The Front Line
Approximately two million American soldiers fought in the trenches of the Western Front which ran from Belgium to the Swiss border, totaling 435 miles.
Each side dug a system of trenches. Machine gun nests, barbed wire, and mines held the enemy at bay. Artillery shells, mortars, flame throwers, and poison gas were employed with little effect. Soldiers would go “over the top” to toss grenades or gas into no man’s land, trying to reach the enemy’s trench. This maneuver resulted in almost certain death and gained very little ground.
Life in the Trench
Trench warfare was nasty. Tear gas attacks made life difficult and could cause blindness. Mustard gas produced skin blistering, terrible damage to the lungs if inhaled, or lead to a horrible death. The biggest impact of gas attacks was the terror it caused.
The muddy trenches were home to frogs, rats, lice and other pests. The wet ground and cramped quarters caused “trench foot,” a hard to heal infection, sometimes requiring amputation. Bites from lice could cause a painful disease known as trench fever.
The constant stress, noise, shock, hunger, and smells associated with trench warfare caused shellshock—now known as post traumatic stress disorder. Many soldiers returned home deeply affected by what they had witnessed or taken part in and didn’t know how to adjust back to civilian life.
Company M Casualties
Earlier in September, Hickman Hite suffered injury to his left arm. Hite, with Joseph Dencil Musser (Salina Company M) and R.J. Rummell (Lawrence Company M) seated beside him, were resting in the trenches when a German explosive hit. Musser and Rummell were the first soldiers killed in action for Company M. Through the war a total of three Salina Company M men were reported killed in action – Joseph Dencil Musser, Lauren Manning and Leslie Kreps.
Some suffered gas poisoning. Salina’s Traer Wilson and Eugene Thompson were discharged in March 1919. While they were in a partly covered trench with standing water and tins of calcium carbide, explosives hit the carbide cans and gas permeated the trench.