Ward Everett Duffy
Submitted by: Virginia Ward Duffy McLoughlin and Martha M. Everett Daughter and Granddaughter
Ward Everett Duffy born around 1891, Ward Duffy served in World War 1 with the the United States Army . The enlistment was in 1917 and the service was completed in 1919.
Story of Service
Letters From the War That Didn't End All Wars
By Virginia Ward Duffy McLoughlin (With Martha M. Everett)
The calligraphy ink on my father's journalism degree was barely dry when President Woodrow Wilson declared on April 6, 1917, that the United States would enter World War I. The military needed to enlist and train soldiers – fast. My father had just started his first journalism job with The Evening Herald in Manchester, Connecticut, and his employer didn't want to lose him.
April 30, 1917
To Whom It May Concern:
This is to certify that I have known the bearer, Ward E. Duffy, for the past year and can testify that he is a man of good character and exemplary habits. I hope whoever examines him physically will turn him down, as he is needed on his job.
Elwood S. Ela, The Evening Herald
But patriotism, idealism and a sense of duty stirred in my father. His employer's letter aside, he could have sought an exemption from service as the sole support for his wife, Louise Day Duffy, and their 3-month-old son, David. But my 25-year-old father enlisted to serve his country.
During two years of service, more than 400 letters passed between my father and mother. The act of letter-writing became a lifeline that sustained them, along with faith, love and little David.
My father’s sacrifice and fortitude forged a universal soldier's story of homesickness for family, food and familiarity; physical and mental weariness; and missed holidays and milestones of life. These century-old letters resonate today, reverberating as a tragic commentary on man's propensity for perpetual war.
In the Army Now
"This army life is a busy one, but I'll be darned if it doesn't make me feel good," my father wrote enthusiastically in May 1917 from Plattsburgh, N.Y., where he was accepted to officers’ training school with the help of several letters of recommendation. "The more I read and see and hear, the more contented I am here and the sure feeling that I have done the best thing grows and grows."
The accelerated military training was overwhelming. "Big job to learn all an officer has to know in three months," he wrote. "There are 5,000 men in this camp who are preparing to hit an awful blow for the good, and if some of us are smashed by the impact it matters very little in the end. I cannot imagine a better-hearted set of men than this is. They are keen, trained, mature, frank and honest. ... There is something about life here that throws one off his guard and reveals all that a man is or is not."
By the end of June 1917 - only six weeks into his enlistment - my father writes that they had squeezed in an impressive amount of training in compressed form: "We are working like mad and have already covered several months’ work as it is given normally to would-be artillery-men."
Marching As to War
"The war for liberty, equality, democracy and truth is no simple one," my father wrote to his family. "It has to be fought at home as well as abroad and with all your body, mind and soul."
In agreement, family members on the home front did their own feverish soldiering, working to exhaustion selling U.S. Liberty bonds, speaking at public events (my grandfather as a Four-Minute Man encouraging support for the war effort through four-minute speeches on behalf of the government), telephoning for support, marching in patriotic parades, volunteering with the Red Cross, planting Victory Gardens, and taking a pledge to conserve food so that the soldiers might have enough to eat.
"We think of nothing but the war and what we all can do," my mother wrote from West Hartford, Connecticut, to my father. "I can endure anything for the time being if it in any way helps. ... If we look close, things are pretty bad and hard to bear, but we must keep our eyes on the purpose of our sacrifices and their final result."
Meanwhile, little David, whom my father saw only on brief visits, was growing up.
"He smiles like an angel in heaven," my mother wrote of David. "He is an angel, dearest, made of love and beauty - a love as near like God's as anything I know. When I look at him, my constant prayer is, 'God bless you and keep your Daddy.'"
A note written next to a tiny circle drawn in the bottom right corner of one letter to my father sweetly says, "David kissed this spot for you."
"I realize what a change took place in him during the short time I have been apart from him," father wrote of little David, "and if he is going to grow up as fast as that, I do not want to miss a single day of it."
But he did miss those wondrous days in his child's blossoming life, and my father's spirit sometimes sagged: "Just at present I am feeling pretty well fed up on this soldier business. ... I am soul weary and dull in mind, body, spirit, all," he wrote. "I really get tremendously hungry for all the things that used to lie free to one’s hand in Hartford or New York."
