The rain had stopped but the damp air was unseasonably cold. German artillery lobbed stray shells into the vicinity as the massive movement to the jump-off trenches began. Single file, tens of thousands of troops slogged the two miles through mud and foliage, groping their way through the darkness, rookies and veterans alike. At 6:00 a.m. sharp, the attack battalions would go over the top. The day before, Private First Class Dick Bakker, Company E, 308th Infantry, penciled a message to the folks at home, “I am near the front now and I expect to go within a few days. That may not sound very good to you but I have no fears & am ready to meet death at any time but I expect to be back.” Mother Grace would hold these words close in the years to come. The battle would become legend. The heartbreak was eternal.
Dick Bakker was drafted in May, 1918, and rushed into action after two months training. Dick wrote thirty-two letters home that chronicled his tour of duty from the Minnesota farmlands to deadly combat in the Argonne Forest. The Journey: An American Soldier in World War I commemorates Dick’s journey amidst the turmoil that gripped the country during that hurried summer of 1918. The story delivers a unique personal insight into one family’s struggle to cope with the tragedy of war.