A Peregrine’s Path, Issue no. 3

TriopetraAt Triopetra on Crete’s south coast, I learned that its highest rock is the place from which Icarus took off on his mortal flight, too close to the sun. I also learned that, while Icarus fell into the sea, his father and wing maker, Daedalus, flew on to Sicily…

Issue no.3 of A Peregrine’s Path goes out to subscribers this afternoon. In this issue, you’ll read a rhyming excerpt from the next story in the Littlelot series, learn about a novel in progress, and see exclusive photos of a second-century Roman road.

A Peregrine’s Path
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Peregrine Publishing

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The First Story of Littlelot

The First Story of
Littlelot

An Arthurian legend with knights and damsels and other action figures

In his game of make-believe, a boy must make a choice—break his oath to the king or break the heart of the woman who gave him the most meaningful gift.

Choose your own path...


A Potts Family Day of Thanks

“One day they came upon a building during a rain storm, and the guys wanted to seek shelter there. The captain forbade them from entering, so they slept in the field that night about 100 yards away. In the middle of the night, the building was destroyed by an artillery shell, and Ben received a dent in his helmet from what he thought was a piece of wood.”—Bruce Potts

September 15, 1918, the 35th Infantry Division moved during the night, as all movement now must be kept secret from enemy surveillance, into the Charmentois area on “motorbuses.” Kenamore describes the vehicles as, “…those immense lumbering cars which were stripped from the streets of London and Paris at the beginning of the war, and which had rambled all over the North of France since, hauling soldiers to many threatened fields carrying wounded back and at times playing the part of trucks and taking supplies forward.” (72)

Maybe Benjamin Potts and his buddies made jokes and pretended to be tourists, tipping their helmets back, pointing out the windows, imagining a more lovely landscape beyond the darkness.

“My goodness, Henrietta, have you ever seen such beautiful scenery?” says one soldier.

Another replies in falsetto, “Never in my life, George. I’m so glad you convinced me to go on vacation in France!”

“Most folks prefer the south of France,” says another, “but I must say the north is more to my liking.”

And still another, “All this site-seeing makes a man thirsty—Garse-on, une beer, see-voo-play!

Maybe they all had a good laugh. Maybe they slept.

“At this stopping place [Charmentois], which was also out of doors, the air bombs became more frequent.” (Kenamore 72)

From Charmentois, “The Sixty-ninth Brigade [including Private Potts’s 137th Regiment] moved up near Auzeville [oh-zay-veel] on the night of Sept. 19-20, and the next night the remainder of the division went to the neighborhood of Grace-le-Comte (sic) Farm and into the woods east of Beauchamp, where the division relieved the Seventy-third French Division in charge of the sector.” (Kenamore 72)

This movement was on foot. On the front now, the 35th was in range of artillery fire, and enemy planes made nighttime bombing raids over the countryside. The night of September 19 may be the earliest occasion for an officer’s order, a soldier’s discipline, and Private Potts’s steel helmet to take the dent in place of his skull.

I wonder, if it had happened differently, in what body would my soul now inhabit?

 


Auzéville Grange-le-Comte Ferme BeauchampPortion of a map, la Carte de l’état major, circa 1850, showing the area around Auzéville, France, including Grange-le-Comte Farm (right) and Beauchamp (left)

In the following current satellite image, Auzéville, the farm, the woods, and Beauchamp appear unchanged; perhaps a destination for a future pilgrimage

Auzéville Grange-le-Comte Ferme Beauchamp Today


A Very Muddy Place

My great grandfather, like many veterans, didn’t talk much about his wartime experience. His family has only his discharge paper and a few anecdotes.

One hundred years later, I’ve discovered a few documents that bear his name. From draft registration to discharge, I’m following the paper trail of B. F. Potts’s journey to the battlefields of the Great War in France and back home again.

Previous articles:

The Butte of Vauquois

“Well, Daddy, what did you think about France?”
“It's a very muddy place.”

Benjamin Franklin Potts Registers for the Draft

As the Great War thundered across the fields of northern France, ten million American men, ages 21 to 30, signed their names to register to be drafted into military service.

Military Induction and Entrainment

“I, Benjamin Franklin Potts, do solemnly swear to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully, against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever…”

Army Training at Camp Gordon

“If it moves, salute it. If it doesn’t move, paint it!”

Embarkation, the Tunisian, and the Bridge of Ships

In his first ocean voyage, B. F. Potts crossed the submarine invested waters of the North Atlantic in a convoy of steamers escorted by a warship.

Enterprise, Tennessee: The Town That Died

Grandpa owned matched pairs of horses. Him and the boys [Ben and his brothers] cut and snaked logs out of the wood to the roads. He got a dollar a day plus fifty cents for the horses.

Rendezvous with the 35th Infantry Division

“Some of the guys disobeyed orders, went into the town, broke into a bakery, and stole all the bread and baked goods…”

In Reserve at Saint-Mihiel

The battle of Saint-Mihiel (September 12-15) would be Pershing’s first operation as army commander. He assigned the 35th to the strategic reserve, whose purpose is to replace a weakened unit or to fill any gap in the line created by the enemy.

Special Job for Private Potts

“Private Potts, how tall are you?”

The soldier, looking into a button of the captain’s coat, says, “Five foot three, sir.” The wide brim raises. 

 Next date:

September 24—Planning the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

Choose your own path...


Special Job for Private Potts

It’s difficult to imagine the Grandpa I knew as a young man, in the prime of his youth, in the uniform of a World War I infantryman. But there he is.

