Telling my family's stories
Clinton Rogers Dissmore, a Wisconsin farm boy who served in Company C 132nd Illinois infantry during the same time that Earl Ritenour was in Company D, wrote down some of his memories of the war, which I’m reprinting below. Thanks to Linda (Dissmore) Sherwood for compiling this and putting it on rootsweb.
“About the middle of March 1918, many of my buddies were being transferred to units going overseas; so when I was asked what I wanted to do (I was a Corporal by this time and acting Sergeant), I was offered a choice of getting officers training and staying in the states or being transferred to an outfit soon to go overseas. I chose to go overseas. The number in our company was getting thin by this time.
I got transferred to the 33rd Division, National Guard outfit from Illinois, which was stationed at Camp Logan, Houston, Texas. It took us several days to get there as we went through the several states of Kansas, Oklahoma, and into Texas and saw large wheat farms and oil wells along the tracks and country we passed through.
We lived in large tents to begin with and I was assigned to Company C, 132nd
Infantry. Our Colonel was Davis, a hard spoken man that rode around on a beautiful white horse and had us stand at attention in the hot sun until some men fainted, and he would bellow “Take ‘em out to the woods and shoot them.”
By this time we had been issued our wool underwear and olive drab wool uniforms and steel helmets and a Springfield rifle in preparation for our departure for overseas duty. I heard remarks about the accident he would have when he got “Over There.” I will say this for his favor, that after he heard a few shells and bullets sing past him he could not do enough for us boys.
We received intensive training in target practice on the target range, which was six miles distance from the camp. I made a score of 8 bulls eyes at rapid fire on an 8 inch bulls eye at three hundred yards and only shot eight times but was supposed to shoot ten times and that included loading the rifle with a clip of five cartridges in one minute’s time.
The 33rd division pulled out of Camp Logan about May 10, 1918 and we rode trains through Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and on to Hoboken, New Jersey and Camp Mills, New York.
We arrived a few days before boarding a transport steam ship that was captured in Boston harbor when the United States declared war on Germany. There were three large steamships captured: the Father Land [“Vaterland”, renamed “Leviathan”], the Crown Prince [“Kronprinz Wilhelm”, renamed “Von Steuben”] and the Crown Princess Cecelia [“Kronprinzessin Cecilie” renamed “Mount Vernon”], the one that I went to France on, which was over 800 feet long and had 38,000 horsepower. It carried 7000 soldiers besides a crew of 1500.
We went onboard ship May 15, 1918. When we passed out of Hoboken harbor we caught sight of the Statue Of Liberty given to the United States by France. We wondered if we would ever see the old girl again holding high the torch of liberty. We did see it again a year to the day; that is, some of us, but others that left on the same ship were sleeping beneath the sod in France.
I went over on the Mount Vernon and came back on it. I was on the galley detail carrying the food up the long flight of steps to the first deck where the food was served. When the bow of the ship dipped the kettles would be light in our hands, but when it came up they were so heavy we could hardly h old on to them.
But going to France, we were free to walk around on deck. There were three decks of them, or if you felt nauseated or sea sick, you laid in your bunk. There were a couple of days that I thought I might feed the fish, as they must have figured at least some would, as they gave us corn beef slimy soup.
Two five-inch cannon were mounted to swivel, one on each end, and a constant alert was maintained for the sight of a periscope or U-boat. We were drilled with life preservers to abandon ship if the occasion came or there was fire.
We reached France in eight days and were in a convoy of about eight ships including destroyers. At one time they thought a periscope was sighted and the gun crew manned the cannon but it proved a false alarm. We sighted several large whales near the ship both going and also dolphins which followed the ship to pick up any garbage thrown overboard which was not allowed as it would give away our position.
When we got to Brest, France the ship was anchored some distance from the shore and we disembarked into boats to go ashore where we were assigned to what was known as Napoleon Barracks for the night of May 24th, 1918. Later on one of our moves we slept at Verdun. Now as we got nearer the front battle line we could hear the boom of cannon and shells exploding.
We were sent immediately to the Somme Front where we received training in digging trenches and other experiences as we joined them in holding the trenches as reserves doing patrol between Albert and Amiens where we saw many gruesome sights including skulls and skeletons, broken equipment and the like, at Dead Mans Hill.
We were issued the Enfield rifle the same as the English Tommies used and the Lewis automatic rifle and I was assigned to the automatic rifle squad. As I sat on the firing step of my trench I noticed movement in the loose dirt and after that I had body lice as long as I was in France. We had a name for them, “Cooties.”
We were under the severest shelling we experienced while on the Somme Front especially at Nine Elms Trench, where it was concentrated on us for two hours with out let up and several were killed or wounded including one of my comrades, Ferdinand Estenson. My Corporal Severson was shell shocked and I got a Corporal by the name of Ott. One man put his finger in front of the barrel of his rifle and shot off a finger just to get a “blighty” as the English called a wound that got them off the front. We were on the Somme Front until about September first.
