Letters from Oregon Boys in France
Compiled by Mrs. Frank Wilmot 1918
The auxiliary to Company E, Eighteenth Engineers [railway] is in receipt of a letter from France, acknowledging their auxiliary letter and mess fund contributions. First Sergeant Bruce McDaniel of Company E writes as follows in behalf of Captain Harold Young and the officers and men of the company, and is addressed to Mrs. George S. Young:
The message from you "Over There" to us "Over Here" reached this company this week and the boys have not yet finished reading the long, enjoyable letter. The auxiliary letters have become one of the strongest links between the friends and relatives in America and the boys in France.
The progress of Oregon in shipbuilding, etc; only gives us additional facts to tell of the wonders of old Oregon. The French now understand the meaning of "webfooters" and we are losing no time in extolling the virtues of the land from which we came. The French here have but one ambition, it seems - to go to America after the war, apres la guerre est fini, as they state it.
The company now holds another distinction. Out of the battalion it is practically the only unit which intact, has a job which can be called distinctly its own. Every bit of work now under the jurisdiction of the company is superintended by Company E men. When the calls come in for detachments and other similar matters Company E remained intact whenever possible and as a result the organization has entered upon practically completed its second individual project. As one looks over the conditions of the other companies the outstanding fact is in all cases the same - Company E stands forth as a unit. The men are imbued with that spirit and it has brought success to them again and again. So strongly is the feeling of company pride developed that during the last two months we have had a negligible number of absences and voluntary violations.
The health of the boys reflects their living conditions and habits. But two men are sick. One, Cook Louis Blish, is receiving treatment for burns which are not serious. Sergeant H. Lee is in the hospital as a result of La grippe but will be on duty in a short time. The other members of the company are all well.
Your statement of finances gave us a comprehensive idea of what the auxiliary has been doing. Your efforts have brought great joy and satisfaction to all the boys for whom you have worked. The company has a reputation of serving excellent meals and the boys are now enjoying the green stuffs to be found in the markets. Among the leading items for expenditure from the company funds are: lettuce, radishes, eggs, corn meal, mush, cooking utensils, lights and phonograph records.
With the marines ripping the planes of the kaiser asunder and New York worrying because Broadway is dark, the boys are content to follow the trend of the big battle, wondering always what the morrow will bring. The men are in the same spirit that the French had in the battle of the Marne. When the history of this last drive is written I think that the names of the Americans will be in great abundance.
Promotions are coming along rapidly of late. Sergeant Ray C. Yeast is now master engineer, junior grade and former First Sergeant John Hartley, master engineer, senior grade. Others of the company have been promoted to non-commissioned officers. Corporal C. Smith is now sergeant and Private G. Porter and William Bichan [of Portland] are both corporals. Private, First Class, James Van Wickle has been transferred to the second battalion staff.
The news concerning the coming of the music was received with greatest appreciation. The orchestra played at the farewell banquet given Colonel Cavanaugh and the members personally thanked by the colonel for their entertainment. It has been a rather uphill task for the boys to keep their music going because of the various changes in the work but every time they have been called upon to play, whether it has been at dances or dinners, they have been equal to the occasion.
Private E.B. Charman of Oregon City has been assigned to duty on [Stars and Stripes], the official A.E.F. paper. He was formally the company clerk.
Men on detached service have been sent packages as often as possible containing articles not obtainable at their post.
The French people and their failure to grasp the American sense of humor is a subject of much discussion. The theory is exploded according to the statement of Lieutenant W. Wright, recently assigned to our company.
The owner of the chateau where we are billeted, hires several old men who spend the daylight hours hammering away on the skinny backbones of the old oxen they drive, and the evenings over a bottle of bin rogue. As a result each evening sees them slightly excited and always talkative.
The other evening after taps, when the company was peacefully dreaming of the latest show on Broadway, one of the oldest and most decrepit of the men started a riot. He had been visiting one of his cronies and consequently one of the oldest bottles had been brought forth from the mossy recesses of the cellar. The wine got the better of him and his imagination became quite verdant. He approached the chateau. The lieutenant's tent is located near the main gate.
"An American is dead, an American soldier is dead!" Came the mournful dirge.
The lieutenant was the first to hear his cry. Half asleep, clad only in his hastily acquired clothing he emerged from the tent and met the old man.
"You say an American soldier is dead," he demanded of the old man.
"Quite dead," the old man replied, sadly wringing his hands, while tears trickled down his old cheeks.
By this time a little company of men near by had gathered, all scantily clad, and they hurriedly followed the old man to the scene of the murder. He led the way calling upon all the saints to strike him dead if it wasn't true. It was a weird procession. They went down the lane past the gate and railway station to the little cafe where the boys sample the French wines and eat French bread. He held up his hand dramatically and the little cavalcade halted. It was dark and dreary and the wind whipped and the old man grew more secretive. With a dramatic gesture he waved toward the door for the lieutenant to enter. It was dark inside and he advanced carefully feeling around and expecting at any moment to come upon the mangled remains of some victim of a German prisoner or a soldier that had died of over eating. He felt upon the floor and in all the corners and finally asked the old man none to gently to have done with the mystery and produce the dead American soldier. The latter struck a light and a Napoleonic pose:
"Voici," he exclaimed and pointed to an empty wine bottle on the table.
The American retreat was not in the best of order and the old man in his wooden shoes went fastest of all.
It seems that one of our boys had spent a tedious afternoon and many francs patiently teaching the old man that in America "an empty is called a dead soldier." The lieutenant now keeps to himself and "Il est mort" is a phrase that means fight with him now.
Of course this sample of French humor is as rare as it is good.