Maj CHARLES W. WHITTLESEY
And the Men of the 308th Inf.
Argonne Forest, France
2 -7 October 1918
Known to history as the “Lost Battalion” Maj. Charles Whittlesey, a pacifist who answered the call of his country, was ordered to take and hold a strategic piece of the Argonne Forest.
He was the only commander to achieve his objective and as a result, he and his men were cut off and surrounded for 5 days.
With no resupply and running out of water, food, ammo, and medical supplies, the men of the 308th held their position in the face of annihilation.
On day 4, the Germans sent an offer to accept surrender with honor. Whittlesey responded with honor and contempt.
Being surrounded by a superior force was just one problem. He was out of rations, out of water, he had ordered his men to fixed bayonets because they were out of ammunition and he had suffered a loss of about 50 percent of his men killed and wounded.
The 308th held their ground forcing the enemy to expend resources to try to dislodge them. This weekend the rest of the German line, and allowed Gen. Pershing to breakthrough.
It’s recorded that one of Whittlesey’s officers, Lt. Leak, was taken prisoner by the Germans. He was interrogated by the German commander himself.
What the officer really wanted to know was, just who in the hell it was that he was fighting in that forest – “Is your commander insane?” “We can hear your wounded’s cries of agony, we know you are out of medicine, out of food and water, we kill 20 or 30 of you of each day.”
The German Major is said to have become frustrated and shouted at the young lieutenant: “Your sentries have fixed bayonets!!! – You are out of ammunition. WHY WON’T YOU SURRENDER?”
Lt. Leak, a Texan, gave a little grin, cocked his head to the side and answered. “Major… What you’re up against is a bunch of Cowboys, Micks, Dagos, Polacks, WOPs, Beaners, Chinks, and some Jew-boy gangsters from New York City: That’s America…They ain’t never gonna surrender.”
The spirit of America is hidden in the Lt’s words.
It is worth noting – Maj Whittlesey and the men of the 308th NEVER surrendered.
Military historians speak softly, with reverence and respect when we discuss Maj. Whittlesey and the “Lost Battalion.”