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JIM: Letters from Doughboys (1918-1919

Today is Veterans Day, and, especially for this occasion, JIM compiled this major "bit of history" in honor and in memory of those who "did their bit" in the armed service during World War One. Fascinating letters from member(s) of the following families: Aaron, Akers, Bell, Bryant, Callison, Ford, Helm, Hill, Kimbler, McDermott, Rose, Royse, Stapp, Watson, Willis


From the summer of 1917 well into 1919, letters from soldiers of Adair and surrounding counties appeared frequently in the pages of the Adair County News.

The following excerpts from a few of the letters (most of which were quite lengthy) give ever-so-brief glimpses of the doughboys from camp life to the armistice.

Albert Bryant, written from Camp Taylor, Ky; letter undated, published 04/03/1918
I am in the hospital with mumps. Think most of the boys in camp have had them by now. I hope so anyway.

It seems that the Red Cross and Y.M.C.A., societies are doing a good work here. We have preaching twice a week. During the rest of the week we have two moving picture shows, boxing, wrestling or something else for past time.

* * *

Willie V. Helm, written from Indianapolis, letter dated 04-17-18, published 04/24/18
With great pleasure I will give a brief sketch of our trip to our vocational Training Camp from our home town, Columbia. Sunday, April 14th, Robert Bailey, Herschel Taylor and myself left Columbia for Lebanon. We caught the next train out of Lebanon at 8:10 Sunday, p.m., arriving in Louisville at 10:10 p.m.

We spent the night at the Willard Hotel, and after a bounteous breakfast (furnished us by Uncle Sam) we resumed our journey, leaving Louisville Monday morning at 8:20 a.m. and arrived here at 11:45.

We were measured for our shoes, hats, underwear and uniforms Monday afternoon.

* * *

Gresham Ford and Velmer Aaron, written from Camp Shelby, Miss.; letter undated, published 04-24-18
Quite a number of Adair county boys are in this camp, but are thinly scattered through various branches of service. As far as we are able to find out they are doing fine. We are in good health and look more like physical men than we did in civil life.

* * *

Willie V. Helm, written from Camp Green, No. Caro; letter undated, published 07/17/18
We have only been in this camp since the 14th of June and we are now ready to go across. Our supplies are all boxed and marked A.E.F. We have received our overseas clothing and full equipment and we have got some load you can guess to tote.

We are all glad to get away from here and start "over there" for we feel as if we can help check Hun assaults and bring this war to a close. There will be five aero squadrons go over with us, each consisting of 154 men to each squadron. There has been quite a few left here in the last ten days and the camp is almost empty at present.

* * *
John Frank McDermott, written from "somewhere in France;" letter date 06/18/18, published 07/24/18
Dear Mother,
We are drilling pretty hard now, we have got British Instructors, we practice putting on our gas masks every day, and we have a lot of bayonet practice also. I like it fine, don't ever get lonesome, but of course we will all be glad when Fuss [sic] is over with. but it won't take us long when we all get started. I started to school Monday to learn to be a scout and a sniper. We are practicing signal messages, quite a lot of the time.

* * *

Leontiff T. Akers, written from "somewhere in France;" letter dated 07/29/18, published 09/11/18

Dear Sister:

I am writing you and letting you know that I got wounded on the back on the twentieth of this month, but I am getting along fine and hope to be back to my company for duty soon.

Well, May, I have been up to front a good bit of the time since I came over here and I have been over the top three times, but I have been lucky, so far, only wounded once slightly. As I cannot think of much to write, I will close. Answer soon.

* * *

Albert Bryant (this appeared as a news item in the Ozark Newsletter published 09/11/18)
Mr. Albert Bryant in writing his home folks from France, says it is terrible to see the destruction brought upon that land and people by the ruthless hand of the Hun, and said he becomes more determined every day to press on and conquer them, ere they brought this blight to our fair U.S.A.