Private Potts’s medium frame fills the olive drab wool service tunic, with narrow, standing collar, five buttons up the front, and dressed over matching breeches. Russet colored leather leggings wrap the calf, topping hobnailed brogan boots, also russet leather. The private’s rank is shown by the lack of insignia on his sleeve.

Unseen, a pair of aluminum tags hang around his neck on a cord, tucked beneath the tunic. Each, the size of a half dollar, is stamped with the soldier’s name, rank, serial number, and unit. In the event of his death, one of these tags stays with the body, while the other is used to record the casualty. This grim necklace would eventually be removed for the last time by Ben Potts, civilian.

The wide brim of a shallow-crowned steel helmet, fastened with a leather chin strap, shields blue eyes from the sun or, more often, from rain. When the soldier finds occasion to grin, his ears perk up, raising the brim.

Like the WWII and Vietnam-era “steel pot” helmet with which we’re familiar from so many movies, the WWI helmet, with its characteristic wide brim, wasn’t intended to stop bullets. It would protect the head from flying debris, including shrapnel, sometimes. Not until the introduction of the Kevlar helmet in 1983 could a soldier hope his headgear might keep high-velocity lead outside the brain pan.

It’s in company formation where Private B. F. Potts stands out. In the ranks, every man looks identical: standing at attention, heels together, arms to the sides, fingers curled, chin up, chest out, shoulders back, stomach in, eyes front. Inspecting the troops prior to battle, a captain peers down at the top of a helmet.

“Private Potts, how tall are you?”

The soldier, looking into a button of the captain’s coat, says, “Five foot three, sir.” The wide brim raises.

In the maneuver warfare that would push the opponent from the field and, thereby, win the war, soldiers often meet the enemy in hand-to-hand combat. The rifle, bayonet fixed, becomes a spear and a club. This is a contest between “the quick and the dead.” It is a contest won by larger men.

Hand-to-hand combat training at Camp GordonHand-to-hand combat training, Camp Gordon, c. 1917

Also in maneuver warfare, communication between commanders on the battlefield is key to victory. Orders are given and units move forward, engaging the enemy. As the battle develops, orders are changed; new orders must be given. Whereas wires link telephones in the trenches, no such luxury is afforded commanders of units on the move. These commanders write orders and messages on paper and rely on an agile—and often lucky—soldier to avoid artillery, bullets, and getting lost to deliver the missive.

The messenger was often called a “runner.” The soldier with a low profile makes a better runner.

“Fall out, Private Potts. I have a special job for you.”

 

The dialog above is fictional. In one of Grandpa’s oft-cited stories (which I’ll let my cousins Bruce and John tell in a future installment), the infantryman, wishing to visit his brother in a field hospital, gets permission from a certain artillery officer. In another story, the private is alone when he encounters an enemy soldier.

If we are to accept the man’s hundred-year-old stories as truth—and if we do not, we might as well have not set out on our present journey—then we may desire to render plausible the infantryman’s connection to the artillery officer, as well as the solo encounter with the enemy. I propose that Private Potts was selected to be a runner.

At my prompting, Bruce asked Uncle Jesse if Grandpa was a runner. The response was affirmative. Bruce writes, “…he was a messenger, traveling from camp to camp, often under fire when he was crawling through fields.”

Here, we are accepting the risk that, instead of prompting the recollection, we created a false memory with the question. So, that Private Potts was a runner is, as far as I’m aware, new information, albeit obtained second-hand and a hundred years after the fact. Skepticism on that point is justified. The anecdotes remain.

 


A Very Muddy Place

My great grandfather, like many veterans, didn’t talk much about his wartime experience. His family has only his discharge paper and a few anecdotes.

One hundred years later, I’ve discovered a few documents that bear his name. From draft registration to discharge, I’m following the paper trail of B. F. Potts’s journey to the battlefields of the Great War in France and back home again.

Previous articles:

The Butte of Vauquois

“Well, Daddy, what did you think about France?”
“It's a very muddy place.”

Benjamin Franklin Potts Registers for the Draft

As the Great War thundered across the fields of northern France, ten million American men, ages 21 to 30, signed their names to register to be drafted into military service.

Military Induction and Entrainment

“I, Benjamin Franklin Potts, do solemnly swear to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully, against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever…”

Army Training at Camp Gordon

“If it moves, salute it. If it doesn’t move, paint it!”

Embarkation, the Tunisian, and the Bridge of Ships

In his first ocean voyage, B. F. Potts crossed the submarine invested waters of the North Atlantic in a convoy of steamers escorted by a warship.

Enterprise, Tennessee: The Town That Died

Grandpa owned matched pairs of horses. Him and the boys [Ben and his brothers] cut and snaked logs out of the wood to the roads. He got a dollar a day plus fifty cents for the horses.

Rendezvous with the 35th Infantry Division

“Some of the guys disobeyed orders, went into the town, broke into a bakery, and stole all the bread and baked goods…”

In Reserve at Saint-Mihiel

The battle of Saint-Mihiel (September 12-15) would be Pershing’s first operation as army commander. He assigned the 35th to the strategic reserve, whose purpose is to replace a weakened unit or to fill any gap in the line created by the enemy.

 Next date:

September 19—A Potts Family Day of Thanks


Survey of U.S. Army Uniforms, Weapons and Accoutrements, David Cole

Choose your own path...