His hunger had to be satiated in small bites, through letters from family and boxes of food offering a taste of home.
"Most of the fellows in our section have had a sample of one thing or another and all pronounced it bully stuff," he wrote of the food package the family sent him for his birthday. The precious homemade pie he kept for himself. "That pie was a corker," he wrote. "One piece made me feel as though I could lick the whole German army."
Much like savoring pie, it took effort to make good things last, and soon father was longing for the sweetness of life back on his parents’ West Hartford, Connecticut, farm: "Never did I want so much to get back to Meadow Brook; back where I knew the old fireplace was graciously spreading its comfort beneath the calm face of Washington, back where the morning would find everyone busy at manly and constructive work, where the brook was rushing gay and clear over the rocks at the Falls, where the horse-chestnut was blooming majestically over a place to hang a hammock on warm days, where the weeping willows were standing like innocent maidens grinning at the sins of a naughty world, where the old pine was holding out its drenched branches with the needles all stuck together by the rain - and, oh, above all else where you Father and you Mother, and you Louise and you, sweet boy David, were gathered in love. Will this world never learn the value of that word? ... each day I feel a renewed obligation, and each night I go to my rest with a renewed dedication to a life of righteousness, honesty, and high purpose. I pray I may not forget it when life again settles down into the ways of peace. When the war is over I hope I, and thousands of others, can say, 'We have just begun to fight.'"
Following three months in Plattsburgh, my father got his commission as a 2nd lieutenant and was sent to the new Camp Devens (now Fort Devens) in Ayer, Massachusetts, where he would earn $141 a month training enlisted men in the 303rd Field Artillery, Battery C. As he wrote, “I picked a hard branch of the service, but a splendid one."
Amid the training, he would face a measles outbreak, two fires and a formidable new adversary: cold.
So new was Camp Devens that it seems the heating system had not yet been installed. The soldiers had to provide some of their own toiletries and clothing (and even mailed their laundry home for washing and mending), but despite the bathrobe, bed socks, slippers and blankets the family sent, my father was cold.
"This place is the coldest spot God ever made," he wrote. "This is a cold and rainy night, one of the kind when the chill strikes right through you like a knife and makes you wonder why in the name of heaven you forsook furnaces, warm bathrooms, fireplaces, etc., for this cheerless soldiering."
In desperation, he bought a sheep-skin coat. "The thing is as thick as the side of a house," he wrote exuberantly, calling the purchase "the great event of the last twenty-four hours."
In November, a fire in the barracks was thought to be caused by an oil stove the men used to keep warm (though some believed the fire was set by German spies). "The old building where I used to live is now nothing but a blackened hulk," father reported home. "All the men who were living in the building lost everything they had. ... you can imagine how relieved I felt when I found my stuff had suffered nothing worse than being heaved out the window and generally scattered all over the place."
It was not until November 22 that my father wrote, "I am perched up in my bunk luxuriating in our first evening with steam heat ¬- it's great."
Bureaucratic snafus also plagued one of the soldiers' most valued conduits to home. "The mail system up here seems to be pretty badly balled up," father complained. "... somewhere in the mess is lying a letter from the Quartermaster Department with my pay in it." In that same letter, he notes that he was sent an ironic piece of mail: "Today I received my notice to appear at Farmington [Connecticut] and take a physical examination to determine whether I was fit to enter the military service of the United States."
Of the mail troubles, he writes, "It is just one thing more to make us damn the Germans."
Build Up to War
The soldiering life marched on. "The most interesting event of the camp, or the nation for that matter, is the coming of the drafted men," father wrote. "They looked pretty rough as they stood up to be examined en mass, but when you meet them individually the impression is quite different. However they look, I suppose they represent a sector of the nation's personality, if there is such a thing. At any rate, they are the stuff with which we have got to smash Germany, and I believe they will be equal to the job. ... We are lending a hand in the greatest undertaking that ever confronted a people."
And they continued to arrive, father reported: "The new men are coming in every day, a few at a time, and it is wonderful to see what fine spirit they show. There are almost no shirks, and as yet I have still to meet a surly one. Believe me, it is something to try a man's patience to let a lot of greenhorn officers, such as we are, take hold of him and practice on him. To be the object on which one tries out newly acquired authority is just about as bad as being the one on which a young surgeon tries out his new instruments. But we are all, officers and men, doing our best, and God grant that it may someday prove better than the machine-made officers and men of Germany can do."
