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Veteran’s Letters Home from World War I

This was the perfect timing to read The Cartographer of No Man’s Land by P.S. Duffy. I loved that I was reading a novel set during World War I on Veterans Day, since the date honors the armistice that ended the war on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918.

My grandfather, Pearl T. Weese, served in World War I in an anti-aircraft unit. I’ve always loved that since this is Snoopy’s era of flight with dogfights, Sopwith Camels, and the Red Baron.

We have a letter that Grandpa wrote home during his training but only because it was printed in the Kokomo Tribune newspaper in Indiana. A whole page of Soldiers’ Letters appeared in June 1918 — I guess you would want to be careful what you wrote since it might show up in the paper!

As far as I know, this letter has never been reproduced on the internet and I think the family would like it available, so I’m going to transcribe it for us as it appeared in the paper. He used more commas and fewer capital letters than I do now. I’m also amused that words like “post card” are two words when now we would make it one.

I remember Grandpa Weese, who died when I was 14, as good-humored with a crafty dry wit. That shines through in this letter.

From Pearl T. Weese, Fort Totten, N.Y.

Dear Father and Mother:

Your letter received today. We are here at last, at one of the best training camps in the world. We went about 600 miles out of our way to get here, as we traveled one afternoon and night in Canada.

photo of man in World War I uniform

Did you get the post cards and N.Y. pictures and souvenirs I sent you while en route? I gave them to some pretty girls to mail, as we soldiers had to stay in our column when we were out marching and the rest of the time we had to stay on the train.

How I would like to tell you about everything I saw and did on my trip but it would take a big book. One sure gets to see the country when he joins the army.

When we started from Jefferson barracks, Mo., it was hot as blue blazes, 102 in the shade, and we had to stand in the sun for three hours or more for inspection. We started about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and whooped and yelled until we were hoarse and sleepy.

The card I sent you from Logansport is a view of our mess hall kitchen at J. B. where my food was cooked during my two weeks stay.

We stopped at Peru and marched around town for one and one-half hours. Next stop was at Fort Wayne where the Red Cross gave magazines and papers. Our next stop was at Detroit where we got off the train and lined up at a free Red Cross canteen, where they gave us post cards, bananas, milk, etc. We crossed over into Canada on a train transport, a large boat that carries passenger cars over the river to Windsor, Canada. We were met there by a jolly bunch of Canadian girls, who gave us candy and post cards. In fact, the people of Canada gave us a more hearty greeting than people in the U.S. I guess I told you about the girls giving us real kisses, the kind wrapped in paper you know.

We came through the Lehigh valley in Pennsylvania, believe me the mountain scenery was fine. Came through New Jersey to N. Y. city, where we took a transport to Long Island, saw the Statue of Liberty and skyscrapers.

We then took the train to Fort Totten, located about fourteen miles east of New York city on Long Island sound.

I had not been here long until they put a stripe on my arm, therefore I am a corporal, but don’t tell anyone, because I do not like the job very well, although I like the bunch of men fine. The trouble with the job is, that I have the responsibility and have to watch my step, so do not get to write many letters. This is the fourth time I have started to write you since this morning, as the whistle or bugle would blow just about the time I would get started, and I would have to get my squad of men lined up and in the ranks in short order.

Believe me, my wrist watch comes in handy, it kept exact time at St. Louis, but when I came to New York it lost just an hour, and I had a notion to throw it in the river. It is doing fine again since I turned it up.

I will try and answer some of the questions now. I was examined and sworn into service on the 4th day of June. No, I did not get to go to St. Louis to see the Bradshaws and the other folks, as I could not get a pass out of camp. I saw George Simmons the day he came to Jefferson barracks, also several other Kokomo boys.

As to my money, I have just one dollar and thirty-six cents between me and starvation. Will soon have to give up my knick-knacks.

Received my third shot in the arm today. The doctor ran the needle about two inches into the muscles of my left arm and it hurt like the dickens, but I could not flinch a bit, because I am corporal and must set an example to my men.

I haven’t so good a place to write here as I am in quarantine writing on a book on my knee. I need my French book and a dictionary.

I am feeling fine, except my left arm is a little sore. Tell all the folks my complete address is,

Pearl T. Weese,
8th Rec’t Detach.,
Fort Totten, N. Y.

Read more from Joy Weese Moll on her blog, Joy’s Book Blog

Joy Weese Moll

Joy Weese Moll is a librarian and book blogger, reading and writing about health, cooking, gardening, memoir, and fiction.

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