Allied commanders ordered American troops to cross the Meuse River and attack the heavily fortified German positions on the other side. The Armistice, the end of the war was in sight, but the men only had vague rumors about it.
No one told the US Marines and Army troops that the Armistice had been signed at 5:45 a.m. on November 11, 1918. Instead, they were told to press forward with the perilous crossing of the Meuse River. With German positions waiting for them.
Corporal Thomas Saunders, a Native American from Wyoming, and a team of engineers had to find a way to get the Marines across the river. German artillery had taken out the bridges. So they manufactured some rickety wooden structures for two sections of the river. One of the structures was destroyed immediately. The 6th Marines were trapped without any way to get across, so they went back to the woods and dug in.
The other Marines and the 49th Company tried to cross on the other bridge:
In an article for Breitbart, author Patrick O’Donnell wrote,
“As the Marines approached the river, a gleaming white star shell arced across the inky sky, silhouetting Saunders and his men, along with members of the Janson’s 49th Company and the other Marines. Staccato fire from machine guns obliterated the relative silence. An enemy patrol set up their Maxims on the far bank and sprayed lead like a fire hose.
Men slid and slipped down the embankment next to the river, shrapnel from artillery shells tore through their ranks. One man counted 25 killed or wounded in the space of 100 yards.
“The bridge! The bridge! This way, come on, Marines!” Saunders and the other engineers called to the Marines behind them.
Men dashed across the rickety contraption. Some made it to the other side. Some, struck with machine-gun fire on the way, fell into the water. Many others never even got to the water; their bodies piled up on the eastern side of the river.
However, scores had made it across when the Germans scored a direct hit on the bridge. The men on the Western side of the river were now trapped in enemy territory. They formed a perimeter, dug in, and prepared to hold for as long as they could.
Staring down annihilation, the Marines did not know the war would end within hours. What the Marines did know is that they had leaders they trusted and followed to the end. They had each other — a fellowship forged only in battle. This bond kept many of the men alive.
Many Marines died there on that eastern bank of the Meuse before the guns suddenly went silent at 11:00.” Patrick O’Donnell, author of The Unknowns
At 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918, WWI came to an end. When it was all said and done, General Pershing chose not to tell the men that the Armistice had been signed earlier that morning. Whether or not his decision to press ahead was wrong or right, it was costly.
Featured photo: the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery where the largest number of Americans are buried in Europe