In Reserve at Saint-Mihiel

“That first of September was a notable day, although it did not appear so at the time, for it was the last time the men were to sleep under cover for more than a month, and that month the most trying in their histories.” (Kenamore 69)

By the time Private B. F. Potts joined the 35th Infantry Division in the Rosières area, they had spent their last night indoors. By Kenamore’s account and others, rain fell on the region during much of September. In the hurried preparations for battle, sit-down meals, showers, and even a change of clothes were not to be had for the coming weeks.

Resting during the day, the 35th Division troops marched through the nights of September 10 and 11. In Heroes of the Argonne, a book about the 35th Division in the war, author Charles B. Hoyt describes the scene:

“There are no lights, for smoking is forbidden where there is danger of enemy planes swooping down at any minute. There are no noises, save for the jangling of accoutrement and the crunch of the hobnailed soldier. On such marches the soldiers do not talk much among themselves. They have rifles and seventy-pound packs to think about. What more could be asked to keep one’s mind occupied?

“The road is jammed with moving troops. The advance is made by paces. The men take the distance of a few yardsticks ahead; then stop, and stand in inactivity while a cold drizzle washes their faces and adds pounds to their packs.

“The men wear out as the night wears on. Their clothing is saturated; their packs weigh over the seventy pounds now; and shoulders are numbed. When the column halts, they halt in their tracks and slump into the mud.” (54)

Marching into reserve at St. Mihiel

 “Marching into reserve at St. Mihiel,” Hoyt 55

The photo shows the 140th Infantry Regiment, also of the 35th Division, on the morning of September 12. Private Potts, with the 137th Regiment, marched this road, or another nearby, the same morning

On the morning of September 12, the division moved into concealed bivouac in the Forest of Haye, west of Nancy.

Not three months before, Bennie Potts was a railroad man in the quiet hills of Tennessee. Now, Private Potts was an infantryman in France, a land ripped open by four years of war.

It must be an extraordinary sensation, to find yourself in a strange place, a foreign country, in a military environment where everything you do is an order, direct or implied. What’s more, it’s a hazardous place, where accidents maim and kill, where disease lurks, where the rain is often made in metal and brings explosive flowers that smell of poison gas.

Memories of home and family, childhood images, bright fields, shaded woods, his father cutting timber on a river bank, himself leading a workhorse, trailing logs between trees… All fade against the stark landscape. Slight hills fold into one another, long, low lines devoid of silhouettes. The trees, here, have lost leaves as well as branches, as if in a hellish storm.

Remembering his training, remembering the movements, the sequence of actions, forgetting the green Georgia woods where they were pressed into the mind, the soldier follows orders. He concentrates on the job at hand, does what must be done, right now. Of the past and of the future, he thinks not. He dares not, lest a moment’s distraction at a critical instant deprive him of all past memories and of any future whatsoever.

 

While the Americans had fought smaller engagements and played a significant role in the Aisne-Marne campaign in July and August, up to now the divisions, led by American generals, had fallen under the command of French and British corps commanders. One of General Pershing’s objectives as commander of the American Expeditionary Forces was to establish an independent American army, which he did on August 10, 1918.

By September, Pershing pointed the American First Army, over one million strong, at the Saint-Mihiel salient. A “salient,” in military terms, is a bulge in the front line. Because a salient’s defenders are exposed on three sides, the situation is tolerated only if the area contains strategic terrain.

“Resulting from a German offensive in September 1914, the St. Mihiel salient was a 200-square-mile triangle jutting fourteen miles into the Allied lines between the Moselle and Meuse rivers. Bounded by Pont-à-Mousson to the south, St. Mihiel to the west, and the Verdun area to the north, the terrain was mostly rolling plain, heavily wooded in spots. After three years of occupation, the Germans had turned the area into a fortress with heavy bands of barbed wire and strong artillery and machine-gun emplacements. Eight divisions defended the salient, with five more in reserve.”—American Military History Volume II 42

Saint-Mihiel OffensiveMap showing the Saint-Mihiel Offensive, Library of Congress, 1918

The 35th Division was in the Forest of Haye, west of Nancy, lower right, off the map

The battle of Saint-Mihiel (September 12-15) would be Pershing’s first operation as army commander. He assigned the 35th to the strategic reserve, whose purpose is to replace a weakened unit or to fill any gap in the line created by the enemy. The Germans learned details of the impending attack, including the size of the opposing force, which was much superior to their own. As the Americans launched the offensive, the German army was in retreat. The battle went so well against the disorganized enemy Pershing didn’t need the reserve. The 35th waited under rain.

The troops of the 35th would be “blooded” soon enough; the future was saving them for a greater fight. Eleven days after the battle of Saint-Mihiel, they would be in the line before the Butte of Vauquois, one of the most heavily defended points in the German line. The Meuse-Argonne Offensive would be the decisive battle of the Great War.

 


A Very Muddy Place

My great grandfather, like many veterans, didn’t talk much about his wartime experience. His family has only his discharge paper and a few anecdotes.

One hundred years later, I’ve discovered a few documents that bear his name. From draft registration to discharge, I’m following the paper trail of B. F. Potts’s journey to the battlefields of the Great War in France and back home again.

Previous articles:

The Butte of Vauquois

“Well, Daddy, what did you think about France?”
“It's a very muddy place.”

Benjamin Franklin Potts Registers for the Draft

As the Great War thundered across the fields of northern France, ten million American men, ages 21 to 30, signed their names to register to be drafted into military service.

Military Induction and Entrainment

“I, Benjamin Franklin Potts, do solemnly swear to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully, against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever…”

Army Training at Camp Gordon

“If it moves, salute it. If it doesn’t move, paint it!”

