Some of His Experiences
I believe you asked me to write a little history of the west and the experiences I had in war with Germany.
First I will start back at Argura, N.C. In the year of 1888, I was born in Jackson County, Argura, N.C., played on the oak hills there many summer days. School days came and found me in the little church house at Sols Creek, there being no school house, we studied in the church house. Many days went by and pretty soon I was almost a grown up man and next thing I knew I was in the C.N. & I.S. at Cullowhee, N.C. My teacher was Prof. Madison who helped build up the schools in North Carolina, and pretty soon my mind was running westward and my brother, Lowery E. Fortner, and myself began preparations to come to the ever-green state. This was in 1909—I being 21 and brother Lowery 18 years old. On March 1st, 1909, we boarded the train at Sylva for Lyman, Wash. We crossed the continent in a N.W. direction of 3,867 miles, and on March 6th we stepped off the train in a new country. There we met our sister who had come west ahead of us and whom we had not seen for some time.
We spent about a month looking the country over, then we went to work, Lowery going into the logging department and is today chief engineer of steam engines of all kinds at 75 cents per hour. I went into the shingle mill and learned the shingle business. I ran the steam cutoff and draw saw at 55 cents per hour. We worked for the Skagit Log and Shingle Co. for about five years. Lowery made one trip down south and Father and Mother came back west with him.
April 1914 we came up to the Sank Palery at Darrington, Wash., and when the autumn leaves began to fall, to the hills we went; killed many deer, bear and cats. In this way we learned the country all around from Victoria, B.C., or from coast to coast. In the meantime we bought land and built us a nice home on Sank river, four miles out of town.
This brings me up to when I was called to the colors to help make the world safe (from war).
I was called September 19, 1917; passed as A No. 1 man, mustered in at Camp Lewis, Wash. There I learned the drills from the squad to platoon, then company to battalion, to regimental, to divisional, also completed the intelligence, passed as a sniper for over seas service. This was from September 16, 1917, to June 23, 1918. Then on June 23rd, 60,000 of us left Camp Lewis for New York. June 29th we were in Camp Merritt, N.J. July 5th we crossed the bay and loaded on the U.S.S. Korah at 23rd Brooklyn St., New York. July 5th we sailed, 11 large ships for France. July 17th we docked at Glasgow, Scotland, then through Scotland and England to Southampton, crossed the English Channel to Rue De La Havre, France.
Then we took box cars across France, which took three days. We unloaded at Meuse, then hiked seven kilos, or four 1/3 miles, to Chauffourt, where we drilled from July 28th to August 29, learned the new battle formations and on September 1st, 1918, we started for the front. We would march at night through mud and rain and sometimes mud up to the knee. Then at day we would get into the woods and sleep on the cold ground and it raining to beat anything.
On September 29th we came under shell fire and gas. We were in support at Metz and Nancy, and on the night of September 25th we took over the French sector where they had been for four long years, and at 5:30 o’clock on the 26th we went over the top, through No-Man’s-Land, fought all day long, losing thousands of men. We stopped at 6:30 that night and took a short rest. Our beds were made of the cold mother earth, mud and water. At 3:30 of the 27th we were up and at them again, wading through barbed wire and mud, trenches and machine gun fire and gas and heavy artillery fire, taking something like 10,000 German prisoners. I took up the sniping and was about 100 yards in front of my company, clearing out an orchard of snipers, when I was wounded. I had six German snipers to my credit when I was shot. This was in the Argonne Wood, known as the Meuse and Argonne battle, the bullet hitting my right arm about one inch above the elbow, coming out midway of upper arm in inner side, entering right chest, fracturing the 12th Dorsel and out cutting 8th vertebrae 1 ¼ inch from back bone carrying along with it 2 inches of it. Then I rolled and pulled myself along down into a road and rolled into the water gutter to get protection from machine gun fire. That was 2:30 p.m. of the 27th; I was picked up at 4:39 next day, the 28th; nothing to eat for four long days and nights. The Red Cross picked me up and loaded me in their ambulance and started for the hospital. We traveled all that night and next day over a shelled road to E.H. No. 7 hospital, got dressed and something to eat—first for four days. Then we loaded into the Red Cross Hospital train, traveled for two days, when we reached Orleans Red Cross Base Hospital. This brings the time to October 6th, and 14 days after I received my wound influenza started in my right chest, which caused another operation, and two Daken tubes put in my chest and were removed December 25th.
I was on my back for 55 days, couldn’t turn over or raise myself up, and the first day I was taken out was led into a wheel chair. I tipped the scales at 85 pounds. Was classed as D to be shipped back to the U.S. the 2nd of November. Was sent to Savenay Base, 69, and was there until the 21st of December, then went to St. Nazaire to sail for the U.S. I was not able to celebrate the 11th month, 11th day, and 11th hour, but I enjoyed seeing the other boys.
On December 21st we were loaded on the U.S.S. Antigone and sailed for the States. There were 900 casuals of us together, and we landed at Newport News, Va., January 3, 1919; some glad too. January 15th I was discharged from the hospital. So you see I was in the hospital from October 1st to January 15, 1919. Then we went to Camp Fremont, Calif., from there to Camp Lewis, Wash. We got to Camp Lewis February 19, 1919 and were put into the convalescent department, and were discharged from there. I got my final papers March 8th, 1919, and now I am home again feeling my own once more.
Now, as you know, my grandfather, W.R. Fortner, helped to carry the Indians to Little Rock, Ark., and our father, E.W. Fortner, helped win our freedom in the struggle of 1862-65 and we all came out victorious because we were for the right.
Now, as our great writers say, it behooves me to tell all I have seen and heard, but as our great philosopher Emerson, we will not speak of the sacrifice of the present time.
Now we know the struggle o’er
No flash from the rusting guns,
No rifle lights the plain.
No clotted crimson river runs
From Flanders to Lorraine.
The white year breaks against the sky,
Beyond the last red plain
Save ten million drifting ghosts
Who never knew nor cared.
Your loving brother,
Cpl. John H. Fortner