On June 6, 1918, Floyd Gibbons, war correspondent for the Chicago
Tribune, and Lieutenant Oscar Hartzel of the Intelligence Division
entered Belleau Wood. There they met Major Benjamin S. Berry, battalion
commander of the Fifth Marine Corps. Berry advised them to go back, as
it was "hotter than hell" just ahead, but relented with the admonition
that they were coming at their own risk. Gibbons and Hartzel found
themselves in the midst of one of the roughest and toughest battles of
the entire war. The French were so impressed with the heroic fighting
abilities of the Marines, and the nullifying of the German threat to
actually march on and capture Paris, that they renamed the area Bois de
la Brigade des Marines - "the Woods of the Brigade of Marines".
Belleau Wood, west of the town of Lucy-le-Bocage, was not one solid
mass of forest, but made up of many one- to five-acre patches of woods
with oat and wheat fields in between. The advance of the Marines was so
rapid and over such rough terrain that the men had only machine guns,
their carbines with bayonets attached, hand grenades, and side arms for
the officers. Although the heavy artillary in the rear was within range
of the front, the speed with which the Marines were rolling forward
prohibited the use of heavy shelling. The Fifth Marine Corps was poised
on the edge of a V shaped oatfield, bordered on all sides by thick
woodland. According to the international rules of war, Floyd Gibbons, a
noncombatant, could carry no arms. He was armed with his notebook and
Berry gave the order to advance, stepping out first himself, with
each man following at ten to fifteen yard intervals. Floyd was next in
line to Berry, with Hartzell next to Floyd. As they reached the middle
of the field German machine-gunners a hundred yards on their left,
opened up. Berry ordered everybody down, and they flattened themselves
in the young oats as best they could. Floyd looked up to see Major
Berry, his right hand holding the stump of what had been his left hand,
Floyd yelled to him to get down, and started inching towards him.
Trying to hide his movement from the German machine-gunners, Floyd
crawled along, his left cheek hugging the ground and his helmut pushed
over the right, partly covering his face on that side. Floyd had gotten
but a few feet when a bullet hit him in the left arm, just above the
elbow, going in one side and out the other. He continued to push himself
forward. A few moments later another bullet hit him in the left shoulder
blade, still he inched on. Another five feet along, a third bullet hit
him, it ricocheted off a rock in the ground, and with an upward course
ripped out his left eye, continued on, making a compound fracture of the
skull, and finally coming out on the right side of his helmet where it
blew a hole three inches long.
Remarkabley Floyd did not lose consciousness, he was dazed, and
experienced a sensation of a lot of glass crashing around him,
everything turning white in his mind's eye. His eyeball was lying on his
cheek split in half. His left hand and arm were numb and out of
commission. He wondered if he was dead, and pinching himself for
reassurance, concluded he was still alive.
Movement in any direction was now impossible. A mortally wounded
Marine near him lay thrashing about, bringing machine-gun spray just
inches from Floyd. Floyd watched the bullets rip apart the young man's
body, buttons and parts of his uniform flying off, 'til finally he lay
still. A short time later Floyd looked up to see Major Berry jump to his
feet, and in a hail of bullets, get back into the woods. Floyd later
learned the major was able to get word back to a light artillary unit,
enabling the unit to wipe out the German machine-gun nest holding up the
advance. For his supreme effort, General Pershing decorated Major Berry
with the Distinguished Service Cross.
Hartzell called to Floyd in a low voice, asking Floyd how he was.
Hartzell was unaware of Floyd's condition before now. When he asked
Floyd if he was badly hurt, Floyd said "No, I don't think so."
Hartzell said "Well, where are you hit?"
"In the head."
"You damn fool, you say you're not hurt badly. I'm coming right over
to help you."
"You damn fool, if you do any moving, don't move in my direction. I
think they think I'm dead."
They decided to give the addresses of their wives to each other in
case they didn't get through alive.
Another thing was bothering Floyd, the fear of gas gangrene
poisoning. He had seen many terrible cases among our soliders, it was
easily contracted from lying out on cultivated and fertilized farm land.
To try to reduce the possibility, he had placed his two-inch thick
British gas mask up under his cheek, keeping his face off the ground.
