What Outfit, Buddy?
What Outfit Buddy?
A great many impressionable young menwho become soldiers overnight and goto war feel strongly inspired to write booksabout their adventures. I felt the same waybefore the newness of the life on the westernfront had been rubbed away by constantfriction with some of the more monotonousthings of war, such as hunger, cold, mud,cooties, and other romance-destroying agents.I buried the idea of writing a book just beforemy division was called upon to standbetween the Boches and Paris during thetrying days of July and August of 1918. Itis very good for me that I detached myselffrom the desire to write a war book aboutthat time. Experience proved that it wasnecessary to give all my available time tothe business of fighting the guerre.
The book-bug never came my way again,for I do not look upon What Outfit,Buddy? as the result of answering someinsistent, invisible summons to write a warbook. I did not intend writing a war bookwhen I started the first line of What Outfit,Buddy? I merely hoped to let JimmyMcGee, a real, regular fighting Yank whohas seen his share of la guerre, tell the storyof the things that he encountered as a memberof the American Expeditionary Force.I sincerely trust that my original intentionshave carried.
If I have allowed Jimmy McGee to tell youhis story, then I have fulfilled my hopes, forI believe that Jimmy McGee’s story of thewar is merely the universal version of thegreat adventure as held by legions of hiscomrades.
In my effort to let Jimmy tell his story Ihave not tried to use book language. Ihave used to the best of my ability the speechof men who became a real integral part ofthe guerre.... To do that it was necessaryto let Jimmy and his comrades speakFrench in the manner of American soldiers.I tried to register the true value of theirstruggles with the difficult French languageby resorting to phonetic spelling in the caseof practically all French words which havebecome a part of the American ExpeditionaryForces’ vocabulary. Students of the beautiful,musical language of France will, I trust,grant me this indulgence, as I have taken theliberties only in the desire to tell America howits fighting men overcame the difficulties presentedby living side by side with a peoplewho spoke a foreign language.
CHAPTER I—“WHAT OUTFIT, BUDDY?”
Jimmy McGee, hanging on to a long, leanloaf of brown bread with his left handand swinging a heavy, dangerous-lookingcane in his right grip, moved leisurely overa white road of France toward the four-year-oldbattlelines that stretched betweenVerdun and Saint-Mihiel.
McGee, himself, was camouflaged beneathan assortment of things and stuff that wouldhave made Panhandle Pete of funny-paperfame look like a smartly dressed gentlemanin comparison. His make-up was not calculatedto allow observers much chance tocriticize his own physical attributes or failings.
A bit of reddish-brown hair managed tocrop up in sundry places outside the distortedcorners of the clownish thing that had beenissued him in the name of an overseas cap.The part of his shirt collar that almost swallowedhis ears and chin came very near hidinghis freckled snub nose. But it didn’t.The nose insisted on protruding enough tobe seen. Jimmy’s eyes, alone, were open andready for inspection. Any one might haveguessed the nationality of his ancestors bythe laughing blue of his eyes. What couldbe seen of his features hinted that he owneda strong, good-looking face. Perhaps his longlength of wide limb would have given himsome individuality among a gang of six-footers,for he was exceptionally tall. Unfortunatelyhis height was lost in the bulk ofwar-like paraphernalia that jangled fromcountless straps, ropes, and belts. Otherwisehis identity was completely blanketed.
Nobody, except one of his own kind, wouldhave ever recognized him as an Americansoldier. He was a sad departure from allthat Army regulations and magazine covershad insisted upon as a typical member of the“best dressed and best fed army” in theworld. Most likely Jimmy’s own motherwould have passed him up as a strayingpeddler. Perhaps Sergeant George Neil,McGee’s pal and bunkie, might have recognizedhim by the stout, strong-muscled legswhich were swathed in muddy war-putees,—thatended in a final strip of thin raglingsbelow his knees,—and moved in an easy-goingstride peculiar to his own ideas of speed.
However strange and disillusioning, Private,1st Class, Jimmy McGee may have appearedto the men who designed the uniformand equipment of American soldiers, therewas nothing about the boy to distinguish himapart from thousands of comrades in soiledand torn olive-drab, who had come out ofthe Chateau-Thierry rackett with their appreciationfor neatly made packs and dress-paradetactics all shot to hell.
Appearances had long since ceased to countin his young life. He had forgotten all ofthe old O. D. stuff, after discovering that“squads right” and saluting could never wina guerre. Consequently Jimmy ambled along,loaded down to the hubs under a confusionof equipment and souvenirs that he had collectedfrom three fronts during the past eightmonths, without a thought of anything, exceptthe height of the hill that he was climbingand the emptiness of his stomach. Thefact that he didn’t know just exactly wherehe was, or where his outfit might be, wasn’tcausing him any worries. He had been separatedfrom the battery too many timesalready and this latest separation was onlytwenty-four hours old,—a mere trifle to JimmyMcGee.
