Cedar Rapids, Iowa 5/17/1919

Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, May 17, 1919

Dear Mother and Father:

I am now just an ordinary citizen again. We got our discharges yesterday and I went to Des Moines last night and came down to Cedar Rapids this morning. I have been busy seeing everybody I know and I have so many invitations that I would have to stay several days if I tried to fill them all. Everyone has been fine to me and it seems good to be back among old friends again. The college Spring Festival is to be about the 24th and I wish I were going to be here to see my many friends in the Minneapolis Orchestra. Stephens is going to play a solo on one of the orchestra programs.

The town looks just the same as ever. There is hardly anything new. The YMCA has built a new building and that is about all there is. The college has been growing right along and now that so many of the boys are back there should be still more next year.

Doc Crawford is as big as ever and his two little boys have grown a lot since I left. They have a nice little house, very nicely furnished and seem as happy as can be. The Walkers are taking me to the Country Club for dinner tomorrow (Sunday) and in the evening I have supper with the Crawfords. Tonight I have supper with the Stephens. I don’t know just when I will leave here but I think it will be Monday morning some time so I will get home in the afternoon or early evening.

Cedar Rapids has been very prosperous this last year or two but now things have slumped a bit. The cereal mills are not getting the big army contracts and have shut down almost entirely for a while. Most of the soldiers from here have come back but I don’t know whether there are many of them out of work or not. There has been lost of work and lots of money here but when the mills slow down it affects everything.

I shall be so happy to get home again. I can hardly realize that I am a free man and probably won’t until I get these clothes off. I enquired all over for the shoes but they had not come so I didn’t wait. I got a new pair of shoes issued but they are rough field shoes that I don’t like to wear around to nice places.

Well, look for me home Monday afternoon or evening. That isn’t very far off but it is long enough.

Love from

Joe

© Copyright 2014 by Alice Kitchin Enichen, All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Somewhere Heading West, Early May 1919

Dear Mother and Father:

I am sorry I couldn’t let you know when or where to meet me but I couldn’t get any information myself. By the time you get this I will be in Camp Dodge, we will get there about eight in the morning. We probably will not be there more than three or four days so counting a couple of days for a stop in Cedar Rapids I ought to be home in a week. We left Boston on Monday at 2:30 so we have made good time.

Love from

Joe

© Copyright 2014 by Alice Kitchin Enichen, All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Camp Devens, Mass. 4/29/1919

Barracks & Troops - 1917

Camp Devens, Mass., April 29, 1919

Dear Mother and Father:

You probably got the Salvation Army telegram yesterday afternoon. I had intended wiring to you but when we got off the boat the Salvation Army took our names and addresses of those we wanted notified and sent the messages.

We had a very fine trip across. We left Prum March 27th and got to Brest April 1st. We found the camp at Brest much different from what it was when we went through a year ago. At that time there was nothing there but some old stone barracks that were built in Napoleon’s time. Today there is a camp of tents and wooden barracks about two miles long. There may have been a lot of criticism of the camp while it was being constructed but no fault could be found with it now. I don’t believe there is a camp better kept up or better organized anywhere. We had iron beds, springs and mattresses and plenty of blankets. The food was good. There was entertainment of all sorts at the various YMCA, K of C and Salvation Army tents in the camp.

We left Brest the 17th of April on the SS Breton, a German passenger vessel which has just been taken over. It is an old slow boat but not made to carry so many thousand troops as the regular transports are. We sergeants had second class cabins which were a treat to us. We had our own dining room and mess so we felt that we were traveling in style. About 2200 men were on the boat altogether. There were several French brides going over to their husbands and YMCA women going back home.

We had very fine weather all through the eleven days. There was hardly a real wave on the ocean the whole time. I don’t know of anyone who was seasick. The trip was very long and tiresome, partly because we were so anxious to get back.

