This page part of the Wallowa County AGHP Site

Letters Home From WWI


Herbert A. McGinnis

     From his station in the hospital service in France, 167 Field Hospital, 117 Sanitary Train, A.E.F., Herbert A. McGinnis, son of A.E. McGinnis of Powwatka, has written to home folks as follows: Well, I am up pretty close to the trenches now. Get to see an air battle every day or so. Am in range of big guns but so far none of them have molested me. We are in a French evacuation hospital where they wounded come in every day.
     This place was in the hands of the Huns at the beginning of the war. We are in a city of about (deleted) thousand and scattered here and there thru the town are houses that are all blown to thunder. In a little village right next to us one of the greatest battles of the war was fought. Nothing left of the town but stone piles and a few walls which were once buildings. This little village was taken and retaken seven times in one day.
     A person can walk along the road here and can see graves a plenty out in the cultivated fields. In one town I have been in is a cemetery with nothing but the bodies of soldiers in it. Say boy, this old war has taken away quite a few men and will take away a few more if that kaiser don't hoist the white flag P.D.Q.
     A wall here in town that I pass every day the Germans lined up about 150 of the inhabitants and shot them down when the first entered the city. From what I have heard and seen since my arrival here the things we read of German barbarism are true facts. A young lady here in town has her right leg cut off at the thigh which the Germans did as a punishment for something she did.
     They just brought in two American soldiers to the hospital. One of them is wounded in 13 different places by shrapnel. The other one has the top of his head nearly blown off. They were put on the operating table and operated on and they seem to be making it pretty good now.
     Don't know just how long we will be located here but I think we will be here or in the near vicinity for the duration of the war.
     You probably often wonder the same as I about when this war will end, but from what I've seen and heard I think just about one year from now, but the French all seem to think next (deleted) it will close.

Enterprise Record Chieftain
Thursday July 25, 1918


Herbert A. McGinnis

     After several months of service close to the fighting lines, Herbert McGinnis writes a realistic letter of his experience to his sister, Mrs. W.P. Ballard. His address is Herbert A. McGinnis, Field Hosp. 167 Sanitary Train 117, A.E.F.A.P.O. 715. His letter in full, dated August 11, as follows:
     Dear Sister: Yes, I have been somewhat slow in writing, but what time we have not been on the move, we have been pretty busy, so I just had to neglect my correspondence. Have had things pretty easy for the last week and now I think we are about due for a six weeks' rest. I have been in the advanced area since the middle of February and think we have a rest coming.
     I have seen more of war in the last month than ever before and have had the fun of dodging shells aplenty. You know on the 17th of July I was so busy hunting dugouts and trenches that I forgot all about it being my birthday. Now, that's the truth. I let my birthday slip by and never thought a thing about it till the 19th.
     The town where I am now was held by the Germans up till two days before I arrived. The way they left things shows that they had to leave in somewhat of a hurry. There is plenty of their ammunition scattered around. I have seen the large gun which was captured by our boys which is only a 15 minute walk from here. The placement for this gun looks like a turn table in a round house and a person could turn a locomotive on it.
     The Boches had everything around it fixed up fine; had large dugouts and deep trenches around it, all camouflaged up so that our aviators couldn't see it. I don't think they were expecting a drive here at all, but they sure got it.
     When we arrived in this town two weeks back there were no citizens at all. We were still in range of the German guns, but today the civilians are most all back to their homes and going after their harvesting just as if nothing had happened, and the guns are now so far from here that I can scarcely hear them. Some of the families, on coming back to their homes which they had lived in all their lives and whose grandfathers had built them, found nothing but stone piles.
     I saw one lady, on arriving home, going thru her home which had not been torn up so much, but which had been pillaged. She had a pretty hard time to keep from crying but on coming into one room she looked at a spot on the wall where once had probably been a picture and then she broke down and cried. It was not a very cheerful sight and as I was in the room at the time I think I came pretty near crying, myself.
     You women in the U.S. ought to be thankful that you don't have to go thru the hardships that some women go thru over here.
     Well, I suppose Cliff and Ben are both getting to be old veterans by now. Haven't heard from Cliff since he was called, but suppose he is getting along fine. As writing material is very scarce in this neck of the woods, I am going to have to close for now; will answer your letters more promptly after this if you do the same to me.

Enterprise Record Chieftain
Thursday, September 12, 1918

Odey B. McGinnis

     A member of D company, 4th Sect., Marine Barracks, Mare Island, California. O. D. McGinnis writes his sister, Mrs. W.P. Ballard:
     This leaves me feeling fine. I have been having a dreadful earache but went to the hospital and am well now. I really like the marine corps so far. I am 28 miles from Frisco and went over last Friday and staid until Sunday afternoon.
     While I was on the boat going over I ran onto the Smith boy who worked with Pat (WP. Ballard) last winter. He is a corporal here on this island and I also saw Joe McClaren at Frisco. He said Ray Johnson was here also and I am going down to the navy yards and see if I can't find him.
     I will tell you of what my day's work consists. Reveille goes at 6:30 a.m. We get up and run about a mile before breakfast, which is better known here as chow, and what an appetite we all have. Then we make up our bunks, scrub up good, then off for Swedish exercise. Now believe me, that is real exercise too. It makes a real man out of a guy.
      We have just one hour of that. Then we pull off our tennis shoes and get our rifles and drill until 11 o'clock. Then we have school on how to take our rifles apart and learn the different parts. Next is chow-we are always hungry of course. At 1:30 it is drill until 4 o'clock in the afternoon, after which we can do as we please. But of course we have odd jobs to do, such as washing, cleaning our rifles, et.
     This is a pretty healthy island. The bay lies all around us and the breeze that comes off it is sure healthy for a fellow.
     I don't know how much longer I will be here, but think I will go to Texas to get our range. Saturday we go to Oakland to drill on parade, I think. They are going to have a great blowort in honor of the marines.

