ONE OF FOUR Hitson brothers who served during the war, Hayden Earl Hitson was a wagoner with the 13th Field Artillery. He fought in three of the largest battles in which the United States Army was engaged: the offensives at Aisne-Marne, St Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne. About the only major battleground he avoided was Champagne-Marne, where two of his brothers - Landy and Shandy - fought with the 148th Field Artillery (the fourth Hitson, Fred, was an engineer with the naval submarine service).
The Hitsons were from Clearmont - a tiny community today, but one which contributed over eighty young men to the war effort between 1917 and 1919. Like the Hitsons, most were farmers. Others worked for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad.
In this letter, dated August 4, 1918 and printed in The Sheridan Post, Hitson writes about what it was like on the battlefield. Unlike most letters home from the war zone, his provides a graphic description of the sites and sounds of war.
(From "In the World War")
State Historic Site
Dear Sister - I am taking in the excitement now and have been for several days and weeks. There has hardly been an hour that the shells have not been bursting around us but so far our battery has been lucky although some other batteries have lost heavily.
At first it made the cold chills run over a fellow but now a shell has got to burst close to attract much attention. Two horses were killed right close to one of our guns and we have had others slightly wounded, and several of the boys have had pieces of shell glance off their steel helmets; a hot piece of shell came through my shelter tent yesterday while I was reading.
They keep a fellow from getting lonesome, but while they are sending them over to us they are getting thousands in return. For all the shells and gas they send they get a double portion in return. We have got them going and for awhile we couldn't catch up with them close enough to get a shot. On every attack we have given them a warm reception and dead Germans are even now laying around unburied.
You asked if I had seen the boys [Landy and Shandy]. Yes, I was right close to them for a week and could go and see them whenever I was off duty. The 148th got a big feed ready and sent [Shandy] over after me. We went back together and certainly had big eats. Afterwards we spent the evening telling each other what we had done and what we were going to do. After that I went home with [Shandy]. His outfit was about three or four miles from hours but we got in a truck and had quite a visit. Landy's outfit was only half a mile from us, but both are gone now. They loaded their guns on the train but where they went I do not know although they thought they were going to Italy, but that was all guess work. I do not suppose I will see them again but at any rate all three of us had a good visit and all seemed glad to see one another.
The bunch that left Sheridan with them were all there except those that had been killed or wounded. Slim McGovern was badly wounded a few days ago. His left leg was broken by a piece of shell that struck him above the knee. A fellow cannot tell what minute he is going to get it.
It is four o'clock in the afternoon and the Huns have begun to send them pretty thick but they receive them back a damn sight quicker. This is a great life if a fellow don't weaken and I have not seen very many Yanks weaken yet.
I will never forget the first time we went into action. We got camped about two o'clock in the morning and it was raining and dark - gee, but it was dark in that thick brush and a light was not permitted on the front. I got my horses put away, then went to a little hillside and kicked out a level spot, laid my blanket down and took a real sleep. I was off by myself so I could not be bothered. Next morning I was sitting up in bed smoking and viewing things and the first thing I saw was a dead German. His hands were sticking straight up in the air and about a shovel full of dirt had been thrown on his stomach. His toes were also sticking out. That was as near as they got him buried.
Well, I guess this is enough for this time, so will close.
The above was written during the most intense days of the Aisne-Marne Offensive. Two weeks later, shortly before being thrown into the thick of things at St Mihiel, Hitson added a postscript to his letter:
As I have not mailed my letter yet will add a little to it. We were on the move most of the night. Do not know where we are going but will have to admit that it is a relief to get back where the shells and gas do not bother and I will sure sleep after I get to bed. We were relieved from the sector where we were stationed but suppose we will hit it again in some new place where it is just as warm and where the fighting is just as good. A fellow sure seems lost away from the shells and battlefields after being so long among them. ... About one or two nights sleep and I will be ready to fly at 'em again for a month or two longer.