Embarkation, the Tunisian, and the Bridge of Ships

In his first ocean voyage, B. F. Potts crossed the submarine invested waters of the North Atlantic in a convoy of steamers escorted by a warship.

Enterprise, Tennessee: The Town That Died

Grandpa owned matched pairs of horses. Him and the boys [Ben and his brothers] cut and snaked logs out of the wood to the roads. He got a dollar a day plus fifty cents for the horses.

Rendezvous with the 35th Infantry Division

“Some of the guys disobeyed orders, went into the town, broke into a bakery, and stole all the bread and baked goods…”

 Next date:

September 16—Private Potts, Messenger


Heroes of the Argonne: An Authentic History of the Thirty-Fifth Division, Charles B. Hoyt, Kansas City, Missouri: Franklin Hudson Publishing Company, 1919.

American Military History Volume II: The United States Army in a Global Era, 1917-2008, Richard W. Stuart, ed., Washington, D. C.: Center of Military History United States Army 2010.

Choose your own path...


Looking Ahead from A Very Muddy Place

As the climactic battle draws near, we’re picking up the pace this month in A Very Muddy Place. Private Potts has no idea that this is his itinerary for the rest of September—a hundred years ago:

September 12—In Reserve at Saint-Mihiel

16—Special Job for Private Potts

19—A Potts Family Day of Thanks

24—Battle Plan

25—Prelude to Battle

26—Battle of Vauquois

Plan of Attack, First Army


A Very Muddy Place

My great grandfather, like many veterans, didn’t talk much about his wartime experience. His family has only his discharge paper and a few anecdotes.

One hundred years later, I’ve discovered a few documents that bear his name. From draft registration to discharge, I’m following the paper trail of B. F. Potts’s journey to the battlefields of the Great War in France and back home again.

Previous articles:

The Butte of Vauquois

“Well, Daddy, what did you think about France?”
“It's a very muddy place.”

Benjamin Franklin Potts Registers for the Draft

As the Great War thundered across the fields of northern France, ten million American men, ages 21 to 30, signed their names to register to be drafted into military service.

Military Induction and Entrainment

“I, Benjamin Franklin Potts, do solemnly swear to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully, against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever…”

Army Training at Camp Gordon

“If it moves, salute it. If it doesn’t move, paint it!”

Embarkation, the Tunisian, and the Bridge of Ships

In his first ocean voyage, B. F. Potts crossed the submarine invested waters of the North Atlantic in a convoy of steamers escorted by a warship.

Enterprise, Tennessee: The Town That Died

Grandpa owned matched pairs of horses. Him and the boys [Ben and his brothers] cut and snaked logs out of the wood to the roads. He got a dollar a day plus fifty cents for the horses.

 

Choose your own path...


Rendezvous with the 35th Infantry Division

“Grandpa Ben told me about a time on a train in France. They had stopped for the night and were directed to stay on the train, which was on a track next to a small French town. Some of the guys disobeyed orders, went into the town, broke into a bakery, and stole all the bread and baked goods. When the baker discovered the theft in the morning, he complained to the officer in charge. Restitution was paid to the baker, and Grandpa said the [soldiers’] punishment was severe.”—Bruce Potts

Forty-and-EightsAmerican troops headed for the trenches, 1918
Photo from Spearhead of Logistics, King, et. al., 108

French rail cars were called “Forty-and-Eights,” after their carrying capacity, which was indicated on the side: “HOMMES 40 : CHEVAUX (en long) 8,” forty men or eight (long-wise) horses. 

I remember my great grandfather, whom my cousins, siblings, and I called “Grandpa” (accent on the first syllable) or “Grandpa Ben,” from family visits to the red brick house, where he and Granny lived their quiet years in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee.

Already in his 70s and 80s when I knew him, he walked with a cane but stood straight. He was not a tall man, 5’3” in his youth, and now his frame was slight. He wore what I thought of as “old man’s pants,” wide-legged trousers that hung from the hips, held by suspenders. The trousers were dark, but his shirt, invariably a Christmas or birthday gift from one of his children or something Granny got for him at the Dollar General Store in Erin, was always colorful. His chin was stubbly, his eyes pale blue. When he grinned, which was often, his ears perked up. He spoke around a plug of tobacco, and his voice wheezed with age, rendering his speech inarticulate to my young ears.

The family sat in lawn chairs arrayed around the carport, out of the warm summer sun. Voices, chatting, echoed between brick and cement. Children wiggled in their chairs, flicking sweat bees from their arms, as they’d been taught, not swatting. Adults sipped Granny’s iced tea from plastic cups. A fragrant breeze blew from the rose garden, and someone asked about the war.

A tobacco-stained Folger’s can beside his chair, cane hooked on its arm, Grandpa obliged with a story or two. I was too young to understand the context, but I heard mentioned far away places with fantastical and unpronounceable names, like “Lay Voadge,” the “Muse,” and the “All-gone Forest.”

My cousin Bruce Potts listened more attentively than I. His recitation above and a few more stories collected by him are the only recorded memories, that I know of, concerning Grandpa Ben in the war. Over the next weeks, I’ll include the anecdotes with the events, as near as I can work out, during which they occurred.

 

I’ve found no official records concerning Benjamin Franklin Potts during his time in France. A fire in 1973 at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, destroyed the service records of 18 million US Army and Air Force personnel discharged from 1912 to 1964.

The next chronological document I have is his return voyage from France in April 1919. So, if we are to continue the journey, we must turn to other sources.

