Letters from Oregon Boys in France
Compiled by Mrs. Frank Wilmot 1918
Sheridan M. Berthiaume
Sheridan M. Berthiaume, a former Portland man and son of Mrs. E.M. Beale, at 568 E. Salmon St., was sent to Italy under the auspices of the National War Work Council of the YMCA of the United States at the beginning of the war. He had previously spent seven years in charge of the physical department of the Seattle YMCA. His mission abroad has been to have full charge of all physical YMCA work in Italy. A letter to his family follows:
With the Am. Exp. Force in Italy,
August 5th, 1918.
Dearest Wife and Boys:
As I figure it out, it is four days beyond the time when I should have buckled down to my small Corona and ticked off my weekly noospaper toyouall about the things that have been happening to me since the last letter was indited, and that I will now do to the best of my ability.
We have moved again and I, especially, have traveled much around the northern part of this very beautiful land of Italy. Last Saturday, a week ago, five of us left Milan in an auto, and rolling over well kept-up old Roman roads and through wonderful old Italian cities surrounded by their ancient walls, moats and other fortifications came finally to the town where the first contingent of American soldiers were to detrain. We, the "Y" folks, hastened to set up our reading and writing room and the canteen that the boys might find us waiting for them when they arrive.
The Italian people of the village were out in their best clothes, the gray-green clad soldiers were drawn up along the street in parade and a fast-stepping, fast-playing military all-brass band marched along the streets at intervals playing their airs of Italy. The little school children in age from five to fifteen were lined up all dressed in white and each with an American flag in one hand and a bunch of flowers in the other. The older girls were at the station with great bouquets of flowers to throw to the Yanks when they should come in, while the older folks gathered along the sidewalks to view "those grand Americanos".
The boys were to have arrived at 3:30 and did not get in till 6:30. The first train load was composed of the supply section and they didn't parade at all. They had to get busy and unload the trucks and supplies and there was no parade except by the staff officers and the reception committee of the Italian, French and English staffs, but the children and the girls threw their posies just the same; and later in the evening when a train load of infantry detrained, they got their treat, as those big husky Yanks from our middle-west came marching down the street, humps on backs, vicious looking rifles on shoulders and led by the local band almost blowing their very lungs out through their instruments.
When the train rolled into the station the band played "The Star Spangled Banner" and what they lacked in some of their finer shadings they made up for in vim.
The soldiers had not been near a YMCA from the time they left America, because of continually moving around; and when they saw our rooms they made raids first on the writing paper and then on the canteen, keeping us busy till 10:00 o'clock every night.
Yesterday [Sunday] was a gala day in this city, as the Americans were allowed a holiday from drill that they might see the sights and that the Italians might have a chance to get acquainted with them. A large number of the boys were allowed in, and by 9:00 o'clock the trucks commenced to arrive with our boys all decked out in their best bib and tucker for the event. They did themselves proud the whole day through, and I did not see even one lad under the influence of alcohol.
There are a number of old structures dating back to the second century, including a Roman arena and a theatre of about 250 a.d., as well as many old castles and churches; so the soldiers spent most of their day in sight-seeing and wandering around the city. The "Y" set up a canteen and writing room for them for the day and many were the post card pictures which were mailed to the folks back home. I was out around the line during the day but got back to town before the fun was over. I visited the old arena, of which I will send you a picture, and found many of our officers and men climbing up and down the steps or walking around the top tier of seats, viewing the mountains, or listening to the US Regiment band discoursing sure enough American music. When they played a good dance piece, some of the boys paired off and did some very modern dancing on the balcony where J. Caesar went to preach and handed his verdict of "thumbs down" to the fallen gladiator in olden days, if the spectators figured the poor duffer had been holding out in his fighting.
But what I remember best is that while I was up on top of the structure, the band down in the Piazza Victor Emanuel III., swung into our national air, and I could look down and see our boys all around in the great square and side streets, each lad facing toward the music and standing at salute. Some sight.
After two days helping out in the canteen where our troops quartered, I went back to Milan and rode one of the new motorcycles over to our headquarters and returned the following day for another one, on which I rode back next morning. Since then I have been traveling up and down the line of our stations getting the baseball material out to the soldiers and getting them organized to carry on athletic sports. Yesterday the first game of base-ball was played by the AEF in Italy and in a few days will come a boxing contest and an athletic meet.
Received a good letter from Gladys and also one from Uncle Anson and just today one from Winn, all of which I was glad to get, but do not know when I will ever get time to answer them, as I am as busy as a soldier with the cooties, sixteen hours a day and no rest in sight for some time to come, as we are short-handed and every man carries about three jobs along with his own.
Am living rather high these days, as I have had dinner with a Lieutenant Colonel of one outfit and dined twice with the Major of another. The American cooking and serving is a treat after living for so long on these foreign dishes and style in serving.
The sorrows of my life seem to be mixed up with Fords; and I was it again the other night when I went out for a night trip with one of the drivers on a Ford one-ton truck, and what with engine trouble and lack of gasoline, we stalled two miles out of town on the home-stretch and I had to stay with the truck while my partner went after a tow. We got to bed at 1:00 o'clock, both well tired out. I'm off Fords for life now.
That money I sent you may not get to you till August, and if it does not come by then I will send a tracer out after it.
I will have to close now, as I am getting sleepy but will tell you lots more when I write again. Every time you write to me I get more loansome to see the boys and you, and only find comfort in the fact that it will be over soon, I hope. My love and remembrance to the three of you, and my prayers.