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Letters Home From WWI

 

Ted Radmore

     Co. F. 37th Engineers, Fort Meyers Va., May 12, 1918: While army life is a good clean one, with many points of interest, there are also a few tough places that would, if it were not for the good thoughts and deeds of the people at home, make a fellow wish he had never heard of such a thing as the army. The most despised job for the soldier boy is doing his own washing. He doesn't seem to mind the drilling, tho at times it is hard, or the work that must be done around camp; but when it comes to washing his clothes, you will find that he will not do it while he can hire it done.
     By the time a fellow gets out of the army he won't have to get married, for he will know how to cook, wash dishes and clothes, keep the house clean, in fact he will be a genuine bachelor without the necessary 40 years of experience.
     The company that I am in is lucky enough to have officers who are men of the finest kind, especially the captain. He is just like a father to all of us boys. He will not stand for any foolishness and at the same time is always considerate of every man's feelings and treats every one justly, conferring favors only when they are deserved. The boys who make up the company as a whole are fine fellows. All of them are skilled men in some trade or other, but mostly in electricity.
     We have reveille at 6 o'clock every morning; mess at 6:30. Mess time is always welcome. We line up our mess kits and take our turn to pass a large counter where the food is dished out to us from big pots and each fellow gets the same amount, whether he be big or small. There are long board tables in the mess hall where we can sit down and eat. After we are thru eating we line up again and take our turn to wash or mess kits in a large tub. We do this three times a day and don't mind it at all.
     We usually get thru mess by 7 o'clock and by 8 we must have beds made and the barracks swept and cleaned up.
     When the officers come around to inspect quarters, everything must be clean and all I.K. If a fellow has a little dirt under his bed or the shoes which he is not wearing are dirty and not laced up, they don't hesitate a moment to tell you about it, and take your name. That means K.P. for you next day. There is a whole lot of difference between being a K.P. in the army and being a K.P. in Enterprise. K.P. here means kitchen police and that means peeling eight sacks of potatoes, washing all of those big pots that are used to cook the food, cutting wood, scrubbing those long plain board tables until they are white, also the floor, and lots of other little jobs that will keep you going from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. Any misdemeanor is usually punished by K.P.
     When you hear of a boy writing home saying that he is kitchen police, you will know that he has not received a promotion, but has got a job with a whole lot of work to it and very little glory. It is no disgrace to be K.P. however, for every man must take his turn at it.
     We get about 8 hours of drilling every day. I cannot explain the many different movements we go thru, but they are all good, healthy exercises and have a tendency to sharpen a man's appetite.
     We have a large Y.M.C.A. hut here and it is surely a great treat to us boys. Every night there is an attraction of some kind; either a picture show, vaudeville, musical program, or a religious meeting. There are accommodations for 300 fellows to write at one time and there are no vacant places for very long. Just as soon as a fellow is thru writing, his place is filled by one who has been waiting from 10 to 20 minutes. Anybody who subscribes to the U.M.C.A. with the intention of helping the soldier has put his money in the right hands, for there is no other organization that is doing as much for them. A person cannot know how much good the "Y" is doing and how it helps to keep the home ties strong, until he is in a position to enjoy the privileges offered.

