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372nd Infantry embarks for France, 1918

The following excerpt appears on p. 30-33 of
The American Negro Soldier With the Red Hand of France
Monroe Mason and Arthur Furr
The Cornhill Co., Boston. 1921

Promptly at two o’clock on the morning of March 30th, the buglers blew the signal to “wake up” and soon all were astir. From that time until four o’clock all was bustle and activity. Men were rushing to and fro in the darkness, orders were being howled out by officers, boxes were being lifted and loaded, motor trucks were creaking and groaning under the loads, and the camp resembled pandemonium. But each group of men knew just what they were to do and when they were to do it. Load followed load down to the boat, and no sooner had it arrived than it was raised in large mechanical baskets and deposited in the hold. This work was carried on swiftly and quietly on account of German spies who were alleged to be at every shipping point. So well did the men carry out the programme, the when four o’clock arrived the last loads were leaving Camp and bound for the wharf. After a very short rest the men were given a hasty breakfast and the kitchens and other cooking utensils were cleaned up for their final disposition. All the barracks were thoroughly “policed”, and the grounds were put into first class condition, and when the time to march came the men were well tired out.

At six o’clock the order to “fall in” was given, and there was another scramble, for each man was responsible for his own equipment, and had to carry it on his back. Soon all was in readiness and the order to march was given. The distance was slightly over a mile and it was not long before the first group of the regiment was standing on the wharf awaiting further orders. About seven o’clock the men began to embark. As each one entered the ship he was given two little cards upon which was the number of his bunk and on another was the number of his lifeboat station and the number of the mess section. After ridding themselves of their packs, the majority of the men lay down and tried to sleep, but only a few succeeded in doing so, for the excitement had not yet died down.

The ship was an old German freighter formerly named the “Rhine”, renamed by the Naval Department the “Susquehanna”. She was about five hundred feet long, seventy-five feet beam, and had a speed of fourteen knots. The crew were a very pleasant sort and many friendships were made during the fourteen days that were required in crossing. The entire morning and the first part of the afternoon was spent in assigning the men to their bunks and other details that accompany the loading of a ship. At three o’clock the last of the men were told to get aboard, and the gang plank was lifted at 3:45 P.M. All hands were kept below the decks. A number of curious onlookers had gathered on the outside of the pier to witness the sailing. Many of them were friends of the men who were confined in the bowels of the ship and they looked in vain for a last glance or a last smile. A sad feeling predominated on the shore, while feelings on the boat could scarcely be classified. Some felt the spirit of adventure, some joy in their change of location, some sadness on leaving their friends; others wondered about the future and what it had in store for them. Groups were seen here and there discussing the submarines, the slow speed of the boat, the spick and span condition of things and the affability of the crew. At 4:10 the ship cleared, and one short blast was sounded from the whistle. The engine then began to throb, and soon we were proceeding down the Hampton River toward the Atlantic. Except for the puffing of the tugs and an occasional shout there were no sounds to be heard. Everything was executed in grim silence. After a short time the tugs “let go”, and the transport proceeded under her own steam.

When we arrived at Hampton Roads, we weighed anchor, and it was reported that we were to remain here for an indefinite period. A second ship was a short distance off our port. She was to accompany us as a part of the convoy. The men retired early that night, and anticipated waking up on Easter Sunday morning and gazing into the beautiful harbor, but to their astonishment there was no land to be seen, even by the early risers, for the boat had pulled out shortly after dark and by dawn the next morning was well on her way. The weather was very agreeable. Services were held on board the ship by the chaplain. They were well attended both by officers and men.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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