On August 2nd, I went “over the top” for the first time and crawled through shell holes and Canadian thistles being shot at by a German in a foxhole with a machine gun. I didn’t have a rifle or pistol as there was a shortage and the Lieutenant had my .45 pistol. I was carrying two hand grenades and a pouch of several pans of ammunition for the Lewis automatic rifle and a bayonet in its scabbard that I borrowed from another rifleman.
It ended up with us losing one man from a hand grenade and me firing the Lewis gun until it jammed on the 2nd pan after firing three shots. There was a light rain falling all the while but I took the gun apart and put it together several times as we could not have any light showing. It took me the most of the next morning to get the mud jammed in the gun out before it would work when I shot in the air to test it.
The day Ferdinand was wounded in the side and ankle, I saw him carried from the trench July 25th, 19l8. The English made a daylight raid that day and lost seventy men; many of them never got beyond the trench, and others were killed in the shellfire.
I and a Garret Decker carried a stretcher out in “no mans land” and picked up a young Tommy with a large piece of shell in the back of his waistline that paralyzed him from the waist down. He wanted us to hold his hand and rest every so often, which we did although we did not know how soon the firing would be resumed. The Jerries were out there also and picking up their dead and wounded at the same time but did not fire at us. These boys we picked up were from the Tenth London Regiment.
After the Somme we went to be with French and would relieve each other around St. Mihiel and the Argonne, where I never had all of my clothes off for a period of forty-five days except part of my under shirt when I would pick off the cooties and eggs. We were soaked to the skin and dried out again with the clothes on our back time and time again.
In the Argonne we came up on many dead bodies rotting out in the open of both horses and men also had keen competition with rats that would try to get our food even though we hung it under a tent roof.
Finally after taking the towns of St. Maurice and Consenvoye in October, and many prisoners and German machine guns, and on the 26th of September, forges wood and prisoners, the armistice took effect November 11, 1918, as Jerry was ready to give up the fight.
I was staying at St. Maurice, France, but on the eleventh of November the whole company was called to replace the 131st Infantry Company at the front who had had considerable losses. As we came near, we saw dead Americans everywhere, and bodies leaning against trees, and bodies lying here and there among the trees, and were struck with fear. A young man from the cook’s detail was with me as we dug a foxhole among the jack pines. He didn’t have a gas mask or helmet and was so scared that he was useless when twigs would fall from the pine to the ground when hit by German rifle fire.
It was very foggy that morning of the eleventh so that visibility was only about one hundred feet, and the Germans were not much further than that from us. Then all began to get quiet. The rifle firing ceased and, gradually, the boom of cannon. Two sergeants from my company that spoke German went to meet German soldiers that came to meet them. The sergeants told me to let them have it if they showed any shenanigans, which they didn’t, and there was a great shout among the entire front, and the Germans shot fireworks that could be seen for miles. We, the Americans, could hardly believe the war was over.
That afternoon it snowed about two inches and the weather was mild. I remember helping to carry a copper wash boiler of black tea and going back to St. Maurice to my cabin lighted by carbide and heated by charcoal and enjoyed a box spring mattress, which we had captured from German officers.
Then we became a part of the army of occupation in Luxembourg, where I spent the winter and was trained for General Bell’s Honor Guard and was called upon to parade at special occasions of the 33rd Division. While at Junglinster, Luxembourg, I was also selected to go to a bombing school near the Swiss border and saw the castle at Viandon. Here we threw dummy grenades for about a week.
The middle of April 1919, we started to move toward Brest, France, by trucks called lorries and by train. I passed through Paris and viewed the Eiffel tower and the Arc de Triomphe. When we got to Brest, we boarded the Mount Vernon and were on our way back to the States.
When I got back to New York I received 3 one day passes from my Captain to go up the Hudson River shore by train to Camillus, New York, a small town near Syracuse, to visit some second and third cousins: Sybil (Conway) Munro, Fred Munro, and daughter Genevieve. Gen wrote me while in the Army and for time after I got home. Sybil was Uncle Edwin and Aunt Sarah Conway’s daughter. Gen was quite a horsewoman. She married but don’t remember the name for sure.
They showed me a good time and paid my way putting me on a Pullman sleeper to return to New York where I found the Company about ready to leave for Chicago, where we paraded the 27th of May 1919. Our Pullman car was pushed onto a side track where some porters went through it, cleaning not only the car but got away with some of my choice trophies received off German prisoners and some new underwear and an iron cross.
After the parade, the train left for Flint, Michigan, where we got a feed at the Rio truck plant and Lansing, Michigan. After arriving at Camp Grant, Illinois, we were offered a chance to re enlist, which very few did.”