Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Veterans' Day Remembrance

Private Dixon L. Coulbourn, U.S. Army

Yankee Division soldiers at Camp Devens, Mass. after returning from France.

            Every year at Veterans’ Day, I think of my Dad. He was a young man of 19, fighting a miserable, endless war in the trenches of France.

            On November 11, 1918, Armistice was declared. People went from unit to unit, announcing the news.  Dixon L. Coulbourn remembered that vividly, especially because a cook wagon came to the front lines and set up to start cooking pancakes. These soldiers had been eating hard tack biscuits and not much else.
             “Man, that was the most wonderful thing!” Dixon used to say.

            America went to war in France to fight the Germans in 1917, and young Dixon was in a hurry to join.  He enlisted in the 124th Infantry Regiment (First Florida), and was shipped up to Camp Devens in Massachusetts, to join the Yankee Division.

            1,500,000 young men boarded troop transports and were soon fighting in France. Dixon was among them. The shells exploding near him permanently damaged his hearing, so he spent the rest of his life with very poor hearing.

            As it has done for most men, and now women as well, combat made a lasting impression on Dixon.  He was proud of his service.
           When the war was over, the soldiers returned to America, and suddenly all those young men were looking for jobs at the same time.  Dixon and his brothers went to work in central Florida, packing strawberries and trying all kinds of schemes to make a living.  

            Texas was gaining notice all over the country because oil wells were popping up, new refineries were being built, and workers were needed. In 1927, Dixon jumped on a freight train headed for Texas.  He made his way to Port Arthur, in the southeastern corner of Texas.  Real estate developers financed with money from the Netherlands had begun building a town here to handle shipments of locally grown rice. They located the Kansas City Southern Railways terminus here, and Dutch settlers came to live, followed by Americans.

            Then wildcatters made a huge oil discovery at Spindletop, right where all the Dutchmen were living. That led to creation of several refineries here. Texaco and Gulf Oil companies were formed. Families began streaming here to make their fortune in this oil boom town.

            For a young man, veteran of The Great War, looking for work, this looked to be the place, and Dixon landed here.  Dixon found a job as a bookkeeper at a local grocery store. 

            Dad soon became a public accountant, and then, after several tries, got his Certified Public Accountant’s license. He practiced in Port Arthur most of the rest of his life. He died in 1997 at the age of 98.

            Veterans’ Day is an important day to remember the men and women, today and in the past, who answered the call, and went to fight for this wonderful country.
            There is plenty of discussion about whether the U.S. should go to war, or stay out of it.

            It has always been the case, and most Presidents think long and hard before sending troops overseas to fight. President Wilson tried his best to keep the country out of the war in Europe, but eventually, with Germans sinking civilian passenger ships with Americans on board, it was time for the American doughboys to join the fight, and end it.

            Just 23 years later, it was the same story all over again, but this time a maniac named Adolf Hitler had conquered most of Europe, and the Japanese were gobbling up land and sweeping south to conquer the whole Pacific. We knew we needed to help out, but when the Japanese tried to sink our Navy at Pearl Harbor, it was time to fight. Millions of American men and women fought in that war, and nearly everyone who stayed home was swept up in “The War Effort”.

            Korea came just a few years after World War II, and then the war in Viet Nam. And then engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan which consumed many hundreds of thousands of men and women.

             Each time, men and women answered the call and went to war. There was plenty of discussion about whether this was a “just war” or not.  But millions didn’t discuss, they didn’t demonstrate, they didn’t burn draft cards or run to Canada. They simply went to do what America asked of them, and many never came back. Those who did return were never the same. The war had shaped them, hardened them, and sometimes maimed them, both physically and mentally.

            We will continue to discuss whether we should have gone into Viet Nam, or Iraq or Afghanistan, or now Syria. In a free country, it is vital that we discuss, and argue, and demonstrate, and let our fellow citizens and our leaders know what we think.

            But when the men and women have been sent, and fought for us, it is America’s permanent responsibility to receive them back, and if needed, give them the best care possible.  

Note: In the photo above, Dixon is in the third pup tent from the right.

My brother, Dixon Wall Coulbourn, has provided this account, written by our father, of his adventures.  It provides much more of the story of a wiry young man from Virginia and Florida,as part of the American forces sent to end The Great War:

This is for Veterans’ Day 2015, my dad, Dixon Long Coulbourn's story of his part in WWI:

      I, Dixon Long Coulbourn, was born January 27, 1899 at Wheelton, Virginia. The name was later changed to Morattico, an Indian name. The county is Lancaster. In 1917 I was living with my father and mother and my younger brother Scott at Plant City, 20 miles from Tampa in Florida.  Along about May 1st, 1917, I went to Tampa to enlist in the army. 

     Everything was all right except for my eyes. They were 20-50, and they should be 20-20. Well, I will fix that! So, I went to an eye-doctor. He prescribed a pair of eye-glasses. When the glasses arrived, I went back down to the recruiting office in Tampa and reapplied. I told the Sergeant that I had gotten a pair of glasses . He shook his head and said, "But you must pass without glasses." That floored me. 