Then, realizing his French mask was only half an inch thick, he replaced
it with that. With the machine-gun bullets whizzing right over his head,
ten to twelve inches off the ground, that extra inch and a half gave him
Since it was the 6th of June, it did not get dark until 9:00pm. Floyd
had been hit at 6:00pm. They lay out there for 3 hours before they dared
to move. Every fifteen minutes Hartzell would tell Floyd what time it
was and try to cheer him up, telling him it would soon be dark. Finally
Hartzell was able to inch his way over to Floyd. Floyd, anxious to know
the extent of his injuries, looked at Hartzell. He was met with a look
of horror; his eyeball was hanging down by the nerves, completely out of
the socket, his skull had a deep furrow across it, his face and hair
were covered in blood and his left sleeve was likewise drenched. He
later learned had the bullet that hit his eye gone a sixteenth of an
inch deeper, it would have killed him instantly.
Floyd was quite weak from lose of blood, and once they had crawled
back to the woods, Hartzell had to support Floyd. They finally came to a
road and started walking slowly down it in search of a first aid
station, but without any idea of where there was one.
The following is Floyd's account of the complications encountered on
his way to the base hospital and his reaction to undergoing a major
Weakness from the loss of blood started to grow on me as Lieutenant
Hartzell and I made our way through the deepening shadows of the
wooded hillside in the rear of the field on which I had been shot. In
an upright position of walking, the pains in my head seemed to
increase. We stopped for a minute and, neither of us having a
first-aid kit with us, I resurrected a somewhat soiled silk
hankerchief with which Hartzell bound up my head in a manner that
applied supporting pressure over my left eye and brought a degree of
Hartzell told me later that I was staggering slightly when we
reached a small relief dugout about a mile back of the wood. There a
medical corps man removed the handkerchief and bound my head with a
white gauze bandage. I was anxious to have the wound cleaned but he
told me there was no water. He said they had been forced to turn it
over to the men to drink. This seemed to me to be as it should be,
because my thirst was terrific, yet there was no water left.
We stumbled rearward another mile and, in the darkness, came upon
the edge of another wooded area. A considerable number of our wounded
were lying on stretchers on the ground. The Germans were keeping up a
continual fire of shrapnel and high-explosive shell in the woods,
apparently to prevent the mobilization of the reserves, but the
doctors, taking care of the wounded, proceeded with their work without
notice to the whine of the shells passing overhead or the bursting of
those landing nearby. They went at their work just as though they were
caring for injured men on a football field.
Hartzell stretched me out on the ground and soon had a doctor
bending over me. The doctor removed the eye bandage, took one look at
what was beneath it and then replaced it. I remember this distinctly
because at the time I made the mental note that the doctor apparently
considered my head wound beyond anything he could repair. He next
turned his attention to my arm and shoulder. He inserted his scissors
into my sleeve at the wrist and ripped it up to the shoulder. He
followed this operation by cutting through my heavy khaki tunic from
the shoulder to the collar. A few more snips of the nickle-plated
blades and my shirt and my undershirt were cut away. He located the
three bullet holes, two in the arm and one across the top of the
shoulder, and bound them up with bandages.
"We're awful shy of ambulances," he said. "You will have to lie
"I feel I can walk alright if there is no reason I shouldn't," I
"You ought to be in an ambulance," said the doctor, "but if you
feel that you can make it, you might take a try at it." Then turning
to Lieutenant Hartzell, he said, "Keep right with him, and if he
begins to get groggy, make him lie down."
So Hartzell and I resumed our rearward plodding or staggering. He
walked at my right side and slightly in front of me, holding my right
arm over his right shoulder and thereby giving me considerable
support. We had not proceeded far before we heard the racing motor of
an automobile coming from behind us. An occasional shell was dropping
along the road we were now on.
A stick struck my legs from behind in the darkness. And then an
apologetic voice said: "Beg your pardon, sir; just feeling along the
road for shell holes. Ambulance right behind me, sir. Would you mind
stepping to one side? Come on, Bill," to the driver of the ambulance,
"it looks all clear through here."
