Volume V, No. 1, Fall 1977
by an army wife
Old photos courtesy of the author
It is almost impossible to realize that sixty-five years have gone by since my husband Ches and I started to march together, back in an era when life's values were certain and its problems had built-in solutions. We were not always in step but our progress was always forward and the journey was a happy one, in spite of the many obstacles thrown in our path throughout the years.
We both attended the high school in our little Missouri town but he was a class ahead of me and I was not particularly interested in boys then so he did not impress me as being anyone special. After all, I was a town girl and Ches was definitely "country."
But, by graduation time he had already become the most important person in my life. We had been "going steady" for a year and, after he had earned enough by teaching school to finance a year at the University, we made definite plans to get married as soon as we had both finished college. While there he had joined the Missouri National Guard for the extra money that duty produced, unaware that his regiment would be called to active duty at the end of his first college year because of the threatening border trouble with Mexico. This 1916 Border Incident has become only a footnote in our history--scarcely remembered and was only a curtain raiser to the years of war which were to come. But, to those of us who were involved, it held all the later trauma of "sending our boys off to war" with its partings, uncertainties and dangers. Although this tour of duty turned out to be only a tedious nine months of camp life in a torrid climate, the Kaiser's actions in Europe had made it seem wise to build up our own defenses. As a result, the examination Ches had taken that winter for an officer's commission brought him orders the next summer to the Training School at Camp Funston, Kansas, from which he emerged as a Lieutenant in the Regular Army of the United States.
All hopes of finishing college had vanished for both of us and the long separation had convinced us that our marriage should not be delayed any longer, especially since the $130 per month pay seemed ample for our needs. So, since Ches could not get leave, my brother drove my mother and me out to Manhattan, Kansas, for a camp wedding on July 15,1917.
It is surprising to me now that I had been so unconcerned about the world events of early 1917. I seem to have been wrapped snugly in a cocoon of my own personal happiness unable to hear the sounds of war all about me. But, I am sure, Ches was very much aware of the threat to our future, which made him so desperately demanding that we grab all the happiness that our circumstances would permit.
Even in the early months of that year, war clouds were hanging over our heads. President Wilson had taken one gradual step after another trying to "keep us out of war" and the sentiment of the country was divided belligerently as to whether we should get involved in a war which did not concern us. But when the German submarines began sinking neutral ships, including our own, the President had no recourse but to arm our ships, and on April 6th signed the Declaration of War. No nation was ever less prepared for war, or as unaware of what modern warfare was like. Since the Civil War and the short Cuban affair, we had all believed that wars were a barbarous relic of the past--for our country at least. So, now, frantic preparations had to be made, millions of dollars spent to produce the necessary arms or to buy British guns while our own were being manufactured. By May, a Selective Service Act had been passed, drafting all men between twenty-one and forty-five. Three million soldiers were eventually obtained in this way, besides the hundreds of thousands who volunteered. In April 1917, the regular army numbered only 128,000 men and, since it seemed impossible that we could send enough trained men "over there" for perhaps a year, the French requested that a token force be sent over as a morale booster. General Pershing was chosen to lead this force and, by June, they were in France and preparing for the training of the hordes of troops which were to follow.
But we had blithely ignored those ominous signs that summer, refusing to admit that they might affect us. I stayed in Junction City, Kansas, near the camp, where I experienced the training for the task that so many wives of army men had to learn--that of waiting all day in the hopes their husbands might come into town at night. Ches was one of those army men who somehow always managed to get home often, no matter what the hour or the distance. I filled the few weeks in some fashion while we waited orders for "somewhere." And, when they did come, I got one of the thrills of a lifetime. We were to go to a camp near Syracuse, New York. I could go along, with my way paid, and we could have a Niagara Falls honeymoon on the way.
Naturally, we did not neglect this opportunity of stopping at our home town in Missouri on the way, not only to see our folks but to impress everyone with our final success. Ches, with the silver bars of a First Lieutenant on his neat, tailored uniform, was the first officer the town had produced and everyone was proud of him. I am sure that I strutted about with the air of an about-to-be world traveler and an officer's wife. No one gave any indication that our future might not continue to be rosy except Ches' mother, who broke down and cried when we left. For me, the experience of taking my first ride in a Pullman and shaking the dust of my home town off my feet at long last, gave me the feeling of being borne out of my state in a golden chariot. And sharing a lower berth we found to be no inconvenience whatever.
At the New York camp the time passed all too quickly and in September Ches came in early and unexpectedly one night. I took one look at him and knew something was wrong.
