On February 27, 1918, the 165th (69th) Regiment arrived for duty in the trenches in the Rouge Boquet Chausailles sector. That day the unit suffered its first casualties of the war when Corporal Arthur Trayer and Private John Lyons of D Company, 1st Battalion, were wounded by a shell burst. Kilmer, Historical Index, pp 347-9. On March 5, the 2d Battalion relieved Major Donovan's Battalion (1st Bn.) in the trenches.
Although the 1st Battalion returned to the Regimental support area at Camp New York three miles behind the trenches, Major Dovovan remained at the front. On March 7 at 3:20 PM at Rouge Bouquet, the enemy began an artillery barrage of the American trenches. One of the shells landed on the roof of a dugout in which 1st Lieutenant John Norman and 21 men of E Company were assembled.
The men were buried under mud, dirt and beams. Donovan rushed to the scene and after ensuring the defensive lines were in order, he rushed to rescue the trapped men. He jumped into the hole and began digging. Two men were rescued and five bodies recovered. The voices of other survivors including Lieutenant Norman could be heard from the dugout. After hours of intense rescue efforts, under heavy enemy artillery fire efforts to reach the soldiers were halted. The bodies of fifteen soldiers, including Lieutenant Norman's still remained in the dugout but rescue was impossible due to mud-slides and enemy shelling.
Father Duffy conducted Last Rights and the men placed a tablet at the dugout. Joyce Kilmer wrote the poem "Rouge Bouquet" to memorialize the men who died. The poem was read aloud by Father Duffy for the first time that St. Patrick's Day. Sergeant Patrick Stokes stood near Father Duffy and played "Taps" before the last lines of each verse. The notes were echoed by another bugle player who was stationed in the woods nearby. Major Donovan was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his actions during the incident at Rouge Bouquet. Kilmer, Historical Index, pp 350, Dunlop, Donovan, p 70-2, Duffy, Father Duffys Story, p 69, Demeter, The Fghting 69th, pp236-242.
by Joyce Kilmer
In a wood they call Rouge Bouquet
There is a new-made grave today,
Built by never a spade nor pick
Yet covered with earth 10 meters thick.
There lie many fighting men,
Dead in their youthful prime,
Never to laugh nor love again
Nor taste the Summertime.
For Death came flying through the air
And stopped his flight at the dugout stair,
Touched his prey and left them there,
Clay to clay.
He hid their bodies stealthily
In the soil of the land they fought to free
And fled away.
Now over the grave abrupt and clear
Three volleys ring;
And perhaps their brave young spirits hear
The bugles sing:
"Go to sleep!
Go to sleep!
Slumber well where the shell screamed and fell.
Let your rifles rest on the muddy floor,
You will not need them any more.
Now at last,
Go to sleep!"
There is on earth no worthier grave
To hold the bodies of the brave
Than this place of pain and pride
Where they nobly fought and nobly died.
Never fear but in the skies
Saints and angels stand
Smiling with their holy eyes
On this new-come band.
St. Michael's sword darts through the air
and touches the aureole on his hair
As he sees them stand saluting there,
His stalwart sons:
And Patrick, Brigid, Columkill
Rejoice that in veins of warriors still
The Gael's blood runs.
And up to Heaven's doorway floats,
From the wood called Rouge Bouquet,
A delicate cloud of bugle notes
That softly say:
Comrades true, born anew, peace to you!
Your souls shall be where the heroes are
And your memory shine like the morning-star.
Brave and dear,
Shield us here.