World War I
|Oscar W. Evans|
World War I (the "Great War" or the "War to end all wars" as it was called before World War II, began in 1914, but the United States didn't enter the conflict until April of 1917. The first force sent over was a 50,000 man "Expeditionary Force."
Oscar W. Evans was 22 when he went into the Army to enter the fight. He was born in Lehi, but raised in Winter Quarters and Castle Dale. He also worked in mines in Hiawatha, Spring Canyon and Sunnyside, where he was when he joined the service. He granted an interview to Mildred B. Sutch in July of 1992 in which he described his life and some of his war experiences.
After being inducted he went to Camp Johnson, Fla. to be trained. He became a truck driver and within a couple of months was sent to France.
Of course the trucks he drove were rudimentary vehicles, with the motor car only having been in production for about 20 years at the time. Here is part of his story.
There are three things that I would like to mention how my life was saved while driving these trucks. The first one was that I had a load of ammunition that was to be delivered to the front and I had a Sergeant along with me that had the orders as to where I should take this load. We came to our soldiers and there were hundreds of them. There were Captains, Generals and a lot of boys. They were about a half mile from the trenches. They said don't take your load to the trenches unload it here and we'll take care of it. The Sergeant said, "I can't unload it here, I can't disobey orders." The Generals said we will take care of it all we don't want you down that far. Well, he insisted on taking it and we went down the incline about a half of a mile and the tail pipe on the truck fell off and that was one thing that saved my life. We went down-near the trenches and here were the boys coming out of the trenches in their muddy clothes, they had been in the trenches for so many hours, then another group would go in to relieve them. A Lieutenant that was coming out of the trenches with the boys said shut that truck off and stay here until we have had time to get out of here and you stay an hour before you move that truck and unload it. So we had to stand there. I had six boys there to unload the truck. They had the jitters so bad they could hardly behave themselves. The ammunition had fixed motors on them and they would detonate when they hit an object. When it came time to unload them, I had a little Jewish boy that was to help unload this load. He threw one out on the ground and I said, "Oh! Oh! You wait a minute here, you will be worse than the war, you'll blow us all up by throwing that out. You handle these things just like you handle eggs. Three of you stay up in the truck and hand them out and three of you lay them down carefully in a pile."
Another time I was out on detail myself with a load of stuff and I had a long distance to go and I saw a German plane come over and when I saw that plane coming over and I had the intuition to pull the truck by the side of the road and to get out and get under the truck. Now, these trucks were all open and didn't have a windshield or windows in them and you could be seen in the truck. This plane did come down and he swooped down almost on my truck to see if anyone was in the truck. He must have thought the truck was out of order when ' he didn't see anyone and decided there was no use in shooting at that. Then he went up in the air and came down the second time and I stayed under the truck and when he saw there was no one there he went on and I got out from under the truck and I went on my way.
Once I had a load of ammunition and I had a Sergeant assigned to me to go with us. There was a garrison way out in a lonely place, now the Americans had possessed that place and it was a kind of headquarters to take care of the boys. So, when I went out with this load of ammunition before I got there this place was taken over by the Germans and so there were Germans in the house instead of Americans. I went alone to this house and I was supposed to pick up a Sergeant. The Sergeant came out dressed an American uniform but it was tight on him and it didn't look natural so we began to think "Boy, that's funny." He got in by us and told us to deliver the load to a certain place.
We went along for a little ways and finally I said to the Sergeant "we are not in the French area, these are German names." He said, "Yes, I noticed that." I said, "I'm not going in this truck any further." I said, "I kind of agree with you too, I don't want to go any farther." So I said, "I'm going to turn the truck around and go back." The Sergeant that was with us said, "0h, that's alright you go ahead it's alright to go ahead and deliver it." We said we wouldn't do it and so he got out and walked towards Germany. It was in the area where the German soldiers were. So, they took him as a prisoner, then be identified himself as having been sent out for this purpose. So we went back and it took us several days. The truck was slow and would only go about 12 miles an hour and if we had to go a long distance it would take a day or two to make the trip. When we got back to our outfit, they were all surprised because they bad had word that the Germans had overrun the area and we had been taken prisoner and they were quite surprised and my life was saved in this instance.
I was involved in four major battles; Yun Vosges, Marne offensive, St. Mehiel and Meuse Argonne. The first area that we were in the war was the Vosges mountains. We were billeted in an area where the homes were all shot up. We stayed in a big building with large holes in it and we went up in there on the second floor and laid on tile floors. It was cold and I laid in that blanket and just shook. The thing that added to it was the cannons going off; one cannon after another. It made us very nervous and that was our introduction to the first front that we were in. The mountains were very beautiful and some of them were very steep. There were places where we drove the trucks that were very narrow and covered with trees sixty feet tall. You could put your hand out and almost touch the trees from the road. It was very wonderful in that area.
In the Marne offensive, it was more in open country and there were a lot of places shot up there. One place, I remember there was a big theater with lions around it that looked like they were going up the steps. The theater was all blown away, all that was left were the lions.
Now, the next one was St. Mehiel. St. Mehiel was located just before Alsace Lorraine. Alsace Lorraine was an area that the Germans had taken away from the French years before. Those people certainly welcomed us in that area later on after the war. In St. Mehiel, the homes were all shot up with holes in them. The churches were damaged and run by the women.
I'd also like to tell about one other place, Mt. Seint. The Americans were able to come into Mt. Seint. The Germans had come in there and made big tunnels in this mountain-and -they had a lot of soldiers. They made a hole in the top where a man could get up in it and observe the land all around. I had the opportunity to sleep in the tunnel.
A short distance from there was a cemetery of soldiers with rows of white crosses. There were a couple of thousand men lost trying to take the town. When the Americans went in they circled the city and by doing this they were able to overthrow Mt. Seint.
Inside the tunnel they built machinery to pump water in and it was just like a fortress inside the mountain. The Americans were able to penetrate it by encircling it and coming in from all sides. We also cut off their supplies.
But the thing that impressed me the most was all these white crosses in that cemetery. When I walked along there in certain areas, I saw wild pigs rooting up some of the soldiers that were buried there. I have some memorabilia or buttons from some of these soldiers.
The crosses were in Mt. Seint. That was the battle front between the Germans and the French. It was the French that lost all those boys. The Americans didn't lose too much because they encircled the Germans and cut off their supplies. There were rows and rows of crosses where they had been buried. No names on them - just white crosses. The town itself was entirely knocked to pieces.
Another city Long, was on a hill and it had a large wall around it like the ancient cities used to have. It had been overthrown so many times that it became like a hill. The walls were still there and having been destroyed so many times, they had tramways that came down into the valley and the people would travel up there on the trams. It was quite a big city. The city was in France in the northern area but it wasn't in the battle area.
Two other cities were the same way; they were all blocked in like Forts. I stayed in one of the cities, Tulle, and it was close to the front too.
There is one more thing I'd like to mention about one of these cities in the area. There was a hill and it had a statue of Christ on the cross with the mother of Jesus, Mary, looking up and that gave me quite a start.
I don't want to go into anything else I saw in France; the wicked things.