By William Arthur Sirmon, reproduced by: Brannon William Sirmon
This book is the actual diary as written by William Arthur Sirmon. The diary is reproduced from 1st January 1918. The book records faithfully the long periods of tedium that are part of the army routine although this appears to be interspersed with quite a lot of entertaining for the officer class. The excitement and patriotism builds up as the 82nd Regiment makes ready for war and finally gets its orders to travel from Camp Gordon, Georgia to the port of New York. The regiment sailed on the 25th April joining up with a large convoy for the crossing. Lt Sirmon observes that the main difference between one day and another is just the state of the sea.
The regiment reaches the safety of Liverpool after twelve days at sea and just one week later they arrive in France. Three weeks after landing on French terrain they get their wish and are posted to the front line. Little by little they experience the grim reality of war, seeing friends and comrades wounded or killed. Lt Sirmon is slightly wounded but continues to conduct offensive operations until his unit is attacked with mustard gas and he suffers severe skin burns.
This has been a fascinating read and while the diary format is not the most free flowing, it has been a riveting insight into the life and beliefs of a young US officer. It is very clear that the army and populous believed what their government told them about the reasons for the war being the defense of freedom and democracy. They also accepted without question the claims of atrocities committed by the German war machine against civilians. The grand geo-political causes as large empires vied for power and territory are never debated.
Yet this should not detract from the quite matter-of-fact bravery displayed by Lt Sirmon and his generation very much in contrast to the Hollywood hero. In his first action he admits to being badly frightened and shaking but swearing to himself that he wouldn’t run. After the engagement he was over he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion of Honor of France and the Croix de Guerre with Palm.
The book has not been edited for political correctness and while some of the attitudes are a shock in the modern day context, they have to be considered for the insights that they provide.
This is a great book and I highly recommend it.