"East Side, West Side . . . ."
In June of 1918, the 165th Infantry, which for several weeks had been holding a portion of the Allied line near Baccarat, along the old Alsatian border in eastern France, was ordered to the rear. Late on the night of the 18th, the troops, National Guardsmen from New York City – mostly Irishmen of the old “Fighting 69th” – began trudging back from the front along a dusty trail. As they moved, they began to pass fellow doughboys, moving up to the lines, the very men who were relieving them.
What happened next was later reported by Father Francis P. Duffy (1862-1932), the regiment’s famous chaplain.
Yesterday was New York “Old Home Day” on the roads of Lorraine. We marched out from Baccarat on our hunt for new trouble, and met on the way the 77th Division, all National Army troops from New York City. It was a wonderful encounter. As the two columns passed each other on the road in the bright moonlight there were songs of New York, friendly greetings and badinage, sometimes good-humored, sometimes with a sting in it. “We're going up to finish the job that you fellows couldn't do . . . . Look out for the Heinies or you'll be eating sauerkraut in a prison camp before the month is out . . . . The Germans will find out what American soldiers are like when we get a crack at them.”
“What are you givin’ us,” shouted Mike Donaldson, “we was over here killin’ Dutchmen before they pulled your names out of the hat.”
“Well, thank God,” came the response, “we did not get drunk to join the army.”
More often it would be somebody going along the lines shouting “Anybody there from Greenwich Village?” or “Any of you guys from Tremont?” And no matter what part of New York was chosen the answer was almost sure to be “Yes.” Sometimes a man went the whole line calling for some one man: “Is John Kelly there?” the answer from our side being invariably, “Which of them do you want?” One young fellow in the 77th kept calling for his brother who was with us. Finally he found him and the two lads ran at each other burdened with their heavy packs, grabbed each other awkwardly and just punched each other and swore for lack of other words until officers ordered them into ranks, and they parted perhaps not to meet again. At intervals both columns would break into song, the favorite being on the order of:
East Side, West Side, all around the town,
The tots sang “ring-around-rosie,London Bridge is falling down”
Boys and girls together, me and Mamie O’Rourke
Tripped the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York
The good padre added that “The last notes I heard as the tail of the dusty column swung around a bend in the road were ‘Herald Square, Anywhere, New York Town, take me there.’ Good lads, God bless them, I hope their wish comes true.”
The troops that relieved the 165th were from the 308th Infantry Regiment. Like their comrades in the 77th Division, they were draftees, the first to go into action in the war. As for their wish, well, many never did make it back. Just a few weeks later the regiment’s first battalion would gain a measure of fame as “The Lost Battalion.”
Army-Navy Rivalry Helps Map Kaula
Kaula is a tiny islet in the Hawaiian chain. It lies about 20 nautical miles west-southwest of the southern end of Niihau, the northernmost inhabited island, about 150 miles west and a little north of Honolulu. Essentially a rocky arc that may once have formed the rim of an extinct volcano, the place is estimated to be from 108 to 136 acres; As it’s not easy to land, measuring it has always been a tad iffy. Early attempts to map it were all done from ships standing off a ways, and the results were not terribly useful. During the 1920s the Lighthouse Service thought about setting up a facility on the islet, but there were no maps to assist it. Asking around, the idea of taking aerial photographs came up. But who was to snap the pix?
By chance, in November of 1923, Brigadier General William Mitchell, head of the Air Corps, was in Hawaii inspecting air installations. Hearing of the need for aerial photographs of Kaula, and seeing the publicity he could grab, Mitchell promptly volunteered the services of the Air Corps. Of course, back then airplanes didn’t have much range. So in order to get an Air Corps machine close enough to Kaula to actually be able to fly over it, a plane had to be dismantled, loaded onto the lighthouse tender Kukui and transported to Koloa, on Kauai. As Koloa had no port facilities, the dismantled airplane then had to be off loaded onto small boats, in order to be brought ashore. There it then had to be reassembled, by mechanics who had also arrived aboard the Kukui, before it could attempt a flight to Kaula. This took some time.
While the Air Corps was getting its act together, word of Mitchell’s little scheme reached Commander John Rodgers. Scion of a great naval family, Rodgers was a pioneer naval aviator, and commander of the Navy’s aviation resources in Hawaii. Not wishing to see the Army put one over on the Navy, Rodgers decided to undertake a photographic mission to Kaula himself.
He selected two flying boats, and loaded them one each on the minesweeper Pelican and a sistership, and set off for Kauai. The minesweepers quickly reached Kauai and the flying boats were soon back in the water. As a result, on November 8, while the army plane was still being reassembled, one of the flying boats, piloted by Lieutenant Emile Chourre, took off and flew over Kauai, where Photographer’s Mate 1st Class B. L. Houser took the first aerial pictures of the islet. The Army Air Corps had to settle for second place; a few days later the Army plane also overflew Kauai, taking a number of pictures.
From these pictures, a series of useful plans of Kauai were prepared, which demonstrated that there was no place that a light could be erected. So Kauai returned to its splendid isolation.
As for the other participants, Mitchell, of course, pushed his advocacy of a single independent Air Force into insubordination and a court martial. Reflecting the dangers of aviation in that era, Rodgers, one of the most promising aviators in the Navy, and Chourre both died in aircraft accidents. PM1 Houser went on to conduct numerous other aerial surveys, until well into the 1930s.