Letters from Oregon Boys in France
Compiled by Mrs. Frank Wilmot 1918
Somewhere in France, July 23, 1918
Dear Father and Mother:
I have just finished sewing on my first service stripe, the meaning of which, as you probably know, is six months in foreign service. That number "23" still clings to the Twenty-third Engineers, and is a regular epoch marker. We left the States on the 23rd of the month, arrived on this front on the 23rd day, and it is marking an event [of which I cannot speak] that will affect this company more than anything that has yet taken place.
We had a real thriller today, and from a spectacular point of view it would equal any sight on any front. Just as we were eating dinner, a German plane swooped down from out of the clouds and attacked and set fire to one of our observation balloons. It was just a few hundred yards from our camp, and I will say it was some sight to see the two observers dive out of the basket and drop to the ground. They are all equipped with automatic parachutes. They left their baskets none too soon either, for a balloon goes up in flames like powder flash. Three minutes later the same thing happened to another of our balloons. It was also in plain sight; and inside of ten minutes a third one of our balloons was down. The last one, however, was not visible from our camp. One of the planes paid the price, for it fell just inside our lines, brought down by shell fire from our anti-aircraft guns.
For the past week our company has been off working details, and have been drilling today. We had a competitive drill among the platoons of our camp. Each company is composed of five platoons; 50 men in each platoon. The platoon I belong to took first prize, and as a reward, we are given a pass, and the afternoon off.
We had a visit from two American girls last week. They are traveling under the auspices of Y.W.C.A., and giving entertainments. One of them, Miss Neisa McMein, is an artist; draws front page covers for the Saturday Evening Post and McClure's magazine. Her signature or trade-mark looks a lot like this: "AAEIN-18." The other, Miss Buly, was a newspaper reporter. Their entertainment given at the "Y," while good, was the minor part of their visit. It consisted of jokes, chats on life and conditions in the States relative to the food and work, as they are at present, and the part the American girls was taking in this war; also sketches by Miss McMein, and a comic moving picture of a rhinocerous made from the sketches of the above mentioned artist.
The best part of the program was the visit they made us before and after the performance in the "Y." They came just before supper. One of them borrowed a mess kit from the boys, and got in the mess line. The cook gave her a few extras of the officers' mess, but when she came outside and found out the difference she went back and demanded the same as we had, also got it. We haven't any tables or chairs, so she sat on the ground with the boys, and was one of us. The other girl ate with the officers, but when supper was over she came and joined her friend and for the remainder of the evening her time was ours. I bet they never listened to such a line of "hot air" in all their lives as the boys handed out. They showed them all their souvenirs, including those found in an old grave - a grave so old that all traces of it had vanished, and was unearthed by us when we opened up a stone quarry. We also brought out the company's cat, with her week-old family of five kittens, and when a German plane flew over camp as we were finishing supper they let fly with some awful yarns about air battles.
After the entertainment in the "Y", the young ladies danced with us, making it a circle two-step, so as to make it impartial. Then we all went out into a little field close to camp from which star shells were bursting in "No Man's Land," and this could be plainly seen. There we finished the evening by singing about all the songs we ever knew. Some of them were new and identified with the war, and some of them old and reminiscent of the States and home.
In all, I think these young women were as well entertained as ourselves; but certainly we spent a very pleasant evening, and we were very glad of the personal reminder of home and our own American girls.
I want to say that from now on that I am pretty certain that our part in the war will be played to a livelier accompaniment than heretofore.
With love and best wishes, I am
Your loving son,
Company A, 23rd Engineers.