Among their studies was hippology, in which they learned how to care for the horses the mounted officers rode. My father humorously wrote to the family back home: “Smith and I are going to equitation school, and as a result we both find it rather painful to even sit on a chair.”
"Our work is growing more intense and most of us are growing tired under the new and tremendous task of teaching men things that we have hardly grasped ourselves," he wrote. "We are all kept busy attending to the thousand and one details that go toward making John Smith into Private John Smith, U.S. Army."
Not all men felt a sense of duty. There were rumors of a scam that falsely promised a discharge from Fort Devens in exchange for money. And just as little David was cutting his first teeth, a man arrived at Camp Devens with no teeth of his own. "A man has come into camp with some of the quotas who tried to avoid service by having all his teeth pulled. The local board found it out and sent him along just the same," father wrote. "Today he was given a physical examination by the army doctors and found to have such a weak heart that he is unfit for service anyhow."
As for himself, my father's sense of duty was equaled by his humility. His service, he felt, was not exceptional, but rather expected. He wrote to his family about service-flag lapel pins: "The men are sending them home to their mothers, best girls, etc., to wear. They signify that the one who displays them has some near and dear one in the army. Of course they are all right and are a legitimate part of the great game. But I do not want any of you folks to play it that way. Let us take it for granted that we are rendering our utmost, and let us expect others to do the same. This, it strikes me, is the patriotism that wears best."
As the war wore on, it also began to wear on my father. His letters from the last months of 1917 included some dark lines, such as, "This war is going to eat an awful hole in every man's lifetime."
It sometimes took work for my father to retain what had always been his characteristic good cheer and positive nature, but he did so not solely for himself, but for the sake of his family.
"Unless something breaks in Germany pretty soon, it will mean that she can keep it up about three years more," he wrote the family. "Don't let this make you feel badly, please. Only let it make you all more and more determined that each day you will live so truly, so bravely, so kindly that it never can happen again. ... What I mean is that you must realize that love is best and that no matter how hard it is to be always upstanding for the right, it is the only way for true men and women. Think of the Statue of Liberty; the artist who designed her did not give her an easy position. Her arm must get mighty tired, always holding that torch up so high at the gate of America."
When going overseas began to appear inevitable, my father's hope for an end to the war turned to resignation.
"When the call comes, and I go to the front, our mighty love will sustain me, will keep me sensitive to the old sweet things of life even though I dwell in the midst of all things awful and unholy," he wrote to my mother.
As to the future world for little David, father wrote: "May he find it a better place because of what we do here in this camp and on the fields of France. ... Tell Little Son his Daddy loves him and is coming to live with him and tell him wondrous stories someday."
Full of support, his wife responded: "Yes, my own, you will come back to Little Son and me. You will sit many an hour with little son on your knee and tell him beautiful stories and worthy facts. And with all his sensitive, beautiful soul and bright mind, he will drink in your great spirit, made all the greater and purer for having been tried in the fire of sacrifice and devotion."
As 1917 drew to a close, my father's first Christmas away from family consisted of "cold turkey, sandwiches, nuts, cider and smokes," he recounted in a letter to his family. "I wonder if we will eat our next Christmas dinner in France or Belgium."
On New Year’s Eve 1917, my mother wrote to her husband: "We are discovering not only what it is to work side by side with our neighbors for a common cause, but what it is to work as a nation and what it is to help re-create a fallen world. 'Tis no small thing we're learning, unselfishness, self-abnegation, social oneness, yes and even a new meaning to the word 'love.' And so when the gates of war are lifted and we look again on a peaceful world, may we not see with a clearer vision and act with a truer heart? It shall not be in vain - not in vain. ... at midnight, my spirit will draw close to thine in love and thankfulness and hope."
Finishing that letter on January 1, 1918, she wrote of her optimism for the new year: "Love shall be my first word of the new year as it was the last word in 1917. ... as the new year dawns, I feel a fresh hope, a more vigorous faith. After struggle and sacrifice and torture, I believe this year will witness the most wonderful peace ever known and a feeling of brotherhood until now untried."