We landed yesterday morning about ten-thirty. Trains were down at the docks and we got right on and were brought out here. The camp is about thirty-five miles from Boston. I am going to try to get in to see Boston if I can. We have no idea of what is going to be done with us or how long we will be here. We suppose, though, that the company will be broken up and the men sent to the camps nearest the point of their enlistment. I am elated to go to Camp Dodge, at Des Moines, Iowa. I want to stop in Cedar Rapids a day or two on my way home. I want to look after the car and the money I have invested there and also find out what the college is expecting me to do.

It is good to be back again, so far we have not seen many civilians. We saw nothing of Boston and passed through just a few small towns on our way out here. When we got into the harbor all the boats blew their whistles and kept them going for about five minutes. Then a boat came out with a band and a lot of Bostonians on it. The band played and the boat circled around our ship. At the dock the Red Cross served us coffee and rolls, the YMCA gave us candy and postal cards, the K of C gave us cigarettes and the Jewish Welfare Board gave us handkerchiefs. I needed that more than the others as I have had a bad cold for a couple of weeks. The thing we appreciated most of all was the sending of the telegrams by the Salvation Army.

This is a miserable camp. I never saw such a dirty place and I can’t understand it. It doesn’t look as if the army over here is as strict as we have been used to on the other side.

I hope that there will not be any delay in our getting discharged. The time seems so long when we have nothing to do but wait to go home.

Several thousand 26th Division men are here now. Their homes are in New England and they are being discharged here. A good many of them are from Boston and other towns near here and their friends and relatives come out to see them.

Will write again tomorrow or sooner if we get any news.

Love from

Joe

© Copyright 2014 by Alice Kitchin Enichen, All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Camp Devens, Mass. 4/28/1919

Barracks & Troops - 1917

Camp Devens, Mass., April 28, 1919

Dear Mother and Father:

By now you will have received a telegram telling of my arrival at Boston. Just now we are on the train bound for Camp Devens, about 50 miles from Boston. I expect that we will be kept there only a few days as most of our company are to be mustered out at Camp Dodge, Iowa. It seems very likely that I will be home within a couple of weeks. Will write a letter as soon as I get to camp and get settled.

Love from

Joe

© Copyright 2014 by Alice Kitchin Enichen, All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Soldier’s Mail for April, 1918-1919

April, 1918: Toul (Boucq) Sector

St_Mihiel_map

St. Mihiel Salient (Click to Enlarge)

The La Reine (Boucq) Sector (also known as the Toul Sector) was the southeastern aspect of the St. Mihiel salient which was a bulge in the Allied lines remaining from the original German advance in 1914. This salient continued to threaten Verdun and Toul along with the entire right side of the Allied front (See detailed maps of this salient in the “Map Room”). The principle feature of the terrain in this sector was a ridge east to west from Flirey to Apremont with a highway running along it. The front line was anchored on the towns of Seicheprey and Xivray-et-Marvoisin, continuing into Bois Brule where it linked up with lines held by the French. The Germans had the tactical advantage of both observation and attack as the Allied front could be penetrated through several shallow ravines. In addition, the Allied trenches were in very poor condition and had drainage problems. The entire length of the La Reine Sector front was 18 kilometers and this was the first time an entire sector was completely entrusted to an American division.

On March 28, 1918 the 26th Division’s infantry was hastily moved into the sector while a German gas bombardment was in progress. The two necessities of life throughout the sector were to maintain cover during daylight hours and to encode communications with extreme care. On April 12, men of the 103rd Infantry were sent into the left side of the line at Bois Brule near Apremont and St. Agnant to reinforce the 104th Infantry which had been under heavy artillery and infantry attack since April 5. Throughout the afternoon and evening of April 12, the 103rd was engaged in small unit close combat with German infantry in a tangle of earthworks, wire and underbrush. The enemy was finally driven back from the American positions.