The automobile wIth the racing engine turned out to be a light Ford
ambulance. Its speeding engine was pure camouflage for its slow
progress. It bubbled and steamed at the radiator cap as it pushed
along at almost a snail's pace.
"All full?" Hartzell shouted into the darkness of the driver's
"To the brim," responded the driver. "Are you wounded?"
"No, but I have a wounded man with me," said Hartzell. "He can sit
beside you on the seat if you have room."
"Get right in," said the driver, and Hartzell boosted me into the
front seat. We pushed along slowly, Hartzell walking beside the car
and the driver's assistant proceeding ahead of us searching the dark
road with his cane for new shell crators.
Occasionally, when our wheels would strike in one of these, groans
would come up from the ambulance proper.
"Take it easy," would come a voice through pain-pressed lips: "for
Christ's sake, do you think you are driving a truck?"
I heard the driver tell that he had three men with
bullet-splintered legs in the ambulance. Every jolt of the car caused
their broken bones to jolt and increased the pounding of their wearied
nerves to an extremity of agony. The fourth occupant of the ambulance,
he said, had been shot through the lungs.
Some distance along, there came a knock on the wooden partiton that
seperates the driver's seat from the ambulance proper. The car stopped
and the driver and Hartzell went to the rear door and opened it. The
man with the shot through the lungs was half sitting up on his
stretcher. He had one hand to his mouth and lips, as revealed in the
rays of the driver's flashlight, were red wet.
"Quick-get me-to a doctor," the man said between gulps and gurgles.
The driver considered. He knew we were ten miles from the closest
doctor. Then he addressed himself to the other three stretcher cases -
the men with the torture-torn legs.
"If I go fast, you guys are going to suffer the agonies of hell,"
he said, "and if I go slow this guy with the hemorrhage will croak
before we get there. How do you want me to drive?"
There was not a minute's silence. The three broken-leg cases
responded almost in unison. "Go as fast as you can," they said.
And we did. With Hartzell riding the running board beside me and
the crater finder clinging to the mud guards on the other side, we
sped through the darkness regardless of the ruts and the shell holes.
The jolting was severe but never once did there come another complaint
from the occupants of the ambulance.
In this manner did we arrive in time at the first medical clearing
station. I learned later that the life of the man with the hemorrhage
The clearing station was located in an old church on the outskirts
of a little village. Four times during this war the flow and ebb of
battle had passed about this old edifice. Hartzell half carried me off
the ambulance seat and into the church. As I felt my feet scrape on
the flagstoned flooring underneath the Gothic entrance arch, I opened
my right eye for a painful survey of the interior.
The walls, gray with age, appeared yellow in the light of the
candles and lanterns that were used for illumination. Blankets and
bits of canvas and carpet had been tacked over the apertures where
once stained-glass windows and huge oaken doors had been. These
precautions were necessary to prevent the light from shining outside
the building and betraying our location to the hospital-loving eyes of
the German bombing planes whose motors we could hear even at that
minute, humming in the black sky above us.
Our American wounded were lying on stretchers all over the floor.
Near the door, where I had entered, a number of pews had been pushed
to one side and on these our walking wounded were seated. They were
smoking cigarettes and talking and passing observations on every fresh
case that came through the door. They all seemed to be looking at me.
My appearance must have been sufficient to have shocked them. I was
hatless and my hair was matted with blood. The red-stained bandage
around my forehead and extending down my left cheek did not hide the
rest of my face, which was unwashed, and consquently red with blood.
On my left side I was completely bare from the shoulder to the
waist with the exception of the strips of cloth about my arm and
shoulder. My chest was splashed with red form the two body wounds.
Such was my entrance. I must have looked somewhat gruesome, because I
happened to catch an involuntary shudder as it passed over the face of
one of my observers among the walking wounded and I heard him remark
to the man next to him:
"My God, look what they're bringing in."
Hartzell placed me on a stretcher on the floor and went for water,
which I sorely needed. I heard some one stop beside my stretcher and
bend over me, while a kindly voice said:
"Would you like a cigarette, old man?"