"I got my orders today," he soberly announced. "They are for overseas. We have to leave in three days." He tried to reassure me. "It won't be for long, dear. We'll get over there and lick those Huns before you know it." He tried to put his old spirit in those bold words but they were no comfort to me.
It is fortunate, I think that I have kept dozens of letters which show more clearly than history can tell, what the World War of 1917-18 meant to a more-or-less typical young Missouri farm boy who saw the action at first hand and was able to describe his reactions and emotions so dramatically.
Among the letters saved was also a diary that he started, but did not continue, the day I left him. This is where his war really began.
Sept. 17th. Gladys and I parted today. Nothing but doubt in our future. We can only hope and pray for the best. Our two short months have been heaven. How I wish we had been married two years ago. I love her so.
Sept. 18th. In Hoboken, New Jersey where the train deposited us, we took the ferry across the bay to the dock where the Cunard Liner, Carmania, lay. We boarded her at 10:30 and sailed at noon. It is a foggy, chilly day, not a very nice one on which to be leaving my native land. We went down the bay past all the things I heard about--Coney Island, the Statue of Liberty, etc.
Sept. 21st. We left at 5 p. m. today from Halifax and such a sendoff as they gave us. It made us feel good but, as I left the land, I wondered if I would ever see dear old America again, the land of my boyhood and of all the happiness I've ever known. Other big ocean liners lay in the harbor too, four loaded with our troops and eight others filled with Canadian, Australian and New Zealand outfits. What a fleet we will make across the Atlantic.
Sept. 22nd. At sea. The ships are all out now--12 troop ships, one supply ship and one cruiser. It is a sight one will never see again. We are going slow--the speed of the slowest ship. It will take ten days to cross.
Sept. 23rd. The sea was really rough today and I am sick and blue. It sure has been an awful Sunday for me. I've thought a lot about my darling Glad today. Something seems to tell me I will never see her again. I'd give my life to see her tonight.
Sept. 24th. And I am still sick. I feel so awful I don't care if the ship sinks or swims. I wish I was somewhere on solid land with my love.
And, at this same time, he was writing almost hourly notes to me, but what a difference in tone. They were obviously meant to be morale builders for me.
Sept. 26th - At sea. Dearest wife, We are sure working hard on this trip--I've been studying theory and working plans with machine guns until I think I could make one. Also we are studying French. I found out that when we land we will go through a long period of training with the troops we came over with. But don't worry, dear. The closer I get over there the more anxious I am to get into the fray. I wonder if the censor will cut this out if I tell you we will have a fleet of [hole in the page] steam passenger ships all loaded with troops on their way to put down Kaiserism.
Sept. 27th. I couldn't write yesterday because I was officer of the day. But nothing happened. I was in command of the ship's guard so was awfully busy. But we just sailed along, night and day. I have always wanted to cross the Atlantic and see Europe--now it is happening. I am glad it is the mission it is. It has come sooner than I expected but now I can take my place and be able to help bring about a victorious peace.
Watch the papers for news but don't believe anything about my safety unless it comes from my Commanding Officer, or Washington. Don't worry no matter how long it is before you hear from me for there will be a lot of times when I may not be able to write for weeks.
The ship just gave three loud blasts--five blasts mean we are torpedoed. Everyone jumped, of course. This was only a signal to the other ships, but we are nervous.
[Date censored] We picked up our convoy of ten destroyers so really feel safe now. Am on ship guard and submarine look-out so am a very busy man.
Oct. 1st. It's been two weeks exactly since we boarded this ship. A grand trip except for the three days I was seasick. We are to land early in the a. m. and take a train to 'somewhere.' Must run now.
Oct. 3, 1917 - Somewhere in England. You should see me now. I am all dolled up in my Sam Browne belt and look fine--I think. Will have to have my picture taken. Ha! Ha! I went to this a. m. and had $75 sent to you by bank draft. It's been so long since I've heard from you. I don't even know you are alive. All the love in the world,
Meanwhile, back in the U. S. A. How many war brides since 1917 have had to rearrange their lives in some kind of routine to fill the time while waiting for their soldier's return? Perhaps some portions of the letters I sent to the front during that time will give some idea of what it means to only "stand and wait." The first ones are from Alabama where I visited my sister and family for the first few weeks.
Sept. 27th. My dearest husband, I got your card yesterday sent from the dock in New York. But it didn't tell me a thing. The place, the date and the ship you were going on were all blocked out. I am glad they left the word "love" in though for I get so hungry to hear it.
Had such a good letter from your mother the other day. She seemed to be brave and cheerful and was encouraging to me. We are all trying to be hopeful because we know that is what you want us to be. But, as we keep saying in every letter, we will think only of the day when we can be together again.
