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—Planning the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

25—Prelude to Battle

26—Taking Vauquois

26—The Fog of War

27—Night Attack

28—Montrebeau Wood

29—Charge to Exermont

29—Clyde Brake Boards the Leviathan

30—The Engineers’ Line

October 8—Roy Albert Buried Alive!

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...


Army Training at Camp Gordon

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

My cousin Bruce recently sat down with Uncle Jesse, Ben’s last surviving child, to refresh their memories, to tell the old war stories again, second-hand now that the main character is no longer with us. The quote above stuck with Jesse and his twin brother, Wesley, because their father often recited it.

For the officers and non-commissioned officers in charge, military training is an exercise in organization. Equipment must be requisitioned and delivered to the training field; trainees must be housed, clothed, and fed three times a day; they have to be moved to and from the training site. Actual training takes place only a few hours per day.

For the soldier, military training is an exercise in patience. But while a soldier waits, the devil called boredom is his companion, and moral suffers. Busy work is a common solution.

Camp Gordon in Chamblee, northeast of Atlanta, Georgia, was one of 32 military training camps that sprang up near America’s large cities in 1917. As part of his War Preparedness Movement developed in 1914 while he was Army Chief of Staff, General Leonard Wood called for training camps to be built near cities with rail access and a large water supply.

Soon after the declaration of war, the camps were under construction as trainees were moving in. All those clapboard buildings needed painting. As did the stones that marked the borders of roads and walkways.

Barracks at Camp Gordon Postcard

During the first days of training in that hot, humid Georgia July of 1918, Private Potts and his comrades would have learned military courtesy and drill and ceremony, instilling the high degree of discipline required of a soldier. Later, they learned the use of arms. Most American boys of the era were familiar with hunting rifles, which is fortunate since, due to lack of equipment, they often trained with wooden stakes.

The latter part of the six-week training period would have included two divergent forms of combat tactics: maneuver and trench warfare. In the early days of the Great War, the Allies employed maneuver warfare to combat the invading German army, pushing it back or recoiling before its advance. However, improved technology, notably more accurate, mobile artillery and the machine gun, made the battlefield a more lethal environment. The Allies dug in to secure their gains or prevent further losses.

Trench warfare led to what General John J. Pershing, Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, called “abnormal stabilized warfare.” Pershing believed the stalemate in Europe was the logical outcome of the defensive tactics that define trench warfare.

Pershing advocated, not formations facing-off in open fields as in battles of the American Civil War, but large-unit maneuver tactics, where the infantry advances through opposing lines, pushing the enemy off the field. At the same time, Pershing acknowledged the role of trench warfare and allowed for its basic instruction in the training program.

Abandoned in 1921, the Camp Gordon site became a naval air station during World War II. Today, a plaque among the hangars of Dekalb Peachtree Airport marks the site of the World War I training camp.

Almost 70 years later, while the times of painting clapboard buildings and border stones were long passed, during my own Army training in 1987, my comrades and I laughed at the same aphorism:

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

 


“Training of the American Soldier During World War I and World War II,” Roger K. Spickelmier, MAJ, USA, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 1987.

World War I Military Camps, New Georgia Encyclopedia

 


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…”

Next date:

August 24—Embarkation, the Tunisian, and the Bridge of Ships

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A Dark Hole on Zovigli Hilltop

“In one corner, a two-foot square opening in the floor captures one’s attention. Four rusty rungs set into the stone lead down a few feet. Below that, only a flat rock floats in cool darkness.”—from Exploring Zovigli

Ruin atop Zovigli

A dark, square hole in the floor of a ruin on a hill piqued my curiosity. The first time here, I was ill equipped and alone. So, with intrepid friends, Helen and Neil, I returned a month later to Zovigli hilltop at Akrotiri Spada. Neil brought rope and a pair of sneakers almost large enough for my feet. I carried the sneakers, tied together over a shoulder. We hiked to the summit along a faint, switchback trail on Zovigli’s east flank.

While Helen and Neil took in the magnificent view, I looped the rope around the first rusty rung and pulled with my weight to make sure the rung would hold. It did. Sneaker shod, armed with a small flashlight, and with two safety observers now present, I lowered myself down, testing each rung as I went.

Savety observers

Helen and Neil survey the descent

It’s a unique sensation: feeling your way down in darkness, toes reaching for the next hold, exposed to any looming danger. Perhaps decades had passed since anyone had been down here. What did they leave? What happened since? What waits in the dark?

The most dangerous thing I could imagine was a wild animal, recently fallen in the hole. A trapped badger in close quarters, scared and desperate, might shred my legs and rip off a sneaker before I could scramble out of reach.

The scariest thing I could imagine was a skeleton. Human or otherwise, the moment light catches curved bones and empty sockets would be a heart-stopper.

Rough hewn rock

Rough hewn rock walls

Ten feet down, the hole opened up into a small space only a few feet deep. Large rocks covered the bottom in an uneven mound. With outstretched arms, I could almost touch the rough hewn walls on opposing sides. I guessed it to be a bomb shelter.

 

There were no badgers, no skeletons—nothing of interest whatsoever. To be sure, I displaced a few rocks, exposing black, damp dirt in two separate places, finding only spiders and snails.

“Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.”—Dr. Linus Pauling

Emerging

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Military Induction and Entrainment

“I, Benjamin Franklin Potts, do solemnly swear that I will support the constitution of the United States.”

The words feel like strangers in the mouth, being, at the same time, repeated after a man in uniform and of such moral import.

The American flag on his right, the Tennessee Tristar, left, the army officer stands before a group of young men. They are farmers, teachers, laborers, and railroad men. All dressed in their best clothes, they’re aligned in loose ranks. A small suitcase or a simple bag, containing a change of clothes and a shaving kit, sits on the floor to each man’s left. Their right hands are raised, palms out.

The officer continues: “I, state your name…”

“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, and to observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States of America, and the orders of the officers appointed over me.”

June 27, 1918, one hundred years ago today, my great grandfather spoke these words, right hand raised, at the Houston County Court House in Erin, Tennessee, and so became a private in the U.S. Army.

The two oaths, taken by all commissioned and noncommissioned officers and privates, were defined by the First United States Congress in 1789. The oath for officers changed over the years, but the oaths for enlisted men stayed the same until the mid-20th century.

Following the brief ceremony, Private Potts was escorted onto a train with several dozen other draftees. On boarding, each man was given two box lunches, supplied by the Red Cross Society of Erin, that would be his dinner and supper. The train pulled out for Camp Gordon in Chamblee, Georgia, where they would undergo six weeks of military training.

Three months from that day, my great grandfather would be fighting in France.

Form 1029  Provost Marshal General Office

Form 1029, Provost Marshal General Office, showing Benjamin Franklin Potts (12th entry) was inducted and entrained for Camp Gordon June 27, 1918, and arrived two days later

Two of Ben’s three brothers were also drafted for the war. Nine months prior, Roy Albert, two years Ben’s senior, took the same train to Camp Gordon. The youngest, Clyde Brake, would leave for Camp Wadsworth near Spartanburg, South Carolina, in September 1918. Only the eldest, William Rufus, was excluded from the draft, being married with two young children at the time.

 


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.

Next article:

Army Training at Camp Gordon

Choose your own path...