His discharge paper shows B. F. Potts was a member of Company M, 137th Infantry Regiment. Some searching reveals the 137th was part of the 35th Infantry Division, which fought in les Vosges (pronounced with a soft “g”: lay vohzh), the Meuse (muz, sounds like “mud” with a z), and the Argonne Forest.

The 35th Infantry Division was composed of the Kansas and Missouri National Guard units. The division was organized into two brigades, each made up of two infantry regiments, plus support units. The 69th Infantry Brigade consisted of the 137th and 138th Regiments. The 70th Infantry Brigade, the 139th and 140th. Each regiment was further divided into twelve 250-man companies, identified by letters “A” through “M.” (Traditionally, there was no Company “J” because, in older type, the letter closely resembled an “I.”) The 137th Infantry Regiment, constituted entirely from proud Kansas National Guard units, was nicknamed the “All Kansas.”

Federalized on August 5, 1917, the 35th began training in September 1917 at Camp Doniphan, Fort Sill, Oklahoma. It left Hoboken, New Jersey, for Europe April 25, 1918. From Liverpool, across the English countryside to Southhampton, it crossed the Channel and arrived at Le Havre, France, 16 days later, on May 11.

The division’s first posting in the trenches was in the Vosges, south of Verdun. This was a “quiet sector,” that is, the line had to be held, but advancement by either side was of little strategic importance. Raw troops were sent there for practical training in the trench warfare environment.

Clair Kenamore, a war correspondent for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, followed the 35th Division throughout the war. He tells the stories of its officers and men in the book From Vauquois Hill to Exermont (Guard Publishing, 1919). Of their time in the Vosges, Kenamore writes:

“When the Americans came to the Vosges, the trenches were in the positions established more than three years before when the French invaded Alsace and dug in when stopped. The opposing armies had seemed to agree that the decision would be gained to the northwest, on other fields of fame, so they sent tired troops to the Vosges to rest or filled the line with territorials. A few shells were sent over each day, a few infrequent raids were made at night to learn what troops were opposite, wire was kept in good shape and trenches and dugouts were maintained in good repair, but little beyond this was done. The great war was allowed to rage elsewhere. No men were sacrificed in this part of the world.” (52)

After disembarking the Tunisian at Liverpool on September 4 (counting 11 days for the trans-Atlantic voyage), B. F. Potts would have entrained to England’s south coast, maybe at Southhampton, then crossed the English Channel to a French port, most likely at Le Havre, Cherbourg, or Calais (King 105). From the coast, another train, of Forty-and-Eights, would take him to meet his unit in the country’s northeast. The entire trip from Liverpool to the rendezvous with the 35th could have taken as little as three days, arriving by September 7.

The dates and places in the previous paragraph are conjecture on the author’s part, derived from similar (documented) journeys of AEF units. The intent is to arrive at the earliest date Private Potts could have joined the unit.

According to Kenamore, “…on the fourth, fifth and sixth [of September] the division entrained for what was known vaguely as the Rosiers area.” (69) The 35th remained in the area of Rosières-aux-Salines (rosy-air oh sal-een), a town north of the Vosges, until the night of September 10, when it marched northwest to the suburbs of Nancy. So, even if the trip from Liverpool took as long as six days, arriving September 10, Private Potts would have joined his unit at Rosières. Therefore, any stories I heard concerning “Lay Voadge” Grandpa must have been telling about his comrades.

Since there weren’t many, if any, train rides once he gained the front, the story Grandpa Ben told Bruce (at top) probably occurred during the transfer from the coast to the rendezvous point.

The Western Front and RailwaysThe Western Front and Railways

Crossing the English Channel by boat, Private Potts would have then proceeded by train across France to the area south of Verdun. (Look for “St. Mihiel” in small text.) The front at the time is marked on the map by plus “+” signs. Thin black lines are principle railroads. Secondary railways are unmarked.

“But we left about 100 of our men there in the foothills of the Alps [the Vosges]. They were killed in action, died of wounds or of disease or accident. I had not realized the number was so large until I came to count them up. It shows how heavy is the toll of war even in the quietest of sectors.” (Kenamore 65)

B. F. Potts replaced one of those hundred men.

Up to that time, only Company C of the 137th, had experienced combat, having executed a successful raid on German trenches in July. When he joined them in early September, Private Potts’s comrades in Company M, though hardened to field rations, going without a bath, and marching in mud, were as green as he was. We might imagine the Kansas boys gave the Tennessean a hard time anyway.

 


A Very Muddy Place

My great grandfather, like many veterans, didn’t talk much about his wartime experience. His family has only his discharge paper and a few anecdotes.

One hundred years later, I’ve discovered a few documents that bear his name. From draft registration to discharge, I’m following the paper trail of B. F. Potts’s journey to the battlefields of the Great War in France and back home again.

Previous articles:

The Butte of Vauquois

“Well, Daddy, what did you think about France?”
“It's a very muddy place.”

Benjamin Franklin Potts Registers for the Draft

As the Great War thundered across the fields of northern France, ten million American men, ages 21 to 30, signed their names to register to be drafted into military service.

Military Induction and Entrainment

“I, Benjamin Franklin Potts, do solemnly swear to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully, against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever…”

Army Training at Camp Gordon

“If it moves, salute it. If it doesn’t move, paint it!”

Embarkation, the Tunisian, and the Bridge of Ships

In his first ocean voyage, B. F. Potts crossed the submarine invested waters of the North Atlantic in a convoy of steamers escorted by a warship.

