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Letters Home From WWI
Irl L. Olmsted
France, May 31, 1918. Dear Ones at Home: - I
received your letter of May 5 a few minutes ago, and just at present I haven't a
thing to do but kill time and write letters. You are wondering why I have so
much time to spare? If I could, I would spare you the pain of knowing the awful
truth, - however, you may as well know it now as later. I have the mumps. I fear
that my personal vanity would receive a frightful shock if it weren't for one
small coincidence. About a month ago my only trench mirror got bent, so I cannot
tell whether the image I see in it now or the former one is natural. So you have
a scare of small pox there, but it cannot be very serious. Here in the army we
have many quarantines but thanks to modern science, small pox is unheard of.
I know you are curious to know all about our life here. It soon becomes commonplace to us. A never ending source of interest to me is the French people themselves. One almost finds himself wondering how they can really be intelligent and talk the lingo they do. Here, where we are, there is but a very small percentage of the people who understand English. It is great fun trying to talk to them. I'm getting so I can talk with my head, shoulders and hands, and all ten fingers in a way that would get by down in old Manhattan among the worthy descendants of Israel
Shopping is a great experience. You go into a store and look all around and spot just what you want. Then you point it out and say "Coblen" (pronounced kom-blan". Then there comes a torrent of lingo that doesn't stop until you throw up your hands in horror and motion to them to write it down or you begin to count out these tobacco coupons and copper washers that they call money until they tell you to stop. The other day I bought a pencil, then wanted an eraser. I couldn't see any around so I took the pencil and made out as if I were erasing something. He took the pencil and sharpened it. I said "non,non" made a mark and tried to show him I was erasing it, and he tried to sell me a pencil sharpener. The one word they do understand is "tobacco." They call it "tobac." The French kids nearly drive us crazy trying to get tobacco.
I will try to describe as well as I can what my occupation is. I am stationed at the artillery training center. I have finished the course in the truck and motor school for which special selection was made which I told you about, and have been retained as an instructor. Also I have charge of a string of machines and have to see that they are kept in shape and locate the trouble if the driver gets stuck. When they go out in the mornings I form the line and park them when they come in. While out on the road I'm "troubleshooter". I have a touring car all to myself and follow along behind the column. Whenever a car gets into trouble, it drops out to the side, and I come along and, if possible, get it going again.
It is very pleasant work, mostly riding around, and gives me a wonderful chance to see the country. It is quite possible that I will be transferred out of artillery and stay on her indefinitely. I should like it fine if there is an opportunity to advance, but couldn't be satisfied to remain stationary.
France is certainly beautiful. For the past two months we have had clear weather with the sun bright and warm. The whole country around here is gently rolling hills and all an intense bright green. The roads are all white macadamized and lined with immense old hardwood trees. On many of the hills are chateaux, surrounded by a park and enclosed by high hedges and stone walls. It certainly makes the old French romances seem realistic.
I haven't seen Curly Clayton or Raymond Dunbar for some time. The rest of the regiment is billeted out in the country.
Keep the letters coming. I get all of them as it is pretty hard for them to go astray. I am also getting the Chieftain fairly regular.
Your mention of all the good things to eat starts the saliva until it makes my mumps ache. They feed us good here tho. Had strawberry shortcake yesterday. I warn you I'll keep you busy cooking when I get back. You wont get me out of the kitchen for a week.
I am getting along fine here and my work is very interesting. Things may change when we get into action but during training conditions here aren't nearly so bad with us as many people at home think.
My best love to all of you and my hopes that we will soon all be united again.
Enterprise Record Chieftain
Thursday, July 4, 1918
Sgt. Irl L. Olmsted
Irl Olmsted writes from France to his father, Judge
J.B. Olmsted, giving his present address as Summer Artillery School, A.P.O. 718,
A.E.F. He writes:
As you will notice, I have again changed my address. The change means very much more to me than a mere change of location. I have been sent here to the artillery school for commissioned officers. Of course there is lots of work before me before I can get a commission, but it all rests on me now as to whether I make good. The course here lasts three months and those who enter as enlisted men, if they make good, are made officers when they finish.
I cannot explain so you could understand how much it will mean to me if I can make it. One who has not been in the army cannot understand the gulf which exists between the officers and enlisted man. After the surroundings and position I occupied in civil life I would feel humiliated to think I could not rise to the same relative position in the army.
It is not that I want to make soldiering a profession, far from it. I hate war worse now than ever before, but there is no worse torment than to have to do anything in which you have no pride and ambition. No matter what one is doing, he can bring himself to feel this pride and interest if he puts his whole energy and ability to it. After all, a man tan't fit to be a "buck" private if he has no ambition.
This reminds me more of my college days than anything I have been in. We have a regular schedule of classes and lectures with field work in place of the laboratory. The men whom I'm with are nearly all college men, a great part of them, graduates; the greatest collection of noncoms I ever saw-sergeant-majors, first sergeants, master gunners, master electrician sergeants, etc. Our life together is of course very congenial and pleasant.
There are fourteen of my old college mates here. Most of them already had their commissions from the third "camp" back home but they have to come here to take this course before going into action. Have also found two fraternity brothers, not from our chapter; one is from Utah and the other Wisconsin or Cornell. I don't remember which.
I'm feeling as well as I ever did in my life and my sincere hope is that all of you are as well. You do not say anything about it but I know that you and mamma worry far more than is warranted by conditions, if you could but know them as they actually are.
Enterprise Record Chieftain
September 26, 1918
From C.W. Otto
Wallowa County reporter - I will now try to write you a few lines.