Oct. 1st. And still I haven't heard from you. I keep wondering what you are doing all this time. It has been two weeks since I have seen you but it seems like two years.
Next day - Your cable came, just as I knew it would. Now I know you are safely over the ocean at least. It had the word in it that I wanted to hear too, which I know will be in all your letters when I get them.
Oct. 17th. I got a letter from my mother this a. m. In her letter, she enclosed a clipping from the hometown paper with your picture and an article about you. Gee, it does make me proud of you, and love you so much.
Nov. 8th - Back home. Well, I am back again in the same old rut, alone at home and waiting for you to come back. Everything here reminds me of you and how happy we have been here together.
I just talked to your mother and she is really a brave woman. She told me that your brother John is going to enlist in the Navy as soon as he gets his corn picked. She thinks it is his duty to go. I think she and I will start a campaign against some of the slackers around here.
It feels good, in a way, to be home again--if I could only find something to do. Just wish someone needed me.
Sun. Nov. 11th. I have so much to tell you that I don't know where to start. It's been a perfect hurricane of events. You can't possibly imagine what I am going to tell you. I've got a job teaching eighth grade. It seems they have had a vacancy at school ever since it started and begged me to help out. So, I thought it over and decided that, at last, someone did need me. I hope I can do a job that you will be proud of.
I am going to keep busy all right. I will work at the Red Cross after school, plan to help Dad at the office and I am knitting you a helmet. I am trying to live up to what you expect of me. Do hurry back as soon as Uncle Sam can spare you for I need you so much. Always yours,
Letters from the front finally reached me at home. Ail had been opened by the censor and some stamped on the front in big letters, "BACK THE BOYS IN THE TRENCHES. BUY A LIBERTY BOND." At last my Ches had reached France and this was his first reaction.
Oct. 5th. My darling wife,
Well, I finally got here. I'm all right but I am sure glad I am through with sea voyages for a time. That English Channel, I know, is the roughest piece of water in the world. I was so seasick last night I thought I would die.
It's a great experience to be in this end of the world now. Every single industry is helping to carry on the war. Such stores of supplies and resources are behind the war effort. Oh, we will win, no doubt, but you folks back home will just have to be patient and help us all you can .
The mail from there takes from two to eight weeks to get here. But, keep on writing, my love, and remember how we said our spirits would always be together. I wrote you that I am assigned to the 5th Machine Gun Battalion of the 23rd Infantry, so hope your letters are there.
Sun. Oct. 7th - Officers' Rest House and Mess. I don't have much hope of getting home soon for there is preparation enough here to carry on the war forever.
I was uptown last night and, Glad, I never saw anything like the morale here. It's impossible for me to make you believe how people here look at things. Women approach all the soldiers on the street and it is hard to shake them off. It is hard to keep the enlisted men under control.
There is a great difference in the way officers are treated over here--they are looked up to by the people because in their army the officers come from the highest rank in civil life, like nobles and such. People stand aside when an officer passes. It's really funny--coming from a country where no one even recognizes an officer--to be treated like royalty.
If some of my letters sound queer, it is because at certain times I cannot tell you a single thing. I am my own censor now so have to be extra careful. I can tell you though that I am now living with a fine old French family and have all the conveniences of home when I am off duty and can be there. It sure seems good to sleep on a real feather bed three or four times a week.
All the boys at home will be getting over here soon probably. I didn't understand until I got over here how necessary this war is. We will all have to fight but it is only a matter of time, for the Kaiser must be downed. And he is a fighter.
Oct. 30th. With the first breathing spell I have had in three days, I will try to send a word to remind you of my great love. And now, dear heart, you must be ready to hear anything. And, if it comes to the worst, then just live on and be the sweet, brave person you know I would have you be if I were with you in person instead of the spirit. I can think of no better heaven, if I should be taken, than to have my spirit be with yours.
Only God can spare a man in such an inferno as this but we can only hope He will let us be together again so we can dedicate our lives to His service.
I sure wish I could hear from you--only two letters since I landed. Then we moved and I doubt if we ever get any mail now, but do keep in writing, dear, for it will do me so much good if they finally catch up with me.
Nov. 14th. It's been so long since I could write you a real letter. If you could see me now, you wouldn't know me. I only weighed 145 pounds this p. m.--have had little sleep and less to eat. My hearing has failed me too. They say this wears off in a week or so. My Company--5th Machine Gun--is going somewhere else now. I have been in command for four weeks now.
