James O. Williams, Co. D  37th Engineers

By Scott K. Williams, Florissant, Mo.

   James Oliver "Ollie" Williams, grandfather of author, was born May 10, 1888 in Christian County, Missouri, the son of David Vance Williams and Martha Jane Luce. He was an electrician by trade.   Newly wed to Miss Lily Amelia Morris (d/o Frank Wesley Morris and Martha Amy Carter) on Nov. 29th 1917 in St. Louis, Mo. They made their home at 3735 Lucky Street in St. Louis. Ollie was the grandson of Joseph Mack Williams, a Civil War veteran of the 72nd Enrolled Missouri Militia. Employed as an electrican at Laclede Light and Power, located on Biddle Street on the City's north side. Due to poor health (from the city's coal burning), Ollie was forced to move "out to the country". They settled down on a farm in north St. Louis county, on Hudson Road (now city of Ferguson) and raised chickens.

Military service: Ollie enlisted on March 23, 1918. Initially assigned to Company E, 37th Engineers,   he was later transferred to D Company. The unit trained at Ft. Meyer, Virginia before going over seas.  In France, he participated in the battles of St. Mihiel offensive, Verdun Sector, and Meuse Argonne Offensive. He was discharged on April 5, 1919.  On one occasion, Ollie was in charge of German Prisoners of War. After securing some extra bread for the prisoners, the grateful POWs hand crafted a metal ring and gave it to him as a gift. 

During his time in France, one of his best buddies was Pvt. Norval Burnside*, also of Company D regularly forgot his gas mask before going out on patrol. Fortunately Ollie never forgot to bring it along for his friend. On one occasion when Williams had taken ill, Burnside went out alone and as usually he forgot his gas mask. This was in Oct. 1918, during the Argonne Offensive and there was a German gas attack. Burnside became ill from the toxic effects of the gas, but fortunately survived.  

*[Norval Burnside, born March 27, 1894 in St. Louis, Mo. was the son of James Burnside (a Scottish immigrant and veteran of the Union Army-fought at the Battle of Wilson's Creek).  He was by trade an "Oiler", married (wife's name Matura ____) and resided at 125 Horn Ave. in St. Louis. He had enlisted in the 37th Engineers on March 14, 1918. He saw action at St. Mihiel, Verdun, and the Meuse-Argonne.]

Letter of Pvt. James O. Williams 

(Letter written on paper with a U.S. flag in the upper left, words, "With the Colors" at top center and the YMCA emblem in the upper right). Envelope addressed  to my grandmother, Mrs. Lily Williams, 3735 Lucky St., St. Louis, Mo. USA)

Souilly, France, Nov. 24, 1918 

My Dear Sweet Little Wife,

     Well today is Sunday and I am just fine and dandy and just as happy as can be.  I received your letter of Oct. 27th a few minutes ago and the one with the chewing gum, it is fine. I also got a letter from Father and Aunt Harriet. Well dear today is fahter's birthday.  I have just written him. 

Well Sweetheart I am going to tell you right where I am and what I am doing. I am about 1 mile north of Souilly. Have been here five weeks. We built power house, machine shop, carpenter shop and warehouses and regular barricks to live in.  I am now working in the tool room. I like it fine.  I am attached to regimental headquaters at present.  I am in the First Army.  I left the Company at Douie.  That town is about 5 miles from Verdun on the road to St. Mehiel.  The company is now at Bellkeep--that is right near Verdun--there is lots of very interesting things to see.  During the St. Mehiel drive I was on water service.  All had to do was to keep pumping water to the dough boys and operate small elect.-light plants. I was at Ambly the time I wrote you telling you about my friends (the cooties).  I hiked to that town on a Sunday morning with a full pack and believe me it was full to every step I took.  I thought of that funny picture that you sent me of that rucky going up that hill.  That picture I sent you was taken at St. Gazer.  I never will forget the short stay in that town.  The whole company was given freedom to a French camp. The boys sure had a time if I ever get in a big town again I will have picture taken again.

     I was over to Souilly got you some cards.  That is about all they have there, you see there isn't any stores out here in these towns.  

     Well dear I supose you would like to known when I arrived over here.  Well, I rode the Marratana across the Atlantic, left New York harbor on the 30th of June, was out in the center of the ocean on the 4th of July.  It was the greatest 4th I ever spent.  Not even a firecracker to shoot.  I arrived at Liverpool on the 7th, ankered and stayed on board all night and planted my feet on land on the 8th that night.  I mailed you the letter that King George written to me and then marched about 6 or 8 blocks, got on a train and traveled all night arrived at South Hampton the next morning.  Marched out to a rest camp--rested for about 3 hours, returned and loaded on a boat and  crossed the channel that night.  That was another night that I will never forget--the next day firmly lnaded in France--the place is Sherburg. Hiked to another rest camp.  Stayed 2 days and then started on that long trail that goes winding through France.  Traveled by railroad for about 4 days and finally landed at Camp Williams that is about 1/2 mile from Is-Sur-Till and there I worked for about 6 weeks.  That was about 90 miles from the front.  Didn;t here any guns at all and at last it came time to go up in active service.  Douie was our headquarters until after the St. Mehile drive, moved to St. Mihile, stayed a short time and then back to Douie.  These towns have all been shot to pieces.  I am going to get some post cards and send you especially the towns that I have been in.

I am expecting to join my company again next week.  Well Sweet heart, I sure praise God for answering our prayers, he has not only answered ours but millions of others.  Hearts have been filled with joy.  Well honey I am in hope of being home with you in a few months now.  Well Sweet heart I will quit for this time. Tell Daddy, Mother and Grandma I send my best wishes.  Tell Mary I send Hell-o.

I hope that St. Louis hasn't any more cases of the Flue--we don't have that decease over here.  If there is I don't know of it.  By By for this time. May God bless you my dear.  I remain as ever yours forever true husband as long as there is life.  Here is a couple of kisses xxx.

Pvt. James O. Willliams, Co D 37th Engineers, A.E.F.  France