Enterprise, Tennessee: The Town That Died

Grandpa owned matched pairs of horses. Him and the boys [Ben and his brothers] cut and snaked logs out of the wood to the roads. He got a dollar a day plus fifty cents for the horses.

 Next date:

September 12—In Reserve at St. Mihiel


The 1973 Fire,” National Personnel Records Center

From Vauquois Hill to Exermont: A History of the Thirty-Fifth Division of the United States Army by Clair Kenamore, St. Louis: Guard Publishing, 1919.

Spearhead of Logistics: A History of the United States Army Transportation Corps by Benjamin King, Richard C. Biggs, and Eric R. Criner, Washington D. C.: Center of Military History United States Army, 2001.

Choose your own path...


Enterprise, Tennessee: The Town That Died

My great uncle John Wesley Potts, one of Ben Potts’s boys, was the family genealogist. To him the Potts family is thankful for much of the information we have concerning our family history. I have several photocopied pages of the family tree, which includes old photographs and a few stories. These last are in Uncle Wesley’s words, typed by his hand.

I’m fond of one story in particular. It reminds me of my favorite Dr. Seuss book, and like The Lorax, it remains pertinent. Furthermore, as it gives context to the childhood of our present subject, I think it appropriate at this point to transcribe the story of a town named Enterprise as told by John Wesley Potts.

Enterprise, Tennessee:
The Town That Died

Enterprise was a sawmill town on the banks of Lewis Branch. Around 1900, there were sawmills, stove and shingles. The town was aptly named because it was growing. It grew in size between 200 and 300 people.

The timber was plentiful. Virgin oaks, beach and hickory.

Grandpa Albert Jack Potts moved his family there in 1901 from Slayden, Tennessee.

Grandpa was a teamster. He owned matched pairs of horses. Him and the boys [Ben and his brothers] cut and snaked logs out of the wood to the roads. He got a dollar a day plus fifty cents for the horses.

In a few short years the timber was cut and the town slowly fell apart, much like the lumber towns of upper Michigan. He stayed in Houston County and bought a farm. He lived there until his death at 64, in 1929. Albert and Lou Ellen are buried in the McDonald Cemetery along with four of their children.

Pa would marvel at the way they lumber today.

John Wesley PottsJohn Wesley Potts, 1927-2015

 


A Very Muddy Place

My great grandfather, like many veterans, didn’t talk much about his wartime experience. His family has only his discharge paper and a few anecdotes.

One hundred years later, I’ve discovered a few documents that bear his name. From draft registration to discharge, I’m following the paper trail of B. F. Potts’s journey to the battlefields of the Great War in France and back home again.

Previous articles:

The Butte of Vauquois

“Well, Daddy, what did you think about France?”
“It's a very muddy place.”

Benjamin Franklin Potts Registers for the Draft

As the Great War thundered across the fields of northern France, ten million American men, ages 21 to 30, signed their names to register to be drafted into military service.

Military Induction and Entrainment

“I, Benjamin Franklin Potts, do solemnly swear to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully, against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever…”

Army Training at Camp Gordon

“If it moves, salute it. If it doesn’t move, paint it!”

Embarkation, the Tunisian, and the Bridge of Ships

In his first ocean voyage, B. F. Potts crossed the submarine invested waters of the North Atlantic in a convoy of steamers escorted by a warship.

Next date:

September 7—Rendezvous with the 35th Infantry Division

Choose your own path...


Embarkation, the Tunisian, and the Bridge of Ships

Potts, Benjamin F., PVT. INF., Army Serial Number 3501865, and other members of Camp Gordon August Automatic Replacement Draft Company #11, Infantry, boarded the Tunisian at Montreal on August 24, 1918, bound for Liverpool.

Passenger List  Tunisian  August 24  1918From the Tunisian’s Passenger List, August 24, 1918

It was in the summer of 1918 that General Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), promised the men that, by Christmas, they’d be in “Heaven, Hell, or Hoboken.”

As the Headquarters Port of Embarkation, Hoboken, New Jersey, was where many American troops shipped off to war, and as the port where they hoped afterward to return, it became a homecoming emblem. It was already a busy port before 1917, but when the army began to move men and equipment through it as well, the supporting rail system bogged down in gridlock. To relieve congestion, sub-ports were opened in the US at Boston, Baltimore, and Philadelphia and in Canada at Halifax, St. Johns, and Montreal.

To transport the two million soldiers that eventually made up the AEF in Europe along with the necessary equipment in a timely manner, war planners knew, would require a veritable “bridge of ships.” To that end, the US government ordered the construction of new ships, commandeered American cruise liners, borrowed ships from the British, and seized enemy vessels.

The Steamship Tunisian was built by Alexander Stephen & Sons for the Allan Line Steamship Company of Glasgow and launched at Princess Dock on the River Clyde, near Greenock, Scotland, January 17, 1900.

TunisianTunisian on trials on the River Clyde, 1900

Five hundred feet (152 m) long with a 59-foot (18 m) beam (a ship’s widest point at the waterline), she could accommodate 1,460 civilian passengers on four decks. At a cruising speed of 14 knots, like most commercial steamers of the time, she could keep pace with contemporary warships.

In magazine advertisements during her commercial career, the Tunisian was described as a “Luxurious Cabin Steamer.” During the war, she served as a prisoner-of-war ship and a troop transport for Canadian and American forces.

Leaving London, August 7, 1918, she docked in Montreal August 19, disembarking 241 civilian passengers, listed as tourists. Five days later, she steamed down the Saint Lawrence carrying US troops.

