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Private Matthew Hugh Chism
"We Were Soldiers Once, and Young"
By Perry Giles, Guest
Columnist, Waxahachie Daily Light
name is Matthew Hugh Chism. My friends call me Hugh.
was born in Pilot Point and raised mostly in Texas, but I spent two years of my
childhood in Oklahoma. My dad was a minister and we were known to move around
every few years. I was one of seven children, having two brothers and four
sisters. My mother died when I was just ten years old, but I had the good
fortune to be raised by a stepmother that was indeed a real mother to me.
getting out on my own, I moved to Ennis to take a job, and it was there I placed
membership at the Church of Christ. During my time in Ennis, my parents lived in
Hillsboro, where I visited them as often as possible.
the war came. I did not sign up immediately as my Christian beliefs were in
opposition to war. But when I was called upon to serve, I put aside my personal
reservations and did not claim exemption. I figured that if someone had to go
that it might as well be me as anyone else. After all, I was still single and
without a family of my own.
enlisted in the army in May of 1918 and was sent to Camp Travis in San Antonio
for six weeks of basic training. I was assigned to Company D of the 359th
Infantry Regiment, 180th Infantry Brigade of the 90th
Division. Company D was made up almost entirely of fellows from Ellis, Navarro
and Hill Counties, so there were several guys in the Company that I knew.
were trained in trench warfare on the east side of the MKT railroad tracks
beyond Salado Creek in a complex of trenches and fortifications that the
engineers had built. We received our Enfield rifles and went to a rifle range at
Leon Springs for small arms practice. There we set up a tent camp and trained
long and hard in tactical exercises and such. After much practice, I turned into
a pretty good shot. Every opportunity was taken to write the homefolks, and I
eagerly awaited each and every letter that came my way.
division was known as the “Alamo Division” because we had trained in the
Alamo city at Camp William B. Travis. Our shoulder patch was a big red T-O
emblem, which stood for Texas and Oklahoma, which is where all the guys were
from. But it didn’t take long for us to come up with a new name for the
division, the “Tough Ombres”.
basic training, we boarded trains and headed for the East coast in June of 1918.
On the 20th of June the Regiment sailed and eleven days later arrived
at Liverpool, England. The stay in England was no longer than it took to change
ships, and on the following day we sailed for France. By this time I started to
figure that maybe I wasn’t so tough after all, for I was already missing home.
landing on the continent we loaded onto trains and made our way to the area of
Aigney-le-Duc, France. We were garrisoned at Recey-sur-Ource and there commenced
with our training all over again. There was drill, bayonet exercise, gas mask
practice, minor tactics and maneuvers, eight hours a day for the next six weeks.
Finally in August our unit was deemed ready and sent forward to the front.
a long tiring march we took up trench duty and patrolling along the front lines.
This place was beyond belief. There was a massive trench system that ran as far
as the eye could see and it was miles and miles across. In between there were
unending wire entanglements, obstacles, shattered tree trunks and shell holes.
There were shell holes everywhere and mud. Mud everywhere! There was very little
green left here, everything living had already been killed. What a Godforsaken
place this was, St. Mihiel.
the way, the Germans had been years building a maze of concrete dugouts and
pillboxes. At first when I saw them moving about, it was hard for me to think of
them with any hatred. But the first time I heard them shooting at us, it
actually dawned on me that those fellows were really trying to kill me.
had been rumors of a big offensive on our part, and in the middle of September
it came to pass. During the night there was a four-hour artillery barrage, and
then at 5 o’clock we went up and over the top. We ran across “No Man’s
Land”, over a mile of tangled barbed wire and torn earth. The German shells
began to fall among us, and I heard the machine-guns begin to fire. My mouth was
so dry, I could not spit.
of machine-guns were cutting through our boys and I could hear screaming and the
bullets zipping past my head, but I ran on, as did most everybody else. I had to
jump over fallen comrades and run blindly though the flying dirt and thick
choking smoke. When finally we reached the German trench, we fell upon them with
a wild rage and fury. There was heavy gunfire, close up killing, bayonet
thrusting, and hand-to-hand fighting. I had never seen a man die up close, not
it was over, I looked for a suitable place to rest and collapsed there. There
were strange smells in the air: gunpowder smoke, fresh earth and something
sickeningly sweet. I was surprised by how savage and violent we had been... I
looked up at the clouds moving overhead, and asked forgiveness, and at that
moment I realized how thankful I was to be alive.
the next weeks as the enemy pulled back, we moved forward to another place on
the front line near the Argonne forest. It was a long hard march that left us
exhausted. And to add to our worries, the Germans even tried to bomb us from
was bitter skirmishing between the lines. Several times the enemy would
counterattack following a heavy artillery barrage. Each time they were beaten
off by rifle and machine-gun fire, and a lot of nerve and stout-heartedness by
the boys. During those attacks, the two most important friends that you had were
the man on your left and the man on your right.
artillery fire was brutal and it caused many casualties. The shells came in
without much warning and killed indiscriminately. One minute a soldier could be
sitting there eating his breakfast, minding his own business, and the next
minute only his boot and his rifle were left to prove that he was ever alive.
with the rain, the mud and the cold, there was a lot of flu sweeping through the
ranks. Many good men were lost to sickness. This is not how I had figured France
would be. This place is so awful, I long for the day that I will go home.
wrote home at every chance that I had. It was my way to keep myself rooted, and
the mail from home, I was so glad to receive. In a letter to Mamma I wrote, “I
received several letters while I was in the trenches this time, and I tell you
they do help out too... How is everything? Fine I hope. We are doing fine, the
sun is shining this morning, so we don’t know how to act over here. Tell
sister I received her two letters and was glad to get them, and that I will
write her as soon as I can... I wish I could be with you today (Sunday, Oct. 20th),
to attend church.”
last few days of October we made ready for a big push that was planned for
November 1st. According to the rumors, the war would be over soon if
we could just break through the German lines and take the high ground on the
ridge overlooking the Meuse River. That high ridge would not come easy, and the
thought of this being the end of my time weighed heavy on me. But I was resigned
to do my part, whatever be the cost.
the morning of the attack, we were up early, by 3 or 4 o’clock. Some of us
never slept at all that night. I stayed up, just thinking and remembering. At
5:30 the whistle blew and we went up and over the top.
was heavy resistance from the very start. Some of our boys fell dead and wounded
just a few yards from our own trench, but we pushed forward. Deafening shellfire
flashed bright all around us. Hot steel and lead tore through our ranks. I saw
several good friends go down, and struggled for the courage to keep going.
machine-gun fire was murderous. But we kept pushing forward, one by one taking
out one enemy machine-guns. Pushing forward, dying and killing with every few
yards gained. The fighting was vicious, but in my mind we were fighting to end
this war... and to go home.
a few yards from our objective, at 9:30, I was hit in the right side. My
Sergeant, Marvin Wynne, came over and gave me first aid, and asked if I could
make it back to the aid station. I told him that I could.
was a Friday morning, and I was 25 years old.
Remember us, for we were soldiers once and young.
Note: The war ended ten days later, on November 11, 1918. Three years afterward in September of 1921, Private Hugh Chism and a fellow soldier, Robert Vaden, were buried with full military honors in the Ridge Park Cemetery in Hillsboro, Texas. It was reported by the Hillsboro Evening Mirror newspaper as the largest funeral ever held in Hill County with five thousand people in attendance.
Biography of Matthew Hugh Chism
"We Were Soldiers Once, and Young" by Perry Giles, Guest Columnist, Waxahachie Daily Light: The above article appeared in the Waxahachie Daily Light on Sunday, July 10, 2006.
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