On April 20, following a 90-minute pre-dawn gas bombardment and taking advantage of a heavy fog, a German force of about 1800 troops assaulted positions held by the 102nd Infantry at Seicheprey. It was during this action that Stubby (refer to the page “Stubby, 26th Division Mascot”) was wounded by a grenade fragment. At the same time, throughout the day the Germans fired over 21,600 gas shells, 4,200 high explosive shells and 6,000 trench mortar shells into the American lines from Xivray to Bois de Remieres. This bombardment destroyed all communications in the sector, smashed American artillery liason and caused the infantry units to lose all track of each other.

Read about the Toul (Boucq) Sector here. See original film of the steam disinfection process for uniforms here. Also, read Sam’s April correspondence from the Toul Sector as he continues to live under fire in the trenches.

April, 1919: After the Armistice

On March 28, 1919 Private First Class Sam Avery made passage from Brest, France back to the United States with 7,200 other officers and men of the 101st and 103rd Regiments aboard the U.S. Navy’s troop transport USS America (ID-3006), returning to Boston on April 6 after a speedy 9-day voyage without the threat of U-boats. After arriving in Boston, Sam traveled 3 hours by train to Camp Devens in Ayer, Mass. where he was billeted with the rest of the 26th Division pending discharge from service. Following a Division Review by the New England Governors at Camp Devens on April 22 and a grand Divisional Parade in Boston on April 25, the officers and men of the 26th Division received their discharges on April 28-30, 1919. Approximately only 57% of the officers and men who originally went overseas with the 26th “Yankee” Division returned home with it.

Read about life After the Armistice here. Read about the Grand Divisional Parade in Boston here. See original film of American troops sailing from Brest for home here.

The Soldier’s Mail correspondence is published here according to the sequence in which it was written. Therefore, letters are organized in “reverse order” with the most recent at the top. To read them chronologically, readers should start at the bottom and work upwards.

Tours, France 3/30/1919

Tours

Tours, March 30, 1919

Dear Mother and Father:

We are here at Tours, France for a couple of hours on our way to Brest and expect to be there tomorrow. Don’t know how long we will be held there. We hope to be back in the U.S. during April. Have been traveling four days and we are pretty tired. Weather is cold and wet but we don’t mind little things like that when we are on our way home.

Love from

Joe

© Copyright 2014 by Alice Kitchin Enichen, All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Soldier’s Mail for March 1918-1919

March, 1918: Chemin des Dames Sector and Marching to Reynel

The 26th “Yankee” Division remained on the Aisne front in the Chemin des Dames sector until mid-March, 1918. Following its relief, the main element of the 26th Division marched to Soissons where it came under severe concentrations of long-range artillery fire while boarding trains to Bar-sur-Aube. On March 21 the entire Division began a four-day march Eastward from Bar-sur-Aube at a pace of about 20 miles per day, passing thorugh Doulevant-le-Chateau, Soulaines, Andelot, Vignon and Joinville-sur-Marne.

The Division arrived in the area of Reynel, where it remained for two days before continuing on to the Toul Sector where it relieved the American First Division. Troops billeted in villages around Reynel and Grand with Division HQ established at Reynel on March 26. Then began a period of internal transition in leadership as numerous officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) were taken from the ranks and returned to the United States as instructors. A large number of replacement officers were received who needed to acclimate to combat conditions.

Read about the Chemin des Dames Sector here, and the March to Reynel here. See original film of the 26th Division in the Chemin des Dames here. Also, read Sam’s March correspondence from the Chemin des Dames as he continues to live under fire in the trenches.

March, 1919: After the Armistice

In March, 1919 the 26th Division remained in the vicinity of the embarkation area near Le Mans, with the 103rd Regimental HQ located at Laigne. In late March, the Division proceeded to Pontanezen Camp at Brest, where the men boarded troop transports and finally sailed for home. On March 28, 1919 Private First Class Sam Avery made passage from Brest, France back to the United States with 7,200 other officers and men of the 101st and 103rd Regiments aboard the U.S. Navy’s troop transport USS America (ID-3006), returning to Boston on April 6 after a speedy 9-day voyage without the threat of U-boats.