For my father, who had worked overnight guard duty, New Year's Day 1918 brought an appreciation for intangible things: "Last night was radiant with a beaming moon, a thousand stars and glistening snow fields. As the old year rolled away into history I was trudging down the hill ... and as I stepped, so to speak, through the night into the portals of 1918, I wished you all great happiness and the richest of God's blessings. It was very beautiful out there on the clean snow with the great camp below. From the various regiments I could catch the din of merry soldiers enjoying a night freed from all the usual restrictions, and I thought of the wondrous wisdom which gave man a passion for joy that nothing can blot out or utterly subdue. Just now that passion is laboring against pretty heavy odds, but it will win out in the end. Joy will triumph and every sigh that has escaped me is more than matched by a smile from David. ... As we are impoverished, the things we still have take on a greater value and the unheeded things of our affluent days grow priceless. The beggar places disproportionate worth in a penny, and where I used to look forward to a day's delight with all of you, I am now enraptured at the gift of an extra hour."
"Yesterday we went into the gas chamber," my father wrote of his training in March 1918. "We first put on our masks and then spent about 15 minutes in a concentration of chlorine that would kill a man in about five minutes without a mask. ... Next we went into the chamber (a room about 15 x 30) without our masks and put them on after we got inside. ... Then we took a good breath outdoors and walked right through the chamber without our masks on at all. It was hard to realize that a few breaths in that room would have been fatal. The gas is a terrible weapon."
My grandmother, horrified at the thought of her son training for gas warfare, wrote to my father: "What an awful blunder it has been to allow death-dealing instruments to be made by any nation. I hope they will all be destroyed at the close of this war and never be created again."
In late spring 1918, my father wrote: "Things are moving rapidly toward the day when we leave this place and take our stand with that army which has so far been so heroic and successful. ... It looks as though there would be enough war to go round so that we'll all get a little anyhow."
As their separation by a sea draws near, my parents wrote to each other:
"Darling, you are ever with me, and I with you, and ever will be no matter where you go," my mother wrote. "Neither life nor death can separate us from the love of God nor the love He has given us for each other. Through all eternity thou art mine, I thine, and David ours."
My father responded: "Beloved, whether near or far, my love is with thee and thine with me. There is a bond which will span any separation, which will not break or loosen. This fact, this everlasting fact, must be our comfort and our cheer while we are distant."
Among my father’s last letters before going overseas was one dated July 8, 1918, written to his family after going home for a final visit. Its melancholy feel seems as though it were a goodbye: "You can't know how I enjoyed all day yesterday with you at old Meadow Brook. I shall remember it always. God bless you and the old place and bring us all together there once more when this job is done, and well done."
Other soldiers also visited their families before shipping out, and the mother of one of the men under my father’s command wrote to him of her gratitude for that brief time:
Dear Lieut. Duffy,
I want you to know how very, very kind it was of you to allow me to have my boy with me for those few hours last Wednesday. I knew that I should not ask it; but it meant so much to us, my son and to me. ... Sometimes I have wondered what it was all about. ... but since war came I know what it was all about. I was bringing a soldier to the defense of my country and I give him so freely, so proudly. You will find him entirely ignorant of books but with a keen intelligence and a great honesty and truth and loyalty. I give him to you Lieut. Duffy and I wish all his officers might be like you. I have put you in my God Blesses right after my boy. 'May God bless Lieut. Duffy and all his loved ones and bring him back to them safe and soon' is the prayer of [this] Mother.
The Yanks Are Coming
"Final parade today with full packs," my father wrote in his diary on July 15, 1918, nearly a year after arriving at Camp Devens. "Soon after retreat, I said goodbye to her [my mother, Louise] at the end of Battery C barracks. She took it like the brave true woman she is. I waved as she went up the road toward the gate and it was all over. God bless and keep her forever."
That same, day, the battery formed at midnight for a train to Boston, where they were met by Red Cross volunteers who gave them coffee, rolls and cigarettes. In Boston, father boarded the H.M.T. Miltiades with a framed photograph of Louise and little David and headed north.
“She,” he wrote of the ship, “is old enough to have a few evil-smelling holes and dark passage ways." He noted in his diary: "Men's quarters very poor - food ditto.”
Several of the men were seasick by the time they reached Halifax in Canada, where they waited for other ships to form a convoy to cross the Atlantic Ocean. "Ships are gathering in harbor, and it looks as though we would be quite an army when we get started," his diary stated.
