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Letters Home From WWI

 

Oscar Shafer

Writing to his parents under date of July 7th says:

     Well, I guess it is about time I dropped you a few lines and let you know that I am still alright and having a wonderful trip. The sea has been exceptionally calm, no waves lashing high on us, no oneseasick so far. Of course, our quarters are very crowded and the food very poor but as long as we get across safely we don't mind that so much.
     Our trip so far has been almost uneventful, as to submarines I have not seen one yet but they say that on the morning of July 5th there was a torpedo fired at us but that the Captain of the boat quickly changed the course of the boat and it missed us about three hundred yards. In my estimation there is no danger now as we have plenty of destroyers around us and the "subs" are daethly afraid of them so they lay pretty low while the destroyers go by.
     There are lots of soldiers on this boat but who do you think I accidently ran into but Reed Smith. He was certainly glad to see me and I quickly told the rest of the boys from Enterprise and they all got to see him. He says Sid Burleigh was sent over with a bunch about six weeks ago and also that Cub was still in China and expected to be there until they were discharged.
     We have boat drill every day to keep us familiar with the calls and also to avoid confusion. Our battalion is on guard in the boat so I naturally get on that but as I had some knowledge of cornet and they needed thirty-three buglers they put me on as a bugler. I am on duty from 3:30 p.m. to 11 o'clock every day to blow "Assembly" in case they should need to get us out for boat drill. Then after boat drill we blow "Recall". The guards duty is to preserve order at all times especially in case our boat was hit by a "sub". The discipline on the boat is very good considering the number on here.
     How did you spend the 4th. Our celebration was postponed until after the war I guess. We did not even have an extra bean for dinner or would a person even have known that it was a national holiday. I suppose Clarence played somewhere. John Desler said he had a letter from Jim Winston at Joseph and that there was to be the usual celebration at the Lake.
     Well, I have landed in a new country today and things look entirely different from the U.S.A. We are still on the boat here but will disembark in the morning. We are a pretty tired bunch and will be much relieved when we get off and get washed up. Our facilities for keeping clean was rather limited also the water was short at the last of the trip. However we are here and that is about all I can say. I will drop a few lines again in a few days providing I am where I can.
     Give my regards to all inquiring, also my address which will be Private Oscar C. Shafer, Co. E 37th Engineers (2nd battalion), American Expeditionary Forces.

Wallowa County Reporter
Wednesday August 7, 1918

Also printed in:
Enterprise Record Chieftain
Thursday, August 8, 1918

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Oscar Shafer

     After two months from the receipt of a letter, Mr. and Mrs. A.H. Shafer received three letters from their son, Oscar, in France with the American army. In the first he writes:

Dear Mother and Father:
      I will drop a few lines to let you know I am still well and having a great trip and great experience.
We landed in Liverpool, England and then took a train to South Hampton and spent a day in the rest camp cleaning up and trying to get a little rest. England is different from the U.S. in so many respects also the people are different. The houses are all brick and I have not seen any over two stories high. Through the part of england we have traveled the crops look good and those English horses certainly look fine also all the cattle are sleek and fat.
     I cannot give much of a description of much of England as we traveled much of the night through the larger towns and along the waterfronts and poorer sections and did not see much of the better part of England.
     I am at another rest camp now having a better chance to rest as it is not so crowded. we have crossed into France into this rest camp and here in the country things are so different in every way from England.

Letter dated August 6th

     We are billeted in a small town and have been having a real rest. I have been spending most of my time trying to learn a little of the French language. There are ten of us in the loft of a barn and a family directly across the street and by the way, the streets here are not any wider than our back alley and just about half as sanitary.
     We have many pleasant moments talking with them as we are both in the same fix. I have a french and American book and manage to make myself understood. The French people are very courteous to us and are eager to help us to learn the language and to have us to tell about our homes in the United States. Most of them in the village are of the peasant class, and I don't see how they manage to live where they do.
     There are many beautiful houses, however, in another town near here which is somewhat larger. I was an orderly to some officers for a few days who had their quarters in a most beautiful house surrounded by beautiful grounds. The house was very large and on the first floor all was marble and tile with expensive rugs and furniture. The second floor was hardwood. Anything here that we can buy is considered a luxury and we have to pay dearly. Eggs are 9 cents in American money and you can judge what other things are worth. The only thing that is reasonable is chocolate which can be bought for 30 cents per half pound bar.