Read about life After the Armistice here. Read Sam’s March correspondence from Laigne, France here. See original film of American troops sailing from Brest for home here.

The Soldier’s Mail correspondence is published here according to the sequence in which it was written. Therefore, letters are organized in “reverse order” with the most recent at the top. To read them chronologically, readers should start at the bottom and work upwards.

Soldier’s Mail for February, 1918-1919

ObservationPost

“Observation Post” by William Barnes Wollen

February, 1918: Chemin des Dames Sector

By early February, 1918 the 26th “Yankee” Division had taken up front line positions reinforcing the depleted XI Corps of the French 6th Army on the Chemin des Dames front, north of Soissons and the Aisne River. The Chemin des Dames had been fought over since the beginning of the war and the rocky, wooded terrain favored the German defensive line. In addition, the Germans enjoyed almost total air superiority in this sector and frequently flew low over the roads and trenches to strafe them with machine gun bullets.

The 12 battalions of the “Yankee” Division were spread across a front of 30 kilometers. The 103rd Infantry held the front line between the ruined towns of Chavignon and Pinon. Regimental HQ was at Vaudesson with a support battalion located at St. Blaise Quarry/Nanteuil and a reserve battalion at Vregny.

As individual companies took over the French positions (by platoons of 20-40 men supported by 2 or more machine guns) in shallow, knee-deep trenches along the northern edge of the Chemin des Dames plateau,  the balance of their battalions remained sheltered in reserve inside limestone quarries and caves along the edge of the ridge. The entire terrain was covered with shell craters and sections of abandoned trenches from past engagements. The outposts were occupied by men whose mission was “warning and sacrifice:” If attacked, they were to fight to the last man and resist capture, which would buy time for the main line of resistance to make ready. No reinforcements would be coming.

Read about the Chemin des Dames Sector here. See original film of the 26th Division in the Chemin des Dames here. Also, read Sam’s February correspondence from the Chemin des Dames as he adjusts to life under fire in the trenches.

February, 1919: After the Armistice

In early February, 1919 the 26th Division had arrived in the vicinity of the embarkation area near Le Mans. Division HQ was opened at Ecommoy on February 4 with the 103rd Regimental HQ located at Laigne.

Read about life After the Armistice here. Read Sam’s February correspondence from Laigne, France here as he continues to struggle with the boredom of waiting and the concern that AEF combat divisions have not yet returned home and may instead be redeployed to Russia.

The Soldier’s Mail correspondence is published here according to the sequence in which it was written. Therefore, letters are organized in “reverse order” with the most recent at the top. To read them chronologically, readers should start at the bottom and work upwards.

Prum, Germany 1/26/1919

Prum

Prum, January 26, 1919

Dear Mother and Father:

I have received quite a little mail this week, our mail now having been a little more generous than usual. It still comes all mixed up. On one delivery I will get letters mailed a month or more apart. There is no way to solve those mysteries. Perhaps it is that some come by way of England and therefore take longer to get here. I told you of my receiving a letter from Joe Wright and a day or so I had one from Mrs. Hannah. I have also had a couple of letters from Mother, two from Father, two from Gladys, one from Miss Phipps and one from the Walkers in Cedar Rapids. I like to get lots of mail and I shall be able to do more writing myself now that I have some time to myself. I have made out a sort of schedule of letters to be written during the next couple of weeks and if I follow it out closely I ought to be about square with everybody by then.

There is nothing of interest going on here. The operating room is not very busy. We hardly ever have more than two operations a day and often not that many. There are four of us on duty here and when there isn’t much to do we take turns being off duty. At present I am making use of a little vacant room in the building to practice in but I am afraid that it is going to be used pretty soon and then I won’t have any place to go. The room where I am billeted has no light or heat and it is getting too cold to practice there. I am trying to get a better room but haven’t managed it yet.

