On Active Service
The harrowing life of a combat engineer
American soldiers break through barbed wire to attack the enemy
in this drawing. Combat engineers, such as Corporal Jones, often
had responsibility to cut through barbed wire entanglements as
Annual National Guard State of Oregon, 1939)
After training at Vancouver Barracks in Washington and several
months at Camp Greene, North Carolina, Carl W. Jones of Brookings finally
made it to Europe in May 1918. As a combat engineer, his job was often
one of the most dangerous around. It included clearing the way for infantry
to advance. This could mean cutting through masses of barbed wire, installing
pontoon bridges, or repairing roads. The engineers were often at the front
lines of battle. Clyde Moore, a 23 year old combat engineer from Redmond,
quoted one of his lieutenants: "When you look over what an Engineer
has to know, you wonder what the H--- anybody else is supposed to know."
Marching alongside infantrymen, Jones carried a haversack that
held two days rations, gun, ammunition, gas mask, hatchet, and
(needed to cut the German barbed wire entanglements that were sometimes
too strong for regular pliers to cut). A squad of engineers was often
to each platoon of infantry to cut the ubiquitous barbed wire. Vital
to the success of the mission, an engineer had to maintain calm under
intense fire and show resourcefulness in the
of incredibly challenging situations.
Army engineers use horses and trucks while building a road in
France. Efficient transportation of troops and supplies was vital
to the war effort. (OSA, Oregon Defense
Council Records, Publications and Ephemera, Box 8, Folder
1) View soldiers on the move photographs.
"...My division went over the top"
On July 18 Jones's division advanced in the Chateau Thierry salient
of France. As if a portent of the battle to come, the night before the
"could not have been worse for the wind was awful and the rain terrible
and everything as black as charcoal." Earlier he had passed a battlefield
where thousands had died the year before and noted:
"...today the ground is covered
with a mass of human skeletons."
In order for the division to advance far, it needed to cross the Vesle
River. It fell to Jones and his fellow engineers to put a foot bridge
across the river. But Jones
could see the Germans in the woods on the other side of the river. When
the enemy opened fire, his crew would drop as the bullets whizzed by
their heads. When a light rocket would flare
up, they would drop and lie perfectly still to avoid
detection. Eventually, they completed the bridge and the division advanced.
Later, Jones had several more close encounters with German forces as
he described in a letter to Curry County:
January 20, 1919
Judge John L. Childs:
My dear Sir:- Since fighting has ceased and
peace will soon be signed I suppose you will want to know how
one of the first bunch of volunteers came through the battles.
...At the zero hour we Engineers led the infantry,
cutting a lane through the once unconquered mass, took several
prisoners, also some snipers who held out till the very last.
The snipers as a rule dropped where they were. We made seven
kilometers that day. Here at the edge of the woods we met crack
Prussian Regiments. We were out of range of our own artillery,
so we held them with machine guns and one-pounders our infantry
using the captured Hun machine guns as well as our own, giving
them some of their own medicine. The next day our artillery
was brought up and we went after them again. A couple of times
I was ahead a half a mile of my outfit. Once three privates
were picked off, leaving only the Sergeant and myself to get
back safe. Another time several enemy machine guns were spitting
lead around three of us but we got back without a scratch....
Corporal Carl W. Jones.
Of Spring Brook Farm, Brookings, Oregon
After the fifth day of the advance, Jones and his outfit were relieved
by other soldiers and began to move to the rear. Ironically, after tempting
death so many times at the front, he was injured when a gas shell struck
feet in front of him. Jones suffered a thigh wound and was slightly gassed
but later returned to his company. He attributed the injury to "troopers
(Oregon State Defense Council Records, Personal Military
Service Records, World War I, Box 2, Jones: Curry County, School District
No. 11; Moore: Deschutes County School District No. 10)