The July 20 entry read: "We are on our way! Mighty fleet of over twenty ships with British cruiser to stand guard.”
Their morning baths – when they got them - were cold salt water, and father noted in a letter home, "There is still something to be said for old terra firma."
With rumors floating among the men of lurking enemy submarines, secrecy took a high priority. Father was made a censor for his battery’s outgoing mail (including his own). “I feel as though I had laid impious hands on sacred things when I am reading some of them," he said in a letter to his wife.
The caution was justified. On July 30, as they neared England, an enemy submarine was spotted near the ship. The men got to their life boats and rafts, preparing to lower them into the water if necessary. U.S. submarine chasers quickly gathered, dropping about 20 depth charges, one of which reportedly hit the submarine. For the rest of the voyage, about a dozen sub chasers escorted the ship.
That night, my father wrote one of a series of letters to little David. It read in part: "Be good to your [toy rocking] horse and play outdoors all you can. ... We have been in the danger zone today and had a lot of excitement which I will tell you about someday. With heaps of love, Dad."
Amid training, lifeboat drills and other duties, father - ever the journalist - found time to produce a shipboard newsletter he named "The Range-Finder.” The ship's printer also produced a post card for the men to send home when they reached Europe; it included a photograph of the ship and a little poem my father wrote:
From the U.S.A. to Europe,
Over the sea's expanse,
We've brought the 303,
From New England to Old France.
We've crossed the salt, salt sea,
But we've had enough of brine,
So we're going to fill our canteens now,
With fresh water - from the Rhine.
My father sent one to his family with the handwritten message: "Safe and sound and glad to get ashore."
Won't Come Back 'Till It's Over, Over There
The first of August, the men disembarked in Newport, Wales, traveled by train to Winchester, England, and marched to Camp Winnall Down enveloped by an emotional display of appreciation for the first U.S. troops to visit the town.
"We found the entire city out to greet us,” father wrote home. “For three miles, we marched through lanes of shouting, cheering, crying English women and children and old men. ... Our flag was everywhere and in many places above that of Britton. At a square we were met by the mayor in purple gown trimmed with a wide cape of beaver and the chief justice of the court wearing an enormous wig."
On August 3, they crossed the English Channel from Southampton, England, to Le Havre, France, on the American ship Yale - one that some of the men had previously been aboard when it served as a passenger ship along the New England coast. They were accompanied by several destroyers and a dozen airplanes. "It did seem good to get hold of some real U.S. brewed coffee," my father wrote. The soldiers drank so much of it, he noted, “none of us could sleep a wink.”
Their arrival in France was met with another emotive welcome.
"When we reached France, we were received as saviors," father wrote to his family on August 11. "Everywhere was the Stars and Stripes - much more frequently displayed than in England, and the people greeted us with that thankful cordiality which troops on the firing line might show toward needed reinforcements. Indeed, all France bears herself as though she were on the firing line. … We were greeted by cries of 'Les Ameriques, Vive les Ameriques' on all sides as we swung up the streets of the French port. I could not keep back the tears as each little child - rich and poor - drew himself up as we approached and saluted the American flag. This land is war-wise from the cradle up."
They now were troops in the American Expeditionary Forces, along with the other U.S. Army soldiers serving overseas. And it didn’t take long for the war to become real. They spent the night at a camp that only a week before had been raided, with at least one man killed.
The very next morning, they caught their first glimpse of an enemy they had known only in news reports. "About fifty German prisoners were marched by here this morning, and I declare they were a set of as sturdy, well set-up men as one would care to see," father wrote. The sight seemed to unnerve some of the soldiers. "… most of our men who saw them at once began to dwell upon the base falsity of our papers at home with their stories of half-starved boys in the German army."
My father’s battery marched in pouring rain for nearly two hours that day through small French towns where, despite the downpour, "the streets were lined with cheering ones and from time to time, flowers were flung into our ranks," father wrote. Young boys eager to earn a dollar slipped bottles of liquor to the soldiers as they passed.
"Everywhere here one is made conscious of the war," my father wrote, from the empty sleeves of men who had lost a limb to men swathed in bandages. The railways, he noted, were crammed with the traffic of war. Trainloads of soldiers wounded at the front shot past those filled with men headed to replace them in battle.
