Letters from Oregon Boys in France
Compiled by Mrs. Frank Wilmot 1918
Sergeant O.C. Hartman
A visit to the home city of the "Maid of Orleans" was the experience of Sergeant O. C. Hartman, Co. F, 18th Ry. Engrs., A. E. F., as told in a letter to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. C. F. Hartman, 164 N. 24th St.: September 16, 1918.
After six days in Paris, am once more back to earth and the stern realities of army life.
The first stop on our leave was Orleans, which, as you know, is the home of Jeanne d' Arc. It is a beautiful city of about 150,000 people and the little lady who wore the bard shell suit is sure featured all over the place. We saw a number of statues and monuments of her, her tomb in the Cathedral St. Croix, and a pretty street which is named after her. Like all French towns it abounds in cafes; so, after filling up on historical dope, we set out to inquire into La Vie of the place.
We arrived in Paris in the afternoon and left the train at the Austerlitz station and crossed the Seine to the subway. We wished to get across to the other side of the town and had instructions to get off at Alma station. Well, we got tickets to Alma all right, drifted down stairs and into the train: upon asking the very pretty little conductress where Alma station was, we were rather surprised to have her shoot a bunch of unfamiliar French at us, at about the rate of speed the train was traveling, and to which we replied "Qui Merci" and sat down to think it over. A Frenchman who could say yes in English, noticing our predicament, offered a few suggestions in his fastest French, and Jim took him on for the best two out of three. This fired the enthusiasm of every one in our part of the car, and they went after Jim, like a Yank after ham and eggs. He stood the first two waves gamely, but the third was too much for him, and he threw up his hands and declared to the world that he "comprendre." In the meantime an old French officer sitting opposite me with a look of disgust at Jim, Samaritanly assured me with his eyes, forehead, hands and chin just to leave it to him, and he would see that we got out all right. Pretty soon old Gen. Joffre ordered "follow me" and we left the train and started for the surface. On getting to the top, the old boy took us outside, pointed out a railroad yard, shook hands and said "good-bye" with his whole face, and left.
Finding "Gare du Nord," instead of Alma, painted on all of the signs and coming to the conclusion the old general was trying to run us out of town and that we would fool him, we went back into the station and brought some more tickets. This time for the bastille, which we were assured by a young French officer who spoke twenty-one words in English perfectly, was where we should go. Upon arriving at the bastille we were rather discouraged to find that we were just where we had started. Here we were taken in tow by another old Frenchman who led us out of the station across the street and pointed out a bus, after many instructions, from which we gathered the single word "Madeleine," he bid us good-bye. We climbed aboard the bus and were once more on our way. Arriving at the end of the line, we were agreeably surprised to find the church of La Madeleine, which you remember was bombed on Easter Sunday. This was right in the part of town to which we wished to go. So we immediately got located.
Jimmie Clock and I sure had a good time; and I am here to say that "Gay Paree" is some burg. It has numerous interesting and beautiful buildings, boulevards, bridges and gardens. We went through the Tuilleries Gardens, saw the Louvre from the outside, as it was closed, went through the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, sat on Clemenceau's desk, also the one formerly occupied by Victor Hugo. We high-graded some official stationery from the writing room. Went through the Hall of Fame where we saw all of the famous Frenchmen from Lafayette, both ways. Visited the Invalide, where we saw innumerable guns of all kinds and conditions, captured from the Boche, also two Boche airplanes which looked like about one franc's worth of "Gott mit uns." They sure had met with hots of bad luck. Guynemeyers "Vieux Charles" with which he downed nineteen Boche planes is there too, and was all decorated with flowers the day we were there, it being the anniversary of his death. The walls of the court yard are covered with many wonderful paintings illustrative of France's prowess in battle. Was in the room occupied by Napoleon, and later visited his tomb.
It is one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture that I have ever seen. The body itself rests in a large marble well and is surrounded by about ten marble figures which have been cut life size. High overhead is an immense dome, which is copied from the dome on St. Peter's in Rome. Directly in front of the entrance is a very beautiful altar which is made entirely of cannon captured by the Old Boy at the battle of Austerlitz.
From there we went over to the Paris Wheel, from which we had a fine view of the village; it is three hundred and eighty feet high; we made trips with an American civilian who was in turn accompanied by three ladies: one was most charming. A short distance away is the big 11.7 gun captured by the British 4th Army; it sure is a "walloper." Could not go up the Eiffel Tower, as it is a wireless station and closely guarded. The Arch of Triumph at the head of the Champs-Elysees is beautifully massive; Notre Dame Cathedral and the Church of La Madeleine are magnificent.
It surely is a wonderful and beautiful city and it is easy to see why the French have fought so bravely to preserve it from the Germans.
Mother, I sure wish you were here, dear, to have enjoyed it with me. I could go on in this strain for the rest of the day, but am afraid the censor is getting tired so will stop for the present. Everybody is well. Fondest love.
Sergeant O. C. Hartman,
Co. F, 18th Engineers' Railway, A. E. F.