It is hard to describe the different kinds of feelings this war brings out. It appeals to one's sporting blood, in a way. It is fascinating because of the danger outguessing the other fellow. It makes a fellow wonder if he will ever enjoy peace again. What would he do for excitement? But I would have my wife with me, and who could ask for more? I remember how you told me to be a good soldier; and, surely after a man has been through several baptisms of fire, one could say he was in the making. But we don't like to talk about the war over here. In the trenches you hear the least about war, but you have reminders quite often that it is going on! Do the papers at home still talk about peace? How foolish, no one wants peace now--the war has only begun I'm sure.
Nov. 25th - At a Training Camp. My duty from now on, after I have been in the trenches twice more, will take me everywhere. I am training to be an authority on machine guns so have to get experience in the trenches. I'm really sold on these new type guns. I wish you could have seen some of the awful work a battery of them did that I placed. That's where I got into the work I am doing now. I might not last through the war but, if I don't, by that time I will have sold myself mighty dear.
Thanksgiving Day. We have a lot to be thankful for anyway, don't we dear? True, we can't be together today but we will be some day and we can thank God that we are still alive. Life means so much to us, darling, but here life is valued at so little. But I will come out all right and come home a better man than when I left. I will be satisfied in just living with you instead of tearing all over and being educated in the science of killing. But I may not be able to get a different kind of job when I do return for this will be all I know. You have no idea what science and deep study it takes to carry on a war. It is like a college education.
And, believe me, this U. S. is putting new methods, new inventions and resources into it that will, in time, smash down all opposition, and the'millions in 'our army will begin crossing the Rhine. One reason for the satisfaction after a battle is the fact that the Bosche has tried and failed and you feel superior to him. In truth, he is inferior. He is a machine and we are inventors of machines. We develop, he copies. Oh, how I hate the dirty devils. I've seen Some of the atrocities he has committed and talked to inhabitants who have lived in invaded land, until we drove him back and followed in the wake of his army as it retreated, tearing up every living thing.
We, who have been the Crusaders of this great army that is being sent us, feel we are paving the way by our efforts and the training we give them for the great advance which will take us to Berlin. We can no longer depend on Russia, but England, France and the U. S. will keep their flags flying until the Kaiser begs for mercy. I've been with the British at Paschendale, at Arras and at Ypres. And in Flanders on the 15th to 20th of November when they smashed through the Hindenberg Line, capturing 13 towns and 1600 prisoners. I've been with the French at Verdun and Nancy, where we Americans were learning our trade, by serving in their lines and observing their tactics which will be used in our army. This is my business and I was thankful to be given the chance to go with them.
And I am thankful God gave me you.
As I read these dramatic descriptions from the Front all these years later, I could see, letter by letter, how the war was changing my loving and kind-hearted husband, whose mother told me he could not bear seeing her wring the neck of a chicken on the farm as a boy, into a dedicated killer--all for love of country and humanity. And from the front a delayed letter brought a bit of good news.
Nov. 12th - Dearest Gladys,
At last it is here! I am now officially a Captain in the greatest service in the world. Now I can wear the double bars.
As a Captain, I am in closer touch with the men than any other officer. I am responsible for the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the shelter they have, for their physical condition and for their mental and moral viewpoint. I cannot delegate that authority to any one else. As a Captain is, so is his company. If the companies are right, the brigades and divisions are bound to be right. Yours forever,
The somber mood became more and more evident in the letters as the exposure to fire made the possibilities of surviving seem more impossible. A later December one brought home to me his great concern for the future.
Dec. 16th - My darling wife,
I am sending you the receipt for my insurance, which is paid up. So, don't worry about anything unless the War Department notifies you of my death. (Complete details followed of how to claim the $10,000.) Now, if anything happens, be sure and draw this out because it is yours and it is paid for. And, remember, my love, if I am ever killed, my last hope and wish is that you will be taken care of. Forget your sorrow and be happy, if you can. Also, even if I am reported dead, I may not be. You know dear heart, I believe a man has more love over here because he knows there is only a second's time between him and death. At times, a single muscle twitch or a nervous jerk would be fatal.
I fear gas worse than anything else for it comes so often and at night. It's invisible and sometimes whole battalions are wiped out by gas alone. A gas mask is the most important thing a soldier has, next to his gun.
Christmas Day, 1917. We are a long way apart this Christmas. But this looks like a real Christmas as we have a big snow on the ground. But snow has lost most of its charms to me. It only slows down the war. Traffic gets bad, big guns can't move fast and it's hard on the men and the animals.
Glady, will you do something for me? Keep sending me pictures of your dear self, often. It would please me more than anything if you would have a new one taken every week with a different dress or a different smile. Your long, sweet letters do a lot for my morale too. I have the morale of my Company--250 of them--to think about also. If I feel blue, I have to do it alone.