In his first ocean voyage, B. F. Potts crossed the submarine invested waters of the North Atlantic in a convoy of steamers escorted by a warship. He passed the long summer days scrubbing the decks, responding to boat drills and fire drills, and trying not to be sick. At night, no lights and no smoking were allowed on deck. The crossing from Montreal to Liverpool would take about 11 days, during which a life vest, made of cork, was his constant companion.

After the war, the Tunisian continued her passenger route as part of the Canadian Pacific Line. She was converted from steam to oil fuel in 1921 and in 1922 renamed the Marburn. As the Marburn, she finished her career, scrapped at Genoa, in 1928.

 


A Very Muddy Place

My great grandfather, like many veterans, didn’t talk much about his wartime experience. His family has only his discharge paper and a few anecdotes.

One hundred years later, I’ve discovered a few documents that bear his name. From draft registration to discharge, I’m following the paper trail of B. F. Potts’ journey to the battlefields of the Great War in France and back home again.

Previous articles:

The Butte of Vauquois

“Well, Daddy, what did you think about France?”
“It's a very muddy place.”

Benjamin Franklin Potts Registers for the Draft

As the Great War thundered across the fields of northern France, ten million American men, ages 21 to 30, signed their names to register to be drafted into military service.

Military Induction and Entrainment

“I, Benjamin Franklin Potts, do solemnly swear to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully, against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever…”

Army Training at Camp Gordon

“If it moves, salute it. If it doesn’t move, paint it!”

Next date:

September 7—Rendezvous with the 35th Infantry Division

 


“Life at Sea,” Jay in the War, James Shetler
For more details about what Ben Potts’ first ocean voyage must have been like, I recommend this article by James Shetler, whose grandfather, Sergeant Jay Shetler, crossed the Atlantic aboard the steamship Katoomba one month before, also on his way to the Great War.

The Bridge to France, Edward N. Hurley
A book by the wartime Chairman of the United States Shipping Board

Sealift in World War I, GlobalSecurity.org

Trans-Atlantic Passenger Ships, Past and Present, Eugene W. Smith
In the index, look for Marburn (p. 343) and Tunisian (p. 349)

Choose your own path...


Rackham’s Zelkova

They were colleagues, associates, students—friends of a man. They met at the top of the world, where the mountain peaks meet, where the air is pure and sparse. Then they climbed yet higher. Evening light stretched long across a lower plain, threw darkness to the depths of a narrow gorge, and set the sky aglow.

Led by a priest, who held his robe by the hem as he went, the pilgrims walked in single file. They traced a path the man had often walked—there above, where the spirit soars and, so, refills. They stepped up stones carved by ages. They tread on earth gathered by last years’ rain. They rounded an ancient well, its domed ceiling fallen. Its stones now hid beyond reflections on dark water.

At length, they came to a rare forest. Tangled roots joined to knotted trunks. Trunks spread to arching boughs, clothed in crenelated leaves. The priest halted beneath the largest tree. The breathless pilgrims congregated round its wide trunk, sheathed in weathered bark. The tree’s branches embraced them. Its roots, like seats, invited them to rest a while, to refill the spirit.

The pilgrims stood in dappled light. Some spoke of the tree and of the man: of the tree’s age, its qualities, its meaning to the man; of the man’s wisdom, his knowledge, his generosity, and his passion for trees.

The priest lit incense in a censer and began to chant. A cool breeze blew, rustling leaves and grasses, mixing a forest perfume of incense, faint asphodel, and dry-dirt dust. The congregation swayed to the rhythmic chant. Goat bells jangled out of sight. The sound, like water tumbling down a mountain stream, joined the chanting as a choir.

The priest concluded the ceremony, lifting the cloth from a plaque: a dedication of the tree to the memory of the man.

Spirits refilled, the congregation dispersed. Descending in groups of twos and threes, they left the tree, now, by their investment, made unique among all the trees of the rare forest.

 

At the top of the world, where the mountain peaks meet, where the air is pure and sparse, you may find a path that climbs yet higher. When evening light stretches long across the lower plain, throwing darkness to the gorge, you may follow the path, where the man once walked—the man who taught us about trees and forests.

At path’s end, you might rest a while in the tree’s embrace. In dappled sunlight, feel the cool breeze, smell the asphodel, hear the goat bells like a tumbling stream. And there above, a filled spirit lingers. 

Oliver RackhamOliver Rackham, 1939-2015

Zelkova abeliceaZelkova abelicea, circa 1300-

Dedicated August 6, 2018, Xyloskalo, Omalos, Crete
Photographs courtesy of Jennifer Moody

 

Choose your own path...


Potamida, Ancient Cretan Village

Regional vases at the Archaeological Museum of KissamosA Potamida vase (lower left) on display at the Archaeological Museum of Kissamos

From as early as the seventh century BC, craftsmen of a river bank settlement took white clay from nearby hills to make pottery. The style, unique to the settlement, produced a simple, squat vase with sturdy handles. An example is held at the Archaeological Museum of Kissamos, along with similar wares from other regional towns.

Today, a village named Potamida, after the Greek word potam for “river,” straddles the Rema, a seasonal stream. A disused footbridge crosses the watercourse amid a jungle of bamboo, grapevines, and fig trees just below the modern bridge.

The clay hills, called Komolithi, sit above the village. Similar white clay can be seen in a thick, geologic layer all along Crete’s north coast. At Komolithi, embedded fossils of microscopic sea creatures indicate it was once a seabed. Only in two places, here and near Sitia in eastern Crete, has erosion produced such magnificent forms in the friable rock. The slender buttes reach up as high as 20 meters beneath shrubby caps.