"Yes," I replied. He lighted one in his own lips and placed it in
my mouth. I wanted to know my benefactor. I asked him for his name and
"I am not a soldier," he said; "I am a non-combatant, the same as
you. My name is Slater and I'm from the Y.M.C.A."
That cigarette tasted mighty good. If you who read this are one of
those whose contributions to the Y.M.C.A. made that distribution
posssible, I wish to herewith express to you my gratefulness and the
gratefulness of the other men who enjoyed your generousity that night.
In front of what had been the altar in the church, there had been
erected a rudely constructed operation table. This table was
surrounded with tall candelabra of brass and gilded wood. These ornate
accessories had been removed from the altar for the purose of
providing better light for the surgeons who busied themselves about
the table in their long gowns of white-stained red.
I was placed on that table for an examination and I heard a
peculiar converstion going on about me. One doctor said, "We haven't
any more of it."
Then another doctor said, "But I thought we had plenty."
The first replied, "Yes, but we didn't expect so many wounded. We
have used up all we had."
Then the second voice said: "Well, we certainly need it now. I
don't know what we are going to do without it."
From their further conversation I learned that the subject under
discussion was anti-tetanus serum- the all-important inoculation that
prevents lockjaw and is also an antidote for the germs of gas
gangrene. You may be sure I became more than mildly interested in the
absence of this valuable boon, but there was nothing I could say that
would help the case, so I remained quiet. In several minutes my
composure was rewarded. I heard hurried footsteps across the
flagstoned flooring and a minute later felt a steel needle penetrating
my abdomen. Then a cheery voice said:
"It's all right now; we've got plenty of it We've got just piles of
it. The Red Cross just rushed it out from Paris in limousines."
After the injection Hartzell informed me that the doctors could do
nothing for me at that place and that I was to be moved further to the
rear. He said ambulances were scrace but he had found a place for me
in a returning ammunition truck. I was carried out of the church and
somewhere in the outer darkness was lifted up into the body of the
truck and laid down on some sraw in the bottom. There were some
fifteen or twenty other men lying there beside me.
The jolting in this springless vehicle was severe, but its severity
was relieved in some of our cases by the quieting injections we had
received. The effects of these narcotics had worn off in some of the
men and they suffered the worse for it. One of them continually called
out to the truck-driver to go slower and make less jolting. To each
request the driver responded that he was going as slow as he could. As
the jolting continued the man with the complaining nerves finally
yelled out a new request. He said:
"Well, if you can't make it easier by going slow, then for God's
sake throw her into high and go as fast as you can. Let's get it over
with as quick as we can."
Lying on my back in the truck with a raincoat as a pillow, I began
to wonder where we were bound for. I opened my eye once and looked up
toward the roof of the leafy tunnel which covered the road. Soon we
passed out frim beneath the trees bordering the roadside and I could
see the sky above. The moon was out and there were lots of stars. They
gave one something to think about. After all, how insignificant was
one little life.
In this mood, something in the jolting of the camion brought to my
mind the meter and words of George Amicks' wistful verses, "The Camion
Caravan," and I repeat it from memory:
Winding down through sleeping town
Pale stars of early dawn;
Like ancient knight with squire by side,
Driver and helper now we ride-
The camion caravan.
In between the rows of trees
Glare of the midday sun;
Creeping along the highway wide,
Slowly in long defile, we ride-
The camion caravan.
Homeward to remorque and rest,
Pale stars of early night;
Through stillness of the eventide,
Back through the winding town we ride-
The camion caravan.
Sometime during the dark hours of the early morning we stopped in
the courtyard of a hospital and I was taken into another examination
room illuminated with painfully brilliant lights. I was placed on a
table for an examination, which seemed rather hurried, and then the
table was rolled away some distance down a corridor. I never
understood that move until some weeks later when a lieutenant
medical officer told me that it was he who had examined me at that
"You're looking pretty fit, now," he said, "but that night when I
saw you I ticketed you for the bone pile. You didn't look like you
could live till morning."
His statement gave me some satisfaction. There is always joy in
fooling the doctor.