Here is hoping, first, that next Christmas I will be alive and well. But, better than I can ever hope for is that the war will be over and we will be together. Keep happy, my darling.
New Years Eve, 11 p. m. I left the Front on the 26th and went to Paris where I had three of the best hot baths. On these trips I just live in a bath tub for two or three days. You can't imagine, after being in the cold and dirt, how one loves a warm room and a hot bath.
I now own a machine gun company, body and soul. I will go up with them again in fourteen days for about ten days or longer.
I'm getting to be some guy around town now. Ha! Ha! I know Paris now as well as I do Kansas City. But I know other places in the world where the morals are better and a woman who is perfect.
I'm so mad at the postal authorities for not giving better service. I get only about a third of your letters. Everyone else gets mail but me. I know I have some somewhere. You know, the company officers have to censor their soldier's mail. My Lieutenants and I have to read about 250 men's mail. Oh, such lovey, dovey letters! Not like yours and mine, of course. Ha! We officers censor our own but all mail goes through military channels and is subject to be opened by a Base Censor.
Jan. 28th - Sun. 2:00 p. m. I have been planning, when I had time, to describe an attack to you in detail, from the very beginning and ending after a sector of enemy trench has been taken, organized and held. This war is quite a game. It will be hard to settle down at home in the old rut.
The first thing about life at the front is that everybody seems very much at home. No hurry or bustle as you might expect. The machine gun fire at night sounds exactly like rain on a tin roof. The artillery fire is continuous though it slows down at times like a burning fire and then blazes up until the noise is terrific - blood flows from one's nose and ears, soaking the cotton stuffed in them. Finally, the screaming of shells, the roar of the big guns and the exploding of schrapnel single into one sound which may keep up for an hour or so, or go on for days. You can get a faint idea when you think of the loudest crash of thunder you ever heard continuing on for hours. You won't believe me when I tell you that men get used to it. They have been drilled in their duties so well that, when the time comes, they do things automatically without thinking. A single shell flying over one's ear sounds like a fast express train and the closeness of it to you is determined by the loudness of the sound. Many times you can see them coming, like a baseball thrown at you, but you haven't much time to move. But, if you ever moved fast, you sure will then, and laugh about it afterwards. It's quite an experience.
Two Sergeants are waiting to see me. Will write again tomorrow.
Back again on the Home Front, we were "carrying on" in any way we could. It was a real war we were waging at home that winter, we thought. The news from the Front was varied--battles would be won and territory taken, only to be lost the next week. But we all felt that any sacrifices we had to make were worthwhile for we were fighting a "war to end wars." We were making the world "Safe for Democracy." In some ways it was a holy war and we were sacrificing for the years ahead when there would be no wars and nations' differences would be settled by peaceful negotiations in a kind of League which President Wilson was visualizing for the future.
Even though history records that our troops, during this period, were in training with the British, Ches' letters indicate that the early arrivals, at least, were getting their baptism of fire. The battle shock becomes more and more apparent as his dramatic descriptions reflect his emotional reactions.
Feb. 16th, 1918. My darling wife, Finally I can write and tell you how much you mean to me. We came out of it last night for a seven day breathing spell after a lot of Hell. Before this reaches you we will be at it again, and dearest, we must be brave and pray that God and good luck will bless us as it has in the past. Before you get this, the papers will be telling you of the most stupendous attack by the Huns that modern man has ever heard of. They are staking their all on this spring before our troops get over here in force. It will be a seesaw game, some days we will win, others we will lose. The outcome can be only one way will win and hold them. Then will come the Allies' time to attack, and such a victory we will pull then on the west front. The West Front--oh, my dear, you can't imagine what that means to us over here. This "Slaughter House of Europe" is indescribable. But it is gratifying to know that in this old world there are still men who pour out their life's blood and are glad to do it for a cause. To lead our men to death requires a great personality on an officer's part--to lead them where shot and shell fall like hail and where men are dead and wounded on every side.
I can't write just now--I am all nervous and shaky. Will be all right in a day or so. But I am well and love you with all my heart. I've received no mail but know I will as soon as our orderly comes with your letters which have been held back for three weeks.
Next Day - I hope you will forget that letter I wrote yesterday. It must have sounded crazy. I was awfully sleepy and tired and should have waited till now to write. But I wanted you to know, as soon as possible, that I was all right.
I got fourteen letters from you yesterday, also the cake and the watch. And, darling, that watch is a dear. You know we have to have an illuminated dial wrist watch in the trenches as well as in our pocket so if one fails we have the other. Gee, but it's great to have a little wife who knows what one needs.