     I went home to Plant City very much discouraged. The next day was Saturday, June 5th, and the local company of the Florida National Guard paraded up Main Street. I thought that I would try to enlist in the Florida National Guard. So I went to the Armory and applied. Everything was fine and they sent me to my doctor for a physical. He told me that I was in good shape in every way except that my eyes were 20-50 and should be 20-20. I was clearly disappointed. He said, "Dixon, do you really want to go?" "Why sure I do," I said, as if there couldn't be any question about it. I still feel the same way about my country. He said, "All right, then", and signed the certificate. 

    So I was inducted.We would go down to the armory about once a week at night and do squads right, etc. My corporal was Bunyon S. Tyner. In November, 1917, Company E was called up to go to Bradenton, the county seat, to guard the jail. The local people wanted to lynch one of the inmates. We were there about a week or so, and everything had quieted down. 

   We were ordered back to our Armory and disbanded temporarily, as it were.  A little later we were called up again, but this time we were sworn into Federal Service and went to Camp Wheeler, near Macon, Georgia. We would go hiking and camped overnight, and do some War Games and such.

    About May 1918, I was picked with about a thousand others to go overseas as replacements. We went to Hoboken, N.J. After traveling under New York City, we embarked on the Australian Liner Euripides. There were about 3000 of us soldiers and maybe more, but I think it was about 3000.

    I hadn't had a pay day since I left Camp Wheeler and although I had very little need for money it was nice to have some. The fact was that I was down to my last nickel, and it was a Canadian nickel––I don’t remember how I came across that Canadian nickel. Anyhow that was all I had. That Australian coffee smelled awfully good. So I bought a cup of that coffee and gave them that Canadian nickel.Well, we had just gotten to sea, and I drank that coffee. I had just gotten that coffee down when I got seasick, and went to the scuppers and threw it up. There went that Canadian nickel.

   It took us 13 days for that Australian liner to get to England and the city of Liverpool. As we came up the English coast, we saw the Hills of Ireland over in the distance to our left. We camped overnight, and the next morning we entrained for Winchester, where we were given a handshake by a member of the Royal Family and were given a letter thanking us for coming over and so forth with the Royal Arms on it, and we could write any short note on it if we wished. We were to address the envelope to our folks back home and put our name on the back. Then we were to return it to the Royal Family and they would see to it that it was mailed with postage and all. 

    When I returned home in 1919 I asked if it had arrived and I was assured that it had arrived. After the meeting with the Royal Family, we entrained for Southampton down on the coast. The small channel boats took us over to Le Havre in France after waiting ten days for the transportation. We did not stay long at Le Havre. We were quickly transferred to the city of Le Mons receiving station. We were told to disrobe and go to the showers. We were issued a towel and after drying off we went to the next room where we were issued underwear and outerwear, and in the next room we dressed and fell out and lined up outside. Then we were taken to the ammunition building and were issued a British Enfield and ammunition belt full of ammunition. We never saw our beloved Springfield rifles again! 
This car was designated for 32 hommes or 8 chevaux.

    Then we were loaded into French Box Cars plainly marked “40 hommes aux 8 cheveaux.” In English that is “40 men or 8 horses”. The supplies were in the cars––one case each of tomatoes,hardtack, corned beef, and water. This is France, now remember. Some time during the night we were connected to an engine and we started on our way to the front. Then later on our train was sidetracked so a higher priority train could get through. 

    When we awoke there were thirteen cars of us on this siding somewhere in France. Finally, one of the fellows hoofed it down to the nearest railroad station and notified them of our presence. Pretty soon an engine came along and hitched on to us and took us to the closest American outfit, which happened to be the US Marines Second Division, located three miles from Paris. That was the closest I got to Paris. Those Marines couldn’t let us rest but got us doing squads right the next morning. We were with them about three days or a week and we were loaded up on the train again and arrived at the 26th U. S. Army Division––Yankee Division, and I was assigned to Co. B 104th Infantry. The Yankee Division had just returned from Chateau Thierry and has been pretty well shot up, and that little mishap of the siding caused me to miss that undertaking. Pretty soon our division was ordered to the front. This time it was the St. Mihiel Sector.

American soldiers at St. Mihiel Sector

    The line was like this: Imagine a horizontal line with a "V"-shaped incursion of the Germans into Allied territory. 

    Our objective was to straighten out the line. Which we did. We rolled it up. The German Ninth Corps Headquarters was at that particular spot, and we captured it. There happened to be a German Brewery there so we captured it, also, and every squad had a keg of beer. Well, I got half of my mess cup of that beer and went out to be by myself to drink it. 

