Published: 2/23/2020 5:00:02 PM
ORANGE — Technology is a wonderful invention that connects the world. However, I was reminded recently of the limits of the internet and the power of putting down the phone and listening — just listening — to the tales of others.
My original intent was to write an article about the battle of Apremont, April 10-13, 1918 and the 104th Infantry Regiment’s part in that battle during World War I. The battle earned the unit the Croix de Guerre, a French Medal of Honor — the first United States unit ever to receive such a foreign medal for bravery.
If you search the battle on the internet, you can learn all the pertinent dates and times. The 104th was known as the Yankee Division and local men served in the unit. Dates and times are not what this article is about, though.
While doing that research, I came across an article from the Orange Enterprise and Journal, which took my column in a different direction, as sometimes happens. On April 26 and 27, 1935, the Orange Enterprise and Journal published a supplement covering the 104th Regiment Reunion in Orange.
While reading, I was stopped cold by one article in particular. It was a first-hand account of the battle of Apremont by George Frost, a member of the regiment. Frost’s article give the reader something that the facts won’t: he takes you down in the trenches with him. Before you know it, somehow you are almost seeing what he saw and feeling what he felt. His written memories are so vivid that for a moment you are taken away from your everyday-ness to a time past, escorted to the event itself by the person who, because of his words, has placed you in the mud-filled trenches next to him. Suddenly, the Battle of Apremont is more than just dates and places and dry words. It is German mortar fire raining down.
“The trenches which the units were to battle from,” he begins, “were reported to be nearly level with the surface and activities of snipers and German raiding parties were faced.” Frost during the battle, according to the article, was a bomber for the machine gunners.
He continues that his unit had 700 yards of trenches to cover and in many places the only way to travel was on your stomach. On the night of the 11th and 12th, Frost says, the area was quiet — “too quiet, in fact.” After receiving a question from another soldier, Chuck Robinson, asking if any men had gone along an abandoned trench, as Robinson had seen troops but could not tell if they were American, Frost verified that no American troops had gone past. He and Robinson tossed several grenades in an attempt to find out what they may be facing. This was responded to by German grenades. Frost added, “From this time on until it was fairly light, I hardly remember what was happening.” His tale goes on to state that at one point a German grenade dropped into the trench “and on the fly I threw it back.”
“I spent most of my time with my back to the front of the trench, just listening to those shells whistle over the valley. The shrapnel and dirt were beginning to fill up the trench where I was and a few pieces of shell bounced off my helmet but falling from up above had no dangerous consequences,” he continued.
His tale reminded me in vivid detail of the extraordinaryness of everyday people. I had never heard of George Frost before reading his tale of his unit’s service at Apremont. Now I am in search of the Company E history which the article states was soon to be compiled.
His words reminded me, too, of the fascinating tales we all have to tell. If we would all only put down our phones once in a while and truly listen to one another’s tales of where we have been and the life they have experienced.
Carla Charter is a local historian and author. She has written several books on Abolition in the Quabbin area.