Letters from Oregon Boys in France
Compiled by Mrs. Frank Wilmot 1918
I may, as a sort of prelude, inform ye all that, as a typist, I lack ability, trusting mostly to the "one-finger-and-miss" system, but seeing this confounded machine lying idle, and being in the army, why not take a chance, and so this epistle of well wishes comes your way.
'Tis quite a long step from operating the linotype and then switching to machine guns, but as I live by the operation of both, you can fathom that I made the leap.
And although I fell heir to an injured ankle by my proclivities when first I ran the haunted shades of "No Man's Land", yet I am as full of pep as ever, and will be at the hellish Hun ere your eyes travel on outskirts of this missive.
Realistic and grim, but withal, with plenty of happy days, is life in this "great adventure." My first taste I had last March, when I was temporarily attached to the Canadians, up north near the scarred ridge of Vimy. And between the mud, snow, rain and the biting cooties, imagination told me 'twas hell, but reality proved it to be Life. And the men often times cursed the trench life, but when they are wounded or away for awhile, they yearn and somehow wish to be back with the old gang in the muddy old places; and back they go as soon as they get the chance. And in the summer and spring time, when nature starts to smile, the country all about dawns the vivid hue of red, for poppies spring up and you find them everywhere, and the golden-throated larks sweeten the air with notes of hope and love and life, and the sun, casting its warm rays upon watchful, waiting men, finds them ready and eger and smiling.
France! Epics have been chanted anent her soul. Some there may be who have not recognized what she is; but I doubt you will find sceptic among her Allies. The children smile and greet you as you pass by, and they reach right out and grab you by the hand with trust a-sparkling from their laughing eyes --- and their fathers have fallen for France. And the young mother greets you with a merry [Bon Jour] --- and her husband sleeps 'neath the shadows of Verdun. And the white haired old grandmere raises her tired head and beams upon you a welcome - and her sons have heard the last call. That is France. They suffer, yet they do not complain; they sorrow, yet they smile. In the thickest of the most stubborn battle, when it is hand to hand --- bayonet and hand grenade, fists and feet --- ever the smiling blue clad poilus go right ahead, knowing that it is for France.
I have been in Paris several times, and each visit conditions were different. My first trip there, last January, found the visiting Goths dropping death-dealing bomb calling cards. On my next journey, "Big Bertha" was sending in her futile shells, trying to lower the morale of the Parisians. And on my last trip, several weeks ago, Paris was resplendent and her beautiful parks and buildings and art works never brighter seen; for had not the Germans been driven back from the Marne, as once before, and had they not, in their wild retreat, taken "Big Bertha" with them? But in all my trips to Paris, I always noticed that the spirit of the French remained high, and they did not become discouraged. Always do the French show their sunny side, and the sacrifices they have made --- and well, 'tis known that they have been great --- are made freely, because it is for France.
The morale of the Yanks is ace-high, and there fighting spirit and deeds the same. You might say, or compare, the present struggle to a battle between two giants, and they both have become weakened by the struggle, when all of a sudden, one of them gets a new lease on his wind and discovers he has strength for a new punch which shall topple over his antagonist. And we Yanks are the punch.
The various organizations that follow an army are doing great work over here for the soldiers. The Red Cross, of course, comes first, and is the most beloved by the men, for everywhere you will find their valiant workers; the next love of the soldier boy, I believe, goes to the Salvation Army group. Although not so numerous as the others, yet the lassies go through all sorts of hardships in order to hand the doughboys a slice of pie or a couple of donuts. And if pie and donuts are not gifts of the gods, I crave information as to what is. The YMCA and the Knights of Columbus are certainly doing wonderful work to cheer and provide comfort to the men, and their efforts are greatly appreciated. By the variety of their offerings spice is added to what otherwise might prove dull days.
How's business in war time? Good, I trust. Yet I imagine help is getting scarce in the art preservative of all arts, with the new draft age coming in, but the sooner we finish up the proposition of whipping the Boche, just that much sooner will the drama be over, and when, 'tis over, I'm going to lay me down beneath some shady nook and sleep and sleep some more; and I'll hire an orderly to wake me up every eight or ten hours so that I can turn over, tell him to go to hell, and drop back to sleep again.
And, 'tis over a year or two since I've linotyped; guess I'll try something else after the war; can you think of any way to bring the high cost of living down to the financial status of a galoot who wishes to browse on the scale of the elite, but who does not wish to pick up a shovel his way up?
How's all mine olden friends of days gone by? Have the fair ones all married and forgotten? All, me, the days of golden youth! And only yesterday I noticed the gray hairs sprouting from where the blond ones used to grow.
Looks like the rainy season has started in for another siege; hope not, but if the rain is to be, well, rain is our choice.
And with my regards and respects to all and wishing health, happiness and prosperity to attend you, I remain, a friendly fellow.
American Expeditionary Forces