Enterprise Record Chieftain
Thursday, May 23, 1918

Ivan J. Ratcliff

     Mr. and Mrs. George I. Ratcliff have received a letter from their son Ivan written at the Naval hospital at Washington, D.C., dated September 27. He said:
     Dear Folks: - I was sent up here the 20th to go on a hospital ship the government is taking over, but I landed with the Spanish "flu" and never saw the ship. Got out of bed yesterday and am feeling fairly strong today, but it sure takes a fellow down. Lost 13 pounds in the few days.
     Haven't the slightest idea what will happen to me when I get out of here, but hardly think I'll be left in Washington. There is no naval camp or base or ship yards here. We were transferred to the so-called Receiving ship, but it is some distance from the river and is used for nothing but a seaman gunner's school. If I stay here I guess that will be my address. Hope I get to stay here long enough to see the city.
     It is a pretty country to look on from a distance. The hospital is on a low bluff a few hundred yards from the river and the view is a picture. The wooded hills rise high back of the river on the Maryland side and are dotted with beautiful buildings. Lee's mansion is near the top and from here looks like a new building, pure white.
     Didn't get to go out of the city at Norfolk. The earliest liberty was 5 p.m. except on Saturdays and Sundays. Was at the dentists on Saturday and staid in camp next day. The camp was on an island and the only way off was to Norfolk. The city was overloaded with enlisted men looking for service and nobody to render it. Restaurants, ice cream parlors, everything run by old, fat women and young slips of girls. "So Long Letty" is playing there now. Played in Frisco a year ago and Portland two years ago.
     If I could have staid there two weeks longer I think I would have got a new destroyer they are launching soon. Had my application in and as agreeable to the chief Q.M. attached to her.
     Haven't had any mail since I left Key West.

Enterprise Record Chieftain
Thursday, October 3, 1918

WRITES OF HURRICANE WHICH VISITED SOUTH

     A letter received by Mrs. A.R.. Rice from Corporal J.O. Rice, a relative, tells of a remarkable hurricane which visited his camp, Gerster Field, Lake Charles, La., as follows:
I've been thru one of the worst hurricanes the world ever witnessed I think. I know it's the worst I ever was in. Jo Joking. I think I am the luckiest man on earth to get thru it with nothing but minor bruising and scratches. It started raining at 2 in the morning, the wind started blowing about 3: it was blowing about 1210 miles per hour and after that there wasn't anything left to tell how fast it was blowing. I was in the fire house when it started. The next thing I knew it had picked up a roof and sat it on top and mashed it in until we could not get the doors open.

We chased each other around inside like we were wild and I think we were. I had a mental picture of you all. Could even smell my favorite flowers. Ha, ha!

The next thing we knew the house began to rock back and forth and finally a door blew open and the air was so full of timbers, barrels, houses, etc. that we were afraid to go out. We didn't tarry long tho for the house started raising, would go up two or three feet, then settle back. We finally made one wild dash for liberty, and no sooner did we get outside than the wind knocked us off our feet and we started rolling in the mud and water.

The fellow that I've been with ever since I've been in the army was with me and honest, regardless of the danger we were in, I laughed at him until the tears came in my eyes. I never will forget the expression on his face and what he said. We were rolling along nearly side by side and he says, "Look out here comes our house and I hope it hits me center." And he kept repeating it. It didn't miss us far either for no sooner had we rolled against the bakery and got in back of it, the thing hit.

Well, we started again, and no sooner did we leave the building than the wind knocked us down again. We didn't roll far that time until we landed in a drainage ditch six or seven feet deep. We tried to get out of that but could not as it was full of water and the banks were slicker than glass. We kicked and floundered around till we came to a cross ditch; it was shallow so we started exploring that on our hands and knees. We soon left that and started running and falling. We were making good time too, for a while but the breeze picked us up again and all we could do was to lock arms and lay flat down and hang to the weeds. You may think that sounds fishy, but its the honest truth. We laid there nearly an hour, I guess. I would keep raising my head and watch the lumber, aeroplanes, barrels, houses, etc. go thru the air, but never would my pard raise his head. All I could get out of him was, "I hope it hits me center." I finally induced him to look up and no sooner did he do so than an aeoroplane seat came sailing thru the air and hit him back of the ear, making some scratches, also taking a patch of hair. Well, you should have heard him holler. I laughed and believe me, I would have if it had killed him. He put his hand over his ear and found it was bleeding. Then he got scared that he would bleed to death. I kept telling him they were only scratches, but could not make him think so. I am not saying that I was frightened, for I was. But one saw sights that would make him laugh if he knew he was going to get it the next minute. I've got scratches and black and blue places all over me.