You have asked several times, my dear, about my "work." I don't want to have to talk about it, or go into detail about the things I have to order my men to do--you might think I had ceased to be human. I am only a cog in a big machine that is carrying the war to the Germans. So, what am I doing? I have a machine gun company and am helping to make the world safe for you and all my loved ones. To accomplish that I have to do things I don't want to mention--it's like a weird nightmare. It is fascinatingly horrible at times and there is the chance--a sporting one--that one takes. But, when the danger is over, for a time, I want to be quiet and forget till it comes again. Forever yours,
Another emotional letter followed ten days later which must be recorded for two reasons--first because I want to be able to read it again, over and over, and second because it shows the great trama a soldier instinctively goes through just before a battle.
A.E.F. France Jan. 26, 1918. 1:30 a.m. My dearest wife,
Military orders come so fast and when least expected. I am afraid something real big is going to happen soon. In an hour, I, with the others must be on my way--back from whence we came the last day of December. I was awakened at 12 tonight with the news. I am well, dear, and my mind is as clear as a bell. I am in perfect health. I am sure to be all right--but be brave though, darling, if I am not.
I've had no letters for a long time. I don't believe I have ever told you how very much I've missed you but now I think it best to tell you so you can know that, since we parted, I have never drawn a breath without thinking of you. God knows I love my country and want to fight for her. But God also knows how I love
Good night, my dear, dear one. How wonderful it would be to hear you laugh again. God bless you and keep you, my dearest of wives. Forever,
Later in the month.
I really feel fine now. But I know this in a week or so I will be going away from all the springtime flowers in bloom and trees in bud and go "up there" again where no living thing is green and where everyone keeps his head down until dark. Like bats, we fly at night and take a fashionable "siesta" in the afternoon. March 8th--4 p. m. In my Dugout. As usual we had to leave four days before our rest period was up. Now the earth vibrates and rocks like a ship in heavy seas, even fifty feet underground. It's been like this the four days we have been here and now it is getting worse. I've been bleeding at the ears for two days now but I think I've got it stopped. This place is becoming historic. A constant battle has been raging here since April 1916 and more men have been killed here than in any of the other fortified places in Europe. It goes on night and day, winter and summer. Sometimes it ebbs and then flares up worse than the beginning. The French say, "As this place goes, so goes the war."
March 14th - 8 a. m. I had no sleep last night and before going to bed this morning I am going to tell you how much I love you. I am in my billet now, three kilometers behind the lines, after 36 hours on the line, and in easy reach of the German gunners. (There used to be 24 houses here once, stone ones, but only four left now and all badly wrecked. For over three years now the enemy artillery and air raids have always missed these four that are left, so I am not worried much.) At 7 this a. m. they threw in about fifty shells and missed them all at least twenty yards. So you see, the front lines and going over the top are not the only lively work we have to watch out for. It takes an acrobat to get by almost. But it's a great life and full of excitement.
The pictures show what my uniform looks like now, I am wearing boots and spurs--and I have the most beautiful bay horse. You will notice I have on a pair of the new length shoes that lace up the front. The Sam Browne belt and overseas cap is the A. E. F. officer's official uniform.
And now, some good news. I think I am coming home! The orders are out that one officer each month will be sent home from each machine gun battalion as instructors for the National Army, thus relieving the French officers who are on duty there now. I could probably leave right away but I prefer to stay a little longer to learn more. Then I hope to come, and I am sure I can, for it seems that, at last, being a married man will have its rewards. But, dear, if it wasn't for my great love for you and wanting to see you so much, I would never want to come back until the war is over. Must go down in my cellar now and go to bed.
March 24th - In my Dugout. I am so sorry I haven't been able to write for so long but I have been awfully busy and our mail service has been poor. The Hun gunners insist on shooting up the road that leads to us and we have been cut off. But it is all over now. They got keen and tried to put on a show. While they were doing that, we PUt on one that was good--and, as a result, we are now on top of the hill with the Huns on the foot. Also we have the remains of a French town and the road is open.
The "show" yesterday, beginning at 4 a. m., grew from what at first seemed only an appetizer for breakfast into a real struggle for about 500 yards of Lorraine soil. We met terrible resistance, especially in the town. At exactly 7:15 by that wrist watch you gave me, I was sweeping three different streets from what had been the village square--a beautiful fountain and monument were erected there in 1910 in honor of peace all over the world. It is all shot up and broken now but an inscription on it in French still says, "Peace on earth. Good will to men." In spite of the uproar of battle I could not help but be impressed. Soldiers of four nations (two allies against two other allies) lay dead and dying on every hand, not a house standing --all cut down by artillery and machine gun fire. For an hour I stood, directing the fire of all my guns which were scattered over the town. The show wavered and then went for us. We raced forward, with the Huns falling back doggedly but with terrible losses--paying dearly for their stubbornness. Then we reached the hill top at 10:12, which was as far as we had intended to go.