Hartzell, who still accompanied me, apparently rescued me from
the "bone pile" and we started on another motor trip, this time on a
stretcher in a large, easier-riding ambulance. In this manner I
arrived shortly after dawn at the United States Military Base
Hospital No. 1 at Neuilly-sur-Seine, on the outskirts of Paris.
There were more hurried examinations and soon I was rolled down a
corridor on a wheeled table, into an elevator that started upward.
Then the wheeled table raced down another long corridor and I began
to feel that my journeyings were endless. We stopped finally in a
room where I distinctly caught the odor of ether. Someone began
removing my boots and clothes. As that someone worked he talked to
"I know you, Mr. Gibbons," he said "I'm from Chicago also. I am
Sergeant Stephen Hayes. I used to go to Hyde Park High School. We're
going to fix you up right away."
I learned from Hayes that I was lying in a room adjoining the
operating chamber and was being prepared for the operating table.
Some information concerning the extent of my injuries and the
purpose of the operation would have been comforting and would have
relieved the sensation of utter, helpless childnishness that I was
I knew I was about to go under the influence of the anesthetic
and that something was going to be done to me. I had every
confidence that whatever was done would be for the best but it was
perfectly natural that I should be curious about it. Was the
operation to be a serious one or a minor one? Would they have to
remove my eye? Would they have to operate on my skull? How about my
arm? Would there be an amputation? How about the other eye? Would I
ever see again? It must be remembered that in spite of all the
examinations I had not been informed and consequently had no
knowledge concerning the extent of my injuries. The only information
I had received had been included in vague remarks intended as
soothing, such as "You're all right, old man"; "You'll pull through
fine"; "You're coming along nicely." But all of it had seemed too
professionally optimistic to satisfy me and my doubts still
They were relieved, however, by the pressure of a hand and the
sound of a voice. In the words spoken and in the pressure of the
hand there was hardly anything different from similar hand pressures
and similar spoken phrases that had come to me during the night, yet
there was everything different. This voice and this hand carried
supreme confidence. I could believe in both of them. I felt the hand
pressure on my right shoulder and the mild kindly voice said:
"Son, I am going to operate on you. I have examined you and you
are all right. You are going to come through fine. Don't worry about
"Thank you, very much," I said. "I like your voice. It sounds
like my father's. Will you tell me your name?"
"I am Major Powers," the kindly voice said. "Now just take it
easy, and I will talk to you again in a couple of hours when you
The speaker, as I learned later, was Major Charles Powers, of
Denver, Colorado, one of the best-known and best-loved surgeons in
the West. A man far advanced in his profession and well advanced in
his years, a man who, upon America's entry of the war, sacrificed
the safety of the beneficial air rarity of his native Denver to
answer the country's call, to go to France at great personal risk to
his health - a risk only appreciated by those who knew him well. It
was Major Powers who operated upon the compound fracture in my skull
My mental note-taking continued as the anesthetist worked over me
with the ether. As I began breathing the fumes, I remember, my
senses were keenly making observations on every sensation I
experienced. The thought even went through my mind that it would be
rather an unusual thing to report completely the impressions of
coma. This suggestion became a determination and I became keyed up
to eveything going on aobut me.
The conversation of the young doctor who was administering the
anesthetic interested me unusually. He was very busy and
business-like, and although I considered myself an important and
most interested party in the entire proceedings, his conversation
ignored me entirely. He not only did not talk to me, but he was not
even talking about me. As he continued to apply the ether, he kept
up a running fire of entirely extraneous remarks with some other
person near the table. I did not appreciate then, as I do now, that
I was only one of very, very many that he had anesthetized that
morning and the night before, but at the time his seeming lack of
all interest in me as me piqued me considerably.
"Are you feeling my pulse?" I said. I could not feel his hand on
either of my wrists, but I asked the question principally to inject
myself into the conversation in some way or other, preferably in
some way that would call him to account, as I had by this time
aroused within me a keen and healthy dislike for this busy little
worker whom I could not see but who stood over me and carried on
conversations with other people to my utter and complete exclusion.
And all the time he was engaged in feeding me the fumes that I knew
would soon steal away my senses.
"Now, never mind about your pulse," he replied somewhat
peevishly. "I'm taking care of this." It seemed to me from the tone
of his voice that he implied I was talking about something that was
none of my business, and I had the distinct conviction that if the
proceedings were anybody's business, they were certainly mine.
