The Last Race of Private Treptow
The American soldier felt individual responsibility in the Great War. He was ready, by himself and alone, to do his part. Often he showed the spirit which meant, "It is for me to win this war, right here and now."
"Over there," it often happened that through a rain of fire the soldiers had to carry messages from the company to the battalion. There was no way to get these messages through except by runners, and the man who undertook the mission was racing with death as a companion.
It was like dodging fate every second. The bullets flew in every direction, the air was full of noise of men's cries and of smoke and dust.
These messages were usually taken by word of mouth, for there was no time to write; besides which, writing is dangerous if it should fall into the hands of the enemy.
Some of these runners got through safely, and delivered their message. Others never got through. And there were some who crawled on over the awful battlefield, and delivered their message with dying lips. But they all went!
On the day the Americans crossed the Ourcq, a terrible machine-gun fire opened up, and it was necessary to send an important message to the battalion which was across the field. The noise was deafening, the danger great, the need imperative. The officer in charge dreaded to order any man to go. He knew what it meant to be sent into the open at that time. But it had to be done.
"Send for Private Treptow, of Iowa," he called, after much hesitation. Treptow came, saluted, and waited attentively while the message was delivered to him.
"You understand that you are to go across the field, connect with the battalion, and deliver this message as I have given it to you?" said the officer.
"I do, sir," replied the intrepid private, bowing.
"You know the importance of the message, and the great risk you run,—and are not afraid?" asked the officer.
"I shall not fail, sir," was the answer.
The private saluted; the officer returned the salute, and went to other duties, while Treptow made ready to depart.
As he looked over the field, and measured the distance, it did not seem so far to that battalion. It was a matter of a few minutes, if there were no snipers or machine-guns lying in wait for him.
"Here goes," he said to those around him. Putting his cap down over his eyes, and grasping his gun, he stepped out of cover, and faced his fate. There were others to follow him with the same message, in case he failed; for it had to be carried through at any cost.
He began his race against death. On he went, with the bullets tearing after him. Hiding as best he could behind whatever cover the field afforded, dropping into pits when there were any, running boldly across the open, he moved here and there, now up, now down—a very fury of fire about him all the time.
He ran, a prayer on his lips for his loved ones at home, and for the safety of the men dependent on his message. A bullet tore through his clothes, and made a jagged wound in his side. But he ran on. Another wound, and he was faint from loss of blood and from the exertion of the race.
He was half-way over. He was running now with whatever spark of life there was left in him. Just as he was nearing his goal, a German sniper took careful aim, and a deadly bullet crashed through the body of the brave runner. Private Treptow fell and lay quite still. He thought for a moment of those across the seas, and then he did not think at all. He had run his last race.
The battle raged for awhile, and then passed elsewhere. Over the broken, scarred field came the ambulances to find the wounded, and with them were those to bury the dead. The searchers came to the place where the runner lay.
"This is Private Treptow," said one. "He was sent across this field yesterday with a message."
They lifted him up, and carried him back of the lines. They searched his clothes before they buried him to see if they could find anything to send to his family. In a pocket, there was a diary, on the first page of which he had written these words:
"America shall win the war. Therefore, I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully, and do my utmost, as though the whole issue of the struggle depended on me alone. My pledge."
And to this he had signed his name.
When these words were read to the men of his company, many a one had a new vision of courage, and that night many a soldier wrote the same pledge on the flyleaf of his Bible.