    My Mother was a teetotaler and would not let beer or other strong drink in the house. Well, I took a swig––and then I poured what was left on the ground. I couldn’t see how anyone could drink it. After that St. Mihiel victory the 26th Division was sent to the Troyon Sector. A defensive sector. So we walked across France to the Troyon Sector. When we arrived there we were much surprised. Our habitat consisted of miles of underground trenches which until recently the Germans had occupied for years. There were thousands of bunks, fully wired electric lights and evidence that the Germans had left in a hurry.  
Map of Meuse Argonne Sector near Verdun, Sept-Nov. 1918

    As I said, it was a defensive sector. We were there for about a month.Then we received our orders to the Meuse-Argonne Sector, so we walked across France to that sector, which was definitely not a defensive sector. There were no formal trenches. Just tremendous shell holes that had been rained on. The dirt would have been perfectly prepared for a flower garden. There we had to stand, looking over the tops toward the German lines. We were given notice that those German lines were occupied by belligerent troops. after we had taken a couple of steps our boots were caked with that dirt the size of footballs. 

    When you stepped a couple of steps it was difficult to stay erect. And we had to keep our guns immaculate as well as our hands. My current partner was American, of course, but of German descent, but nevertheless he exclaimed in exasperation “DAMN THEM GERMANS!”  We saw a squad of our men coming by twos. Between each two they carried a broom stick-sized pole about seven feet long. With it they had skewered about 15 loaves of French bread for our meals. Of course, if they got too close to the walls of soft dirt and got some dirt on the loaves, it couldn’t be helped. We were ordered to move up closer to the front. We had to run low singly and hope for the best. 

    My partner was ordered to go and he got about 60 feet and the Bosch killed him. Then came my turn and I went forward. No problem! That was the way it was!     Thank the Lord.

    A week or so later we were transferred somewhere else and I had developed a fever. We were going by a First Aid station at a cross roads and I fell out of line and went in to the tent and the nurse looked at me and said “Lie on that cot.” They checked me and I had the mumps! They transferred me to the hospital in Vichy, in southern France.

    When I recovered and was sent back to my outfit, we were moving along, getting ready to go into the trenches. We were strung out along the road for miles. About 9 a.m. a dispatch rider came along and said there would be an armistice at 11 A.M. We didn’t believe him. We thought he was making fun of us. Then the major came along on his horse and announced that there would be an armistice at 11 a.m. and to be very careful not to fire any weapons or make a disturbance, Then we started to believe.  A halt was called and 11 a.m. came and went and the the coupçons (rolling kitchens) rolled up and we were served PANCAKES for lunch and they were delicious! That close to the front lines! 

     The Germans moved back ten miles that morning of the armistice and we moved up and took over their positions. They had left in a hurry. That was evident. Among other things, I found two straight razors. We were sleeping in their trenches that night.Along about 10 p.m. I got out of my blankets and went up on top. It was a clear and beautiful night with all the stars out like we had at home. I got to thinking “What if,–– just suppose those Germans took a notion to take advantage of everyone sleeping?" It would be just like them. Pretty soon I got sleepy and went back down to my blankets.

    The next day we started moving–on foot along the road toward the coast.We moved along for a week or so and one evening we stopped at a large empty warehouse for the night. We had supper, and the potatoes had not been cooked enough, and I was feeling bad. The next morning I was feeling worse. We had breakfast and started down the road. We came to a crossroads and I saw a First Aid Station so I got out of the ranks and went into the tent. The Nurse took my temperature. She said I had a fever and had the influenza. It was all the rage at the time. They sent me to the hospital which was on a hill and the railroad station was down in the valley. It wasn’t any fun.

    My brother Bill was in the tank Corps, and he found out that I was in the hospital and he went AWOL and came to visit me. Well, the hospital people decided that I was well enough to go back to my Company and moved me down to a passenger car stationed at the railroad station down in the valley. The French passenger cars are divided into compartments with two long seats across the car and facing each other. They put me in the last compartment in the car and it had a window missing in the door. Thank goodness I had a blanket and this was winter and about 10 a.m. and cold. I was still weak so I wasn’t moving around very much.

    There was my brother up looking around the hospital for me. We never got to see each other. In fact, I did not know he had tried to see me until we all got home. That’s life.I did some traveling on my way back to my company. I went to Tours. The St. Gatianus Cathedral is there and I climbed to the top of one of the two spires––inside by stairway, of course.

    I saw France on foot. I sold the extra pair of shoes they issued me for $10. And they gave me 50 cents coffee money. To tide me over. I had not had a pay in ten months so I felt rich and I knew how to get along without money. I knew how to travel cheap. Let me tell you.When I got back to my company I found out we were headed for Brest to go home. After I found that out I didn’t wander far. I don’t believe I even went into Brest. I stayed right in camp.

     The day finally came and they loaded 5000 of us on the Kron Princessen Cecelia, a German Liner we received in reparations and renamed the Mount Vernon. We made the trip in five days. We were out about two days when I received a Cablegram from Bob Barthel, my brother-in-law, welcoming me back home. I appreciated that.

    We arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, and entrained to Camp Devens, MA. We were each presented with a silver ring by the state of Massachusetts. I lost it when I was swimming at Virginia Beach, VA later on. Then we were sent to Camp Gordon, near Atlanta, Georgia. We received our discharge. I went into Atlanta and bought a gold watch. I had my initials engraved on the back. That was April 4th 1919.

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