My grandfather, Caudle Adkins, Sr., served in the U.S. Army in France during World War I. My brother and I often wondered what it must have been like for him, a country boy who had never been out of the hills of Lincoln County, West Virginia, to be transported across the Atlantic to fight the dreaded Huns of Kaiser Wilhelm in "The War To End All Wars". I am a fan of the old Gary Cooper movie about Sgt. Alvin York. Bruce and I have often wondered aloud if our Papaw wasn't a lot like the boy from the mountains of east Tennessee, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery in battle.
Surely their rural backgrounds were very similar. I can only imagine what it must have been like for them to walk away from their homes and families to answer the call of their nation. Their orders came from General "Black Jack" Pershing, whom after liberating Paris from the German forces, repaid our nations 147 year old debt to France for their assistance to us in our war of independence against England, by placing a wreath on the grave of an old French ally with the words, "Lafayette, we are here!"
My grandfather died in 1959 just before my ninth birthday. I remember him well, but he rarely spoke of the horrors he had seen during the great conflict. Perhaps he felt a child didn't need to hear that stuff, or perhaps he just didn't want to relive the experiences again. His death in the Huntington, WV VA Medical Center came from Lung Cancer. One can only assume that his experience of being gassed by the German Army in the Argonne Forest was a contributing factor to the malignancy.
I have always been facinated by the World War I soldiers. When I was a kid in the 50's they were the "old men" in the neighborhood. The retired guys. The grandfathers. Now, as I rapidly approach the age of my Grandfather at his passing, it is sad to realize that there are no more WWI veterans alive in the world today. They are ALL gone. Time marches on.
In memory of these men, and in honor of Veterans Day holiday, I thought I would pass along some lines from letters, which I recently found on some obscure website, written home by lonely, homesick (and perhaps frightened) Doughboys during the Great War.
Food for thought and reflection, indeed:
"I am in a Motor Truck Co. in the Army and I expect to be up north soon, as we
have everything ready to leave at a moments notice."
"...takes 2 pieces
buttoned together to make a tent, your rifle being the front pole and your
bayonet the rear."
"...this war is flooded with human
"...lots of ridges around here...you always want to see what's
beyond it...may be a Tommy, may a general...may be living, he may be
"And for my return, I pull no hero stuff...I never sleep in
dugouts, I am never bombed or shelled, I don't even stand a chance of starving
"...got into some action...doing bridge reconnaissance...we
were ahead of the front lines and I had some narrow escapes."
moved up the trenches about 12 days ago..."
"We are in the 1st Army and
that means we will go to Germany..."
"It is a mystery to me how the
Tommies get so drunk on such weak beer."
"If you go far enough, and in
the right direction, you will find trees that aren't shelled or cut down and
"...I may get around to sending you some souveniers...some
high explosives...or a few aircraft searchlight beams."
"...was so damned
interested in the war ending that I am just writing now...I dont think the
French Army will sober up for a month."
"...I buckprivated into the
ambassadors 4th of July Reception in Paris...bowed to the Colonels, shook the
hands of diplomats and chatted with a countess..."
"...you asked if my
hand was off. No, but I can't write very much. I was shot through the left wrist
and it almost tore it off but will get better maybe
"The last time I saw him he was going over the top. I
don't know if he got wounded or not."
"Russell is in some hospital shot
in his left leg just above his ankle, it is not very bad but he will be laid up
for a couple of months. I am in another hospital, almost blind from a gas
attack from the Boche but I will be o.k."
"...am sorry to say taht he is
in the hospital again. He just got out before in time to go in the battle at
Soissons, and while there a piece of shrapnel hit him in the arm and the
rumor is that they had to take it off.."
"If you can send me some candy or
cigarettes, I would certainly appreciate and thank you very much for it is
almost impossible to get either here."