Willard Joray

Harlem Valley Times — Amenia, New York — Sat., Feb. 28, 1920          

War Diary (By Willard E. Joray)

St. Mihiel Sector- 1918

Today (August 22)-I am off for the gun positions. I saddle Benedictine with a feeling of satisfaction and adventure because I am going alone. The road leads thru Marbache and Millery and a half a mile from the latter. I witness a Boche plane probably out for photography. The anti-aircraft were popping away, and as usual never hitting anything but space. Shrapnel fell near the road which causes my hair to rise and give Benedictine more speed and pep than I have ever before seen him produce.

   Towards dusk I found the gun positions carefully camouflaged on the side of a road. As a medical man, I stationed myself in an old park between C and D batteries, overlooked by a wonderful old chateau now being used by the Americans for offices.

   August 24-Found a fine plum orchard today and ate my fill of the golden fruit.

   At night my pal, Allen, and myself walk to Millery in search of good vin blanc which we are very fond of. Found no vin blanc so drank warm milk in its place. We were only out of the town two minutes when six bombs were dropped killing several French women and completely wrecking two homes.

   September 5- Arrived at St. Genevieve. Found the town in terrible condition, but inhabitated. I am sleeping in a dirty room on the floor tonight. I understand that many spies are operating in this town. I can see Metz in the distance. Our guns are at the foot of the hill.

    September 13-Witnessed a thrilling aeroplane fight. Two Roche planes chased a British scout plane over our gun positions and shot a wing from his machine. As they came down I wondered what they were thinking about- if they were thinking. They were both killed.

   Tonight, a heavy barrage began along the entire front. Am getting accustomed to the noise now. Found some real Yankee looking blackberries and ate heartily between the firing of the old heavies. Still necessary to stand on my toes and open our mouths when the guns fire. It seems to break the sound.

   September 12- Heavy firing all night and today. Cold rain and the mud is ankle deep. I have wrapped my ankles and legs with burlap which helps some. Everyone is very happy and cheery just the same. We gave old Fritzie gas for desert today-breakfast, dinner, and supper.

   September 13-Had a little sleep last night. The sun shines for a few minutes. Our positions on the right have advanced. Mud is worse than anything. Saw 14 of our planes over the Boche lines and they were giving them the devil with the anti-aircraft guns, but without success. Tonight, we had a gas attack and I had “old salvation” on my face for half and hour. My nose was a bright cerise and very numb when I removed it. Great excitement to be awakened from dreams of whipped cream cakes by the “clang-lang” of the gas alarm, then the scramble for the masks and the final adjustment. All is quiet as the tombs themselves. Everyone listens- after ten minutes of more deadly silence, the nose begins to feel like it “wasn’t” and the wearer chomps and chews the mouthpiece like a high-strung horse. What a relief to get them off!

  September 14-We had two more gas attacks last night but of short duration. The enemy shelled some this morning but without damage. A balloon and a plane were brought down this morning by our aviators. I saw fifteen of our birds sail over today, and it was an impressive sight. We hear of big captures of Boche prisoners. How beautiful the sky was today. As dusk comes, the music of heavy firing comes from our right. The men are playing poker now using powder and fuse boxes for seats and tables.  Expect some excitement. 

   September 15-What a treat to have some sunshine. We fired some today, but have not received a reply. The planes are fussing around and remind me of a hawk after a sparrow or pigeon. Making wonderful advances. We fire 17 shots at a town tonight. The sunset was wonderful tonight. The beautiful soft shades of purple on the hills were marvelous. I am wondering what the darkness will give us!

   September 16-We receive orders to move back to the old positions at Vila Val. I will never forget this morning. We depart midst a fire of 75s from the Boche and some gas. We were all wearing our gas masks and I have one of the French model. Couldn’t see a foot ahead of me. The roads are nothing but sticks and logs layed down and there is some delay with the caisson-no confusion, however. An immense star in the east heralds in the dawn and I witness the most wonderful colorings above the horizon. We had no casualties. Boche made a slight charge on our right flank.Dawn finds me propped against a poplar tree and I sleep. We are all very tired and very-dirty.

   September 19-The French are relieving us today. The mud is maddening and it rains continuously. Most of the Battery has moved. We are being relieved by a French battalion. To bed early.

   September 20-Constant downpour all night. Biscuits for breakfast which were very good, while being eaten. A “froggie’ generously shares his ration of red wine with me. Tomorrow we leave.

   September 21-It has been a wonderfully clear day. We are ready at sundown, and I shall always remember the West with its crimson hues. The stars come out and twinkle merrily and we sing joyously as we plod along. Later the moon comes out to lighten our way and we arrive at our camp after midnight. The anti-aircraft guns barked during the night as a Boche aviator sails low over Pompey hoping to drop a well- placed bomb on the factories, which are in operation here. Morning comes bright and clear and we find ourselves in a deep beech forest, well hidden from view   of the passing enemy planes.

   Sunday the 22-E and I attend mass with two French girls and we had dinner at their home. Fortunately, they owned a Boucherie, and the boeuf and veal were in great abundance. An exciting family quarrel took place during the meal, which I enjoyed immensely. We leave tomorrow-I believe another front.

   September 23-Traveled all night in a cold autumn rain. We made 22 kilometers. I lost my knapsack on the way which contained valuable personal matters– one, an interesting letter from John Burroughs. We halt at the roadside for the day. Everyone is drenched and cold, and the process of drying wet socks and shoes before a fire that refuses to burn proves a trying task.

  September 24-All night on the march. We travel 14 miles. Our camp is made today on the side of a hill. At its foot, runs a beautiful river and when the sun favors us for a few hours the scene is one of rural beauty. Two kilos away is a small village, and the smoke curling from the chimney tempts me to visit there but I sleep instead. We are very dirty and disgusted in general. A friendly spider crawled over me while I was wooing sleep.

