagination managed to see a bit of the well-known horrors of war. Neither baseball nor football offered much satisfaction, the opponents always being the same. Poker maintained a fairly steady vogue and served to keep the available supply of money circulating; but no one made a fortune. At that time --- late summer --- the country was very beautiful, and the grape-pickers in the vineyards along the road would toss bunches of the fruit into our laps as the cars passed by. Épernay itself offered the opportunity of enjoying the usual appetizing French meal, and few were the men who did not return from a trip there distended from gorging themselves with delicious French pastry. Even Boche aeroplanes could come and go without causing more than an apathetic glance. Everybody grew tired of everybody else, and the man who could find something new to "grouch" about was always sure of a large and enthusiastic audience.
Finally, on September 12 came a United States enlistment officer, and on September 13 some sixteen individuals signed up for the thirty odd dollars per month. Shortly after, the welcome news arrived that the Section was to go into Paris, that the enlisted men, together with the necessary other nine men who would be found there, would take out a section of new Field Service ambulances, and that the unenlisted men would be released and be free to go home or to join other services. Thus ended the existence of Section Sixty-Eight. Our duty at the front did not really begin until we were taken over by the United States Army.
SIDNEY CLARK DOOLITTLE*
*Of Utica, New York; Cornell, '18; served in the Field Service with Section Sixty-Eight, and subsequently in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
SUMMARY OF THE SECTIONS'S HISTORY
UNDER THE UNITED STATES ARMY
The sixteen men of S.S.U. Sixty-Eight, who enlisted in the U.S. Army on September 13, 1917, were the nucleus of new Section Six-Twenty-One, which was formed at the Field Service Headquarters and endowed with new Field Service cars toward the last of the month. The newly formed Section was attached to the 74th French Infantry Division, and with it reached the front about the 1st of October, 1917. The Division took over a sector to the east of the Chemin des Dames, while the Section served postes at Pontavert, La Chapelle, Bouffignereux, Guyencourt, and during the winter, one at Gernicourt. The sector was quiet and the Section was quartered at Vaux-Varennes not far in the rear, for the first four months. In February the Section moved to Prouilly, near Jonchery for a ten-day repos. On returning to the lines, the Division took over a sector still farther to the east; between Berry-au-Bac and Reims, with the postes formerly served by old Section Twelve. These were at Cauroy, Cormicy, and Hermonville, with two advanced postes between the French first and second lines and located on Route 44, paralleling the Aisne Canal. These two postes were known as Maison Bleue and Saint-Georges, respectively. The Section went into camp at Châlons-le-Vergeur.
During the stay in this sector only two events stand out prominently. The first was in retaliation for an unexpected bombardment of a section of the Boche trenches and consisted in the dropping of some thousand gas-shells on Hermonville at a time when it was filled with sleeping soldiers. As a result the Section carried nearly five hundred gas cases out of the town in a day. Shortly after this the Boches took to nightly shelling of the Section's cantonment, finally culminating on the fourth night in a grand display of H.E. and gas, mixed. So the camp was moved to Prouilly!
The Section was enjoying a few days' stay in a château near Limé, south of Braisne, when on the evening of the 26th of May came orders to prepare for action --- a great German attack was to be launched at 4.30 A.M. of the 27th. Then followed six days of untiring efforts on the part of Section Six-Twenty-One and of heroic sacrifices and counter-attacks on the part of the Division, which had been thrown into line north of Soissons. Towns and villages, later made famous by the attack of the 26th Division of the U.S. Army, were abandoned only in the face of overwhelming numbers. Berzy-le-See, Billy-sur-Aisne, Soissons, Vierzy, Chaudun, and Vertefeuille, Montgobert, Longpont, Villers-Cotterets, Pernant, Cœuvres, Saint-Pierre-Aigle, and Crépy-en-Valois will long be remembered by Section Six-Twenty-One. Many times the ambulances were the last to leave towns, while some cars crossed the Aisne with the infantry. Two drivers, John Sanford and Frank Conly, were wounded by machine-gun bullets in an encounter with a Boche patrol in Soissons, yet managed to turn their cars and escape. Three others, Ralph Ellinwood, Frederic Lockwood, and William Heckert, were taken prisoners while discharging wounded at the hospital of Mont Notre Dame, south of Braisne. Two more, Arthur Hazeldine and Robert Hatch, were wounded by shell-fire. The Boche shelling was terrific. Their aeroplanes were also much in evidence, either bombing or machine-gunning the roads, continually. Then followed a month of repos at Champlatreux, twenty-five kilometres north of Paris. During this time the Section was re-outfitted with cars and clothing, having lost all baggage in the retreat. For this attack the Section was given a divisional citation.
July 1 found the Section at Le Fayel, a tiny village southwest of Compiègne. On the 4th the Section moved to Jonquières where Section One was found to be en repos. The Division went into line before Antheuil while the Section established two postes in the town of Monchy-Humières and one at the Ferme Beaumanoir, outside of Monchy. This front had been but recently formed in a more or less unsuccessful attempt of the Boches to widen the Aisne salient by a drive between Soissons and Montdidier. The shelling was frequent at this time, and Monchy, lying as it did in a hollow, was often filled with gas. On August 11 the French began an attack in this sector, the Division's objective being Lassigny, which was reached in fifteen days. On the 26th the Division was withdrawn and the Section went en repos at Rémy. During the attack, postes were served at Antheuil, Marqueglise, Margny, Lamotte, Gury, and Plessis-de-Roye. The attack was highly successful, and for its work the Section received another divisional citation. Only one man, Philip L. Bixby, was wounded, although several were gassed.
After a brief rest at Rémy, the Section left in convoy for the Champagne. Passing through Vitry-le-François, Châlons, and Sainte-Ménehould, camp was made at Coulvagny on September 6. From Coulvagny the Section was shifted from pillar to post, finally coming to a brief rest at Courtémont on September 25. On the 26th, the 74th Division attacked in the region of Le Main de Massiges and Hill 202. The Section camp was moved to La Neuville-au-Pont on September 30 so as to be on the direct road used in evacuations. By the 15th of October the Boches had fallen back and camp was moved again, to Ville-sur-Tourbe.
The Division came out of lines on October 16, and after six days of rest, so-called, at Courtémont, went back into action on October 30. During the period of rest, the Section was called upon to furnish five cars to act as a reserve for the sections still in line and also answered the calls for cars to evacuate the hospital at Braux. Fortunately for the Section, this next attack was a short one, as by the 3d of November the Boches were in full flight. On November 4 the Division came out of lines and the Section went into camp at Autry. Neither the Division nor Section ever went into action again, as shortly after the attack the Division began a gradual movement to the east, during which time the Armistice was signed. The victory was celebrated by the Section at Vavray-le-Grand, near Vitry-le-François. By the 24th of December the Division had reached the neighborhood of Ensisheim, in German Alsace, where the Section was quartered outside the town in a brick building with hot and cold running water, showers, tubs, steam heat, and electric lights.
February 3, 1919, the Section convoyed over the Vosges Mountains to Arches, a little town fifteen kilometres from Épinal. Here the Division undertook to train a batch of Polish recruits, and upon the demobilization of the greater part of the old Division, it came to be known as the 5th Polish Division.
Orders came on the 20th of March to convoy the cars to Paris, and early in the morning of the third day the Section rolled into the parc at Longchamps.