Fifteen minutes later, I had a good breakfast of Swift's bacon, two fried eggs, bread, hot coffee, a glass of wine, a cigar and went to bed at 11 o'clock. It is six o'clock now and I have just gotten up. We took the Huns' trenches and will use his dugouts until we can construct new ones nearer to the front. Our guns have been giving them Hell while they are trying to build a new line at the foot of the hill. We may decide to kick him out of there in a day or so, who knows. He has brought up 41 batteries of artillery just in front of our lines, so the aviators tell us, so he may be planning another show--I hope so.
I know you are lonesome, dear, but I feel sure I'll be home sometime this fall. I want to stay until this spring show is over. Don't think that I won't want to come, for I almost go crazy thinking about seeing you again, but my work over here must be done before I can feel good at home. When I have done my bit here for the present, then I can come and train others for awhile. Then I want to come back and finish this job here.
March 24th - Just a line to let you know that I am still well. For 36 hours now all has been fairly quiet on our front. On the British front things are different, but we can only hope that things there are not as bad as first reported and that later reports will be better.
Another trying thing is the invention of the long range guns by the Huns that fire on Paris. All day, they have been dropping shells weighing 1200 pounds on the city, a distance of 75 miles. It puts practically all of France in the fire zone. All railroads, industries, every village and farmhouse can be fired on. Surely something will be done to overcome this invention. I think they will be too expensive to use except for the morale effect. All this bad news makes me feel pretty blue. I know we can win this war--this is probably the dark hour before the dawn.
The Hun has undoubtedly placed his all on this drive and, if he loses, the war will be over. But, if he gains, it will probably prolong the war. Surely, my darling, with perfect trust and confidence that God is just, the war will be over and we will have won--and we will be together in this life again.
Easter Sunday. I am thinking of the many happy Easters we have spent together. Remember the times, from away back to our bashful high school days? We have done most everything, from my hanging around the front of the church at night, waiting for you, to our becoming married lovers. Remember those shy walks we used to take on Easter afternoons? Those are great days to remember, aren't they dear? But we have had greater and there are more to come.
I am still in the trenches, with no sign of early relief. The Huns are inclined to be nice (?) since the strafing we gave them last week. But I just now got my orders to put my guns in action on a certain line of trenches, preparatory to an attack tonight. It will probably only be a raid though, with its chief purpose to bring in prisoners. Must go and telephone my guns to go into action.
Next day - 10:30 a. m. I've just gotten up. Went to bed at 4 a. m. The show last night lasted from 8:30 to 11:30 and was a great success. We took 20 Bosche prisoners. Must eat and shave and then inspect my first two positions. It's about three miles from my first to last one, through muddy trenches. Keep on loving me, dear.
April 6th. I am writing at midnight from what was, last night, a Bosche Captain's Dugout, one kilometer closer to Berlin.
It came today--that show we have been expecting--and again we won as I knew we would. God was with us. Beginning at 4 a. m. today I have really seen a battle. I stood at my post on a low hill top and saw it all. My machine guns covered the advance of the Infantry, as they always do, and I saw thousands of our wonderful men in olive drab swing down the hill in perfect column before it was hardly light enough to see. They were re-inforced from the rear as they threaded their way to the very front line trenches.
At the signal, I saw them rise and Charge, just as the Bosche came over their trenches toward us. Our officers were the first "on top," then the men with bayonets fixed. Not a step lagged, not a man held back as they advanced over the hell of No Man's Land. I saw them run into the mouths of hundreds of cannons and could hear the hum of hundreds of machine guns, mine and the enemies'. Then gas was let loose and that long line of bayonets met the foe. I saw long lines of the enemy go down. And I was pleased, for I knew my machine guns were doing their work. Orderlies dashed up to me reporting how one after another of my guns were moving forward. I gave them their locations on the map and their firing orders and they dashed back to their guns to put them in execution.
I saw men dying, saw men with smiles on their faces as they raced on to what they knew might be the end, heard dying men cursing and struggling to get back into battle. I saw dying men shout encouragement with their last gasps as their comrades dashed over their broken bodies toward the enemy positions. Then the enemy line broke and our men, fighting with all the vigor God put into Americans, charged on to victory, and into our present positions. We consolidated here and then drove back, with a terrible loss to the enemy, all his counter-attacks.
We are safe now. It all started at 5:30 a. m. and we reached here at 2 p. m. Not bad, eh? I am well and am ready to go up to the Somme battle on the English front now. I am tired and have such a headache tonight. So, good-night, darling.
