A Night at Saint-Juvin

Ambulance stuck in the mud; photograph by RCB

This anecdote was written by RCB on Feb. 20th, 1920, for a proposed history of his ambulance section, S.S.U. 578. They drove Ford Model T ambulances, which could take three stretchers (two side-by-side and one hanging above). This incident must have occurred in mid-October 1918, during the Argonne offensive. RCB refers to some members of the section: the commander Lt. Ennalls Berl, Edward “Fig” Leaf, and “Covey”, presumably a nickname as no one of that name is known to have belonged to the section. Binkley received the Silver Star for his actions in the area of St-Juvin and Fléville on Oct. 16. He was two months short of his 21st birthday.

This is another story for which Fig has asked me. I don’t know just how much of it to tell, but there is one part I am certain “belongs”.

I had been hauling from the culvert, halfway between Fléville and Saint-Juvin, back to Fléville. A seemingly unlimited number of casualties was pouring in, and the other section had only one car working the post. But as evening came on they sent out a relief, and the rush eased up, and then Covey and I started out for St.-Juvin.

Berl had gone to the dressing station earlier in the afternoon and had promised that a car would be sent there later in the evening; we were that car.

The Boche were shelling the road pretty heavily, particularly at the crossroads just outside the town, but we heard that some wounded were lying in the ditch, and so we went up for them. Right off the crossroads they were not lying in the ditch at all but strewed all over the road. It was a party of litter bearers and their patient who had just been caught by a shell, and were lying where they had fallen.

There were more men than we could load in the bus. Four of them were litter cases, and one was a sitting case. One of the litter cases seemed hopeless. The man had that ashy color, was cold, and seemed to have no pulse. We had put him in, but we pulled him out again, and argued as to whether we should leave him in the ditch to make room for the man that could be saved. It seemed a terrible thing to leave a man out in the ditch like that. Neither of us had the courage to do it. So we prevailed upon one of the stretcher cases, whose leg was badly smashed to ride sitting to Fléville. That is a real sacrifice, – for a man with a broken leg to ride as a sitting case, and I give to that young stoic all the credit for the result of our arrangement. For when we got to the dressing station our dead man had come to life, and was quietly asking for a cigarette.

Had we left that man to die in the ditch at St-Juvin, I don’t think Covey or I would ever have felt right about it. There is one incident that both of us can now look back upon with real pleasure and satisfaction.

View Fléville and Saint-Juvin in a larger map

Note: RCB wrote “San Juvin”, presumably allowing the influence of California Spanish names to overwhelm his newly-acquired French.