* * *

S.P Stapp, written 08/25/18, published 09/25/18 (09/25/18)
I take this method of sending to my friends back at home these few words of greeting from over here. I have been on this side of the Atlantic since April 8th. During that time I have seen a goodly part of England, what remains of Belgium and the whole of France from the north to Marseilles and Nice on the Mediterranean Sea. A convalescent leave after an appendix operation gave me opportunity of seeing Southern France.

Our first stop in France was in a small village some distance back from the zone of war activities. Here we were brought into close contact with typical French rural life. The people were generous, hospitable and appreciative of our timely coming. In spite of the handicap of a foreign language, which very few of us had ever studied, our men associated much with our foreign allies.

* * *

John Rose, written from mainland Europe; letter undated, published 10/09/18
Dear Editor:--

I have been in France for some time and am enjoying the best of health and like fine. I left America May 17th, 1918, and landed safely overseas, June 5th. I sure had a pleasant sea voyage although there were times that I would have liked to have been somewhere else.

I have had the pleasure of being in England, France, and Belgium since I left and seeing a good portion of each. I am now at the front, writing this letter in my little dug-out, and believe me the shells crackle over my head, in fact, the Huns issue too many iron rations anyway. They rush and shout but they can't get us out and believe me the Yanks and doughboys will go over the top and get them when the rest fail.

There are many Adair county boys with me that came with me from Camp Taylor, and we sure have some times fighting the rats and mosquitoes; two rats woke me up the other night arguing about which one should wear my overcoat and gas mask.

* * *

D.E. Bell, apparently written from France; letter undated, published 10/16/18
(A few words in this letter apparently fell victim to the censor's scissors.)
Dear Mother:--

This sure is a pretty country. I landed at ------- France and only stayed there a few days, then came to ------- France. I sure have seen something since I have been in the army. I wouldn't take anything for my trip and I think from what I hear the war will soon be over, then I can come home and tell you something.

* * *

Willie Willis, written from Camp Taylor, Ky.; letter not dated, published

10/23/18 Dear Mother:

It is every American's duty to sacrifice everything possible to win this war. We will win. We have got to win. Our boys over there are in a great struggle. They are fighting for us, for their lives and for democracy.

* * *

Bryan Royse, written from "somewhere in France;" letter not dated, published 11/06/18
My Dear Wife:

Dick [nickname of Bryan's brother Felix] and I are well but are pretty tired and sleepy. Have not had much rest or sleep for the last week. I suppose you have read in the papers by now about the big battle that was fought Sunday, the 29th [of September], and about us going through the Hindenburg line, have you not? We were there with the boys. Our platoon did not go over the top but we worked as hard as the next one trying to get over, but our guns were so heavy we could not keep up. They got lots of prisoners and dear, the scene of the battlefield was hard to look at. I lost several of my good friends there, I hear that was in other companies I did not see them myself.

(Just a few days after Bryan penned this letter, he suffered mortal wounds. See )

* * *

Ed L. Hill, written "somewhere in France;" letter undated; published 11/06/18
Well, just a few days ago we had quite an exciting time one morning about one o'clock. It seemed that every big gun over here began shooting and a little later we went over the top and run the Dutch [sic; possibly a misspelling or misinterpretation of the word "Deutsch"] back about 20 miles and believe me it made a fellow feel a little shaky at first when the big shell came whizzing by our heads, bursting close by and knocking us down every few steps, although I was awfully lucky; I did not get a scratch. It was one of the biggest drives the U.S. boys had put up. You could see the dead Dutchmen most any place. It seemed as though they could not retreat fast enough.

* * *

Owen P. Watson, written from "somewhere in France;" letter not dated, published 11/20/18

Dear Mother:--

I have went through some awful dangerous places. I don't see how I got through. I am sure the Lord was with me and he will always be with me now, and I am not afraid now, and I think I will get through all right. So don't worry about me. I feel like I will come home some time, and I don't think it will be long. We run the Dutch back the other day and captured some French people that the Germans had captured the first of the war. They sure were glad to see Americans and to be free again.

