Putting the Stars with the Bars
By Verne Marshall
Midnight beneath a low-hanging strip of amber-hued moon. Smoke in one's
eyes and sulphur in his nostrils; the pounding of cannon in his ears
and a hatred of war and its sponsors in his soul. A supply wagon piled
high with dead men on one side of the road and a little ambulance
waiting for its bruised load to emerge from the mouth of the
communicating trench near by. Sharp tongues of fire darting into the
night on every side as the guns of the French barked their challenge at
the Crown Prince on the other bank of the Meuse. A lurid glare over
there to the left where the smoke hung thickest under drifting yellow
illuminating bombs and red and blue signal bombs that added their touch
to the weird fantasy that wasn't a fantasy at all, but a hill in whose
spelling men had changed one letter and turned it into hell.
It was Dead Man's Hill at Verdun—Le Cote Mort Homme. And Dead Man's
Hill it truly was, for among the barbed wire entanglements and in some
of the shell craters in No Man's Land there still lay the skeletons of
Frenchmen and Germans who had been killed there months before and whose
bodies it had been impossible to recover because the trenches had not
changed positions and to venture out between them was to shake hands
Dead Man's Hill at Verdun—where ten thousand men have fought for a few
feet of blood-soaked ground in vain effort to satiate the battle-thirst
of a monarch and his son! The countryside for miles around is laid
waste. Villages lie in tumbled masses, trees are uprooted or broken
off, demolished wagons and motors litter the roads and fields, and dead
horses, legs stiff in the air, dot the jagged landscape. Not a moving
object is seen there by day except the crows that flutter above the
uptorn ground and the aeroplanes that soar thousands of feet above.
But, with the coming of night, long columns of men wind along the
treacherous roads on their way to or from the trenches, hundreds of
supply wagons lumber across the shell holes to the stations near the
line, ammunition trains travel up to the lines and back and the
ambulances ply their routes to dressing stations. Everything must be
done under night's partially protecting cloak, for the German gunners
seldom miss when daylight aids their vision.
A tiny American ambulance—a jitney—threads its way down from the Dead
Man to ——, carrying a boy through whose breast a dum-dum bullet had
torn its beastly way. Three hours before, the driver of that ambulance
had talked with the boy who now lay behind him on a stretcher. Then the
young Frenchman had been looking forward to the wondrous day when the
war would end. He had planned to come to America to live, just as soon
as he could get back to Paris and say good-bye to the mother from whom
he had received a letter that very day.
"I will be lucky!" he had exclaimed to the American. "I will not be
killed. I will not even be wounded. Ah, but won't I be glad when the
war is over!"
But his life was slipping away, faster than the Red Cross car could
carry him to aid. The checking station reached, two orderlies pulled
the stretcher from the ambulance. There was a choking sound in the
wounded soldier's throat and the driver, thinking to ease his
breathing, lifted his head. The closed eyes fluttered open, the
indescribable smile of the dying lighted his face and with his last
faint breath he murmured those words that always still war
"Ah, mere! Ma mere!"
"Oh, mother! My mother!"—and he was dead.
Just one little incident of war, just a single glimpse at the
accomplishments of monarchial militarism.
That French boy has not come to America, but America has gone to him.
He died for a flag that is red, white and blue—for the tricolor of
France. And we have gone across the sea to place the stars of our flag
with the bars of his. His fight was our fight and our fight is his.
Together we fight against those who menace civilization in both old
world and new. We fight against the army that outraged Belgium and
devastated France, against the militaristic clique that sanctioned the
slaughtering and crippling of little children, the maiming of women,
against that order of militarists who decorated the commander of the
submarine that sank the Lusitania with her babies and their mothers.
We are at war and we are Americans…. Enough.
Verne Marshall was the driver of that ambulance. Three months of his service were spent at Verdun.