Arthur J. Clay

My name is Arthur J. Clay.  Today I am here to tell you about my life and my experiences in the Great War.

As a boy I attended the little red schoolhouse in East Aurora.  I went there until it was time to go to high school, at which time I went to East Aurora High School on Main Street, right in the village. While attending high school in 1913 I was elected class president. After high school, I chose to go to Hamilton College, where I studied law. I went there for three years. (46)

While in college I didn’t let any grass grow under my feet. Growing up in a family with a tight-fisted mother wasn’t easy. She had no use for people who needed to spend money on themselves. Some people say she could have squeezed the oink out of a pig! Why, on my high school graduation day she wouldn’t buy me a suit to wear, she had me wear one of pa’s suits – cut down to my size. When I got to college, I was free! I spent money on myself as my mother never had. I bought myself a horse and saddle, and fine clothes. I had fun – trying to get the cow into the university chapel was a hoot! But all good things must come to an end. My supply of money was cut off and I had to fend for myself. (47)

Hearing of a possible family fortune tied up in the courts over in England, I decided to get it. It would require me becoming a lawyer, but that was fine. I was accepted into Syracuse University. (48) My life was going great, until I was drafted into the Army in 1917. (49) I was a little afraid at first, but then I thought of all the advertisements for the Marines, maybe Uncle Sam really did want me! (50)

I didn’t go directly to France.  First I went to Camp Dix to receive training.  While at Camp Dix I was promoted to Corporal. On June 7, 1918, I was shipped off to France. After arriving in France, I received a promotion on June 23rd to Sergeant. (51) On September 11th my unit was designated to go and fight at St. Mihiel. (2)

At St. Mihiel we lost a lot of men, many of whom were my comrades. Sometimes I felt guilty about surviving because I wondered why they had died and I had not. The only thing that kept me going was the fact that we had the Germans on the run. It made the human sacrifices seem justified, at least a little bit. Immediately following the St. Mihiel operation, my unit was sent to Meuse-Argonne. (53)

Although in the St. Mihiel operation we suffered many losses, General Pershing pushed us ahead to Meuse-Argonne. Little did we know we would suffer even greater penalties there. The battle was a bad one.  All I remember is the rat-tat-tat-tat of gunfire, the whistles of cannon shells flying through the air, and my comrades falling fatally wounded on each side of me. But I forged on. (54) One time we went 69 hours without eating or sleeping.(55) Meuse-Argonne was not a pretty sight: No Man’s Land covered in carnage, the sound of dying men somewhere in the huge forest. On October 16, 1918, while my platoon was advancing, I was hit by sniper fire.(56)

Was this what Uncle Sam intended for me? This is the question I asked myself during my last minute of life, as I was lying on the battlefield, I hoped it was. In the background I heard men calling my name, “Sergeant Clay, Sergeant Clay.” I tried to answer but I couldn’t.  That’s when I realized what had happened. I was now a statistic. One of the many to “fall upon the field of honor in France.”  (57)

Louis Edward Kriedemann | Benjamin Kaufman

Clay's story in PDF format (Adobe Acrobat Reader required)