Letter dated July 22nd

     We have seen some German prisoners and they are far from what we expected to see. Of course they are a husky bunch but not the erect and snappy soldier I had always thought them to be.

Wallowa County Reporter
Thursday September 12, 1918


John Sheets

     But I should judge that, taking the country as a whole, they do not farm more than one acre in each 100 on an average and the soil is all very fertile. No, I am sure that everyone at home has them bested in every way and will say that America heads them in everything, even in conservation.
     I have visited many camps in England, in fact I have been in nearly all of them and will say I have seen very little drunkennness among the American boys and I think that every one has an idea, the one idea I may say, to have all the people in the countries they visit to know America and to have them say that the boys in khaki are gentlemen.
     I wish I could tell you some of the things that are going on, and what we are doing, but of course I am not permitted to do that, so you will please be contented with what I have written.
     The weather is, and has been for the past month, just about like that in the Willamette valley in December and January, so you who have been there in winter know how pleasant it has been for five weeks now.
     I would be very glad to receive a letter or card from any one who has the good will to write.

Enterprise Record Chieftain
Thursday, October 24, 1918


Ivan I. Shrell

     Navy Yard, Mare Island, July 14, 1918. To the Editor of the Record Chieftain and Friends: - Just to let those know who would not know otherwise, I will write a few lines to let them know where I am and what I am doing.
     On April 18, I left Enterprise and arrived in Portland on the following day. After arriving in Portland and getting a room, I reported to the recruiting office of the navy. Before I hardly knew it I was lined up with about eleven other fellows having my finger prints taken. At noon we were given meal tickets and ate our first meal with Uncle Sam.
     At one o'clock we reported again at the office, more finger prints were taken and we next took the oath. By this time it was about four o'clock so they lined us up and gave us each another meal ticket. $3 in cash for meals and our tickets to San Francisco, California. I had already rented a room so I asked them if we were to leave for Frisco the next day. He said, "Yes, you are to board No. 54 at 1:05 a.m. I had fully intended to see Portland the next day, but rather than make him mad I was among the bunch when No. 54 pulled out.
     On the way down here we traveled thru farming land, forest and beautiful mountains. On Sunday about 12 o'clock we landed in Frisco and were taken to "Angora Heights" where he were tied up for six weeks. It was while we were in detention that we were vaccinated and got our shots or "typhus injections" in the arm. While we were in "d" camp we were also drilled very thoroughly. We drilled from six to nine hours each day and then if one was awkward or dizzy he got extra instructions after chow.
     On May 20 the company left "D" camp and the landsmen for electricians were transferred to Mare Island. My first duty here was kitchen police, then I was transferred to the spud locker: from there I was again made a waiter in the mess hall. Now I am in school The course here for a general electrician is three weeks machine shop, three weeks steam engines, two weeks gas engines and twenty-one weeks electricity.
     How do I like the navy? I like it fine, under the circumstances, but for a life work give me civilian life. Here we have good, substantial food and have regular hours of sleep. These two factors are all that are necessary for good, healthy, strong sailors.
     The one way you at home can help a man in uniform is to write him letters. Now I will say goodbye till the kaiser's in his hole - Ivan I. Shroll, Care Electrical School, Mare Island, California.

Enterprise Record Chieftain
Thursday July 25, 1918

Corporal Guy E. Skaggs

     Corporal Guy E. Skaggs, Co. G. 62nd Inf., Camp Mils, Long Island, New York, A.E.F. writes home folks under date of 11th.
     I suppose you will be somewhat surprised as this is not being headed somewhere in France." It looks like, from last reports, that we will not go across either. If the war is really over I don't wnt to go now. I would rather wait, make the money and go as I like.
      It sure looks good to us that the Kaiser has quit and Germany put her name on the dotted line. There has been a lot of celebrating around here for the last day or two.
     We beheld a lot of nice scenery as we came across the continent. We came through California, Arizona, New Mexico, a corner of Colorado and into Kansas where one morning just as I awoke we rolled into Emporia, at the same depot we were at when you and I were there, Mother. Of course I did not see any relatives as they would not know and be watching for me and trains with troops were going through at a rate of from five to seven per day. Uncle Sam sure believes in doing things now and not putting them off at all. Had it not been for the peace proposition being as it was, we would now be away out on the ocean.
      Our camp is about 25 or 30 miles from New York City. We have all tents with the ground for floors. there isn't much sickness at that. The men are a husky lot. There seems to be a lot of "flu" over the country perhaps not more in the army than in civilian life not more in proportion any way.
     In closing I hope that this finds you all as well as it leaves me. If so, you have no kick coming at all about the health proposition.