The camp is almost a total wreck. The wind picked up these large hangars, 80X120 feet and blew them to splinters so you can imagine it was blowing some. Don't know whether they will rebuild it or not. They are waiting for orders from Washington, D.C.

It also blew the city of Lake Charles clear off the map. Just riddled those large brick buildings. I don't know how many were killed. I lost every bit of clothing I had even my bed and blanket, but I am pretty well fixed out again now. We lost all of our band instruments, too. So we won't have to play again soon. Had to play enough the 4th of July to last me for awhile.

I'd like to have taken some pictures of the ruins but they won't allow a camera on the grounds except a photographer. Everybody is wearing overalls now and picking up the ruins. Officers and all are working.

Enterprise Record Chieftain
September 26, 1918

Leonard Rice

     In a recent letter to his mother, Mrs. A.L. Rice, who is now railroad station agent at Buena, Wash.,     
     Leonard Rice reports that he is now a first class seaman, having been promoted two months ago, and he is studying for the third quartermaster's examination, which he believes he will pass. Responsible duties are entrusted to him and he feels he is of some value to Uncle Sam. He is on the U.S.S. Mariner, a patrol boat.

Enterprise Record Chieftain
September 12, 1918

Hugh Riley

     Hugh Riley writes from Benson's Polytechnic school at Portland.:
     We are kept pretty busy from 5:45 in the morning until 6 in the evening and sometimes till 10 or 11. Last night we were over to the Y.M.C.A. and had some singing and a lunch and got back home at 11 p.m. Sunday night we had our hand out in front of the building and they played and we danced on the pavement. There were lots of girls over here and a big crowd of men, but no one got to dance but the soldiers.
     Last night when we were taking down the flat for the night the band played "The Star Spangled Banner" and one fellow who was standing out in the street did not take his hat off. The captain ordered the first squad to go out and take it off for him and they sure did. Every time you are standing around down here and don't do as you should they go right after you.

Enterprise Record Chieftain
Thursday, July 11, 1918

Francis M. Rodditz

     Mrs. G.W. Beecher of Troy sends a letter recently received from her son, Francis Rodditz, who has many friends in Wallowa and the North End, having lived in that part of the county for six years. He was wounded on duty and his letter dated August 12 is written in a base hospital in France.
     My dear mother and father: - I shall now write you a few lines. It has been some days since I wrote you, but I saw continual active service. I wrote you most frequently. It will be a week tomorrow since I was sent to the field hospital. After being there two days I thought I was ready for front line duty again but they knew better and sent me way back here, to a large base hospital.
     Now don't let it worry you in the least for it will be three or four weeks before you receive this letter and by that time I hope to be back with my company safe and sound.
     It happened on August 6. I tried to do a piece of engineer work for the infantry. But I didn't quite get to it. The Germans saw us coming, so they put up a very heavy artillery barrage. It was almost impossible to live in it, but nevertheless we did. After they thought they had either killed or wounded us, the dirty devils sent over a lot of poison gas. I didn't get but very little of it into my lungs before I had my mask on, and I'll be over my shell shock in a very short time for it only bruised my neck and arm and one side of my back, so don't let it worry you. And the pretty part of it was some of my men got the work done.
     Mother, you can't imagine what great work the Red Cross is doing over here. The place I am in is really equal to any of the hospitals of our larger cities back in the states.
     Don't you think we have been giving old Bill h__l of late? When he started his drive he told his soldiers they would reach Paris. Instead of reaching Paris we pushed him back 27 miles.
     Oh, I have another surprise for you both. I was promoted the 2nd of this month. I am no longer a sergeant, but a sergeant 1st class. It increased my pay $8.80 a month. Now I draw $60 a month.
     Mother, how are the crops on your little place this year. Most of France is very pretty but I wouldn't trade your little home for all of it.
     Are Charlie and June still in eastern Washington? And where is little Elsie? I am going to write to them tomorrow. I'm answering every one's letters while I am here, but one each day is all I feel strong enough to write.
     Please do not worry if you don't hear from me regularly, as I have said before the mails are most uncertain. But remember I'm well fed and taken care of, and that I'm writing as regularly as conditions permit. Now I'll close for today, sending my best regards to all of you. Please write often. My address is Sergt. 1st Class Francis M. Rodditz, E. Co., 4th U.S. Engrs. A.E.F. via New York. Somewhere in France.