* * *

T.W. Callison, written "from somewhere in France:" letter not date; published 11/20/18

Dear Mother:--

I know you are wondering why you don't hear from me, but I will tell you since I have been up here at the front we can't mail our letters after we write them. I write a letter and then carry it in my pocket till I almost wear it out before I have a chance to mail it. We move so fast our mail clerk can't send it back. I don't think he tries very hard.

We havn't had any mail since we left camp. I wrote you about the time we left camp and have written you once since, but I don't know whether it is on the way yet. If I could just get mail and was sure that you were getting mine, I wouldn't mind being up here so much.

However, we are not having as easy time as we did before we left camp. It's hard to get anything to eat or drink. I have been sleeping most every place, but it don't seem to hurt me. I havn't felt bad since I have been up here, only I get so tired and sore from walking--sometimes we walk all night.

What is everybody doing? I sure would like to see all of you. I dreamed the other night that I was at home. I hope it will not be long. I wish I could eat supper with you tonight. Sometime when we are moving we get mighty hungry. We walked one night from 7 o'clock till 12 the next day without anything to eat. We sure were hungry. I know when I get home I will make up for all this.

* * *

John Rose, written from France; letter not dated, published 12/25/18
On Nov. the 10th, I was down at the company office that night awaiting the word to come in whether or not the Germans had signed the armistice and suddenly the telephone sang and the word came in that it had been signed. Then the brass band got together and gave us a concert and on the following day, the eleventh month, the eleventh day and eleventh hour, all hostilities ceased.

* * *

Cohen Royse, written "from somewhere in France;" letter dated 11/12/18, published 01/01/19

Dear Mother:

This is the letter I have been wanting to write you for a long time. The war is over now and I guess I will be coming home soon. I am all right [and] getting along fine. I told you before that I was wounded again, but not very bad either time*. This last time I got a small piece of shell in the right leg, and the left hand. I am in a convalson camp now, expecting to be sent back to my company.

* * *

Zarfas Kimbler, written from "Lucey" (probably Loisy), France; letter dated 11/25/19; published 01/08/19

Dear Editor:

While at this town we were ordered to take over our sector before Metz, but before we left Perouse the Armistice was signed. That day was probably the wildest day in the history of France. The French soldiers all celebrated and every American soldier that came in close proximity of where they were embraced and kissed. Our Battalion left this town and marched through Belfort to the train. When we entered the city we were cheered by the French. The city was lighted up with bright lights, as it had not been since before the War. Large illuminating rockets were sent up, and lighted up the whole city.

* * *

J.F. McDermott, written from France; letter dated 12/06/18, published 01/15/19

The war is, to the vast majority who have not actually suffered the war will soon be merely a disagreeable memory, and as weeks roll by there will probably be a tendency to be lenient with those who are responsible for the terrible blood shed.

But the soldier, who has gone through hell, suffered numberless privations, seen his pals and comrades in arms, blown to atoms, been splashed with their blood. The idea of the perpetrator walking around at large, possible intriguing more devilish plots, and the world apparently indifferent is intolerable.

In this hour of triumph when our higher impulses have a merciful trend toward the enemy, let us forget not our own dead--we owe them a trust, they would have been sacrificed in vain, their very souls would rise from the myriads of graves accusingly, were we to leave the at large the Kaiser and his tools to plot against the peace and happiness of the future generation.

* * *

Gresham Ford, written from France; letter not dated, published 01/15/19

Dear father,

Daddy, it is some satisfaction to start out on a long trip with lights, and don't have to be dodging shells and bullets. On the 11th day of November, when we got the news the armistice had been signed the Germans came over and shook our hands and said it is over.

We are having a very nice time now, think we will be on our way across the deep blue sea in a short time. That is the only talk now.

When I get home I can tell you the whole story. That will be the happiest day of my life.

Compiled by JIM

This story was posted on 2015-11-11 04:28:53
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