Wallowa County Reporter
Thursday November 28, 1918

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Guy Skaggs

Dear Folks,
     Well, here is a nother letter. Are you surprised?
     I got the fountain pen an couple of days ago and I am glad you sent it for hate to write with a pencil.
     I went to San Francisco last Saturday and looked the city over. while there I visited Macdonalds who used to run the 5-10 and 15 cent store in Enterprise and also went across the bay with them to Oakland and had dinner with Frank Sheets and he took us all over Oakland in his car. Clayton Knodell and I were together. We surely had an enjoyable time. It costs only $1.15 for the round trip on the train and then not much while we were there so we can get off pretty cheap. You know a soldier is not permitted to do what the civilian is consequently hasn't any chance to spend his money. In fact, the ladies and dances don't bother the soldiers.
     It sure has been warm here for the last few days. You see there has been no rain here since May - not a bit and it naturally gets pretty dry and dusty. I like it better though than Camp Lewis.
     It is no telling when we will be moved. We may stay here for quite awhile and then again we may move at any time. We have been equipped with complete packs and have to start drilling with them tomorrow morning so it looks as if we might be on the way before long. I am in no hurry about leaving, as I want to get into officers' training camp if I can after I am here the required three months.
Guy Skaggs

Wallowa County Reporter
Thursday September 19,1918

Clarence G. Spangler

     Clarence G. Spangler, Co. M. 158 Inft., via New York, AP.O. 788, writes the following to his sister, Mrs. F.M. Spangler, dated Sept, 3,:
     Dear Sister: - I will drop you a short letter to let you know I have not forgotten you. I did not get sick crossing, but I have the mumps now. Your letter was just a month on the way, until I received it.
     This is sure a great country. You ought to be here and see them work oxen to the plow, and they string three horses out one by one. They have their crops all taken care of now and are doing their fall farming.
     News is scarce, so will close with best regards to all.

Enterprise Record Chieftain
Thursday, October 3, 1918


SEVERE TRAINING FOR AIR SERVICE
Cadet Blaine Stubblefield Describes Wonderful Experience of Aviators