I am in the 18th Company and we have our uniforms, that is some of it. I have
not got my pants yet but will get them tomorrow. I have taken my examination
and passed alright and am thankful for that. This is surely some life. When we leave
here we can look the world in the face but if we were slackers would have to sneak
off to some deserted place and live and die without a country, without a flag, for
he who refuses to defend old glory cannot claim it. The Y.M.C.A. boys surely
do help us. They give us all of our books, magazines and papers and envelopes
and also they have some kind of a program every night of the week. They send for
the best speakers and singers, not only of the U.S. but of the world. There is no
praise to high for the Y boys as we call them here. I am now writing this letter in the
Y.M.C.A. and there is a fine speaker on the stage. The officers of our company are
sure good men and are good to show us and help us.
The Wallowa boys are all in one company but Guy Skaggs, he is in the 17th
Dr. Hockett was over to see us the other day. I saw him once but not to talk with him.
I have not seen anyone else that I know but there might be a 100 and never see them in
this camp. It is twelve miles long and 5 miles wide. The Captain just informed us that we
would get down to it in the morning. We have not done much so far and we are all
ready and we also were informed that we would have to take singing lessons three times
a week. this gives you an idea how we are trained in everything.
Camp Lewis is nothing less than a big school house where a man that can pass
examination can learn anything he wants. Lee Pakrs and myself are now corporals.
I will have to close and write more next time.
Clarence Ott, 18th Company, 5th brigade, 166 depot brigade
Wallowa County Reporter Wednesday August 7, 1918
C.W. Otto Writes
C.W. Otto writing to his brothers in the Odd Fellows lodge, says:
We have so many things to learn that we have no time for lodge. I have
forgotten the pass
words but I will never forget the teachings and they surely help in the army to keep one from
falling by the wayside. There are all classes of men in these camps.
I will try to tell you a little of our life. here. We live in a tent and
there are six men in
each tent. We have three blankets, a small tent or as it is called a shelter-half.
That is what we have for a bed and when we are out from camp and have to use
the shelter-half for a tent we only have three blankets. We have an overcoat, raincoat,
two outside shirts, two pair of shoes, one pair or dress and one for marching. We have a
blouse to go with our pants, then next we have a pair of overall and a jumper. The last
two we drill in to save our uniforms. We have to get down in the mud and dust every day.
I will now tell you what we have to pack with us. This is called the field
and is carried on the back at all times when in the field. This pack is one
blanket, mess kit, cartridge belt, 100 rounds of cartridges, one suit of underwear,
soap, towel, comb, tooth brush and paste, two pair of socks, tent pin, a small
folding ridge pole, tent, gas mask, bayonet and rifle. This pack and gun weights 60
pounds but we get so used to it that we do not know that we have it on our backs.
We have to get up at six o'clock in the morning and have mess at 6:30 and go
to drill at 7:30. We then have mess again at 12; then supper at 5; then line up for retreat.
I will now tell a little of our life. While we were on the rifle range it
rained every day
and we had to walk six miles in the rain and mud and when we got to our tents they
were wet so you see we were wet day and night and we had to wait until the sun
came out to dry them. How do you think the boys acted in this rain. Well, we would
leave camp at 5 o'clock in the morning and as soon as we got started someone would
start a song and this would be taken up by 600 men singing and keeping time. That is
one thing they learn here is to sing. We have some of the best teachers in the world. There
is so much to tell I cannot write it one letter. C.W. Otto.
Wallowa County Reporter Thursday October 17, 1918
Arthur J. Ownbey
Arthur J. Ownbey is on the U.S.S. Albatross, which
is in Atlantic waters. He wrote his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ben F. Ownbey,
recently from the ship's station off the southern states, as follows:
As I have two letters from you that I have not answered, will answer both at once. I am well and hearty with the exception of a bum ear which I hurt diving off the ship into the water. It ached pretty bad for a couple of days but not bad after that. It runs a lot yet, tho, but is getting better. I guess my ears can't stand diving.
I know how anxious you both are to see me, and believe me, you are no more anxious to see me than I am to see you. I am too far away now to think of coming home on leave, for it would cost so much and I want to let you have all the money I can. When the war is over, which I hope will be soon, I probably will be able to get a good long leave and will try and come home then. There have been a few furloughs issued to men on the ship lately, but they are given for such a short time that it is not worth while when you have to go so far.
I got the magazines you sent all right and was glad to get them. But I am getting so I don't care to read stories much, I am tired of them. We get all kinds of magazines on the ship now, a literature fund being given to each ship by the government. We subscribed for all the good magazines in the market and got a lot of good books, too. So you see we are not short of reading matter any more.
I expect you will not like it when I tell you what I am studying for. I am going to try and get transferred to the naval aviation section, but not as a flyer, but as a sort of mechanic. I sure hope I make it, am afraid it will be pretty hard to get a transfer. I want to go in as a quartermaster, which I know I can hold down now, and then after I get in there is every chance in the world to advance. My rates is now quartermaster third class and I expect to be rated second class in a short time. If I can get into the aviation section as quartermaster second class, I will sure be tickled to death.
I am treated fine on the ship, but don't like this kind of work and it is no good to me on the outside, what I learn here. But if I can get into the airplane business and learn it, it is something that will be a fine paying trade after the war and work that I like. In the work I will do if I get in, there is no danger to speak of. In these times anyhow a fellow cannot regard danger at all and I don't want to keep out of it. Of course I realize my duty to my parents and know that I have to figure your claim on me, but under the circumstances I have to do whatever my military duties call for, and danger cannot be taken into account.
It is getting quite a lot cooler down, here now and is much more pleasant. It has been raining all day, had quite a lot of rain lately. The fleet is going to parade tomorrow, a Liberty bonds parade.
Enterprise Record Chieftain
Thursday, October 24, 1918
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