We are still living in blind hopes of going home some time. There are always plenty of rumors of “inside dope” floating around but there are no real indications of our leaving very soon. We are all ready to go home. Some of the nurses want to stay but they are the only ones I know of. They get $70 a month and don’t have any expense so they don’t have anything to lose by staying over here. Their work is easy now and there are privates in the wards who do all the unpleasant work so they have it pretty nice.

I am sorry to hear of Mr. Rimpler’s death. I suppose the flu got him. He always seemed to be in good health. I am surprised at the news concerning Mr. Richardson. I hope he recovers but the newspapers didn’t say anything about his condition. He is a peculiar fellow so nervous and impulsive. I doubt whether the Miss Murdock incident had anything to do with him.

The package of handkerchiefs and Gladys’ picture has not come and the strings have never gotten here. I don’t know whether those things are allowed to be sent to us. Perhaps they never got started on the trip.

Love from

Joe

© Copyright 2014 by Alice Kitchin Enichen, All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Prum, Germany 1/16/1919

Prum

Prum, January 16, 1919

Dear Mother and Father:

I missed writing to you last Sunday because I was away. On Thursday I heard that one of our ambulances was going into Coblenz to get some new parts or repairs so I asked permission to go in which was granted. We left Friday morning about eight o’clock. The country around here is very hilly and we went up and down pretty much until we got to Cochen on the Mosel and then we went right along the Mosel River for about thirty miles into Coblenz. About ten o’clock the sun came out and we had a very nice day for the trip. The country around here is very beautiful, there are so many hills and little woods. In the summer time it must be much prettier than it is now. The trip along the Mosel was fine. Just now all the rivers are very high owing to the unusually warm and rainy winter. We have had snow only two or three times and then just enough to show a little white on the ground. Christmas we had an inch or so which was the most we have had.

The ambulance came back from Coblenz Saturday morning but my pass was good until Monday so I stayed over. Uncle August lives in Metternich which is a suburb of Coblenz so the first thing I did was to look him up. He lives about fifteen minutes ride on the street car from the center of town. I didn’t have his address so I had to enquire and nobody seemed to know much about him or his whereabouts. Finally we found the mailman and he told me where to find him. He was surprised but very glad to see me. I had told him that I would try to visit him but would write him before hand but this time I couldn’t do it as I didn’t know that I could go until the night before. His wife was in town when I got there, the first time she has gone out, he says, in the year or more they have lived there. She came back soon and seemed a little embarrassed to have company come so unexpected, especially when there is so little food to be had and people don’t have much extra in the house. They were very nice indeed and killed the fatted calf for me but of course he isn’t so fat now as he used to be.

My aunt made potato and other kinds of pancakes and a couple of kinds of coffee cake and I enjoyed those things more than meat and the other things we have plenty of but the Germans don’t have. She is a very good cook and everything she made tasted good to me. Saturday was the day that meat was given out so they went to the butcher shop to get their weekly allowance of a quarter of a pound for each person. They told the butcher that their American nephew was visiting and they would like a little extra so he let them have about a pound and a half altogether.

None of the children were home. One son, I think, is still in the army and the other is in business in Dusseldorf. The daughter is married and lives somewhere quite a ways off. Uncle August has the little girl from one of the sons, the one that is still in the army. The mother is working and has three other children so the Bickels are keeping this one. She is six years old and they have had her over four years, ever since the war began.

They have a very nice little house there in Metternich. It is not very fancy or elaborate but it is kept up very nicely. There is a little bit of ground around it on which are fruit trees and currant bushes. This last summer they made enough from the fruit and currants they sold to pay their years rent. They have a little garden and a few chickens so they have a little food supply of their own in addition to what they can get elsewhere. They are right on the edge of the city so they can go to the farmers and get things and of course they can afford to pay whatever the price is. They are pretty comfortably fixed, financially and have property in several places. Things are very uncertain in Germany now and nobody knows just where he stands. With the riots and revolutions Germany is about as badly off as Russia.