   September 25-Endeavoring to march and keep awake is a very sorry proposition. Dead horses are abundant and add a spooky atmosphere to the surroundings. Every village we rode through has been entirely destroyed; usually a church stands to tell the passer-by where once lived human beings. I notice the houses were of a different type and the material of another kind than the villages further back.

   Two officers assisted in serving breakfast. Such sleep as only healthy men may enjoy is ours. The rain awakens me and also warns that we are preparing to leave again.

  Plerefitte, Thursday, Sept 26-We travel until 10 P.M. In the far distance I hear the rumble of artillery. Four American nurses pass in an ambulance and we hail them as long lost comrades, but the sight of an American girl fills us with all sorts of unusual feelings.

   The moon shone beautifully. We are all on the way at 10A.M., and travel all day. Mellow sunshine, and the shades of autumn help drive away the thoughts of the past nights. The guns are becoming almost constant.

    Les Islettes, Friday Sept 27-Rain in my face causes me to scramble for dryer quarters, if such there be.

   After threatening to treat the mess sergeant brutally when he came to sick call, he gave us flour and grease and I made pancakes. It’s good to be in the medical corps after all. 

   The blue smoke settles about the trees making wonderful misty shades. As the fire dies down (by command) we sing old songs, which mean so much to the boys these days. There is a heavy barrage at our right, and rumor of a few stray shells dropping near us.

   Saturday, 28-I rode Benedictine to the small village today and actually found Phillip Morris cigarettes. Such a treat. It is colder but very bracing. The news from our boys is splendid, real hamburger for dinner. I saw many wounded soldiers coming to the dressing station at the foot of the hill.

   Sunday, 29-Cold and dreary. When the weather is blue, we’re blue, but when the sun shines we don’t give a whoop. I sleep on the ambulance seat with P-. A late arriving lieutenant-colonel who bunks on the ground is walked on by L- seeking a drier or less stubbly sleeping place. Rain, in gobs!

   September 30-We hear of Bulgaria’s surrender. You can hear anything these days. Much colder.

   October 2- A letter from T- tells me it’s all over-our love affair! Darn it, and I was so happy today. I don’t care what happens now. Guess it was only a war romance anyway.

   October 3-Bathed today. Cooties were lusty and strong and all were doing well.

   October 4-A “Y” lady served us splendid cocoa, there was a line, like Caruso night at the Metropolitan. The purple shadows blend well with my thoughts at dusk.

   October 5-We break camp. I hope we are going to the front. Such a golden dreamy day. The towering beeches are in their autumn dress. I endeavor to dream myself back to the Berkshire hills. How wonderful they must be at present. 

   The guns boom ahead of us. I passed seven lonely graves this afternoon, marked only by plain wooden crosses, sort of makes a fellow think! How bright the stars are tonight.

   Sunday 6-Fritz playfully dropped a bomb close to us last night. Nice of him to break us in gradually. More rumors of Germany desiring peace. 

   Someone also tells of hearing someone else tell so and so that he heard they had captured women chained to machine guns. The dampness is very penetrating. We are preparing for a night’s journey.

   October 9- We had a quiet morning, but were shelled later in the afternoon and C Battery’s kitchen becomes a smoldering heap from a well directed shell. They were mostly all gas.

   I ducked, and hugged Mother Nature’s breast closely when one came near. A good-sized piece of earth hit me square in the seat. As I lay there I thought a hundred thoughts. I pictured half of my well-formed hip was gone. I saw a bed in the hospital even a wound stripe shone before me. Cautiously I placed my hand back there and found nothing but a piece of sod. The shells came thicker and our men were forced to stop shooting and take cover on the hill opposite the guns.

   At mess time a Boche plane flew over, and sprinkled, fortunately the opposite hill, with machine gun bullets. I was leaning against one of the guns at the time carefully manipulating a mouthful of beans. These were swallowed in haste half chewed and the remainder dribbled down someone’s neck (who had taken shelter back of the wheel) as I dropped my mess kit. No harm came from this attack and peace reigned again. Many prisoners passed down the road towards Varennes. Some of them are mere boys.

   October 10-Heavy firing from our guns all night. We go to a Boche dug out at the top of the hill, but our nervous captain moves us again, as he suspects the place to be mined. Later he orders us to move back again. 

   At 11 P.M. a boy was found down the road he had been walking since 9 o’clock. What a sight! Covered with mud and quite badly wounded in the throat and arm. 

   I see many fellows with shell shock.

   This morning P- and I walk too Very and found a Salvation Army man in a ruined church. Oh, Mon Dieu! He had real Nabiscos and chocolates. We chatted and he told me his home was in Cincinnati. What a treat — those chocolates.  We move at 8:30 farther front. Wrote to Mother. This has been a warm mellow afternoon.

   Monday 1– Oh! What a wretched barren country. The trees have been mowed close to earth by a severe barrage and the roads are in terrible condition. We are dead tired and its an easy matter to fall asleep leaning against a wagon wheel. Flashes along the horizon warn us that we are to have a taste of something before long. 

   Cheppy, Monday 7– At dawn we arrive on the outskirts of Varennes. I receive a shock when five Salvation Army girls passed us. They all wore helmets and ploughed though mud which was above their ankles. Believe me their smiles were worth more than a whipped cream cake.

   We draw into position. Several tanks are in the valley now out of commission. A French battery at our left fires constantly.

Harlem Valley Times 12/21/1918

Sgt. W. Joray Wins Service Cross

Sergeant Willard E. Joray of the Medical Corps, 319thF.A. has been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery. 

During heavy shellfire and aerial bombardments, he, with four of his men, remained on the field, caring for wounded, when others had been given permission to seek shelter.

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