“Lost—strayed—and stolen—Guess I’m allthree of ’em—tous ensemble, as the Frogswould rattle in that darn machine gun languageof theirs,” muttered McGee as heshifted the weight of a blanket roll thatlooked as if it contained a Baby Grand pianoand a fat-legged stool.
“Well, I’ll find the outfit before the guerreencores, anyhow. If I don’t I’ll turn myselfin for salvage—anythin’ to keep from bein’an M. P. or gettin’ in the QuartermasterCorps. Those guys don’t——”
Honk!... Honk!... Honk!...
Jimmy shut his mouth and got himself offof the road, just in time to miss being pressedinto an old-fashioned pancake under thewheels of a truck that whizzed by like anAustrian 88.
“Great Gods! I’d rather promenadealong the top of a trench in broad daylightthan leave my life in the hands of those fooltruck-drivers. They ain’t got a bit of respectfor a man’s body—ought to let ’em drive atank across No Man’s Land under a barrageonce or twice—maybe then they’d quit tryin’to kill us poor guys that’s fightin’ thisguerre.”
McGee thought some pretty hard thingsabout truck drivers in general after gettingthat load off his chest and started to makeanother hill, being careful to hang close tothe side of the road.
“What outfit, Buddy?”
Jimmy McGee stopped still in his tracks,steadied himself against his cane to keep fromrolling back down the steep hill, and shookhimself so roughly before answering that thetinware, brass, steel and other whatnotswhich were a part of his baggage made anoise like the cows coming home.
“Twenty-Sixth Division, Jack,” he shotback, as if he were putting over a little barrageall by himself.
Then he advanced cautiously to inspect thestrange-looking person who had asked himthe old familiar question. For a passingmoment Jimmy was pretty sure that the oldgas had got to his eyes at last, or that histhoughts were getting the best of him. Surelythe man who sat on the grass and was allrigged up like the soldiers in the Sundaypapers and popular monthlies, must be amodel—A sort of guide or index for his kind,thought Jimmy.
At last, after what seemed ten years tothe waiting, strange one, the dust-sprinkledYank said outloud, more to himself than anyoneelse, “Oui—it moves and breathes—guessit’s real—take a chance, anyhow.” Then tothe object of his remarks: “What outfit,yourself, old man?”
“None—that is, so far,” was the astonishinganswer, made in a voice that hadn’t takenon the tone of confidence which Jimmy knewwell could only be found out where he and abunch of his side-kickers had been living duringthe past few months.
“Well—that’s a hell of a good outfit tobelong to. Guess you ain’t bothered withsecond lieutenants much then, eh?” queriedJimmy, pushing his shapeless roll over hishead and letting it fall to the earth with athud.
“How do you mean—worried?” asked thewondering man, whose appearance broughtback memories of the hated O. D. days toJimmy.
“Oh, you never had many of ’em hangin’around you for salutes, givin’ foolish commandsthat ought to be listed with dead lettersin the office at Washington. That’s whatI’m gettin’ at.... Get me, now?”
A gas-mask, two bulging musettes, the bottomof a mess-kit, and a French canteen werethrown to the ground. McGee’s great heightbegan to assert itself. He stretched his longarms and shook a case of field-glasses and aGerman luger aloose from their insecure attachmentsto his left shoulder straps.
“Yes, I see now. No, can’t say that I’veminded them so much as I haven’t been inthe Army long,” replied Jimmy’s roadsidefind.
“So,” muttered Jimmy reflectively. “Say,when in hell did you enlist anyway?”
“I didn’t—I was drafted,” answered O. D.,as McGee had already mentally nicknamedthe man in front of him.
“Oui—Oui—I compree,” said the productof eight months in the mud and rain of theWestern Front, nodding his head affirmatively.
Silence for a moment and then Jimmy saidwhat was on his mind.
“Say, how does it feel to be that way buddy?It don’t bother you at nights does it?”
“Don’t quite understand you,” stammeredthe product of General Crowder’s machine.
“Pas compree, eh? Just like a Frenchmanwhen he don’t want to give you whatyou want,” answered Jimmy. “Well I’ll tryto shoot away the camouflage this time.Don’t you ever wish that you’d enlisted?”
“Sure—I wanted to enlist when the warfirst started but my Dad had just died andhe didn’t leave much; not enough to pay hisfuneral expenses. My mother has alwaysbeen sickly and Mary hadn’t finished herbusiness-schooling yet. I had to work like thedeuce to keep things going— Then I wasdrafted.”
“That’s just the way with this damnarmy,” interrupted Jimmy sympathetically.“They do everything like the French, backwards.Why the devil couldn’t they havelet you stay home and take care of yourmother and Mary? There’s enough of us bighams without any cares to fight this war.Who is Mary, your sister?” asked Jimmybluntly; but he meant to be gentle.
“Yes, she is my sister; only nineteen. Twoyears younger than me,” explained thedrafted man.
“How’s Mary and your ma makin’ itnow?” was Jimmy’s next question.
“Mary’s finished business school and hasa good job. I make a twenty-dollar allotment,and my mother gets