     Barracks 54, Flying Cadet Det. Kelly Field No. 2 San Antonio, Texas, July 23. - Wallowa county army and navy news letters published in the Record Chieftain are probably of interest to the home people but they are even more so to the men's comrades in arms, as it is difficult to keep track of each other and the letters are thus news to all. Mr. Burleigh's description of life in the Field Artillery was especially good. If all we service men could write as well, our people at home could get a pretty clear and fascinating picture of war activities, in this country, at least. No doubt they would like to have more of us try even tho we can't equal Mr. Burleigh.
     Aviation is expected to play an important part in the war, but no doubt those who have not had the opportunity of seeing for themselves believe some of the pessimistic calamity howlers. A lot of people have been doing wonders while these fellows howled.
     The personnel for the ground schools is taken from both civil and military life. They are sent to school and given the rating of cadet after passing certain mental, physical and equilibrium tests. Great care is taken in these tests, especially in the latter in order to avoid the possibility, as near as possible of putting a candidate thru months of preliminary training and then finding him naturally unable to fly.
     After three months of hard work and severe tests in academic courses, which many find too much for them, the cadets are sent to a strictly disciplined post, a military school, where they continue the academic work with several hours of drill and setting up exercises each day.
     From there they are sent to flying school. And there the cadet begins a life that is altogether new and strangely fascinating, the most thrilling of all sports and the most dangerous, a life in which he usually meets with more adventures in one day than he would ordinarily encounter in a life time.
     He has the best of every thing in the army-food much better than can be had at home or hotel, now; and excellent quarters. His pay is, of course, much higher than any other branch pays. There is no work to do, especially trained mechanics being assigned to the care and repair of machines and hangars.
     Of course there are disagreeable things - for instance he never knows whether he will ride back to quarters in his ship or the "meat wagon." But he has no time to worry about that. He and his friends are the happiest crowd one could find anywhere.
     The business is too serious to live up to, so when night comes, the various events of the day are turned into jokes. Some hero will tell how the handle came off his controls, for example, and he put it on as the ship was hurtling down into a rocky ravine, just as if he hadn't been scared till the cold chills reached his toes and felt like a mummy. Little groups of enthusiastic tender-wings do tail-spins and spin tales very sincerely. Loops and barrel-rolls are considered good indoor sports. It reminds one of the automobile fiends doing sixty and seventy miles per around Burnaugh & Mayfield's heating stove in the winter time.
     The crap-shooters bring out the bones, the musically inclined hammer rag-time out of the piano and sing, the homesick read their letters for the tenth time.
     The "Southern Gentlemen" as the northerners call the Dixie boys, and the "yanks" fight, the Civil war over again in lively but good humored jest, using strong words for bombs and keen adjectives for shrapnel.
     The American system of training pilots differs from that of the French in that the students' first flights are made in a dual-control machine, while the French student must fly solo from the first.
     A dual machine which is designed to carry two, has a set of controls in each cock-pit, so that the work of the student may be observed and corrected by the instructor who can take all or part of the control at any time.
     The student is told to hold the ship level the first time he is taken up and it is soon really determined whether he will ever be able to fly or not.
     He is trained in this manner for about two weeks, making ten or fifteen flights each day, until he can take off, fly around a course and land the ship without assistance. He is then taken up to a high altitude and shown tail-spins, side-slips, skids, stalls and nose dives and is told how to avoid them and shown how to get out in case he gets in by accident. Most fatal accidents occur when a new pilot gets into some unnatural position and the terrifying sensation gets the best of his senses.
     Then with a fond look at the green turf under his feet, he sails aloft by himself.
     He then continues flying circles and landing. From that he goes to spirals, cross country and so on, thru. In acrobatics, stunt flying is done at a high altitude. In formation, a number of ships fly exactly like a bunch of geese. Formations are used for bombing raids.
     Sometime is finally spent dropping dummy bombs on targets and in sending wireless signals from the air. The cadet is then ready for his commission as lieutenant, and incidentally, has earned it.
     During the whole course, the pilot flies in the morning one day and afternoon the next, in order that all may have a chance at the smooth, buoyant morning air.
     "Happy Landings", a story by Irvin S. Cobb in the Saturday Evening Post of June 15, is interesting and must be a good portraiture of the aviator's life at the front.
     I am now doing spirals, coming down from a high altitude in a kind of corkscrew dive and trying to land on a small white spot on the ground.
     I have had some pretty wild and thrilling rides with old flyers. My instructor had been in the air sixteen hundred hours. He took me for a "jazz" as he called it. We climbed for over an hour. Got several hundred feet over four sausage-balloons which were anchored at Fort Sam Houston and which were considerably over a mile high.
     He shut the throttle and asked me if my belt was fastened good and then I found out what he meant by "jazz."
     The only way for one to find out what flying sensations are, is to fly. He can rest assured that they won't seem commonplace. The centrifugal force of some of these stunts is terrific, forcing the body down into the cockpit so hard that one can't move a foot or hand. When the ship flops over on her back and the dizzy tenderwing looks up (?) and, to his horror, sees thru the blue expanse, the green earth calmly upside down, the cruel pilot turns and looks smilingly thru his green goggles while the poor boy losses his lunch in the blue sky. Cadet Blaine Stubblefield.

Enterprise Record Chieftain
Thursday, July 4, 1918

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Lieut. Blaine Stubblefield

     Blaine Stubblefield sends a change of address as follows: Lieutenant Blaine Stubblefield, Student Detachment, Brooks Field, San Antonio, Texas. He says:
     Got my commission a week ago. Was recommended for pursuit pilot (single hand combat) and held for an instructor. Hence, I am here at Brooks Field School for instructors. Fair prospect of staying in U.S. for duration of the war, or until some wild cadet student bumps me off.