A French train - many of its boxcars without doors and some meant for carrying horses - took father and his company south for two days and nights to Clermont-Ferrand. From there, they marched five miles to Ceyrat, a tiny hamlet in the towering ruins of a stronghold built by Julius Caesar. "There are normally about six hundred souls here, but the war has drained off all the men who were fit for military service," father reported. "It seems a place where folks live without things. ... Under life conditions such as these, there is no room for art, poetry, philosophy, originality, or sweetness and light in any of its forms. It is the German ideal and would plunge the world into a period as barren as that through which it passed when Ceyrat first huddled against the hill below Caesar's castle.”
In Ceyrat, the battery gave up their howitzers for what my father called "a new and magnificent gun which shoots at an average range of eight or ten miles. It is the last word in mobile, rapid firing, heavy artillery. ... There is a tremendous amount of new dope to learn about this gun, and we have to go to school here. Among other things, we are studying trigonometry and maps - both of which I cordially detest."
Europe brought a new yearning for something from home: American newspapers. “How we all long for a real paper and the news of the last few weeks," my father wrote.
Meanwhile, little David continued to grow and had begun to speak and walk in his father’s absence. “I can hardly believe he is going up stairs alone," father wrote on August 15.
Over Hill, Over Dale
By August 23, my father was on another train, this time going north to anti-aircraft machinegun school. His next letter was written from a little stone house owned by a French woman who opened her home to the troops. At the top of the letter, father wrote that he did not know what town he was in - nor the date. "Tonight I am in an old beamed room half underground in the house of a grand dame who might well be my great-grandmother. … By the way, where do the tall men sleep in France? I have not seen a bed in this country where even I could do more than stretch one leg at a time. ... We have been here only a few hours and besides what I have told you, I know very little of this place. There seem to be absolutely no men left here."
After less than a month in France, father had fallen in love with the French people. “The French seem to me to be the most wonderful people I have ever known,” he wrote home. “Everywhere I have been I have seen them show a gentile courtesy and dignity which seemed to say, 'We would not have given up the fight even if you had not come, but we are most grateful to you and happy to have your help.’ ... I truly believe Germany would have had her way with all Europe had we not come in. Every day that I live over here, my love and honor for the U.S.A. grows stronger. "
That French courtesy extended to the grand dame who housed him in what later was learned to be Langres, France. "Indeed, I am quite spoiled," he wrote. "She totters out to the well for fresh water if I even glance at the pail, and she keeps my little stone-paved room in the most perfect order.” She worried about my teetotaling father because he refused to add wine to his water, which some of the American soldiers did in an attempt to purify it.
Her humanity was exhibited in deed more than word due to the language barrier. "I have just come in from a half-hour tussle with the French language,” father wrote. “Believe me, I am all tired out. The weight of many years has somewhat slowed the step of madame here, but I swear it would take a hundred centuries to bring her tongue down to a comprehendible pace. She talks French to me as though I were born to it, and after reeling off about half a dictionary, she will pause with the most expectant look on her face and wait for my reply. Tonight our - or rather her - conversation was something about a bath tub, I believe. I am a little doubtful whether she was telling me I ought to take a bath or asking me if I wanted to." (He has had only three hot baths since leaving the ship.)
As training school in the north wrapped up the first week of September, my father wrote with energy for the fight: "We shall do all in our power to smash the terrible machine which Germany hoped to drive over this prostrate nation, over beautiful England and, eventually, over our own blessed land. … But the United States! My, how she stands above all nations! This is not heated patriotism ... it is cool fact and a fact that is daily more evident to every man over here who has once known the blessings of life beneath the Stars and Stripes. ... How proud we all are of our homeland and of the folks we have left there!!"
