Recently, I bought this memoir on the recommendation of a Goodreads friend. Two days ago, I began to read it and finished it a few minutes ago (it's 8:59 PM EST now).
Barkley, at first, was rejected for Army service because of a stutter he had. But, with the help of a doctor on his local draft board, he was accepted and went through a variety of training. Barkley proved to be so skilled a shot and adept with firearms (growing up in Missouri, he loved spending as much time as he could in the woods, tracking and hunting game) that he was placed in a special intelligence unit of soldiers tasked with carrying out special missions inside enemy lines. (Barkley also earned the respect of his comrades through his proficiency in smuggling liquor into the barracks whenever he wangled leave.)
By April 1918, Barkley was in France with the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division. Two months later, his unit was in combat at Chateau-Thierry to stem the German advance on Paris. Barkley has a way of bringing the reader into his confidence as he relates, in great detail, his experiences as a combat soldier, which ranged from the Marne River, to Saint-Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne, which proved to be the bloodiest battle the U.S. Army had been involved in up to that time. It was in the latter battle that Barkley earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for holding off singlehandedly a major German counter-attack in an abandoned French tank with a machine gun. Barkley, though he had sustained a slight wound in an earlier action, relished combat and had, along with his 2 closest comrades, Jesse James and William Floyd (both Native Americans), proven himself numerous times to be steady and reliable under fire. But Barkley retained his humanity, steadfastly protecting a young German soldier he had captured in the Argonne Forest from being killed by his comrades until he was able to place him in the rear with a detail charged with caring for POWs.
After the Armistice, Barkley's unit moves into Germany, where he has some interesting encounters with the people there. (Not too many Americans I doubt are aware that the U.S. had occupation troops in Germany along the Rhine from 1919 to 1923.)
Now that a year has passed since the death of the last U.S. veteran of the First World War, reading this memoir (which had been forgotten for decades) gave me a sense of immediacy about an era so distant and remote as to make it palpable and almost real in my consciousness.