I bought a little new music in Coblenz so I have some things to work on. Miss Schwarz also borrowed some music from her teacher so we are busy practicing on those.

The town of Coblenz has been almost completely taken over by the Americans. Their government buildings are used for our army headquarters, the hotels are taken for our officers and men. The big Fest Halle is run by the YMCA and they have concerts, movies, boxing or dancing every night of the week. We are allowed to go there on one day passes and the town is just filled with our men. They get along well with the Germans wherever they go and the people are very glad that they have them instead of the French or English.

I got a few films in Coblenz to fit my camera so I may be able to get a shot or two now but it is so rainy and dark that it is impossible to do very much. The German films are much slower than the American and don’t work as well with our cheap lenses. I took a couple of the Bickel family which I have not had developed yet.

I have lost my home here for a few days. The mother of the two milliners died this morning and as there will be other children coming here for the funeral they will need all their rooms. I have a little room in the hospital where I practice and I can fix up a bed in there for awhile.

My Christmas package came a week or so ago. It didn’t get here on schedule time but perhaps it is just as well as we had so much cake and candy around Christmas time that it was enjoyed all the more for coming at a time when there wasn’t so much sweet stuff around. The cake was in perfectly good condition and was mighty fine cake. There wasn’t enough to pass it around so I ate it all myself. It makes one feel a bit queer to eat something made in his own kitchen at home and by loving hands.

The razor blades will afford me a good deal of comfort. I haven’t been able to get any Gen blades over here at all. Toilet things are pretty scarce. A while ago I thought I wasn’t ever going to get anything to brush my teeth with but I have bought some paste here in Germany and one day the YMCA had some French paste that was a little better so I laid in a little. We can’t buy soap but there is always plenty around the hospital and those of us that work here can easily get some when we need it.

I have two American dollars to put in the billfold Gladys sent me. All the rest of my money is French and German and doesn’t fit. I have a pocket book which fits the European money. All the money over here is paper. There are paper bills as low as twenty-five pfennigs and for smaller change we use postage stamps.

I shall write to Mrs. Roberts and Mrs. Ballam and thank them for the candy. The other things haven’t come yet and I haven’t yet received the strings. -I am afraid that they are lost by this time. I couldn’t get any good strings in Coblenz and I am just about out, and especially need As and Gs. I am sure that if a couple were sent in a letter, so they wouldn’t bulge out too much, that they would get here.

I have had a couple of surprises this week. A couple of nights ago the man in charge of the mail said there was a Christmas package for me. I looked it over and couldn’t recognize the handwriting and finally I found the address in the corner. It was from Mrs. Hannah, in Altrincham, England. I am not sure of the names of all my English relatives but I think she must be my Aunt Sarah Ann. I remember hearing of Bob Hannah but I am not certain which aunt it is that married him. I shall acknowledge the package and say “Dear Aunt” without mentioning any names so I won’t make any bad blunders. The box contained half a dozen little mince pies or tarts as we call them and some almonds. Today I had a letter from my cousin Joe Wright who is a sergeant in Royal Engineers in France. If I remember right he is a brother to Isabella and is a couple of years younger than I.

There is just a little possibility of my going to Coblenz to do a little playing for the YMCA. I don’t know whether anything will come of it or not so I am not laying any plans. I am having a good time here and don’t care very much. Last night I had a fine supper of roast chicken, brussels sprouts, potatoes, apples and other things.

I am playing quite a little and have some time to practice so I am pretty well satisfied here except that I am so sick of the hospital and operating room work. It just seems like filling in the time until we go home and it looks as though that would not be for some time.

Love from

Joe

© Copyright 2014 by Alice Kitchin Enichen, All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

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