July 29, 1918 – Letter on “American YMCA – On Active Service with the American Expeditionary Force” stationery:
Although I have not heard from you for some time I expect a letter soon. I wrote to Mother last night but feel pretty good today so will write what little news there is.
A new captain has been assigned to our company lately. I have had no chance to talk to him but I think he is a brother and will talk to him as soon as I can. I have no favors to ask though.
Today I with another “Doughboy” (Infantryman) went down the mountain to the town where Divisional headquarters is to get some tobacco for one of our Leuts. Going down the street I heard someone holler at me. I turned around and there was Art Herbert, Frank Herbert’s brother. I knew Art when he was in St. P. four years ago.
I was greatly surprised to see him and to learn that he is in my Division. He is in Hdqs. troop (Cavalry). They use cars and motor cycles instead of horses now. He is also a brother and is going to try and get me transferred to his troop as a driver for some officer. Pretty soft if it goes through, and Art will do all he can. If this should fail I will still be with the “dough babies” I guess but I don’t care.
I hear also that I may be moved again and I hope that we will go to the front where the boys are making the big drive. The Amexes have been so successful that we are very anxious to get into it and help.
We have adopted the slogan “Hell, Heaven or Hoboken by Christmas.” The French + English have become stale and we have instilled new life + hope into them.
Last night four of us went out from our billets into “No-Man’s Land” to watch some French shells hit. We stayed a long time and got back about 12 o’clock.
There is no more news now. Love to all the folks.
Your son Rob.
Pvt. R.D. West
Co. B 140 Inf.
[Added in different pen and handwriting, presumably by the officer assigned to read and censor the soldiers’ letters home]
Your son is an excellent soldier and is doing his bit.
Lieut. Comdg. Platoon
This is my favorite of Robert’s letters, and it isn’t close. Where do I begin with all of the parts I love?
1) Another reference to the fact that he is apparently not receiving any mail from his parents. We know Elinore is writing, and his sisters (although not as often as Robert would have liked), but it really does seem like his mother and father are not writing.
2) For anyone who ever wondered about the term “doughboy” and whether it was used by the soldiers during the war, here you go: direct proof sent from France exactly 100 years ago.
3) No, the Frank Herbert mentioned here was not the author of Dune. That Frank Herbert wasn’t born until 1920. Would have been amazing, though.
4) This is the second time Robert has used the term “Amexes,” which of course has a very different meaning today.
5) “Hell, Heaven or Hoboken by Christmas” is such a terrible slogan, but I love that Robert and his fellow soldiers used it.
6) And last but certainly not least – the postscript added by the platoon commander. I would like to think that Robert’s parents valued that line as much as the rest of the letter.
Where was Robert today? See the timeline.