“When a man is cornered, or his friends are cornered, he will rise and fight with every ounce of energy, courage, or cheap trick that he must to protect his own.” – Brannon Sirmon
William Arthur Sirmon was a Lieutenant and eventually promoted to Captain during battle of “the war to end all wars.” This meant that not only was he in charge of his life and the men next to him, but he was accountable for the lives of every man in his platoon. He was responsible with executing orders, at all cost, leading his gaggle of heroes into fierce combat to defy death time and time again to prove that the Allies could and would win “The Great War”. His defiance of death did not go without cost, however. This is where the honor of the Purple Heart comes in.
The Purple Heart was originally called the Badge of Military Merit, coined by the First President of the United States, George Washington. It was established in 1782 but it was rarely ever used until after WWI.
The Purple Heart is a decoration for military personnel awarded for being wounded or killed in any action against an enemy of the United States or as a result of an act of any such enemy or opposing armed forces. It is awarded in the name of the president and is America’s oldest active combat medal.
Excerpt from That’s War:
“When I had safely stored every man in the eggshell, I got down in the dugout but could not move away from the foot of the steps. I could hear the deep guttural roar of the enemy cannon far off in the distance, and with it came the awful moaning whistle peculiar to gas shells. Sometimes I had no time to wonder “Where Will That One Land” for those that come near give no warning. The moan of its flight is drowned in the bang of its explosion. Two or three times I thought our little wooden shack, with all of our worldly goods, had been blown off the landscape, but the first gray of morning revealed it still there. Shell splinters had chipped it up to look like wormy cypress but no direct hit had been scored.
A silence! Maybe it was over! Then that dreadful rumble in the distance and that moan like the wailing of a lost soul in purgatory, then the crash on the Decauville track near us! The Boche rained shells on us! When they exploded we could hear the liquid showering the leaves of the trees. The fumes were like fog! Our dugout had no gas curtains to protect the entrances. We had to take it!
Heads were aching badly now. Those who are experienced will tell you the nose clip and head straps of a gas mask are most uncomfortable after two hours of steady wearing. Some men removed the face cloth, keeping the nose clip and mouth piece in place. They paid for it.
Then a real pause came. I waited but a few minutes and ordered the men out of the dugout. We had cleared it for about two minutes when men were climbing trees trying to get out of the gas for it hugs the ground. One of them, in a muffled voice that always comes from a gas mask, called down, “Smith, come up here, there’s no gas here.”
A clear Texas brogue without gas mask to hinder it, answered, “There ain’t none down here now.”
I shouted through my mask, “Fool, get your mask on. Because you don’t die immediately you think the damn stuff is harmless.” There was gas enough to wipe out half the population of New York City. When you have sniffed a little of it you can no longer smell it so acutely. A muffled voice answered me, “It’s on now, Lieutenant.”
Damn the Hun! That distant rumble came again and the wailing saints of hell rent the air again!”
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