Before returning to Ceyrat, father made a quick stop in a city he longed to visit: Paris. But wartime Paris was not the City of Light he expected. "Paris at night - as I first saw it - is a vast city of darkness, living darkness,” he wrote in a September 15 letter. “You stand in the center of a vast square where normally there should be many streams of traffic crossing and re-crossing under a glare of electricity. But as you stand there, you are alone. The city lives about you, but it is behind its wall of darkness. Not a ray of light from the thousands of windows on every hand. From the plate glass fronts of stores where one should see Parisian merchandise set forth in tempting array, there comes only mysterious reflections - reflections of blackness as it were. The entrances of subways, hotel doorways and other essential points are marked with electric globes painted a dark purple. They look like ghostly lamps on the streets of some dreamland city. But Paris has one beautiful sight - the stars in heaven. All other cities that I have been in shut out the stars. It is their chief sin. But wartime Paris shows you the skies as God intended they should be seen. Never had I been so impressed with the beauty of His handiwork as when I stood there in the square near the Tuileries and, with a great city all about me, saw the stars as from some far country meadow. But alas, the sun brought the day and Paris was without her only beauty. Paris was just a war-worn city pitifully trying to remind you that it was once called Gay. All works of art are locked in their buildings until after the war, and the fronts of many of these building as well as the best statues are piled high with sandbags."
My father later learned - with much regret that he had not known at the time – that while he was in Paris, Lieutenant Horace Wyman, whom he knew at Camp Devens, lay dying in a Parisian hospital. It is thought he died of the Spanish flu, an influenza pandemic that killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide – more than the number of people who died in the war. At least two men from Battery C died of the flu in France (another from the battery died when a tractor he was training in toppled over on him); they all were buried in an American cemetery at Clermont.
Returning to Ceyrat, my father was anxious to enter the fray, writing: "Where I was at school, I was just behind the scenes. Hope it will not be long before I am on the stage. We have our equipment nearly complete and are working hard every day."
Back home, little David was doing his own form of equestrian work, reminiscent of his father’s mounted training. On September 18, father penned a letter on horsemanship to his young son: "… Both my Mother and yours have written me that your horse is getting plenty of exercise and that he is pretty well trained by this time. Animals of the Rockinghorse breed have two bad faults of which I want to warn you now. Sometimes they rear and if you are not careful will give you a bad fall over back, and sometimes they stumble so that you are thrown right on your head. Now, I examined your horse pretty carefully, and I don't think he has any tendency toward either of these failings. But there is one thing that will develop them in the best of horses. That is - fast driving. As one horseman to another, let me warn you against fast driving - especially on hard roads. ... Keep right on giving your Mother those sweet kisses for me, and don't forget that someday I'm coming back and collect them all from her and get a lot of fresh ones from you."
That same evening, father wrote in a letter to his wife: "Tonight I have written a letter to little Son. You have no idea how it rests me to just drop all things military for a few minutes and live in his glorious world of joy and love."
Home on the Range
Father’s battery was on the move again less than a week later for one last round of practice. "Picture me sitting in a rough unfinished room at the end of the servants' quarters of an old chateau somewhere in France,” he wrote. “… I am out on a certain artillery range where we are shooting all manner of guns and doing to the far distant landscape what we hope to do someday to the scenery of Germany. ... From where we are camping, we can sight mountain tops which are already white.”
From this site, he wrote another letter to little David: “Dear Little Son, ... I tell you, you would need all your winter clothes, your warm hood and coat, if you were here. This morning it froze quite hard, and you should have seen your daddy shaving by a brookside where there were long icicles hanging from the banks. ... We get up a little before six o'clock in the morning, and the first thing we do is to make remarks about how cold it is. Sometimes we say bad things about the Kaiser who has started all this trouble and forces some of us to leave little sons like you. But I am sure not many of us have left behind little sons that are as altogether good and brave as mine. Someday I want to talk to you about bravery. Your Mother will tell you that there are two kinds of courage, one physical and one a better, higher kind. I guess she is right. You will find that she generally is. Well, Little Son, it is very late and time all good soldiers were in bed and asleep. All the other officers are there, and I can hear them breathing heavily as tired men do when resting well. You know how it is after a hard day with your horse. ... So now I too am going to bed, and I shall have to be very careful not to make a noise or step on any of the other officers. You see we just lie right on the floor. It reminds me of when I was not so tall as I am now - more as you are, only perhaps a little taller - and I used to go to sleep on the floor in front of the fireplace. ... My candle is going out and I must stop. You see, a good many of us are burning our candles at both ends over here. ... I am sending you a heap of love. Dad."
Training on the range wrapped up about October 4, when father wrote to his wife: "We have had a wonderful ten days in this place. We fired our big guns out here, and they are truly wonderful. I had pretty good luck and only regret that my shots were not falling on German soil. … But as things look now, it will not be so very long before such will be the case. I am praying that the German government may not be able to extricate itself from the meshes which seem to be tightening about it."