The question might be asked, "Why would a man worry his wife with all these lurid battle descriptions? But it must be remembered that we had always shared everything and I understood that I was the only one with whom he could spill out all his doubts, fears and frustrations. As he had said, he had to maintain a calm facade before his men, and this was his only outlet.
April 12th - In my Dugout 12:50 a. m. My Dearest,
The heavy artillery on both sides is sure raising hell tonight. This old earth quivers and trembles like a ship in the English Channel during a storm. It is the beginning of another little show we are going to put on tomorrow. And, while I wait, I will talk to you.
I've just been reviewing a lot of your pictures and letters--you can never imagine how much I treasure them, my dear. In those letters you keep telling me how good you are going to be to me when I get home. But, has it ever occurred to you that the chances now are very great that, in less than three months, you may be called on to make good those promises? You will make rash statements, will you? Of course one can't be too sure of anything here except to give the Hun hell and take a little in return.
My company was refilled today by drafted men to take the place of those lost in battle. They seem to be good men and have a better spirit than I thought they would have. They are men from Virginia and I am very pleased with them. Of course they are nervous now but they will make good soldiers after going over the top a few times and seeing a few men shot up.
April 14th In Rest Camp. I am out for a little rest but tomorrow we leave for the real show up on the E Front. Big things are going on up there now, even more than here. Up there is where the war will be decided and history is being made. I can hardly wait until we pull out. I am like a kid on circus day. I am well and feel fit as a steel spring.
No news about their sending me home. Hope now I will be able to see that show up there first. Then too, I'm afraid I would starve at home. Ha! They tell me you all eat "war bread," have heatless and meatless days, save sugar and pay taxes. Hope things are not as bad as the papers say. For, here, we have an abundance of everything--we eat just like we did at home. We realize that you people do give UP and sacrifice so we can have plenty and we do appreciate it, probably not enough though. But it is much better for you to sacrifice food, comfort and some pleasures than suffer the hardships the people over here have to endure,
It seems as if it will be harder to stay over here than to get sent home, in my case anyway.
Apparently there is a big demand from home for men of my service machine guns--who are
competent to train the gun crews and officers to use those guns under battle conditions. In short,
it looks like they have to have American machine gunners from the A. E. F. who have been under
all kinds of fire. What I'm afraid of is that they will set me up in some camp and make a
"schoolteacher" out of me till the war's end. Always and forever yours,
My letter source is drying up. The following short notes, which did not reach me until June are the last in my collection of Letters from the Front. I would have been spared an agonizing experience had they arrived in May.
Late April - On Y. M. C. A. stationary, headed "On Active Service with the A. E. F." No, my darling, you are not going to school this summer--you are going to be with me. We may spend our first anniversary as we did our wedding day. Even before I get an answer to this I may be on the high seas, homeward bound to you. But don't plan too much for life is so uncertain on the west front now, dear.
May 5, 1918 - In France. A tip to you, my wife. Sit still and wait for a telegram. Am well, and love you with all my heart. As ever,
P.S. About the middle of June should be heaven for us.
Our school term. was nearing an end, with only two weeks more to go, and I was routinely conducting my last class of the day one afternoon when our principal came into the room, looking very grave.
"Your mother is on the phone," he whispered to me. "She wants to talk to you. Use the phone in my office. I will take care of your class."
For the first time in my life I learned the "taste" of fear. Somehow, my weak knees took me down the stairs to the office. I moved slowly, trying to postpone the news that awaited me. I knew it could be nothing but bad, for my mother would never call me out of a class except in an emergency. Why had I felt so confident that this would never happen to me? But I must be brave, I told myself, and remember what Ches had told me so many times--that he would always be with me even if "anything should happen to him."
I managed to lift the receiver of the desk phone where my patient mother was holding the line. I also managed a weak, "Hello" -- and then heard a very inappropriately cheerful voice at the other end saying, "They just phoned up a cable for you from France." (I knew it!) "It's from Ches," she added.
"From Ches?" I gasped, incredulously. "What does it say?"
"It's only four words", she began. (Would she never let me have it?) "It just says, 'Be home soon, Love.' Are you all right?" she asked, as for one of those few times in my life, I was speechless.
It was Commencement Day when the final message came: "Arrived today. Come at once to the McAlpin Hotel, New York City. Wire me at the hotel when to meet you. Will be here only a few days awaiting orders."
"At once" to me meant "right now" and, two days later as I climbed up to the waiting room of the Pennsylvania Station in New York, there was my own St. Peter with open arms welcoming me up the golden stairs. Our faith had carried us through.
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