White Hills of KomolithiKomolithi

The site has become a tourist attraction, though little visited. Perhaps this is best. Wind and rain will wear it away soon enough.

Another local attraction is the watermill, which is marked with a sign from the road. The mill, reconstructed in 2013, lies down a narrow path beside the home of Marika, who holds the key, should it be locked.

A chimney-type watermillWatermill

Marika is an ancient woman, stooped by age so low to the ground one must bend at the waist to shake her hand. When you do, she’ll peer up and flash a wide grin. Then she’ll treat you like an old friend, chattering in Greek. Whether you speak the language is of no consequence whatsoever. You’ll understand that Marika wants you to sit down and enjoy homemade cakes while she retrieves the iron key.

The door to the watermill should be closed, though it’s rarely locked. Inside, wall displays explain its workings. In addition to the olives that have taken over since World War II, Cretan farmers harvested crops of wheat and corn from ancient times. The grains were ground at windmills and watermills scattered around the island.

This one is a “chimney” watermill. A narrow canal, called a leat, diverts water from the stream higher up the valley. The leat is gently sloped to bring water to a point above the mill. The water then falls down a near-vertical shaft, like a chimney, and shoots out a nozzle two meters (6 feet) below the mill house. The spurting water turns a horizontal wheel. Its axle turns the millstone above.

Saint Peraskevi's ChurchSaint Peraskevi’s Chuch, Potamida; Peraskevi is the patron saint of eyes

Saint Peraskevi’s Church of Potamida is not so much an attraction as it is a curiosity. Not so much the church as its bell tower, which has a clock on each of its four faces, all showing different times, none correct. Not so much the tower as its bell that rings the hour every hour… at precisely eight minutes past. In Crete, even the Greek Orthodox Church is on island time.

Opposite the church is a ruin. Carved lintels still hold open windows in stone-block walls. The interior is filled with similar stones, fallen from ceilings and upper floors. Medieval plaster clings in a haphazard pattern. Central arches resist decay. Nothing remains to hint at a construction date, much less to tell us when the wooden door, now dust, was last closed.

Venetian manor house  secret schoolVenetian manor house, secret school

During the Ottoman occupation (1669-1898), Christians were forbidden to school their children as they were used. The now-ruined building, which had been a Venetian manor house, was used as a secret school.

Door with murder holeFacade, fortified palace

Atop a western hill overlooking the village, the Ottoman pasha’s fortified palace crumbles, year by year, into a pile of stones, held together by the roots of fig trees and caper plants that choke the interior. It, like the secret school, would have been in use until 120 years ago.

An archwayInside the ruins, an archway yet stands

Just outside the village is the home of two fine folk, David and Juliet, an English couple, who settled in Crete 20 years ago and built a house from the ruins of The Old Olive Mill. They teach yoga and invite friends and artists to stay in extra rooms. This summer they host yours truly as writer in residence.

800-year old olive treeIn front of The Old Olive Mill, an 800-year old olive tree still bears fruit and serves as support for a climbing trumpet vine

Choose your own path...


Learn How to Learn

“Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”—proverb

Learning How to LearnNow you can learn how to learn from a book! Learning How to Learn: How to Succeed in School Without Spending All Your Time Studying; A Guide for Kids and Teens is available in Kindle, paperback, and audio CD.

First, it was a free Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) on Coursera offered by the University of California, San Diego. When I followed the second session in early 2015, it was a four-week course. Each week I watched a series of short lectures by Drs. Barb Oakley and Terry Sejnowski, an educator and a neuroscientist respectively, about the human brain, how it learns, and how I could more easily turn instruction into knowledge.

Then, Coursera turned it into an always-available, self-paced course. Still free and with the same content, you can sign up any time and follow the lectures as your schedule allows.

Since taking the class, I use what I learned in Learning How to Learn every day, and I recommend it to everyone, no matter your age, no matter how smart I think you are already.

Find out how exercise and sleep clean your brain and help make new brain cells (at any age!), how and when to use different modes of thinking to solve problems more easily (did you know there are different modes of thinking?), how to let your subconscious do some of the work for you (that lazy bastard!), and my personal favorite, how to beat procrastination!

Ranked the most popular online course of all time by Online Course Report, at the end of its first year it had over a million students enrolled.

In a 2015 interview for the New York Times, Dr. Sejnowski said the course’s completion rate was more than 20 percent, two times better than the average MOOC.

This week, Drs. Oakley and Sejnowski, with Alistair McConville, released Learning How to Learn in book form, aimed at children aged 10 to 17, parents, and teachers.

In their “Cheery Greetings” newsletter this week, Barb and Terry wrote:

“In some ways, this seemingly simple book goes deeper into how we learn than even our MOOC Learning How to Learn. You’ll find that this is also a great book to read together as a family. And you’ll see that even if your children are in the toddler stage, you’ll get some powerful insights on learning that will help you guide your kids in their learning as they mature.”

For adults who wonder if you've still got it in the attic, take the free self-paced course or get the book. You'll see that your neurons are in better shape than you might think, and you'll learn how to make them even better.

Give yourself a gift of learning you’ll use for the rest of your life; give your kids a gift they’ll use for all of theirs.

Learning How to Learn: How to Succeed in School Without Spending All Your Time Studying; A Guide for Kids and Teens by Barbara Oakley, PhD, Terrence Sejnowski, PhD, and Alistair McConville, New York: TarcherPerigee 2018
Kindle | Paperback | Audio CD

Choose your own path...