He wrote to her again the next day: "... I wonder if those who were so foul of heart, so abject of soul as to plot this conflict can ever become wretched enough to atone for it. ... You, at home, beloved, must keep doubly alive to the real issues of this conflict. Your eyes must keep the true vision for we are too close to the mountain. The keeping of our one battery fit and the thousand things necessary to be done are so engrossing and so taxing that we have time and energy for nothing else. To use an expression which I believe is of German origin: We cannot see the forest for the trees."
On October 6, the battery returned to Ceyrat ready for the front. But they stayed there through the month. "The room is quite bare, for even the small furnishings which I brought with me are now packed away. I had thought to see this Sunday dawn in other parts, but we still remain,” father wrote. Of little David, whom father called “a comfort to his Daddy even three thousand miles away,” he wrote, “Oh, God, will I ever return to him! Think of it, he will have to learn to know me as though I were a stranger. Do what you can to keep alive whatever infant impressions he may have of me and pray that he will not be shy before me when I first see him again!"
Yet he remained devoted to the cause. “I for one am willing to sacrifice a few more months of the happiest life man ever led to see this accomplished,” he wrote.
The longer they sat in Ceyrat, the more he wanted to put his training to use on the front with an eye toward ending the war and returning home. "Still we sit - on the lids of our trunks - in old Ceyrat,” my father wrote. “We are packed, we are anxious, but we remain here like people waiting on a station platform. And all the time I am dreaming of how it will be when we pack for the greatest trip of our lives - back to the U.S.A."
Into the Fray
Their time came in November. “It came precious near being a case of my killing as many of them as they did of me,” father wrote of the fighting in the Bois de Harville offensive in northeastern France. “We were under fire several days, and on the night of the tenth, we opened up ourselves. With my own hand, I sent the tenth shot against the Huns, and as I drew the lanyard I prayed that with the bursting of the missile might come some conception of democracy to the German. God knows cannonballs are a pretty crude means of working reform, and I trust they may never be used again. Well, we fired all night and stood by our guns all the next morning waiting a new assignment of targets. But none came.”
On November 11, 1918, my father wrote to my mother. A note at the top of the page instructed: "Please read to all”:
"The guns are silent! The echoes are at rest! Nerves are relaxed! No, we do not know much else. We do not dare to hope for much else. Some of us do not care for much else. They say all manner of exactions are to be made by the Allies, but we have no real information. All we know is that at eleven o'clock this morning, the booming ceased. We were standing at our guns waiting the order to again open fire but the order did not come and now it probably never will - God be praised! We have had just one night of action! But I am weary from it and must have rest. I am as yet unable to comprehend what is going on about me. God is in His heaven and tonight seems to be also in his earth. Love to you and all. Ward."
Indeed, the armistice between the Allies and Germany took effect at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, ending the War to End All Wars one day after my father and his battery fired their first shots at the front.
Later that month, sitting in an old German dugout close to a fire in a tiny German stove, father wrote: "Dear ones all, the Great War is over! … The cannonading was tremendous all along the line when at eleven o'clock, word came over the wire to suspend fire, and we knew that Germany was done for. ... This whole country is filled with old German camps and I wish I had time to describe some of them to you. They spared themselves nothing that would add to their bodily comfort. Their camps are wonderful examples of their skill, industry and military excellence. We would be out of luck if it were not for the stoves, bunks, dugouts and great kettles that they left behind them here. Would that they might have cared for their souls as they did their bodies! … What is to be our next move nobody knows, though I hope we may be moved out of this hole. … We are now betting on seeing the U.S.A. by next June. Do not dare hope for anything better."
He was almost right; it was May 2, 1919, when my father again touched American soil, arriving in Boston on the S.S. Santa Rosa from Bordeaux, France. That same day, he returned to Camp Devens and was discharged from the military.
Two years had passed, and by then, little David was nearly 2½ years old. My father settled back into peacetime and life at home, with a successful newspaper career and what would become a family of five children.
But peace would not last. Despite all the horrors and all the sacrifices, the War to End All Wars did not live up to its name. And soon, little David’s life again was touched by war. When the battle torch passed to the next generation, it was David who took up the fight, leaving behind a wife of his own and marching into World War II to the cadence that echoed in those childhood letters from his father.
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