"You will pardon me for manifesting a mild interest in what you
are doing to me," I said, "but you see, I know that something is
going to be done to my left eye and inasmuch as that is the only eye
I've got on that side, I can't help but be concerned."
"Now you just forget it and take deep breaths, and say, Charlie,
did you see that case over in Ward 62? That was a wonderful case.
The bullet hit the man in the head and they took the lead out of his
stomach. He's got the bullet on the table beside him now. Talk about
bullet-eaters - believe me, those Marines sure are."
I hurled myself back into the conversation.
"I'll take deep breaths if you'll loosen the straps over my
chest," I said, getting madder each minute. "How can I take a full
breath when you've got my lungs strapped down?"
"Well, how's that?" responded the conversational anesthetist, as
he loosened one of the straps. "Now, take one breath of fresh air -
one deep, long breath, now."
I turned my head to one side to escape the fumes from the
stifling towel over my face and made a frenzied gulp for fresh air.
As I did so, one large drop of ether fell on the table right in
front of my nose and the deep, long breath I got had very little air
in it. I felt I had been tricked.
"You're pretty cute, old timer, aren't you?" I remarked to the
anesthetist for the purpose of letting him know I was on to his
game, but either he didn't hear me, or he was too interested in
telling Charlie about his hopes and ambitions to be sent to the
front with a medical unit that worked under range of the guns. He
returned to a consideratioin of me with the following remark:
"All right, he's under now: where's the next one?"
"The hell I am," I responded hastily, as visions of knives and
saws and gimlets and brain chisels went through my mind. I had no
intention or desire of being conscious when the carpenters and
plumbers started to work on me.
I was completely ignored and the table started moving. We rolled
across the floor and there commenced a clicking under the back of my
head, not unlike the sound made when the barber lowers or elevates
the headrest of his chair. The table rolled seemingly a long
distance down a long corridor and then came to the top of a slanting
As I started riding the table down the runway I began to see that
I was descending an inclined tube which seemed to be filled with
yellow vapor. Some distance down, the table slowed up and we came to
a stop in front of a circular bulkhead in the tunnel.
There was a door in the center of the bulkhead and in the center
of the door there was a small wicket window which opened and two
grotesquely smiling eyes peered at me. Those eyes inspected me from
head to foot and then, apparently satisfied, they twinkled and the
wicket closed with a snap. Then the door opened and out stepped a
quaint and curious figure with knarled limbs and arms and a peculiar
misshapen head, completely covered with a short growth of black
I laughed outright, laughed hilariously. I recognized the man.
The last time I had seen him was when he stepped out of a gas tank
on the eighteenth floor of an office building in Chicago where I was
reclining at the time in a dentist chair. He was the little gas
demon who walked me through the Elysian Fields last time I had a
" Well, you poor little son-of-a-gun," I said, by way of
greeting. "What are you doing in France? I haven't seen you for
almost two years, since that day back in Chicago."
The gas demon rolled his head from one side to the other and
smiled, but I can't remember what he said. My mental note-taking
concluded about there, because the next memory I have is of complete
darkness, and lying on my back in a cramped position while a horse
trampled my left arm.
"Back off there!" I shouted, but the animal's hoofs didn't move.
The only effect my shouting had was to bring a soft hand into my
right one, and a sweet voice close beside me.
"You're all right, now," said the sweet voice: "just try to take
a little nap and you'll feel better."
Then I knew it was all over; that is, the operation was over, or
something was over. Anyhow, my mind was working and I was in a
position where I wanted to know things again. I recall now with a
smile that the first things that passed through my mind were the
threadbare bromides so often quoted, "Where am I?" I recall feeling
the urge to say something at least original, so I enquired:
"What place is this, and will you please tell me what day and
time it is?"
"This is the Military Base Hospital No.1 at Neuilly-sur-Seine
just on the outskirts of Paris, and it is about eleven o'clock in
the morning and today is Friday, June the seventh."
Then I went back to sleep with an etherized tasted in my mouth
like a motorman's glove.