Enterprise Record Chieftain
September 26, 1918

~~~~~~~~~~~

Francis M. Radditz

     Mrs. Geo. W. Beecher of Troy has received a letter from her son, Francis M. Redditz, announcing that he had recovered sufficiently from his wounds to leave the hospital for duty again at the front. The letter says:
     Base Hospital No. -, somewhere in France, Aug. 30. - My dear mother and father: - Of course about all a person is allowed to write about are weather conditions and a person's health. The weather still continues warm in the day time, but the nights are starting to be a bit crimpy. But the people over here have been very fortunate this year. Most every section of France has a bumper crop. I have seen lots of 50 bushel wheat here, but more of 25 to 30. Their oats are quite good in most places and clover and alfalfa hay yield very heavy. The fruit is passably fair, due to the lack of care. I saw in this morning's paper where the crops around Walla Walla and Pendleton are very good. Tomorrow is Saturday, the 31st, and I'm leaving the hospital for duty with my old company E. I'm sure glad to get back. I'm feeling as good as can be expected. Of course my nerves are a long ways from being settled, but they'll be all right in time.
     I mentioned the good work the Red Cross is doing in my other letter. Yesterday I received a complete shaving set, tooth paste and lots of writing paper and envelopes, besides a towel and handkerchief. Now just think of it. They do this for thousands of wounded every week. I can't say too much good for them. And many thanks to the good work of the Salvation army, but Y.M. is the bunk.
     My address is Serg. 1st C. Francis M. Radditz, Co. E., 4th Regt, Engrs. A.E.F. via New York.

Enterprise Record Chieftain
Thursday, October 10, 1918

Sumner Rodriguez

     Sumner Rodriguez has written an interesting description of the artillery man's life at the front, in a letter to his sister, Mrs. M.P. Thompson of Imnaha. He is in Battery D, 6th Field Artillery, A.E.F., France. He wrote:
     "I've been here for about two weeks and have sort of become accustomed to the quiet. It is quiet, too. No booming of guns, no bombs or shells to dodge and no barrages to disturb our slumbers. At the front I slept in a little trench about eighteen inches deep with some green wheat blades for a mattress and a piece of sheet iron for a roof. To enter my house I got down on my hands and knees and crawled in.
     As I was in charge of a piece, a nice little wicked 75, I had to be on hand whenever firing was going on and that meant perhaps all night or in jumps and jerks throughout the darker hours. But during the day one could make up for lost sleep. You probably think that one lives down in the bowels of the earth while in the zone of fire, but it isn't necessarily true. Some places they do and at others no cover is taken at all. A dugout to hold off a large shell, say an 8-inch one for instance, must be stronger than it is practical to make them except in particularly favorable places.
     It isn't hard to believe that one is safer in a shallow trench just deep enough to give protection against flying pieces than down in a too weak thing, except a direct hit and in case of a direct hit one needn't worry. One would imagine that the soldier in those dangerous places would be diving for cover when a shell comes in but you sort of lose your sense of danger and your better senses give way to fool curiosity. I've seen our boys stand at the gun, and send the projectiles when we were being heavily shelled and their only response to the arrival of Frita's shells was to lay the gun more carefully, slam in the shells more fiercely and pull the lanyard with a stronger arm.
     I know what the American idea (in America) is, about the "regulars" but I want to tell you that they have the stuff when it comes to the tryout. If the whole army can show the same spirit there can be no doubt as to the outcome of this war.

Enterprise Record Chieftain
Thursday, August 29, 1918

 

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