Enterprise Record Chieftain
September 26, 1918

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Lieut. Blaine Stubblefield

     Officers' Quarters, Brooks Field, San Antonio, Texas, Oct. 27, 1918.
     The fall days have come again and they are certainly welcome, especially to the boys from the north. It makes one feel like his old Oregonian self to get into a big warm overcoat and feel the cold air in his face. This season in Texas is almost ideal. There is seldom any rain, or even clouds, because the breeze that sweeps the mist up from the gulf during the summer switches around and comes from the north. In fall and winter, leaving a clear sky except for the blue haze which is so characteristic of home. The people who live here seem to enjoy the cold for, strange enough, they never seem to get used to the heat, except the Mexicans who are apparently cool all the time. A little drop in temperature which at home we would never notice makes us all hurry for coats and fires.
     I have been in Texas more than a year and am getting to be very much a "Long Horn" as the Texans are called. I have had the opportunity of visiting every large city in the state and have been in most of the army camps, including Camp Travis, which is about the largest in the United States. My class of cadets spent two very interesting months in Austin, the capitol. From there we went to Dallas, which is the best city in Texas, more like those in the north. Then nineteen of us were detached and sent to Ellington Field, near Houston. For some reason we were never assigned to flying there and did nothing but enjoy our leisure. Four of us spent a week-end in Galveston-bathing in the gulf and looking over the queer old town.
     Galveston, as many remember, was destroyed by a tidal wave and the wreckage is still n evidence in many places. A great stone or concrete wall has been built to hold the water back. However the waves went over the wall recently. The town is about on a level with the water which was held back only by sand dunes at the time of the storm. Its importance as a cotton shipping port was ruined when a large canal was built to Houston, about forty miles inland.
     A number of us spent another weekend in Houston. We liked it very much. The Rice hotel, which is said to be the best in the south, is there.
     Our little class was ordered to Kelly Field the first of May, and there we spent the summer-four months it was-working pretty hard and flying in the treacherous, hot air. The war department decided to make commissions hard to get about that time and large numbers of men were discharged, for very small mistakes some times. Of course the fear of this got on our nerves. Everything seemed against us then, but we can laugh about it now that it is all over.
     One sunny morning I took a beautiful tumble, into the top of a tree (as luck would have it), and tore up a machine that cost a small fortune. Another hot, sultry day, never having seen a Texas sand storm, I undertook to penetrate one, thinking it was a cloud and struck the nose of another plane into a cotton field. For about a month after that I could feel a large place of lead in my stomach every time I went up.
     After many trials, imaginary and real, most of us got the silver wings and bars about nine months after we started to ground school. None of us were killed or hurt, but quite a few of our friends were.
     I got classified as a pursuit pilot. His work is to fly a single seater scout with one or two machine guns. My first order sent me to Brooks Field to take the instructors' course. This course takes about fifty hours flying to finish. The instructor must be able to handle the machine in the right way and at the same time tell the student how everything is done-coordinating his talk with his movements. In this system the instructor takes the student for his first ride in the air and teaches him everything from holding the wings level to loops and spinning dives.
     I finished the course about two weeks ago and have been ordered to remain here as instructor. I am on the headquarters flight and have two prospective aces, ground officers they are, who have had no flying. The work is very interesting. I have never enjoyed anything so much. But, Boy, Howdy! When you go up with a tenderwing you have to be so wide awake that your eyes click when they wink. They can't tell whether it's a mile or a yard to the ground and a fellow can figure that they will go up a thousand feet and dive one thousand and ten, if he doesn't watch them. The instructor is in the front seat with a great, big heavy hot engine ready to slide back in his lap when she hits. That gives him a good incentive to be on the alert.
     Flying appeals to me as a great work and a great sport-with an attractive future. It's possibilities at present are unlimited.
     There is no doubt that the experience of flying are apart and different from those of any other work that men have engaged in.
     The most beautiful and wonderful thing I have ever seen is that lonely and strange expanse above a sea of clouds. I would not attempt to describe the thing itself or the feeling that one has up there. John Milton himself couldn't do it. The word pictures that he drew from his imagination are no comparison.
     Stunt flying never loses it's lure. The highest I have been is eight thousand feet. Of course we are al anxious to get into action with the new engines and planes that are being rapidly made.
     If any one doubts that the Division of Aeronautics is doing its work, he should watch a Liberty Twelve drag one of those new Dellavilands across the sky.
     All the army men are proud of that fourth Liberty loan drive. Watch them show their appreciation.

Enterprise Record Chieftain
Thursday, November 7, 1918

 

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