|Today we went to several places in the St. Mihiel Salient, a bulge in the front line that the Germans had held since 1914. The salient was full of defensive trenches, machine gun nests, artillery, and importantly, the high ground that could overlook the French and American lines for miles. Having been there for 4 years, the Germans were really dug in, but by then, their ranks of soldiers were quite depleted and tired, with many teenagers and old men having been drafted as replacements. The Americans and French took back the salient in 4 days on Sept. 16, although with really heavy losses, and moved through it toward Germany to cut the German supply train line to the region. More than 550,000 Americans fought here. Grandpa’s unit pulled the first train across the St. Mihiel Salient "No Man’s Land" (the area between the opposing trenches), reporting that things were still “too hot” for their liking. But they took over the German train line and captured their train equipment.
We visited several sites of trench battles in the St. Mihiel Salient, finally heading up to the top of the mountain where the huge monument is (see photos). The cemetary contains the graves of 4,153 American servicemen, about half of those killed here.
Another really impressive place we went today was the Butte de Vauquois. Vauquois is one of those towns that as completely blown off the map in the war. The Germans and French were trying to take the town, which sits on top of the butte, by tunneling under each other's trench positions on either side of the town. I've included a lot of photos of it because I was so, well, blown away to see the huge craters where the town used to be.
We later stopped and followed the Sergeant York trail, about a 2-mile walk through the forest where he led an attack on German machine gun nests covering a very steep hill in the Argonne Forest. A backwoods Pennsylvania boy who was an excellent turkey hunter, he almost single-handedly took out 35 machine guns, killing at least 25 enemy soldiers, and capturing 132. He was apparently really pissed about having his best friend killed by one of those machine guns and went off on a tear through the woods with only a single-shot rifle and a pistol when his rifle ran out of bullets. You may have seen the old movie about Sgt. York starring Gary Cooper. Sgt. York is still revered in France, although he died in poverty in PA.