Enterprise Record Chieftain
Thursday July 25, 1918


Lawrence Matheny Was Fireman On
Great Transport Torpedoed and Sunk.

     Lawrence Matheny, son of Joslyn G. Matheny of Imnaha, was a member of the crew of the American transport President Lincoln, which was torpedoed last week by a German submarine. It went down with 23 American sailors, but Lawrence apparently was saved. He was a second class fireman, and when on his watch worked deep down in the ship, 25 feet or so below the water line.
     At the time the President Lincoln was torpedoed, Lawrence was making his fifth round trip in her. She formerly was a great German liner, but was taken over by the American government and converted into a transport, and had carried thousands of soldiers overseas to fight the Huns.
     In last week's Record Chieftain appeared a long letter from Lawrence Matheny telling of
life on the transport. In printing this, of course, the name of the ship was omitted, in conformity with government censorship rules. The letter was written on his fourth trip, and is of intense interest now that the ship has gone to the bottom of the ocean. Any one who did not read the communication last week should turn to it now, to get a glimpse of life on the transport before she was attacked.
     In the letter, Lawrence made reference to the submarines which are particularly pertinent now. He wrote in one place:
     "You might be of the impression that because we are going back and forth thru the war zone, we are battling with subs every time but we aren't. We have never had any excitement at all in the line of subs. I don't believe this kaiser has half as much power over the water as he thinks he has, or maybe he is afraid of Uncle Sam's leaden pills which are made expressly for him."
     A few days later the ship had a submarine scare, and Lawrence wrote of it:
     "Tuesday, I had the 12 to 4 watch this afternoon and while we were down there they reported a submarine off our starboard bow. It was great, the way the boys took it. Some of the boats were shooting at it. Well, of course we speeded up to full speed, and there wasn't one of the boys got the least excited. They all jumped up and started to work at their fires and believe me we had to work for a while. Of course we all expected to feel a torpedo hit the ship at any minute, but nothing happened. So when we came up we found that it was nothing but a big shark. About a dozen darkies fainted and had to be carried to the sick bay."
     And so the previous voyages passed away, with the submarines always in the minds of every member of the crew, but with never a ripple of real danger until the fateful hour arrived when the torpedo went to its mark and the great ship was wrecked.

Enterprise Record Chieftain
Thursday June 6, 1918



     Lawrence Matheny Writes of Torpedoing of U.S. Transport President Lincoln
     A graphic account of the sinking of the transport President Lincoln has been written by Lawrence Matheny in a letter to his father, Joslyn Matheny of Imnaha. Lawrence was a second class fireman on the ship, but was not on duty at the time, it seems. His letter, written at an Atlantic seaport, June 4, follows:
     "Dear Dad: Well, 'old top,' I have arrived here all O.K. had quite a trip this time as I guess you have heard. We lost our ship but I got out all right side up with care.
     "When the ship was struck we were steaming along fine, not thinking anything about subs, when one torpedo struck forward and one aft. The one aft tore things up pretty bad but did not kill anyone, but the one forward killed two or three. Everybody did his part fine so not very many were lost. Only 27 were lost all together, and one of them was taken prisoner by the captain of the sub. The ship was only 27 minutes going down, so you know we had to work pretty fast to get all the boats and life rafts over the side.
     "After the ship had gone down the sub came up and sailed around among the boats and rafts but did not offer to fire on us, which we all feared. We were adrift for about 18 hours when we were picked up by two destroyers which were on their way to France and which got our distress signals.
     "Say, dad. It was surely some sensation to be floating around out there 500 or 600 miles from land and we were all wet all over, for when I went over the side I jumped, or tried to jump into the center of a raft. But there wasn't any bottom in it and so I went right on down. But when I came up there was a raft alongside which I got on but couldn't get away from the ship. I was afraid the suction would take me down, when the ship sank, but there was none at all.
     "The crew were all singing "Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here' when it went down. Everybody was in good spirits until the sub showed up but they all piped down when they saw it come up for it had two big guns on deck. I guess they were only about 3 inch guns, but they looked big enough for a man to drawl into. But the sub never offered to use them. The Germans could speak English just as well as I can. They asked us if we knew where the captain was, but we told them that he went down with the ship, which was not so, for he was in a boat close at the time. But he had taken off his uniform and put on an ordinary sailor's uniform, so they didn't know him. They got the first lieutenant.
     "You asked about the Red Cross. I don't think anybody ever tried to sell any of the sweaters or anything, for I got two last winter for nothing, but lost both of them on the ship. When we got back we all received a comfort kit which we needed bad, for we lost everything we had. But I guess we will get a new bag of clothes from the government. I had something over $100 worth of clothes, $6 in money, besides some souvenirs I bought in France.

Enterprise Record Chieftain
June 27, 1918


Letters Index

Return to Wallowa County

This site may be not be duplicated in any manner.
All rights reserved! Commercial use of material within this site is strictly prohibited!