Kermit Mercer's Journey to the Battlefields of France in Words and Pictures
In the spring of 1998, Kermit Mercer made a journey to France to try to locate the burial spot of Judson. He was not successful, but he was able to paint the picture of the last days of Jud and the experience of our other warriors of Stewart County in this war very well. He is still hopeful that someday we will find Jud's body (his name is on the "wall of the missing" at the Somme American Cemetery along with 332 others. There are 1844 known burials, 138 unknown ones, leaving 195 soldiers never found. As Kermit related, bodies are still found and reported by the people of this nation).
Kermit wrote: "I hope this will be of some help to your family in understanding the sad fate of your Uncle, Sgt. Judson Dennis. He was, in every sense of the word, a true warrior." Because Kermit's letter to me and the pictures he sent were so revealing of that war our boys of Stewart County fought in, I believe this belongs to all of us, not just myself.
Below is a description of each map or picture Kermit sent. By clicking on each you can view. By reading Kermit's words you can understand. Perhaps his words, from the viewpoint of one who has also been a "warrior" are the most telling picture of all.
|Label A. Shows the 30th Division right
flank that is anchored on the right by the Village,
Vaux-Andigny (voos-andee-nee). I am standing on the right on the edge
of the Village where the line started running down the
road and passing along the left edge of the plowed field
and just over the little hill and from there it was taken
over by the other two Regiments of the Division. The
battle line was formed with the 117th Inf. in front
followed by the 119th Inf. These positions are drawn in
yellow and labeled. Since the various Regiments had been
in this position for several days the area on either side
of the road would have been zig-zagged with trenches and
machine gun emplacements. MOLAIN, and St. MARTIN Riv.
cannot be seen even though they are only about a mile or
so away because, they are in the Valley of the La Selle
River just under the near horizon where the mist is
lifting. The distant horizon is the other side of the
It had been raining for the last days and had become an almost constant drizzle with very dense fog on the morning of the attack. Such conditions for the soldiers cannot be spoken, it must be lived to appreciate what it feels like to be completely soaked and lie down in the wet to rest. Sleep is considered ten minutes and one dream, then you wake up, try not to move, because you will only chill another part of your body. It is impossible to keep the water out of your food. It both dilutes and chills it. Most of these young warriors are sick from all forms of human ailments from bronchitis to severe pneumonia. From horror of dysentery to infected sores, from bug bites to cuts and bruises. These are the real pictures that can't be seen from these photos. From this the young men go forth to kill other young men who are suffering from the same maladies.
At 0530 hrs the American bombardment begins against the German lines in the distance and within 10 minutes it is answered by the German counter bombardment against the area of the road where we are standing. The 117th Inf. moves forward into the fog following their barrage as it moves forward just in front of them. The 119th Inf. then goes out of the relative safety of the trenches and moves forward behind the 117th into the fog toward MOLAIN.
On their left flank the 118th Inf. supported by the 120th Inf. do the same thing, their objective being St. Martin Riv.
|B. Here is a telephoto of the right side of A and gives us a little better picture of the fields they marched across to reach their first objective, MOLAIN. It is a little easier to see the haze hanging over the La Selle River in the valley. By using the contour lines on the map along with the pictures you get a quite clear picture of the almost flat, open area that they had to cross. This is the most dangerous time for the soldiers because they are so vulnerable to the defenders who can see them and carefully place their munitions right on top of the advancing lines.|
|C. View looking into the southwest end of MOLAIN coming from Vaux-Andigny.|
|D. Looking northeast up the main road in MOLAIN. The Regiments would have passed through here from left-to-right while fighting in MOLAIN.|
|E. Old barn standing in the middle of MOLAIN with a memorial to the people of MOLAIN who were killed in the War. This barn was standing at the time of the battle and Judson would have passed it while they were fighting their way through the Village to the slopes seen in the distance.|
|F. Main road out of MOLAIN facing east crossing the La Selle River at the bottom of the Valley where the small brick bridge is.|
|G. Continuation of the attack out of MOLAIN across the La Selle River where the bridge is. The source of the River is about 300 yards to the right. The River is colored purple on the map. The eastern slope of the Valley is right in front of us. The Germans had machine gun positions hidden all throughout the area and could kill a man easily from half a mile away.|
|H. On the top of the eastern slopes of the valley I turned around and took a pan of the Village looking back to where the Regiments started in the background as can be seen in the labels. This, of course, would be the German picture of the battlefield. Somewhere on these slopes Judson was buried, according to the letter from his friend.|
|I. View looking from the same spot as H.
facing northwest showing the fields between MOLAIN and
St. Martin Riv.
The La Selle River and the Valley are almost hidden but,
follow the trees in the foreground winding its way from
MOLAIN to St. martin Riv. The 119th Inf. would have come
up out of MOLAIN on the left and passed right in front of
me on the way to their next objective, Mazinghien, just
off the map to the right.
Again they were crossing an open area now, much later in the morning and the fog had lifted somewhat leaving them exposed to machine gun fire from the right because the British 1st Division hadn't been able to keep up with the advance. By early afternoon they had taken the railroad cut (map at the numeral 18). Here the 119th Inf. was ordered to forward to assist the 117th Inf and moved up to the dark Divisional line were the date OCT 17 is written.
|"I hope this will be of some help to
your family in understanding the sad fate of your Uncle,
Sgt. Judson Dennis. He was, in every sense of the word, a
true warrior. I hope that someday you and Ed will be able
to visit his last battlefield."-Kermit Mercer
"Yes, Kermit...the day will come when I will visit Jud's last battlefield, and remember the words you have spoken. I will remember all of the soldiers of my home Stewart County and of the nation and of others, who have responded to 'duty' and answered though it meant facing a 'last battlefield'. I thank Jud, and I thank you for giving us a knowledge of honor and duty and bravery to balance out our modern world of cynicism. I hope our world puts aside war...but I hope each one among us learns to assume the attributes, in every sense, of a true warrior."
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