“We’re getting closer,” mused Jimmy as he leaped forward, firing as he went, now crouching down, and again standing partly upright, as he hurried on. He and his chums were passing through an orchard, now, on their way to come to grips with the Germans. That is, it had been an orchard, but all that was left of it now were a few broken stumps of trees. The firing of heavy guns, and the bursting of big shells had wiped out the work of nature.
There came an explosion on Jimmy’s left—an explosion from a small German shell that blew up a section of the orchard, tossing the blackened and gnarled stumps high in the air. And with the stumps were mingled poor, twisted human bodies.
For one terrible moment Jimmy feared for Franz and Iggy, whom he had last noted almost at the very spot where the shell exploded. His heart turned faint within him. But it was no time to falter. One must not halt nor turn back even though one’s own brother were torn to pieces. Forward was the word in that grim and terrible fighting. Forward to your own death, perhaps, to the death of those you held most dear! Forward to insure life and happiness for those who would come after! Such was the sacred duty!
And then, to his great relief, Jimmy heard a voice he knew well exclaim:
“Ach! Him was one big whizz-bang, yes!”
“You said it, Iggy!” shouted Franz, and Jimmy saw his two comrades emerge from the smoke and dust cloud, and rush forward. They had just escaped death by the shell, which sent into eternity six beloved bunkies of the 509th.
“Well, they’re alive yet!” grimly mused Jimmy, as he fired and crouched down. A look to the right showed him Roger and Bob doing the same thing. So far the five Brothers had suffered no harm.
But the battle was only beginning. The German big guns had not yet opened in force to reply to the challenge of the American heavy artillery. So far the barrage had, in a great measure, protected our lads. Now they were to move forward again. The guns at the rear were elevated, to send the bursting shrapnel further into the German ranks—to prevent them from rushing at the advancing American troops.
And now was a critical time, for even in spite of the barrage some parties of Huns, in bomb-proofs, might suddenly arise and confront the Americans. There was a chance for close fighting.
But it did not come. That part of No Man’s Land over which Jimmy and his chums were advancing, leaping from shell crater to mud hole, and from one slimy pool to another, seemed to have been cleared of Huns.
Once again came the explosion of a comparatively large shell, and again, hurled aloft in a shower of stones and dirt, went the bodies of a half score of Americans. The Germans were taking frightful toll.
“This way! This way!” suddenly ordered the lieutenant. “Into the woods!”
Jimmy saw a large grove of trees on his left. He turned toward them, and he noted that Franz and Iggy were ahead of him, while Bob and Roger came in the rear.